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Wayne National Forest: Lake Vesuvius/Storms Creek Area

Loop Around the Lake Via Parts Lakeside Loop and Parts Backpack Trail

April 3, 2012

 

Park Website:  http://waynenationalforest.com/

U.S. Forest Service Site:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/wayne/home

State Website:  http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/watercraft/tabid/2543/Default.aspx

Another State Website:  http://www.stateparks.com/wayne.html

Friends of Freedom Society:  http://www.ohioundergroundrailroad.org/LakeVesuvius.htm

 

The website refers to it as being small, and while it’s certainly not the size of the Daniel Boone or the Monongahela National Parks this Wayne National Forest is, for the tri-city area of Huntington, WV, Ironton, OH and Ashland, KY, a pretty large place in which to de-stress.  This particular part of it, that is! 

The forest has, in total, around ¼ million acres but this acreage it’s not continuous.  According to the park brochure it’s divided into 3 parts, all of which lie in different sections of southeast Ohio with the park maintaining offices in Nelsonville, Ironton and Marietta.  Today I travelled in the vicinity of Lake Vesuvius near Ironton after first stopping in at the ranger office (full directions below).  There I found the ladies to be very helpful and they even gave me a very nice map of the forest – one which not only covered this particular area, it also covered all other parts of the forest too with maps for every trail. 

Upon leaving the office, I found my way to the boat ramp and then proceeded to head up the path which would lead me around the northern side of the lake.  This path will be marked with both blue and yellow blazes.  Blue is for the 8 mile Lakeshore Trail while yellow is for the longer, 16 mile, Backpack Trail. 

I’d be OK on this northern side of the lake today but later I’d get the paths confused on the southern side.  The result broke things up pretty nicely however, with the first section being a low-lying exploration of the northern bank via the Lake Shore Trail and the second being a nice stroll through the woods and ravines of the southern side on a higher plane courtesy of the Backpack Trail. 

Anyway, after you first pass a side trail which leads up to a campground (stay to the right); the path takes you around the contours of the lake in the shape of an “M” if you turn the map in this direction.  You’ll be starting the letter from the right side as you get some nice views of the lake.  There’s also a great boardwalk here that some fishermen were taking ample advantage of today...

For that matter, this first part of the hike – while beautiful - is pretty much lacking in solitude but the further back you get into Storms Creek (the source waters of Lake Vesuvius) the more of it you’ll have.  As indicated in the title, Lake Vesuvius is a dammed-up Storms Creek and it gets its name from the Vesuvius Furnace which is out here.  In essence, furnaces like these once burned the woods in order to power iron making – predominantly for the railroads.

Anyway, as you wind into the center of the “M” you’ll spot a great looking rock outcrop in the distance and then the trail will straighten out to form the extended back section of the “M” and this will lead you all the way back to an old swimming area.  In the process of walking through here I found that the lake and its colorful floral surroundings were conspiring to make some really lasting impressions!

Eventually you’ll pass beside some kind of concrete structure before you reach a trail intersection.  The Backpack Trail cuts to the left here but you’ll probably want to stay straight on the Lakeshore Trail unless you want to add about 15 more miles to your hike! 

A swimming area comes up next (Big Bend Swimming Beach).  Doesn’t this look like a nice place to enjoy the lake?

You’ll want to curve around to the right here; cross the beach and then catch the trail on the other side.  In so doing, you’ll come upon an old roadbed.  This is supposedly a continuation of the trail, but today there seemed to be a little bit of a detour.  It led me up the hill to a paved road.  Fair enough…

I travelled a short distance on the road and then caught up with the path again at a point just past a guard rail.  Here I was led down and to the right to soon arrive back alongside the water.  I did backtrack a little on the path out of curiosity but I never did find the reason for the detour.  I guessed that it might have been a deadfall.

Continuing on, I found that I was being led further and further back into the source-waters of Storms Creek, and in the process I was also finding more and more solitude and more and more varieties of plant life – both in terms of mosses and flowering plants…  (You’ll pass mile marker 2 in here as well).

Soon I met up with the only fellow hikers I’d see today near a point of some nice rock overhangs.  They were very considerate too!  They warned me that there was a snake awaiting me up ahead in an old cypress tree!  I would not have expected to see one out here so early in the spring and I was very glad to be forewarned!  They said it was going to be coming up in a swampy section I’d soon pass through.

Well, needless to say I was treading with a LOT more trepidation around every cypress tree I saw from this point on!  When would I pass this snake?  Who knew?

I next curved to the right and into a low-lying area where a little unnamed stream entered Storms Creek.  This was the Shelton Hollow area on the map…  Was this where I’d see it? 

No...

 

Well, I next came upon a row of cypress trees…  Was this going to be it?

YEP!

 

In the picture it looks like its head is cut off but it’s not.  It just juts down at an odd angle, but do these critters ever send an eerie shiver up my spine!  The snake never made a move by the way - it actually had its head buried in a hole in the tree - but I did go off the trail briefly here in order to safely negotiate around it!  I NEVER like to do this (go off the beaten path), but I felt I had to here!  The thing was a good 5 -6 feet up in the tree!  High enough to strike me in the face!  How does a snake climb a tree?!?  (For that matter, how does a snake swim?!?  I’ve now seen them do BOTH!  I once saw one swimming away from me while I was kayaking the Little Sandy River!)

Well, seeing a snake back here was appropriate, I guess, because that’s exactly what Storms Creek seemed to be doing at this point – snaking back towards its origins.  The land, too, had its own undulations.  I soon found myself climbing past a little outcrop of rock to then follow along the creek near the top of a ridgeline as it curved around to the right in a big “C”.

Later I dipped back down to meet the water near its edge and then I was climbing again to end at a “T” intersection in the path at the very edge of a ridge top.  The trail markers here have you heading to the right and down the ridge and there’s a peninsula of land at this point down at the creek that you can check out if you wish. 

Me, I continued to curve left around the end of the ridge on a somewhat higher plane to eventually be deposited in what appeared to be the floodplain of the stream.  This was an area that I’d call Storms Creek in its “youth” as it seemed to be just meandering around, still trying to find a definite direction in its life - it wasn’t wide or deep enough to float a kayak on.  Such spots are, however, some of the most scenic that a stream has to offer.

Soon after you pass by an outcrop of rock on your right you’ll come to a trail sign which will have you crossing over the stream.  It’s somewhat confusing here though.  3 of 4 arrows point you to the right while one points straight.  The trail is also very well-trodden if you were to head straight…  

So what did I do?  I followed the 3 arrows to the right and crossed the stream.

Upon reaching the other side you’ll want to head to the right to then follow along the opposite side of Storms Creek/Lake Vesuvius, but I was intrigued by the path that led to the left.  It, too, was well trodden and it quickly led me to an intriguing area where there was both an outcrop of rock and a rocky/sandy beach.  I found that the butterflies here were engaging in what looked like some sort of courting ritual or dance.  Check it out 

This was indeed a rewarding detour, but I was soon on my way again – on my way to confusion – for as I continued on the path I soon met up with a couple intersections that really threw me even though they shouldn’t have.  You see, the blue markers I’d been following had now seemingly disappeared, but this shouldn’t have mattered.  Blue markers or no you’ll still want to stay alongside the water if you’re following a trail named “Lakeshore Trail” right?  I should have been making every right turn from here on because the water was now on my right.  Well I was so messed up – both by the change in trail markings and by the number of different ones - that I actually took a left here instead of a right. 

Allow me to better explain what you’re supposed to do at this point to follow the Lakeshore Trial.  At this particular intersection you’ve got several markings on the trees, all of which are atop silver diamonds.  What you’ll want to do is follow the marker that directs you to the right.  It’s got a plum colored circle on it.  This is apparently the Vesuvius Connector Trail that will lead you back to the Lakeshore Trail.  

What did I do?  Well I erred to the left onto a trail marked with an “ML”.  I’d eventually find out what this “ML” meant, but it wasn’t until right now – as I’m writing this!  It wasn’t on my map.  Meanwhile, a second wooden marker leaning against a tree at this same point informed me that “Sand Hill TH” was 1.5 miles ahead.  I didn’t realize the significance of these markers, but neither did I know what the plum markers meant.  All I knew was that the blue markers were gone – or at least I didn’t see any.  I headed on…  

Where did the “ML” Trail eventually go?  Well, near as I could tell it led me around the lake on a higher plane on what I thought at the time was the southern section of the Backpack Trail.  I’d not see the lake again until the end of the day although I did enjoy the pleasant stroll I ended up taking through the woods.  I encountered quite a few wildlflowers patches along the way… 

Anyway, you’ll wind up, down, and around quite a few ridgelines in here, in the process meeting up with quite a few little streams.  You’ll also find that the roadbed can be quite intriguing.  It’s always curious to see how nature takes things back, whether that’s completely re-taking what man has once used or simply beautifying what man is still using.  The first picture below is of a roadbed which has been retaken while the second is what I thought was a beautiful section of path 

Now for more confusion… 

Soon meeting up with a roadway that I never found the name of, I went straight across to find myself in a large gravel parking lot.  Now where was I?  AAARGH!  Surely a spot such as this is so noteworthy that it should have been CLEARLY marked on the trail map I had!  It wasn’t…

Well, it’s only now that I’ve blown up a picture of the map I saw at a kiosk here that it’s starting to make sense.  I’d somehow entered upon a completely separate set of trails!  This was the Sand Hill Trailhead of the main loop of the horse trail system and the “ML”s I’d seen had stood for the “Main Loop” of this system.  The wrong turn I’d taken back at the lake had really put me in a spot!

Ohio parks can be very confusing, you see.  I’ve now found – after having explored 6 or 7 of them - that the horse trails are either completely unmarked or they’re only partially marked on the trail maps.  I don’t mind getting a little lost occasionally as it keeps me sharp, but the confusion this engenders sure is frustrating!  No wonder the trail markers weren’t meshing with what I’d expected!  

Anyway, the following is what I did – right or wrong:  just before reaching the kiosk and gate up ahead you’ll see a trail that cuts off to your right.  I followed this one for a time but it eventually just seemed to peter out even though it did look quite pleasant.  Had it gone on it did have the appearance of joining up with the main path up ahead but I’m not certain of that as I went on back to the kiosk at this point and went around the gate with red and white rectangles on it. 

Interestingly – and from this point on - the kiosk map has it looking like you’ll be hiking in a shape which looks curiously like the state of Florida (no lie!).  You’ll be heading south from Jacksonville and going straight down the eastern seacoast of the state!  The first section has you predominantly cruising along the left side of a ravine...

...and you’ll soon reach an intersection, part of which could have been the Hungry Hollow Connector Trail which cuts off all of “Florida” except for the “panhandle” and gets you back much more quickly.  Please note, however, that I say could  I’m simply not sure as I didn’t see any specific signs.

 

DIRECTIONS:

 

I actually came from Huntington, West Virginia and crossed the Ohio River to take US52 East in Ohio.  52 lies just on the north side of the Ohio River and it’ll take you around the north side of the city of Ironton.  Don’t take Business 52 into Ironton though!  Take regular old 52.  I made this mistake and had to ask directions, but if you do this too just take Park Avenue north and it’ll turn into US93. 

When you see signs for US93 you’ll want to take it north and from here you’ll travel 6 miles (or 7 from downtown Ironton if you make the same mistake I did).  Then start looking for the Wayne National Forest sign.  The main park road, Route 29, comes immediately after this sign and the ranger station comes almost immediately after that.  I made a right into the parking lot of the ranger station.  The people there are very nice.  I checked in and got a map and then I went back to 29 and simply followed the boat ramp signs.  The trail starts from the left side of the ramp as you’re looking down it into the lake.