Backpacking Trips Within 3 Hours of CLE

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when you think of Cleveland, “nature” is probably not the first word that springs to mind. Nonetheless, I will continue to try to find places to commune with nature near “the 216.”

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

I did a little research into backpacking opportunities near Cleveland. Obviously we live close to a number of state parks and metroparks, but these aren’t quite far enough afield for a true backpacking experience. The closest I found was Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), but even that doesn’t offer a treasure trove of backpacking trips. It’s great for a day-hike when you need a quick nature-fix. But for a “get-lost-to-find-yourself” overnight excursion, I needed to look a little further.

Southern Ohio – Hocking Hills & Wayne National Forest

In Ohio, the best places seem to be Hocking Hills and Wayne National Forest, both in southeastern Ohio. While not exactly “in the 216” these two offer plenty of hiking, camping, and backpacking. Unfortunately, as one reviewer put it, if you’re hiking in Ohio, expect to see a lot of forest. That’s right – we don’t exactly have the soaring vistas of the west. Nonetheless, the scenery can be beautiful, and for me there’s little better than gliding through the mist and taking that first breath of FRESH air. That air that’s about 10 degrees cooler, that just feels more natural. The breath that hits you in the back of your throat and that you can feel all the way down deep in your lungs. That forest air.

Buckeye Trail

Far from a back-country experience but an interesting find nonetheless, the Buckeye Trail features 26 distinct sections that, together, circle the State of Ohio.  Unfortunately, many of them take you straight through small towns, like Burton and Willoughby. Another nice find and a unique way to learn more about the State of Ohio, but not quite what we’re looking for.

To get a decent back-country experience, we need to head into western-Pennsylvania, in the Allegheny Forest, where I found a number of decent hiking trails, two of which I’m going to feature today.

Minister Creek Trailhead

The general consensus is that Minister Creek can be done in a day, but that it doubles nicely as a short overnight. My plan is to hit Minister Creek for a short overnight sometime this summer. With campfires and walk-in camping permitted, this 6 1/2 mile loop is “Difficult” featuring a climb to the Minister Creek Undeveloped Area. If you plan to go in spring or fall, beware that the area is heavily used for hunting, so dress appropriately (i.e. in bright fluorescent clothing).

Raccoon Creek State Park

A Pennsylvania State Park, Raccoon Creek offers 44 total miles of hiking trails with a 19 1/2 mile backpacking loop featuring two camping areas.  Located northwest of Pittsburgh, this State Park is a relatively short drive from greater-Cleveland that features a variety of  different terrain and beautiful lake views.

Slippery Rock Gorge Trail

A 5.3 mile point-to-point trail, Slippery Rock Gorge Trail does not allow camping but can provide experienced hikers a with a strenuous, out-and-back day-hike. A typical mid-western trail, expect lots of green forest with some stunning views of the river. In addition to backpacking, McConnells Mill State Park offers kayaking, whitewater rafting, and climbing and rappelling.


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