The blast of a tugboat horn rips the early morning silence, as the hazy outline of a river barge emerges from the fog, pushing upstream. Truth be told, I'm more accustomed to birdsong when I jump on a trail. But in the Marietta Unit of Ohio's sprawling Wayne National Forest, the mighty Ohio River holds sway.
The river borders this woodland across its long southern base, where rounded, steep hills ripple to the water's edge. The Scenic River Trail I'm starting out on offers unmatched views of the water and entry to 30-plus miles of what may be the state's most challenging routes. From where I stand at river's edge, I can see the trail switchback through boulders and bluffs up the steep hillside.
With tugboat blasts eventually giving way to gentle wind, the route soon joins the North Country and Archers Fork Trails. I walk beneath towering oaks and buckeyes, past lichen-dappled outcroppings and lowland thickets, then climb once again to long, rambling ridges. Even from inland heights, I catch glimpses of the lumbering Ohio through the trees, only now the pull of commerce and civilization feel far away.
Where: Marietta Unit is 176 miles south of Cleveland and 170 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The Scenic River Trail trailhead is 18 miles east of Marietta on OH 7.
Maps: The national forest office (see below) near the trailhead has an excellent hiking guide ($1) and a detailed forest map ($4).
Trail Info: Wayne National Forest, Marietta Unit, (740) 373-9055.