Fall Color Off the Beaten Path
Tar Hollow, Pike Lake and the Fall Festival of Leaves
When it comes to fall foliage, Hocking Hills is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The problem is, lots of people know this, and each fall thousands come to see the area's brilliant colors, to camp, and to hike, drive and sight see in the state park. Needless to say, it can get quite crowded.
The good news is that there happens to be two other state parks in this region that are equally breathtaking in the fall, but that most people have never heard of.
Tar Hollow State Park
The first such treasure is Tar Hollow State Park, which is located near Hocking Hills, and is less than two hours from most of Miami County. (The drive there is all back roads and is equally beautiful in the fall).
Along with its beautiful Pine Lake, Tar Hollow State Park has dozens of miles of hiking trails that pass through 604 acres of deep ravines and dense woodlands. Trail options include the family friendly Homestead Trail, a 2.5-mile loop with great views, and the Ross Hollow Trail, a 3.5-mile moderate loop trail.
For those wishing to backpack overnight, the Logan Backpack Trail offers a 21-mile figure-8 trail. It is considered difficult, but is one of Ohio's most desirable trails. A backcountry campsite is located near a remote fire tower (seen below) on the Logan Backpack Trail, and the area is so desolate that you can experience almost complete silence at times. There's a small fee of $4 for the backcountry campsite.
A major highlight at Tar Hollow State Park is its campground, which is arguably one of the best in the state. This is because each campsite is spacious, far from other campers, and most sit directly next to woods or shaded areas. There are clean showers and rest rooms, an awesome playground, a general store with an 18-hole miniature golf course, bike and boat rentals and a game room, as well as a nature center filled with wild creatures. In other words, it's a great campsite for the young, and the young at heart. Finally, it has an amphitheater with a high-tech movie projector that entertains guests on the weekends.
Because of its remote location, Tar Hollow State Park is much less-traveled than Hocking Hills, and, in the fall, not as congested. Plus, the Hocking Hills region is only 18 miles away from the park, and the camping fees are cheaper in Tar Hollow.
Tar Hills State Park is highlighted by beautiful Pine Lake (pictured at right next to boats available to rent) and the old Fire Tower, which serves as a central location and campground for backcountry hikers and day trippers. You can drive up to from the campgrounds.
Pike Lake State Park & The Fall Festival of Leaves
Another colorful region in Southern Ohio is the area of Pike Lake State Park. It's located near the small village of Bainbridge (100 miles from Miami County), which has a popular Fall Festival of Leaves on Oct. 20-22 (www.fallfestivalofleaves.com). The town is also at the crossroads of two State Scenic Byways.
During the Festival of Leaves - or anytime in the fall - four scenic loop driving tours can be enjoyed. They are: The Buckskin Loop, Paint Vista Loop, Pike Lake Loop and Redbush Loop. Each of these routes and descriptions can be found in the link above under the heading "Skyline Drives."
The festival is very traditional. It offers carnival rides, a community wide garage sale, games, food and lots of entertainment.
Pike Lake State Park, located just down the road from the festival, is very small compared to Hocking Hills and Tar Hollow state parks, but it has great character and a very nice campground. Guests can rent boats at the lake, fish, play disc golf and enjoy hiking trails. Most trails, although beautiful, are less than a half-mile long. However, two others - Mitchell Ridge Trail and Wildcat Hollow Trail - are each 1.2 miles, but should be on your list of things to do at Pike Lake. The Buckeye Trail also passes through this area.
Throughout this entire region are numerous other attractions, including Indian mounds, historic sites, quaint small towns with antique stores, thrift shops and one-of-a-kind restaurants and much more. Many of these attractions can be found along one of the scenic drives offered in Bainbridge.
This fall, if you feel like skipping the crowds at Hocking Hills, or if you just want to try something new, Tar Hollow State Park and Pike Lake State Park are two great destinations not far from home.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to visit Hocking Hills as well. To avoid the crowds, try to visit on a Tuesday or Wednesday, which is also when campsites may be available.
Most of all, this is shaping up to be a very memorable fall, so get out and enjoy it!
To help plan your trip, visit:
Tar Hollow State Park & Camping
Fall Festival of Leaves
The morning fog awaits paddle boaters at Pike Lake State Park. At right and below left, the Fall Festival of Leaves takes place in Bainbridge (near Pike Lake) on Oct. 20-22. Along with a full-blown festival with carnival rides, games, food and more, Bainbridge is the start and finish of four different scenic drives that can be taken during the fall - or any time of year - and that utilize back roads like this one below.