County: Scioto, Adams

Nearest town: Portsmouth

Length: Options vary from 21 miles to just over 50 miles.

Difficulty: Hiking is some of the most difficult in Ohio. Count on plenty of steep climbs and drops of up to 400+ feet.

Permit/Fees: Self issued permits are available at the Trailhead. There is no fee to camp.

Contact Information: Shawnee State Forest Office: (740) 858-6685. Shawnee State Park Office: (740) 858-6652.

Location: Backpack Trailhead (N38° 44.518′ W83° 11.851′). From Portsmouth, take US 52 West to right on OH 125 West. In 6.6 miles, turn left into Shawnee State Park. The Trailhead parking is immediately on the right.

Trail Facilities: Paved parking and a kiosk is available at the trailhead. Restrooms are available in the park. Orange blazing is not overly abundant, but generally sufficient. There are seven backcountry camp areas along the route.

Water: Water is trucked in to cisterns located near most camp areas, except Camp 6. There is a stream located adjacent to that camp area and near the trail in several other locations. As always, treat or filter any water obtained from natural sources.

Maps: ODNR Div. of Forestry Shawnee State Forest Map backpack trail map


Local Information:

Located west of Portsmouth, Shawnee State Forest is sometimes called “The Little Smokies of Ohio.” It’s an apt description. There are views of multiple ridges covered with a forest large enough to create the humidity fueled blue haze that the National Park to the south is famous for.

While the topography does not reach the extremes of the Great Smoky Mountains, Shawnee State Forest contains some of the most rugged land in the state. Geologically, the forest sits within the Appalachian Plateaus. The area was affected by the same forces that formed the Appalachian Mountains, but to a lesser extent. Climbs and drops on the Backpack Trail reach over 400 feet.

The State first began purchasing property in the area in1922, buying 5,000 acres of mostly cleared land for $5 per acre. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed many of the roads and lakes that are now part of the forest and park.

Today, Shawnee is the largest State Forest in Ohio at over 63,000 acres. In addition, 8,000 of those acres have enjoyed a wilderness designation since 1972. Another 1095 acres belong to Shawnee State Park. Surrounded by the forest, the park offers a number of facilities including multiple lakes with fishing, boating and swimming, some shorter trails, a campground, nature center and a lodge with a restaurant and overnight accommodations. Be aware however, being within an actively managed forest, the trail passes by evidence of active or recent timber removal.

The Hike:

In his great book, “Backpack Loops and Long Day Trail Hikes in Southern Ohio” Robert Ruchhoft describes the very first hill of the Shawnee State Forest Backpack Trail, North Loop as a “lung buster.”  Other climbs were described as “grim” and an “agonizing obstacle.”

Beyond being the most rugged, Shawnee State Forest also offers the longest backpacking options described in this book. There is a large loop that, by using a connector trail, is split into a 21-mile North Loop and a 28 mile South Loop. The South Loop also links with the 10-mile Wilderness Side Trail. Various combinations result in possible hikes of 21, 28, 38, 45 or even 50 miles.

Shawnee is a great location for anyone training to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). The route can be long enough to get a feel for life on the trail and the steep repetitive hills are reminiscent of the PUDS (pointless ups and downs) of the AT. Unlike the AT though, you will probably see few other hikers.

Camping on the Backpack Trail is restricted to one of 7 camp areas. Each area has multiple locations for tents, fire rings and a latrine. Most have a cistern nearby with trucked in water. Camp #6 does not, but it is situated on a stream that appears to flow year-round……

Video of the South Loop

Video of the North Loop

Download Shawnee State Trail Guide