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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!