Around Ohio: Shawnee State Park Offers Numerous Outdoor Activities
Shawnee State Park is becoming a popular outdoor destination for Central Ohioans. Known as the “Ohio Smokies,” the 1,000 acre park is surrounded by the 63,000 acre Shawnee State Forest in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Located in West Portsmouth about two hours from Columbus, the park offers opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, swimming, boating and camping.
Shawnee State Park has miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Hiking trails range from the half-mile Lodge/Beach Trail to the 40 mile Shawnee Backpack Trail, with many in between. The Shawnee Forest Day Hike Trail is a moderate 4.6 mile trail that winds through woods, over a creek, and to the top of a large hill and back down again. The Park Loop Trail is a moderate 5 mile trail that winds around Turkey Creek Lake and has several vantage points of the water. About halfway through the trail it veers away from the water and weaves uphill through the woods and back down to a different area of the lake.
These two trails showcase the wildflowers, wildlife, and native foliage of the area. Goldenrod and Joe Pye Weed are abundant along the water and in the fields. The forest is a mixed mesophytic forest, meaning there is not a single dominant tree in the area; rather, there can be as many as 30 species of trees populating the area. Some of the more common trees to look for along these trails are the Tuliptree, Umbrella Magnolia, Black Walnut, maples, hickories, and elms.
Another option for seeing all the forest has to offer without hiking a trail is a scenic drive. The state forest has several drives, notably the Ohio Scenic Byway, that traverse the forest via dirt, gravel, and paved roads. They provide opportunities to observe the flora and fauna of the area, and sometimes even ford streams, in a more relaxed setting. If the weather is less than ideal, this is a great alternative for taking in all the sights.
Shawnee State Park has a variety of accommodations for visitors wanting to spend the night. Shawnee State Park Campground offers 108 sites for both tents and trailers. The campground has many amenities, including heated shower houses, flush toilets, and laundry facilities. There are also several activities available within the campground such as playgrounds, mini golf, walking trails, sporting equipment, and boat rentals. In addition to the campground, the park also offers private cabins and a lodge. Within the lodge there is a gift shop, restaurant, indoor pool, and game room.
Located within the park are two large lakes, Roosevelt Lake and Turkey Creek Lake, totaling 68 acres of water with multiple launch sites. The camp store offers rentals for canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and rowboats for both lakes. Additionally, both lakes offer numerous fishing sites and have beach areas for swimming and wading.
Several picnic areas with tables and grills are sprinkled throughout the park. Some of these grassy areas also have horseshoe, volleyball, and basketball. There is also an 18-hole disc golf course that starts near the beach and weaves over hills and through wooded areas.
About 20 minutes east of Shawnee State Park is the historic town of Portsmouth. Native Americans and early European settlers lived in the area for years before it was established as a city in 1815. Its prime location along the Ohio River made it an important industrial town. It was once known as the “Shoe Capital of the World” and had several large shoe and shoelace manufacturer warehouses. The town also played a prominent role in the Underground Railroad with locals assisting escaped slaves from Kentucky who crossed the Ohio River into the Portsmouth area.
Portsmouth is home to a variety of restaurants, several antique shops, a roadside food stand called Dari Creme that serves an excellent peanut butter milkshake, and the historic Portsmouth Brewing Company that has been serving local beer since 1843.
Separating the town from the Ohio River is a length of flood wall covered in murals. The Portsmouth Murals cover 2,000 feet and depict the history of the town of Portsmouth. Muralist Robert Dafford was commissioned for the project in 1992 and spent the next 10 summers in Portsmouth working on the first 60 murals. A few of the aspects of Portsmouth that are represented in the murals are the Civil War, the Erie Canal, stagecoaches, grist mills, historic church congregations, first responders, local industries and education.
Despite its relatively short drive from Columbus, Shawnee State Park feels worlds away from the busy city. It offers guests a chance to slow down and take in the beauty that Ohio has to offer. Whether through camping, hiking, boating, or general sightseeing, this park in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains offers endless opportunities to connect with nature.
More information about lodging reservations, boating permits, and hiking recommendations can be found on the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s website.
All photos by Randi Walle