The OutLan Channel

Hiking, Camping, Backpacking, Gear


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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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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/.


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Backpacking Hanson’s Point – Red River Gorge, Kentucky

The Red River Gorge National Geological Area in Kentucky is by far one of my favorite places to hike and camp. At only 2 1/2 hours from my house in Ohio, It’s a quick and simple drive to some of the most dramatic scenery in the East. This area has been dubbed “Moab with trees” due to its numerous arches, bridges, and cliff faces. It is rugged and sometimes dangerous–making it even more alluring. It truly is one of the most wild and awesome places to get up close with nature. Unfortunately, the attractiveness of this place draws many people each year, and some are careless. There have been many wildfires started here due to people being careless with campfires. Just in the past few weeks many acres have been burned due to unattended fires and extremely dry conditions. I fear sometime in the very near future Hanson’s Point might be completely closed to outside traffic because of the carelessness of a few. In fact, there was just a forest fire there in the past few weeks due to careless campers not putting out a fire.

On a gorgeous weekend on September 10, 2016, my friend Robb and I decided to do an overnight backpacking trip up to a “secret” hidden spot known as Hanson’s Point. This location isn’t officially recognized by the Daniel Boone National Forest, but is on numerous maps and quite easy to find. I was first introduced to this location about five years ago when I did my first backpacking trip here with the Dayton Hikers Meetup Group. I had been here enough to know how to get to it.

The hike to the Point starts easily enough. We parked at the Gray’s Arch trail head, which is one of the most popular and frequently visited areas. From there, we took the road back a few hundred yards until we reached the Sheltowee Trace trail. This hike is fairly easy (for this region), and covers a ridge with gorgeous views and dramatic slopes on both sides. There are many campsites along the path, but resist the urge to camp at these and go for the big prize–the campsites at the top near Hanson’s Point.

Jeep Renegade with Gear

The new Jeep Renegade on its first road trip with gear!

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Gray’s Arch trail head sign

The hike along the Sheltowee ridge is fairly easy, with only a few minor ups and down and rocks to scramble. It could be muddy and difficult after heavy rain, but not dangerous. There are many vistas and views to the surrounding mountains from here.

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Rob posing on cliff’s edge on the Sheltowee Trace trail

Once we made it to the connector for the Rough Trail, we veered left. After about a quarter mile and on the right we found the unofficial Hanson’s Point trail. This trail is fairly steep, but not hard. It’s more difficult because it’s not maintained, and the hardest aspect is the blow downs and overgrowth. It seems to be getting more difficult every time I visit–which, in all honesty, makes me enjoy it more. You really have to work to get the payoff here, like many places I have been out West.

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The Sheltowee Trace trail

We finally made it to the top, after scrambling through brush and over logs and under wasp’s nests. The large group camp at the top of the ridge was a sight for sore eyes. I wanted to press on to a campsite closer to Hanson’s Point, so we passed a few other backpackers and pressed on. Finally, we found the spot, dropped our gear and set up our hammocks, and then hiked over to the Point. We knew storms were on their way in, so we wanted to be sure to get out to the point and back before they slammed us.

Hennessy Hammock

The Point was just as beautiful as I remember. With sweeping views across the Gorge that are reminiscent of deeper wilderness. This place is wild and rugged, not for the faint of heart. There are plenty of things that can kill you here–bears, snakes, stinging things, and steep dropoffs, which are the biggest killer of all. Hanson’s Point is beautiful but dangerous. There are no handrails here, and nothing to protect you from falling several hundred feet to your death. If you come here, be smart, be safe. Don’t take risks, and don’t overestimate your abilities.

After our visit to the Point, we headed back to camp to chill out and enjoy the scenery. Our relaxation was short lived, however, after a cold front swept through and brought howling wind, rain, and lightning for the next few hours. We sheltered in place under our tarps and stayed perfectly warm and dry. The rain blew by and finally stopped after dark. We were even able to get a small fire going with some wood we had collected and kept dry under our tarps.

The next morning we were greeted by beautiful fog that blanketed the Gorge. It was absolutely beautiful, and I was able to capture some amazing shots with my phone.

Sunlight in the morning

We had breakfast and coffee and headed back down the mountain and back to the car. The hike was beautiful, and I never get tired of being in “the Red”. As a customary measure, I introduced Robb to Miguel’s famous pizza, which was absolutely fantastic after a weekend in the woods.

Miguel's famous pizza

Red River Gorge is wild, dangerous, and beautiful. It’s one of the only places within a two hour drive from my house where I feel I can experience “real” wilderness–like that of being in the Appalachians or out west. I never get tired of coming here, and love bringing new friends who have never experienced it before. This is my kind of place, and I plan on being back many more times in the near future.