Updated 11-16-20:In honor of National Take a Hike Day, we’re taking a look back at some of the Ohio Valley’s most unique spots for exploring the great outdoors. As we continue to navigate through the coronavirus pandemic, spending time outdoors has proven to be a safe activity that is beneficial for both our mental and physical health. With the right gear, hiking is a hobby that you can enjoy year-round. November is also a time for traditions, and with Thanksgiving turkey trots and other gatherings looking a bit different this year, a family hike could be the start of a new holiday pastime.
So, what are you waiting for? Lace-up and hit the trails in honor of National Take a Hike Day!
With Covid-19 spreading, things are pretty uncertain right now, and with that uncertainty comes unease and anxiety. Additionally, we must isolate ourselves. They call it social distancing, and it’s not fun or relaxing. Those of us lucky enough to work from home are doing just that: working. We’re also likely supervising kids as they navigate the new world of online schooling.
It’s a recipe for high stress: one quart of dangerous virus, three cups of isolation, seven teaspoons of restless kids, and fourteen gallons of uncertainty. Sprinkle in a dash of bad weather, and that’s what life looks like for us.
However, isolation doesn’t mean we have to lock ourselves in our homes and stare at four walls for the next few weeks or months. There is a huge world of nature out there, and it’s big enough to accommodate all of us.
There are dozens of hikes you can take in our Ohio Valley. Below are some favorites. Follow the links to read a more detailed description of each one.
TOMLINSON RUN STATE PARK
Located near the tip of the northern panhandle in Hancock County, Tomlinson Run State Park offers excellent hiking through the eastern hardwood forest and along sandstone and shale cliffs. Hikes vary from easy to difficult with over half a dozen options, and the park offers other facilities like picnic areas and playgrounds (both of which you may want to avoid) and a lake for boating.
The trails at Tomlinson Run are long enough that you can spend a day in the park with a packed lunch in your hiking pack. The rock formations are especially neat and, early in the hiking season, will be more accessible before the weeds grow. Hiking shoes will be helpful. It takes about an hour to get to Tomlinson Run State Park from Wheeling. Trout are stocked once a month, February through May. Check the WV State Parks website before you go regarding COVID-19 safety precautions. As of March 18, 2020, the state park system remains open.
Dysart Woods is a 50-acre tract of mixed oak forest in the middle of Belmont County. What makes it unique is that it’s the largest old-growth forest left in Ohio. This means it’s never been cut or logged. It’s been as it is now since the land belonged to the indigenous peoples who originally inhabited it. What’s left now is a quiet tract of forest where only a handful of the original trees remain. They are giants—140 feet high and 400 years old. Unfortunately, the forest continues to lose the ancient trees to old age, disease and mining activity beneath the ground. Over half have been lost since 2006. Bottom line: you’re running out of time if you want to see these incredibly old beings. Currently, the forest belongs to Ohio University and is not only a national natural landmark but an outdoor research laboratory.
There are two choices at Dysart: the red trail (0.8 miles) and the blue trail (0.9 miles). Both go down to a stream and then rise again to return to the entrance road. You can easily do them both or save one for the next visit, since we might be doing this isolation thing for a while. Parking is convenient. This hike can be done in sneakers but may be muddy. There are a few rickety bridge crossings.
If you like Hocking Hills State Park, you’ll love Raven Rocks with its waterfall, overhung cliffs and recessed caves. Located in Beallsville, Ohio, the land was purchased in 1970 by an environmentally minded group that wanted to preserve the natural area. Some of the owners still live on the property. The public is invited to enjoy the ravine, and more than 1,000 acres have been placed under a conservation easement with the Captina Watershed Conservancy.
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Raven Rocks takes your breath away, especially when you remember you’re still in Belmont County. It’s uneven terrain that requires you to navigate stairs, boulders and potentially muddy paths. Good shoes will help, and think twice before taking a toddler who might dart away from you, because there are steep cliffs and long drops. Kids that understand about ledges will have the time of their lives, and the hike comes with a built-in geology lesson.
It takes about 50 minutes to get to Raven Rocks from Wheeling.
If you like Raven Rocks, you’ll like Piatt Park. Piatt is a tiny place with a huge personality. Located in Monroe County, Ohio, near Woodsfield, this out-of-the-way place has camping sites, restroom facilities, and one main attraction: the gorge. Hidden beneath the canopy, the trail leads from the parking area along a ridge and down a series of steep wooden staircases, which can be slippery. You can stop halfway down the stairs to explore a recessed cave. At the bottom, the stream that carved the gorge flows over a waterfall, and you can climb along the side to enter the canyon, which offers one of the most unique scenes in the Ohio Valley. With appropriate, waterproof footwear (which should be treaded, because this place is slick), you can follow the stream all the way up to the head of the ravine, where you’ll pop out at your original starting point. I took my dog on this hike and she loved it. Older folks with limited mobility should skip this one.
Over 14,000 acres of public land straddles Belmont and Guernsey Counties near Morristown, Ohio and surrounds the eastern half of Piedmont Lake. “Public” means it’s open to everyone, including hikers, hunters and fishermen. Egypt Valley is an example of successful reclamation: 80% of the area was once mined. When mining was complete (a few new projects have begun again), the area was reclaimed as a wildlife area. Cattle graze here and there, and bird-watching opportunities are abundant. The roads are mostly unpaved, and the terrain varies between forested and open. Egypt Valley isn’t so much a series of trails as it is an open expanse of land where you can wander where you like. The Ohio Division of Natural Resources has stocked many of the ponds, although you’ll have a hard time getting fishermen to share where the lunkers lurk.
In terms of wildlife viewing, you’ll see raptors like hawk, eagle, osprey and owls, as well as beavers, otters, deer, coyote, etc. Check the Ohio hunting regulations before you go to make sure you’ll be safe.
A DATABASE OF HIKES
Once you’ve tackled these, you have many more choices. Jesse Mestrovic, a devout outdoorsman, has assembled a thorough database of recreational opportunities at ohiovalleyadventure.com. Whether you hike, bike, fish or camp, you can find a destination to satisfy both your need for nature and your social distancing requirements. He’s also provided trout stocking data.
Remember, friends, this is an anxious time for everyone. Check on friends and neighbors, stay isolated, and take lots of walks. Mental and physical health go hand in hand. Get out there.
• Laura Jackson Roberts is an environmental writer and humorist in Wheeling, West Virginia. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Chatham University and serves as the Northern Panhandle representative of West Virginia Writers. Her hobbies include hiking, travel and rescuing homeless dogs. Visit her at laurajacksonroberts.com.