I’ve made a very slow start on this year’s goal of hiking all the Ohio State Parks in my quadrant of the state. Part of that is because I wanted to focus on the Medina County Parks, and I really love the CVNP and the Summit Metro Parks, so I haven’t gotten much beyond those trails.
Part of the reason, though, is because looking at maps of the different Ohio State Parks always leave me a little… uncertain. The maps I’ve found from the Ohio DNR web site are basic line maps, usually with the trails added but not always with good distance measurements. (There are better maps once you get to the parks, but you sometimes have to search for them.)
Case in point: Portage Lakes State Park. I’ve had a copy of the map in my hands for a while, but the many trails overlap each other, and it’s hard to tell from the map where best to start for any of them. What kind of terrain do the trails cover? Where are the access points? What might be the best way to tackle them all? I’ve looked at that map so many times, trying to plot a good strategy for hiking the park, and I keep coming back to the idea that I have to break it up into two different visits, just to make sure I have time to cover all the trails.
I decided earlier this week that I needed just to go ahead and visit the park and give it a try. So I looked up the least complicated route for getting to the park, picked a spot where I wanted to park and begin hiking, and headed out before dawn this morning.
Since I like to find good sites with water for sunrise (the reflections tend to be so lovely), I decided to park at High Point within the park before picking up the Shoreline Trail and following it across the public beach at dawn. Alas for me, the dawn proved uncooperative, hiding behind clouds. I caught a patch of light on camera (above), but mostly I decided to enjoy the quiet stroll along the beach, listening to the geese and ducks, watching an otter glide by and flick its tail as it slipped below the surface, and startling a great blue heron into flight.
The trail followed the shoreline out to a wooded point before turning back along the next stretch of lake and gradually wandering deeper into the woods. And the further I hiked, the muddier it became. Most of the mud remained navigable, but a couple of sections had almost turned into swampy ponds, giving my hiking shoes a thorough workout (though not a thorough soaking, thank goodness!). Despite the annoyance of the muddy footing, the sun started to push past the clouds, giving me some lovely golden glimpses of the forest around me.
When the trail crossed the road, I came to a fork in the path. The Shoreline Trail headed straight ahead for another long stretch back to the lakeside before following the inner bay back to High Point. To the right lay Pheasant Run Trail, a shorter trail that cut across to that inner loop. Since I had already walked 2 miles, I decided to follow the shorter trail back, wandering down through an airy woodland until the path reached the edge of Latham Bay, where I caught my first glimpse of blue sky.
From here, the trail followed around this bay to the right, ending up on the opposite bank, then followed beside a parking lot, across a ravine, and up the hill to the parking area at High Point. By the time I reached my vehicle, I had hiked 3.4 miles and covered about half the trail mileage in the park. Not bad! I toyed briefly with the idea of driving around to the other end of the park and finishing off the trails, but considering the abundance of mud, I decided to hold off for another day.
I still love referring to maps when planning my hikes, but it’s clear to me that I can’t rely on them fully, especially for the state parks and nature preserves. There’s just no substitute for getting your feet on the ground and hiking those paths yourself!