Swimming Holes & Seclusion at Pike Lake State Park
Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
There are really no bad campsites at Pike Lake State Park in southern Ohio. However, if you can reserve campsite #31, or at least those around it, there’s a hidden surprise located nearby. Directly behind campsite #31 (pictured above) is a swimming hole that formed in a stream that runs through the middle of the campground. It’s fed by Pike Lake, which also happens to be one of the cleanest lakes in Ohio.
Other than this one unique spot, the stream is very shallow and rocky. The swimming hole, however, is about four-feet-deep. Even better, it is located next to an old white oak tree. Due to the flow of the stream, the oak tree’s roots have been exposed. Kids, and a few adults, use these exposed roots to jump into the swimming hole. This is done from late spring through early fall. After that, the water gets too cold.
Swimming is also available at a designated sand beach at Pike Lake. Either location provides a great way to cool off when enjoying camping, hiking and paddling at the park. Showers at the campground and beach also help.
Located near Bainbridge, which is less than two hours from most of the Miami Valley, Pike Lake State Park is one of Ohio’s smaller, lesser-known and secluded state parks. It contains less than 80 campsites. However, this is part of its appeal.
Besides the swimming hole and beach, the park has a lot to offer families and nature lovers. For starters, the state park is a great place to canoe, rowboat, kayak and fish, with rentals available for everything at the campground store, including for non-campers. It’s also a great place to hike. There are six miles of trails located inside of the park and many more in the surrounding state forest, including a section of the Buckeye Trail. In fact, an interesting hike connects Pike Lake State Park with Serpent Mound, with Fort Hill State Preserve located in between. This hike, which is extremely colorful in the fall, can either be done in one long day or overnight, with backcountry campsites located in the area. If long hikes aren’t your thing, the state park has shorter, but equally picturesque trails, including a loop around the lake and a few short treks into the nearby hills and woods.
Along with camping, the state park features 13 standard cottages and 12 family cottages. Family cottages sleep six people, are heated for year-round use, have two bedrooms, bath with shower, living room with sofa-bed, kitchen/dining area and screened porch. Standard cottages are available during the summer and early fall months only. Each standard cottage sleeps from four to six people and has a dining area, kitchen and bath.
Along with the state park and state forest, the nearby towns of Bainbridge and Lantham have quite a few attractions, including antique and specialty shops and hometown restaurants. The West Side Diner in Lantham has excellent pizza and subs and is the closest restaurant to the campground. The Paxton Restaurant in Bainbridge is a further drive but offers a home-style menu with traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Shops to check out in Bainbridge include Ancient Valley Mercantile (antiques), Backyard Primitive Design and the Trading Post Antiques. The town is also home to the Dr. John Harris Dental Museum, housed in the very first school of dentistry in the United States, and Seip Mound, a giant Native American earthwork located just east of town and free to visit. Bainbridge hosts the Fall Festival of Leaves in October, which is a great time to visit Pike Lake as well. Several fall driving tours are promoted during the festival, but can be enjoyed throughout the fall.
Whether coming for the fall color, swimming and recreation, or just for some peace and quiet, Pike Lake State Park is a close-to-home destination with low frills, cheap thrills and natural beauty.
Pike Lake State Park is located at 1847 Pike Lake Rd, Bainbridge. For campground and cabin reservations and more information, call (740) 493-2212.