I recently hiked the Zaleski State Forest Backpacking trail (http://www.ohiodnr.com/forests/zaleski/tabid/5171/Default.aspx).
If you come in from the north, you aren’t going to see the official trailhead. Park in the lot and walk south and over the bridge for the road. The Zaleski Backpacking trailhead is immediately after the bridge.
The trail meanders through the woods and at any given point you aren’t too far away from a road—so getting lost isn’t an issue unless you are prone to walk in very small circle and have a dreadful sense of direction and are arrogant enough to not pack a trusty compass. This trail isn’t an easy breezy hike. You will need to watch your footing, be able to handle steep up and down hills, large steps, and muddy conditions (seeps keep the ground in some areas nice and super squishy).
Zaleski is a popular hike and each time I have been—solitude hasn’t been on the menu for long. If you are going I recommend the South Loop and the Middle Loop. You will definitely want to fit in the connector from A-F for some incredibly beautiful rock outcroppings.
A-F is a section of the trail. If I just spoke trail-geek then look at the map online ( the link is above). Each section of the trail is labeled letter to letter and there are numbered locations to point out interesting facts about the trail, area, and trees.
Speaking of trees this is an active state forest which means hunting does occur here and some sections of the trail will be rerouted around portions of the forest that are being harvested. Before, you get your tree-hugger-self all worked up—the managed harvesting of trees is no different than harvesting corn—just a different scale. Areas that are harvested open the forest up to more edge species and greater diversity. The brushy areas of new growth will typically have ruffed grouse, wild turkey, and many species of songbirds.
Okay, back to the trail—I also recommend the west side of the middle trail for great rocky outcroppings and overhangs.
Bring plenty of water, snacks, and a bag to collect your own trash in. Drinking water is available but only at the campsites and if the weather is permitting (if the dedicated Zaleski State Forest staff can get the water truck there).
Finding the water supply is like a mini-adventure. You’ll need to look around for a pipe sticking out of the ground with a locking cap. This isn’t it but it will help you find the spigot. The system is gravity fed from a cistern, so look downhill for the water spigot.
Zaleski is lovely anytime of the year but it appeals to a lot of hikers and most likely you won’t be alone.