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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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The 2017 Great Miami Outfitters “Frozen Butt Hang”

There are many things I love in life. One of those is hammock camping. Another is hanging out with good friends. This was our second “Frozen Butt Hang” for myself and my friends Joe and Robb–two longtime friends of mine who also love the outdoors. While it turned out to not be very frozen, we had a fantastic time.

The frozen butt hang is put on each year by Great Miami Outfitters (http://greatmiamioutfitters.com), a local camping/outdoor store located in Miamisburg, Ohio. GMO is one of my absolute favorite places to shop, as they easily rival (or even exceed) big-box stores like REI and Cabela’s. The owner and employees are great people, and they do a great job putting on this event. 2017 was the seventh annual occurrence of this event, and my second.

We started out the adventure with a great lunch and some brews at a local establishment called Mudlick Tap House. This little brewpub has some of the best food and beer around, and it’s only a few miles from the park. After a few craft beers and soup/sandwiches, we were on our way to Germantown Metropark–specifically, Shimp’s Hollow group campsite–to begin our adventure.

Germantown Metropark is a fantastic and wild little spot located in Southwestern Ohio. Here, there are giant, old-growth forests, a rushing creek, and steep hillsides. There is also lots of local wildlife, like squirrels, turkeys, Great Horned owls, bobcats, even coyotes. The park has several miles of trails ranging from very easy to difficult. The Twin Valley Trail (or TVT) goes through the heart of the park, where I traverse several sections of it each summer during the TVT Challenge.

The group campsite is the perfect place to have a group hang. There are literally hundreds of anchor points to choose from. We set up camp on a ridgetop. With all the leaves down we had a great view of the surrounding rugged terrain. We each had our own unique hammock setup and we had to compare and talk gear. Robb had a Hammock Bliss and ENO tarp, Joe had a ENO Doublenest and tarp, and I had my Hennessy Expedition Asym with deluxe tarp. Robb was excited to try out his new whoopie slings and Dutchware straps and hardware. My Hennessy is a great old standby, but I’ve had it for a while and would like to upgrade, maybe to a Dream Hammock or Warbonnet Blackbird. For now, that’s just a dream until I get ahead financially. I realized lately I’ve spent way too much modding my Jeep. Maybe I should pick one or two hobbies instead of ten. Ha ha.

Robb being himself

Robb being himself

Just hanging out

Just hanging out

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My hammock rig with some Dutchware bling

Dinner was an amazing assortment of potluck food. There were meatballs, pizza pockets, even Pad Thai. I am always so impressed with how good some people can cook at camp. I typically stick to Mountain House meals on the trail or hot dogs when car camping. To have this much selection of great food was a real treat. The assortment of side dishes and desserts was also expansive. No one went to bed hungry that night.

After dinner, the boys and I did short night hike out to a backcountry campsite. I haven’t done that much night hiking in the past, and am now convinced it’s something I need to do a lot more. To be out on the trail with just a headlamp and the light of the moon is ethereal and exhilarating. It’s an entirely different experience. The senses become a lot more heightened, and every little sound and movement is enhanced. We walked past a bush full of birds and I think all of us jumped just a little bit.

In contrast to last year’s campout, where it bottomed out at 7º F, this year it only got down to 29º, and was 38º by the time we woke. There was no snow or ice, just some blustery winds that blew through. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going to bed with cold feet, which meant the rest of my body was cold. I ended up wrapping my down jacket around my feet to get myself warmed up, and finally drifted off to sleep.

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The morning temperature from inside my hammock

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I really didn’t want to get out

Sunrise

Sunrise on top of the ridge

Morning was beautiful, with a gorgeous sunrise over the ridge. It was clear and beautiful. Joe brewed some amazing pour-over coffee with his Jetboil stove. We slowly tore down our rigs as we sipped the delicious brew and talked gear, the outdoors, and life in general. Then, we all went our separate ways–back to our families. It was a short adventure, but an adventure nonetheless. If it’s 24 hours or two weeks, make sure you take the time to get outside and live.

 


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Unfrozen – The 52nd Annual Hocking Hills Winter Hike

In its 52 year history, the annual Hocking Hills Winter Hike has never had a high of 63 degrees—that is, until this year. Shattering 1998’s record of 58 degrees, there were no icicles or frozen waterfalls or snow this time. In actuality, people were hiking in T-shirts and shorts.

The Hocking Hills Winter Hike (or “HHWH”) is a southeastern Ohio tradition in which thousands of hikers–from recreational to professional–descend upon the Hocking Hills region to see the frozen caves, waterfalls, streams, and hillsides. Hikers can choose to just do the first half mile or so, or the full length of the hike which totals over seven miles. Some brave souls even did the out-and-back twice, bringing their hike totals to over 14. It is always an enjoyable time, and I have now hiked it in extreme cold and unseasonable warmth. There are so many beautiful aspects to the area that it doesn’t matter if the weather isn’t holding up its part of the bargain. There is just too much beauty here to not make one excited about the outdoors.

On this balmy and foggy Saturday morning, my wife and I arrived around 9:00 a.m. and were directed to the Hocking Hills Dining Lodge parking area. Unfortunately, the lodge was destroyed by a fire in December 2016 and all that is left are the charred remains of a once-beautiful structure. From there, we took a shuttle bus to the Old Man’s Cave trail head, where we began the hike down into the gorge. The temperature was in the 40’s. A gentle mist came from out of the gorge floor. The crowd was much smaller this year, likely due to the fact that many of those who come to the winter hike come solely for the winter scenery which was nowhere to be found this year.

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The former Hocking Hills Dining Lodge, now in ruins from a fire in December

We hiked through Old Man’s Cave and were surrounded by rushing waterfalls and streams. I had never seen so much moving water through the park before, and it was an entirely different experience. The cliffs were covered with it. We then left Old Man’s Cave to start the hike on the “Granny Gatewood” connector from Old Man’s Cave, to Cedar Falls, and finally to Ash Cave. It’s about a seven mile trip one-way.

As we hiked along, the temperature warmed and the sun shined. We hiked the ridge from the Cave to Rose Lake, which is arguably one of my favorite sections, filled with with huge Pine and Hemlock trees that stay green all year long. The trail skirts along a deep gorge that resembles something more like the Great Smoky Mountains than Ohio. Within the gorge, thee are occasional glimpses of giant boulders and occasional waterfalls. It is such a gratifying hike, despite the massive amount of humanity during this particular event. This part of the trail tends to “thin out the herd” as only the more capable hikers proceed to do the full mileage and not just the half-mile loop through Old Man’s Cave.

“There is just too much beauty here to not make one excited about the outdoors.”

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The Hemlock-filled ridges along the Granny Gatewood section

We continued on past Rose Lake, a crystal-clear lake surrounded by the rolling hills. At around mile three, we reached Cedar Falls, which is undoubtedly one of the best (if not the best) waterfalls in Ohio. The recent rains gave it a heavier flow than normal. It made a thunderous sound as the water crashed over the rocks.

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Crystal-clear Rose Lake

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Cedar Falls

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The first of two bridges at Cedar Falls

From Cedar Falls, we hiked back up out of another gorge and up several stairs to the annual lunch tradition of bean soup, corn bread, and hot chocolate. By this time, it was about 63 degrees, so none of that really appealed to my wife or I, but we graciously ate it anyway and gave our modest donation to the local Scout troop that provided it. The soup actually is very good, and each year I load it with onions, pepper, and hot sauce to give it some “kick”.

From there, we headed toward Ash Cave for the remaining three miles. This section of the trail took us through some very deep mud, across streams, and past a fire tower. We were greeted by someone in costume dressed as Smoky the Bear. The fire tower section always seems to be the “breaking point” for many of the unconditioned hikers, and where many people both young and old tend to start saying “how much further???”.

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The fire tower

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Posing with Smoky the Bear

The final leg of the hike was somewhat exhausting, having to fight mud and hordes of people. Unlike a self-paced hike, pace is determined by the speed of those in front of you. There were many people with dogs, little kids, etc. that tended to slow everyone down. Still, the feeling of camaraderie in a common goal–reaching Ash Cave–was inspiring. it reminds me very much of a race (5K/10K, etc.) where everyone is striving for the finish line at their own pace. Everyone together trying to reach the end.

As we reached Ash Cave, we felt a sense of relief and awe at the rush of water tumbling over the cave’s edge. It was bittersweet to know the hike was coming to an end. It was a feeling of both accomplishment and wonder.

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Ash Cave

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The Hocking Hills are by far the most amazing place in the state of Ohio. For just a few hours, you feel as though you have stepped completely out of the state into somewhere completely far away. There is always something new to see each year and it’s a hike that I never get tired of doing. My wife and I plan to bring our children here in the spring so they experience the wonder and majesty of one of Ohio’s (and America’s) greatest outdoor treasures.

Hocking Hills State Park is located in southeastern Ohio near Logan. To learn more about the park, go to https://www.hockinghills.com/.