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Caesar Creek State Park – Perimeter Loop

Not every adventure has to be planned out months in advance. Sometimes, the most spontaneous can be the most rewarding. In my case, it was an impromptu decision to go for a day hike on a warm late-winter day to a local state park. It was a great decision. The trail was both a challenge and scenic adventure that I may have never known about had I stayed home on the couch.

On this sunny Sunday in early March, I decided at last to hike the Perimeter Loop Trail at Caesar Creek State Park in southwest Ohio. I had been wanting to do this for years. The loop is roughly 12 miles and travels the circumference of the western half of a small man-made lake (the flooded Caesar Creek). The trail traverses the lake shore, deeply wooded ravines, alongside waterfalls, over a suspension bridge, and past ancient fossil beds. The trail can be day-hiked or split up into a backpacking overnight–depending on what the hiker wants to do. The day hike option is definitely doable, but plan for a long day and be sure to bring lunch, snacks, and water. There are many parking areas along the trail, and if you decide you just can’t make it all the way through, you can always have someone come pick you up.

On a recommendation from a friend, I decided to start at the Fifty Springs Picnic Area and do the loop counter-clockwise. This would take me over the road crossing and past the rougher areas of the trail first. From here, the trail immediately starts out north on Route 73, along a busy road and across a bridge. Once over the bridge, the trail descends west down into the woods.

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One of the many lake views on the western side

For the next few miles, the trail is easy/moderate with only minor elevation changes. There are beautiful lake views all along the way. After a couple miles, there is a little spur trail that leads down to a beautiful beach with a picnic table on it. This would be a fantastic place to have lunch. For me, though, it was much too early to think about stopping. I still paused for a quick photo opp and to shed my first layer. The tranquil sound of the water lapping the shore was very nice and the sun felt warm.

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Beach with picnic table just off the trail

From there, the trail goes through beautiful woods and up and down ravines, including a few stream crossings. This trail is shared with a portion of the Buckeye Trail, so just follow the Blue and Yellow blazes. The trail is mainly single track with a few wider areas in places. Along the way, I dropped my Gorillapod and GoPro into the mud. Not realizing it at the time, I lost one of the legs to the tripod. I was frustrated with myself for a bit, but then realized it was just too beautiful of a day to let it be ruined by that.

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Blue and Yellow Blazes along the western half of the trail

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The trail on the western side

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Views through the trees

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The glistening lake

I hiked on through the woods, up and down through ravines. The trail then dumped me out on a very neat little peninsula where I got another great view of the lake. From there, I stopped at the visitor center to rest and eat my lunch. I stopped in to talk to the rangers to let them know about the tripod leg I lost at point M. I had packed in my stove, titanium pot, and some cheeseburger soup from a company called Camp Chow. If you’ve never had their bacon cheeseburger soup, go order it right now. Feeling refreshed, I scarfed down my soup and pineapple coconut Spark, filled up my water bottles, and headed back down the trail.

From here, it was more road walking across the dam and spillway, and then past a parking lot and back into the woods. The next section of the trail is amazing. The trail opens up into the spillway/fossil collecting area. It is wide open for several hundred yards and very neat. Here, hikers can walk right up to the rock walls and observe the fossils in the rocks. In these rocks are millions (billions?) of Ordivician-period fossils, including Horn Coral, Crinoids, Brachiopods, and the Holy Grail of fossils in this area, Trilobites. In fact, the largest Trilobite in the Western Hemisphere was found here, measuring over a foot in length. This area is right off the road so there are a lot of people just here rock hounding. Fossils may be collected with a free permit from the office. Don’t collect anything without a permit here, though, unless you want to be fined.

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The fossil-filled cliffs in the spillway

The trail then ascends steeply to the right up the side of a huge hill. You will see the blaze on a tree half-way up to affirm this is the right way. I can compare this brief single track section to some places I’ve hiked in West Virginia. It’s breathtaking in more ways than one.

The next mile or so was my favorite part of the entire hike. The trail traverses cliff tops, and, from the top, there is a great view of Horseshoe Falls. The falls can actually be heard from quite a distance away. A few yards further is the brand new suspension bridge that crosses the creek. This bridge is so much fun and reminiscent of those found in much more remote areas. I actually had to pause for a moment and remind myself that I was in Southwest Ohio.

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Horseshoe Falls

Past the falls, the trail continues back up into the woods with some nice lake views and flat terrain. Beware of mud along this section, as it is plentiful here. The trail passes through the pioneer village, a historical wonder and very neat place. This location has pioneer-era recreations and festivals, including a Maple festival.

The trail twists and turns through the woods, but mainly remaining steady and flat. It even crosses an old service road for a few hundred feet. It then continues on past a few other, smaller waterfalls, and passer over the top of Crawdad Falls–an unspectacular but pretty falls.

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Crawdad Falls

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The trail then wraps around the woods and back through the Fifty Springs picnic area, where my journey came to an end and my Jeep was waiting. I was both relieved and a bit sad that the hike was over.

In an area of Ohio that does not really stand out for its outdoor offerings, Caeser Creek State Park and lake delivers. The lake itself is perfect for boaters, fishermen, swimmers, etc. The trails are long enough and have enough diversity to satisfy most hikers. Rock hounds and fossil lovers will be giddy in the fossil beds. And, history buffs will love the pioneer village. There is a little bit of something for everyone, here. If you’re in the area, make sure you check out Caeser Creek. If you have the day and like to hike, be sure to do the Perimeter Trail!

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Day Hike to Eagle Rock – Topanga State Park, California

I was fortunate enough to get to fly to to Los Angeles for a work conference this past week. I timed the flight in so I would have a little extra time to do some playing before I had to check in to the hotel. And, my route took me directly through Topanga State Park–so, I had to do a hike.

Topanga S.P. is considered one of the most amazing hikes in the L.A. area, and now I understand why. Not only is it easy to get to, it’s more challenging and beautiful than I can possibly describe here.

I arrived at the entrance of the park (not the trailhead) ready to hike to Eagle Rock, a prominent sandstone outcropping nearly 2,000 feet high. Parking within the park is around $10, I believe, but there is ample parking on the street just outside the park. This is a very nice, safe residential area and is just a few feet outside the park. It is absolutely worth it to park here if you can. However, be absolutely sure to park to the right of the white line! I was about an inch over and the park service warned me they would give me a ticket if I left it there. They were very cordial and nice about it.

Once properly parked and in the park I started at Trippet Ranch to the Musch Trail. I did this particular loop in reverse of how many others do it–opting to go clockwise up the Musch Trail to Eagle Junction and then back down the Eagle Spring Fire Road. I figured I would start with the up first and have an easy way back down. I think this was a good decision, despite being exposed to the heat of the day on the way down. My legs thanked me for it.

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The Musch Trail

The Musch Trail winds its way up a narrow single track through beautiful meadows, riparian forest, and over quiet stream beds. It’s a beautiful hike with some areas of shade before hitting the open and exposed trail to Eagle Rock. There are some expansive views of the surrounding mountains along the way as well.

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The expansive view from the Musch Trail

Rock outcroppings started to pop up as I ascended, and tiny lizards darted across the path. The trail does get steep in places, and made the cool day seem hotter. The trail is fairly well-marked, but be sure to keep a look out for signs to stay on the right path. The Musch Trail will take you past Musch Camp, a very nice spot with overnight camping for just $7 a night.

I continued up past Musch Camp to Eagle Junction, where I saw a sign to continue to the right to Eagle Rock. I got a glimpse of the expansively huge Eagle Rock from the trail, but it was still deceivingly far away. There was still quite a bit of a hike to go to get to the top.

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Eagle rock from Eagle Junction

Though it’s a fairly short distance to the top, it feels very far away in the heat of the sun.

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The hike to Eagle Rock

Finally, I reached the top of Eagle Rock, with a panoramic, 360-degree view all around of the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains. The view can only be described as “epic”.

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The sign at the base of Eagle Rock

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Small cave at the top of the rock

At the top of the rock, I explored the nooks and crannys, and there is even a small arch/cave that can be explored. BE CAREFUL HERE. The rock is sandy and slippery, and it’s a long way down. The hike up the main side of the rock isn’t bad, and even an acrophobe like myself can do it. This can give a false sense of safety, however, and climbing up and over the top of the rock is dangerous and foolhardy, despite the fact there are many “trails” along it. I don’t advise this.

After getting my fill of Eagle Rock, I decided it was time to head back down. I headed back to Eagle Junction to the junction of the Musch Trail and Eagle Spring Fire Road, where it was an exposed hike all the way back down. Despite it being late March, the trail was dry and hot. I definitely did not pack enough water, and regretted it as my legs cramped on the hike back down. I’d recommend bringing at least 32 ounces per person. And, bring some snacks for the top so you have the energy to get back down.

The road seemed (relatively) mundane and unremarkable much of the way down, until I had about a mile left to go, where it opened up to some of the most gorgeous views I’ve ever seen. Expansive views of open, grassy meadows and a mountain backdrop caused my jaw to drop.

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The expansive view from Eagle Spring Fire Road

A bit further down, the view opened up to the Pacific, where I could see the Pacific Palisades and what I believe was Catalina Island in the distance. This was so scenic it was breathtaking. Had I taken this way up, I would have had a constant view of the ocean. This is the kind of scenery dreams are made of.

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The Pacific Palisades in the distance

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Mountain lion warning

During the entire hike, I was worried about mountain lions, as there are many places they could easily stalk and jump me on the trail. I was warned of rattlesnakes along the way (they are very prominent here). I almost stepped on an unidentified snake that I still haven’t determined what is was. I’ve been told it was a harmless King snake, but it’s head sure looked like a rattlesnake to me. You be the judge.

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Unidentified snake I came across

 

I finally came back down off the trail and back to Trippet Ranch, where my car and a fresh pair of socks were safely waiting for me. There were many other spur trails–including one to Ynez Falls–that I would have loved to have taken, but there just wasn’t any time left in the day. Despite my urge to keep pushing, I had to call it a day and get to the hotel.

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The gorgeous view back to Trippet Ranch

I cannot say enough how amazing this hike was, and I understand why California gets so much attention for its beauty. This place is varied and diverse, with tons of flora and fauna. It’s in a nice area and many of the people I passed were families and friendly groups of hikers. Despite the threat of snakes and mountain lions, I never felt “unsafe” but always kept aware of my surroundings.

If you get the chance to visit southern California, do not pass up this park. It is a gem in the giant jewel necklace that is California. I can already hear it beckoning me back…