Tar Hollow State Park: April-May 2021

The semester is winding to a close, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to go out for some really great hikes recently. April is prime morel time, and though between Wiggs and me we only found a handful this year, it felt like a victory for our second-ever foraging season. We have been spending a lot of time at Columbus Metro Parks, especially Battelle Darby, and we have also gotten out of the city for some longer hikes.

Last Monday I had plans to go hiking with some friends, which ended up falling through. I still had the whole Monday free, though, so I made a day of it by going to Tar Hollow State Park. I loved it so much that Wiggs and I returned there this past weekend for a two-day backpacking trip. It’s classic Ohio hiking, with woody, humid trails along ridges and through lush green valleys. Though we woke up in a literal puddle (which seems to be a regular occurrence on our backpacking overnights), it was a fantastic few days at a beautiful state park.

Trillium grandiflorum, great white trillium

My First Exploration: Monday, April 26

I made the decision to go to Tar Hollow somewhat late in the day, since my friends and I had been planning to do a local hike in Columbus. Because of this, I didn’t have a ton of time to hike on this afternoon. But still, I made the lovely hour and fifteen minute drive south towards Circleville and enjoyed a few hours in the sunshine.

I elected to first hike a short loop along a creek at the southern edge of the park. The reasoning was twofold: I wanted to walk through the massive pine trees that line the entrance road, and I wanted to see if I could find any mushrooms. There were gobs of tulip poplars and sycamores along the banks, and and as the forest transitioned into the coniferous zone, the smell of pine trees mingled with the faint scent of flowers. It was intoxicating. It’s not terribly common, at least in my experience, to find such massive pine trees in Ohio, and I was elated.

I was not successful in my morel hunt, but I did find a colony of mica caps about to emerge from the ground, as well as the most perfect cluster of devil’s urn, Urnula craterium, I’ve ever seen. There were mosses and ferns galore on the west side of the loop, and I stopped at nearly every tulip poplar to prowl the ground underneath. I officially gave up trying to find any Morchella. It didn’t really matter, since I was outside, in a beautiful forest, among the wildflowers.

Urnula craterium, devil’s urn mushroom

I decided to take a break before doing part of the north backpacking loop. I found a nice spot by the creek with a sycamore tree. I got out my little groundsheet and was about to sit down when my eye slid to the ground to the left of my foot. It was old, a little crumbly, and definitely past its prime, but there it was all the same: undeniably, a morel.

I couldn’t help laughing out loud. The only time I’ve ever found them was when I expressly told the forest that I had given up. Mushrooms feel like little tricksters the more I look for them. They are the spirits of the forest, the little Ghibli characters of the woods. They live by their own rules, and I love them for it.

After the snack, I headed up the hill to do a mile or so on the north loop. It was getting pretty late, so I didn’t have a lot of time, but I still enjoyed the satisfying climb and the lush, green woods. Before I left I came back down the hill and sat by the lake for a few moments, enjoying the peaceful evening and watching the birds dart back and forth over the water.

Iris cristata, dwarf crested iris

Overnight Trip: May 2-3

Wiggs and I both had two consecutive days off for once, and we had originally planned to go to Wildcat Hollow for an overnight. However, after my trip to Tar Hollow earlier in the week, we decided to go back and see more of this park.

As usual, we didn’t get the early start that we wanted to on the 2nd. We also didn’t plan out our route as well as we could have, so our mileage that day was not terribly impressive. That being said, it was still a beautiful day, and we enjoyed a few miles on the Buckeye Trail and the north portion of the Logan Trail. We visited the fire tower and continued down a very large hill to a rerouted section. As we were unable to find any stealth sites (the AT definitely spoiled us on this front), we decided to set up camp at the backpackers’ campground by the fire tower.

The fire tower near the backpacker’s campground

We decided to stop early for the day, and I set up the hammock I’d brought between two perfect white oaks. We listened to music, wrote, and talked. This time of year, it feels so pointless to be inside. I feel stifled and uninspired between the walls. Under the trees, swinging in a hammock, a person feels more infinite.

We ended the day with a campfire and a good ol’ cup of ramen cooked over a camp stove. It started to rain a bit, and we decided to call it a night.

On Monday the 3rd, we woke up to the steady patter of rain on silnylon and a puddle surrounding our sleeping pads. As usual, we had chosen the worst possible tent site at the camp: a miniature lake started at the head of the tent and continued right through it. Though it was early, we decided to use the break in the rain to make breakfast and get out of the sopping shelter.

Womp, womp. Wiggs and the very soaked tent.

It was supposed to rain steadily all day, but we sat there for an hour drinking coffee and it held off. We figured it would be a good chance to get at least a few miles in, so we packed up our disgusting, dripping gear and started on the north loop the way we’d come the day before.

A few miles in, the rain had still not come. We followed the Logan Trail east and north, past the campground and across a few roads. We had initially planned to turn around at point G, but by the time we got there the weather was pleasant and we were both feeling good, so we decided to keep going and finish the whole north loop.

This loop isn’t particularly scenic, as in, there are no real views apart from a brief break in the trees which provides a vista of another hill in the distance. It is very lovely, though, especially the parts that wind through vibrant green valleys with the trail following a creek. There were some decent climbs as well—not Appalachian Trail level, but certainly on par with Shawnee State Forest.

Trail marker for the Logan Trail at point G on the north loop

Apart from a few brief sprinkles, the rain held off all morning. I actually prefer hiking in cloudy weather to hiking in the sun, and between the gloom and the cool temperature, and apart from my wet socks, it was a surprisingly perfect day for a hike.

Towards the end of the loop, the trail enters another valley full of ferns, sycamores, and ivy. My mood turned quiet and peaceful in this place, in the cool early afternoon. I wasn’t expecting to have such a lovely hike today, and the forest felt like a gift.

By the time we returned to the fire tower, Wiggs and I were both weak with hunger. We had just enough food left for an enjoyable lunch: he cooked up a pot of ramen, while I enjoyed a packet of pink salmon in olive oil and Babybel cheese on an everything bagel. An overnight hike is nothing compared to a thru, but it does have its gustatory benefits.

We returned to the car and calculated our distance for the day: about 11.5 miles in total. Not bad for a day when we were planning to do a rainy 4. We traded in our soaked, muddy hiking shoes for sandals, put our nasty gear in the trunk, and started the drive back to Columbus—just in time, too, as it immediately began to rain in earnest.

Walking through one of the lush valleys on the north loop

Location and Information

Directions: I was surprised to learn how close Tar Hollow is to Columbus: a mere hour and fifteen minutes, depending on which part of the city you’re starting from. From Columbus, take US-23 south to Circleville, then take a left on OH-56 towards Adelphi, and then turn right on OH-180, which turns into OH-327 S. In about 8 miles, you’ll see the sign for Tar Hollow State Park. Turn right at the sign. The Logan Trailhead parking is the first parking lot on the left, down a big hill towards a campground.

The Trail: The Logan Trail is the main trail we hiked during our trip. It forms a figure 8 shape, with two major loops: north and south, which total at about 21 miles. The north loop is described as the harder of the two loops.

A section of the Buckeye Trail runs concurrent with sections of the Logan Trail. In my experience, the parts of the BT that are shared with the Logan Trail are fairly well maintained, but I did hike on a section of the BT in the park that was not shared with the loop, and this section was a bit overgrown. I’d stick to the Logan Trail in the park if you can, to mitigate the tick risk (I found one on my knee at camp).

In addition to the Logan Trail, there are several shorter hikes in the park. These include the 2.5-mile Homestead Trail and the 3.5-mile Ross Hollow trail. A trail map is available at this link, as well as at the general store in the park.

Camping: There are several car/RV campgrounds at the park, as well as “primitive” campgrounds for backpackers. We stayed at the campground by the fire tower, which costs $4 per person per night, though we were not aware of this until we got there, oops. The other campground is on a portion of the south loop called the Dulen Loop. There is no cost to stay at Camp Dulen.

The blue-blazed Buckeye Trail

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