Shawnee State Park is one of Ohio’s most stunning hidden treasures.
Tucked away in the 63,000-acre Shawnee State Forest, the park is located within the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. With two lakes and easy access to the Ohio River, the park is full of boating and fishing activities. But it’s also a gorgeous place to hike.
The park itself is 1,095 acres and has been called “Ohio’s Little Smokies” and it’s the perfect place to spend a day of adventure and exploration.
Although the area doesn’t include any mountains, the ridges of the hills rise into the distance, mimicking the look of the Smoky Mountains. The massive forest adds moisture to the air, which gives the region a blue haze similar to the soft colors produced in the Smoky Mountains.
The forest surrounding the park is full of hardwood trees, wildflowers, rare orchids, and wildlife. From common animal sightings like white-tailed deer and wild turkey to rare sightings like bobcats and blackberry, the whole region is teeming with wildlife.
Shawnee State Park is named after the indigenous people who used to call this region home. One of the largest Shawnee villages, Lower Town, was located where the Ohio and Scioto rivers meet, providing access to the heart of the Shawnee country in central and southern Ohio.
Although the area lost much of its natural beauty through years of colonialism and industry, steady efforts to reforest the region have paid off.
Now, the park is open to all, offering so much to see and do. Here are the best things to do when visiting Shawnee State Park.
Shawnee State Park is a fantastic place for those just getting into backpacking. The Shawnee Backpack Trail covers over 40 miles, winding through the wilderness of southern Ohio. There are two shorter hike options if you aren’t ready to trek the full 40+ miles just yet: The North Loop is 23 miles and the South Loop is 17 miles. There are 7 designated camping areas along the backpacking trail, all of which offer drinking water and latrines. You’ll need to register at the trailhead in the parking lot.
If you’re visiting in the summer, there’s a good chance you’ll want to spend at least part of your time at the park cooling off. There are two places you can go for a quick dip in the park. Roosevelt Lake and Turkey Creek Lake both have beach areas that are specifically designated for visitors to swim. Of course, you should always check water quality advisories before hopping in.
Although hunting isn’t allowed within the State Park itself, it is permitted in the surrounding Shawnee State Forest. There are some rules you’ll need to follow while hunting in the forest. Shooting is prohibited within 400 feet of any building, facility, or recreation area and from or across any road or driveway. And of course, the discharge of any firearm is not permitted except during lawful hunting season. You can learn more about hunting at Shawnee State Forest right here.
Recently, an epic mountain biking trail system was completed at the park. In order to hit the trail, you’ll need to park at the lodge and then ride your bike toward the playground. The trailhead is marked with signage and there are 6 mountain biking trails to choose from, ranging from easy to intermediate.
If you’re hoping to catch the best glimpse of migratory birds, you’ll want to visit Shawnee State Park in April or May, when migratory species begin to arrive in southern Ohio. Over 100 species of birds can be found in the area during that time, including Cerulean and Kentucky warblers. The best way to see the birds is to head out onto the trails.
There are two different trails at Shawnee State Park that allow for horseback riding. Lampblack Bridle Trail and Mackletree Bridle Trail are both gorgeous ways to spend the day on horseback, but if you’re searching for a longer ride, you’re in luck. Just outside of the park, you’ll find over 70 miles of bridle trails and primitive equestrian campsites in Shawnee State Forest. If you don’t have your own horse, don’t stress. There are plenty of stables nearby that offer guided rides through the forest.
Both of the lakes within the park offer hand-powered and electric motorized boats. Turkey Creek Lake allows gas motors but you won’t be able to speed around the lake. If you’re looking to bust out the horsepower, you’ll want to access the Ohio River from the marina within the park. The most common kind of boating on the two lakes include rowboats, canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, and stand-up paddle boards, all of which can be rented from the camp store from May through October.
Disc Golf & Archery
Near Turkey Creek Lake, you’ll find the Black Bear Disc Golf Course where you can spend an afternoon perfecting your frisbee throwing skills. If you’re down for a different kind of hand-eye coordination, you can head over to the archery range. You’ll need to bring your own equipment, but the range offers static targets at 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards.
Both lakes within the state park are well-stocked and open for fishing. Every April, the park is host to a trout derby at Turkey Creek Lake. But trout aren’t the only type of fish you can catch here. You’ll also find largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, and crappie. As with any state park, Ohio fishing regulations apply and anyone 16 and over will need a valid Ohio fishing license.
The best part about visiting Shawnee State Park is watching the sun creep up over the blue ridges of the forest. And the best way to catch the sunrise is to get there the night before. There are a variety of camping options at the park where you can set up and enjoy a fun evening with friends or family. There are two camping areas at the park, one near Roosevelt Lake and one near the Ohio River. Both electric and non-electric sites are available and you can reserve a spot as much as six months in advance. If rustic camping is more your vibe, you can do that while hiking along the Backpack Trail. Just remember that you’ll need to bring your supplies in with you and to take it all back out of the park when you leave.
Copperhead Fire Tower
Although this fire tower is technically located in the state forest and not the State Park, it’s too beautiful not to mention. It was recently restored allowing visitors to climb to the top, where you’ll find one of the most stunning views in the area. You can learn more about visiting the tower here.
If camping isn’t your vibe but you’re still hoping to stay overnight at the park, you should definitely consider staying at the Shawnee State Park Lodge. The lodge offers a variety of rooms, including accommodations that allow pets, so you can get away with the whole family. The lodge has both an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts, a game room, a shuffleboard, basketball, volleyball, and more. It also happens to be a fantastic place to cozy up with a good book. There is a restaurant and a lounge onsite, so you won’t have to worry about cooking after a long day of exploring the park.
Where is Shawnee State Park?
Shawnee State Park is located at 4404 State Route 125, West Portsmouth, OH 45663, about 2 hours south of Columbus.
Does the park cost money to visit?
Like all state parks in Ohio, Shawnee State Park is free and open to the public at no cost.
Is the park open year round?
Yes! The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
For more information, or to start planning your trip to Shawnee State Park, please visit ohiodnr.gov.