When it comes to outdoor adventures in Cincinnati, one of the first places that you need to check out is East Fork State Park. Whether you want to kayak to a secluded cove of Harsha Lake, backpack the Worldwalker perimeter trail, or park your tent in the cozy campground, East Fork has you covered.
One of my favorite aspects of this park is the trails, which are everywhere! Running around the perimeter of the park is the 32-mile Steve Neuman Worldwalker trail, which offers a great way to stretch your legs on a multi-day backpacking trip. Speaking of backpacking, if you feel like taking a more extended trip, the Buckeye Trail happens to run through the park as well. Just follow the Blue Blazes if you feel like hiking 2,100 miles around this great state! If both of those seem quite the task, there is a shorter option in the 14-mile Backpacking Trail. One of the perks of the Backpacking Trail and Worldwalker Trail is that camping is free in the designated areas. Just be sure to check in with the park office to reserve your spot.
For day hikes in the area, my personal favorite starts near the Harsha Lake dam. From State Route 222, turn onto Slade Road (follow the signs for Harsha Lake) and park in the first parking area on the right. From the parking lot, follow the beaten path towards the woods and you are now on the Buckeye Trail. I find this section of the BT very quiet and peaceful and rarely used. The trail meanders around the countours of the area, until it drops into one of the small streams that flows into the lake. There are a few steep sections, but after a couple miles or so you will make your way to the mountain bike trails. Once at the mountain bike trail, I retrace my steps back to my car. As an out-and-back hike, it totals around five miles.
With a few steep hills, and a couple creek crossings, this rugged trail can be quite the adventure, and can take some time. Don’t rush it though, this area does not see many hikers, and there is quite a bit of wildlife to take in. Once you are back to your car, be sure to drive onto the dam, as there are usually Turkey Vultures hanging out in plain sight.
My personal favorite activity at East Fork, however, involves bringing my mountain bike. Thanks to a great collaboration between the parks and the Cincinnati Off Road Alliance, over 10 miles of sweet single track rolls all over the southern side of the park. These trails range from being smooth and easy for the novice to tight, twisty and technical for the experts. These trails are well marked and heavily traveled, especially on weekends.
My favorite route starts at the main parking area, which is located near the park office. Take State Route 125 towards Bethel, follow the signs onto Bantam Road, then turn at the first left onto Elklick Road to go into the park. Once in the parking lot, ride towards the horse staging area onto the Hopewell loop. From there, ride through the Adena, Shawnee, and Lake Trails, and work your way back to your vehicle to get the full East Fork MTB experience. Be sure to have your proper safety gear, and ride within your limits!
If you are looking for a great local adventure, look no further than East Fork State Park. Go check it out for the mountain biking and hiking, but be sure to stay for the camping and kayaking. At only 25 miles outside of our great city, this park truly is a Trail Gem.
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Written by Cody Sowers, Outside Cincy