Backpacking Ohio’s Buckeye Trail

Photo: Mary Reed

Follow the blue blazes to a sweet trailside campsite on this developing trail system that encompasses Ohio.

The 1,400-mile Buckeye Trail (BT) circumnavigates the state of Ohio and you can ‘follow the blue blazes’ from the shores of Lake Erie to the Ohio River. This footpath is known to Ohio hikers, but what’s less known is the fact that the BT has some 135 campsites scattered around the state, which vary from simple spots on the ground to pitch your tent to three-sided Adirondack shelters with nearby facilities. While the BT is not yet ready for easy thru-hiking with regularly spaced campsites, here are a few spots to get you dreaming about backpacking at least a section of this life-list trail. 

Northeast Ohio: Brecksville Reservation Ottawa Overlook

The BT goes through five Cleveland Metroparks. Contact the Brecksville Reservation to obtain a backcountry permit ($5 processing fee; open year-round with water available only Memorial Day through September) to camp at the Ottawa Overlook backcountry site. For a quick outing, park at the Plateau Picnic Area and hike about 3 miles on the BT to the campsite. If you’re up for a big outing, park at the Boston Mill Visitor Center in Cuyahoga Valley National Park (open 24/7/365) and hike 9 miles north on the BT to Ottawa Overlook. On Day 2, you can continue north and east on the BT for 3 miles to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail at Brecksville Station and walk the towpath trail south 4.4 miles back to your vehicle. If you plan ahead, you can catch the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad from Brecksville Station to Boston Mill Station.

There are three tent sites at Ottawa Overlook; bathrooms and seasonal water are a quarter-mile away at the Ottawa Point Picnic Area (located two hours northeast of Columbus). Fires are not permitted at the backcountry site. More info:

Southeast Ohio: Burr Oak State Park Dock 3 

The BT hugs the edge of Burr Oak Lake, and you can skip a rock in the lake from a campsite at the Dock 3 campground. Reserve a site March through September ($19 plus reservation fee) and you can either car camp here or backpack to it. A scenic and convenient overnighter begins at the nature center. Park there and hike north on the BT 4.5 miles to the campsite. Return the way you came on Day 2, or, for a full weekend trip, continue in a counterclockwise loop around the lake to the main campground (7 miles) and then return to the nature center (10 miles). (To complete the loop, you’ll need to follow the Lakeview Trail on the north side of the lake as well as the BT.) The main car-camping campground (located an hour and a half southeast of Columbus) keeps some campsites open year-round. More info:

Southwest Ohio: Five Rivers MetroParks trailside campsites 

Hats off to Five Rivers MetroParks, which in 2021 installed trailside campsites specifically for those traveling the Buckeye Trail/North Country Scenic Trail or the adjacent Great Miami River Trail. These are designed to accommodate long-distance hikers and cyclists. If you’re not a thru-hiker, hail an Uber/Lyft (or a friend) to drop you off at Eastwood MetroPark; one of the campsites is located here. Hike the BT west 5 miles—you’ll see the Dayton skyline from here—to Island MetroPark and your next campsite. The next day, continue north 9 miles to Taylorsville MetroPark where there’s a third trailside campsite. This section of the BT (about an hour west of Columbus), is an urban oasis and a social hike. It’s a mix of natural surface and paved trail; expect to see a lot of other hikers and cyclists in addition to river views. Campsites are either in the woods or along the edge of the woods and prairie. The Island campsite is open April 1 through Oct. 31; Eastwood and Taylorsville are open 365 days a year and all require a reservation ($3-5). Toilets are nearby, potable water is nearby or within a mile. Fires not permitted. More info:

Hike the entire BT 

The two best ways to hike the entire 1,440 miles of the Buckeye Trail are by either section-hiking it with a group or thru-hiking it with a little bit of support. Buckeye Trail Association volunteers generally lead circuit hikes once a month, completing roughly 20 miles via two 10-mile (or so) day-hikes. It generally takes about six years to complete the BT this way. Thru-hiking is definitely an option but will require some support. Most sections you can backpack from campsite to campsite, but for lengthy sections along private property, you’ll need to contact local landowners or set up a support shuttle. Download detailed BT maps in order to plan your thru-hike accordingly. More info:

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.