Athens, OH: Zaleski Backpack Trail (South & Middle Loops)

Escape into tranquil, rolling woods in the foothills of the Appalachians.
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Escape into tranquil, rolling woods in the foothills of the Appalachians.

Think Ohio’s all corn farms and soybeans? Think again. Zaleski’s 27,000 hardwood acres offer a dose of true wilderness. This mellow, two-night, 19.9-mile loop—with sandstone outcrops and wild edibles—is perfect for beginners or quick getaways. 

Gear up The Pedaler & The Packer, 432 Richland Ave., Athens. (740) 592-4630; pedaler.com

Season Year-round, though trails get muddy in wet weather.

Permit Register for first-come, first-serve campsites at the parking lot kiosk.

Contact (740) 596-5781; ohiodnr.com

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 31.9

Waypoints

ZBT001

Location: 39.331688, -82.340196

Parking area. Register at the kiosk, then head clockwise on the orange-blazed trail.

ZBT002

Location: 39.332243, -82.336781

Go left.

ZBT003

Location: 39.335518, -82.33725

Trailside sandstone has been carved out by the small but steady streams of iron-rich water flowing down the hillsides. Look for orange water oozing from the base of the rock walls during the next .8 mile.

ZBT004

Location: 39.359933, -82.336682

Point O

ZBT005

Location: 39.371252, -82.327054

Creek crossing. Look for the ruins of an old farm near here.

ZBT006

Location: 39.362558, -82.314342

Cross OH 278

ZBT007

Location: 39.362838, -82.311974

Point M

ZBT008

Location: 39.363825, -82.297903

Set up your tent under the hickories, oaks, and maples at Campground H. Water and a latrine are nearby. Next day, retrace your steps a mile.

ZBT009

Location: 39.362008, -82.311609

Next day, retrace your steps a mile and turn left to head south on the Middle Loop.

ZBT010

Location: 39.345443, -82.32103

Cross a creek surrounded by wild ginger, a low-lying perennial with hairy, heart-shaped leaves and small, inconspicuous, rusty-red flowers (blooming spring to fall). Despite the name, it’s not edible.

ZBT011

Location: 39.339593, -82.327615

Pass a hillside seep, that can make the trail very muddy.

ZBT012

Location: 39.337364, -82.327074

Veer left.

ZBT013

Location: 39.325736, -82.299603

Cross road

ZBT014

Location: 39.322512, -82.297003

Latrine

ZBT015

Location: 39.32162, -82.296174

Campground D

ZBT016

Location: 39.311755, -82.300898

Pass an unnamed, cottonwood-lined pond, once a water source for an 1870s-era mining town.

ZBT017

Location: 39.313646, -82.309007

Keep an eye out in the low area for pawpaw fruits (ripe in late summer), which look like small mangoes. The yellow, custardy flesh has a tropical flavor, like a combination of mango, pineapple, and banana.

ZBT018

Location: 39.30942, -82.31141

A rocky outcrop provides views toward an old railroad grade, which leads southwest to the supposedly haunted Moonville tunnel (it’s less than a mile away). Explore by picking your way off-trail about .3 mile to the grade.

ZBT019

Location: 39.321439, -82.315544

Cross logging road

ZBT020

Location: 39.325014, -82.319706

Campground C has large, flat sites. Stay here for night two.

ZBT021

Location: 39.326607, -82.31904

Latrine

ZBT022

Location: 39.326631, -82.319353

Water spigot

ZBT023

Location: 39.332804, -82.332661

Turn left.

ZBT024

Location: 39.330791, -82.340872

Point A. Return to your car.

Pawpaws

Location: 39.313745, -82.309032

Keep an eye out in the low area for pawpaw fruits (ripe in late summer), which look like small mangoes. The yellow, custardy flesh has a tropical flavor, like a combination of mango, pineapple, and banana.

Rocky outcrops dot the trail

Location: 39.342595, -82.340083

Rock outcropping look like faces

Location: 39.335526, -82.336993

Trail sign

Location: 39.361992, -82.311373

Registration Kiosk

Location: 39.3317, -82.340126