You'll get to hike all of the old Buckeye Trail through the preserve and most of the current route. This hike goes from a low creek bank trail and then throws in some solid climbs and and descents, a couple of creek fords, some cliffs and rock outcroppings and then majors in beautiful old growth forest to top it off.
This hike is listed as 4.8 miles, but it ends up closer to seven miles by the time you end up going up and down and through each curve of each trail (notice difference with posted trail mileage). The hike starts with a low walk along the creek to get you warmed up. Along the way, there are rock outcroppings you can look down on the creek from and they are well worth the 20-yard walk.
About a mile in, you'll take the trail to the right crossing the creek, Canby's Trail
. You may be able to keep your feet dry as there are some stepping stones, but plan on a 20-yard ford through shallow (1-2 inch in August) water and a five-foot scramble up the creek bank on the other side. From the creek crossing, the trail is easy to spot as it is well marked with Buckeye Trail blue blazes and Ohio Historical Society Metal tags.
In this part of the trail, expect switchbacking climbs and descents while enjoying some of the most beautiful forest southern Ohio has to offer, alternating between rainforest-y paw paw patches and wide open mature woods. This portion of the trail across the creek is listed as 1.7 miles, though the signage on the ground lists it as three miles -- plan accordingly.
Once the trail crosses the creek again (no scrambling, but also no stepping stones, you'll get wet to your mid-calf) and rejoins the Gorge Trail
, expect to follow the creek for a short while, climbing next to rock outcrops and wet springs. Even though it had been a fairly dry summer, this portion of the trail was muddy, but was made manageable with some built-in steps, crosswalks, and bridges to preserve the trail.
As the trail turns away from the creek, enjoy your last glimpses of the gorge and you climb again into old growth mature forest. At this point, the Buckeye Trail exits the preserve to your right (make sure you stay left and pay attention to the signage so you don't end up leaving with it).
Expect a short climb and then bear right on the Deer Trail
, this trail is more narrow and less used than the Fort Trail
back to the parking lot, however you are rewarded initially by a generally flat start to your last 1.5 miles. About 0.5 miles past the start of the Deer Trail
, the trail begins a short but vigorous climb for about 0.1 miles to a saddle and then descends meandering through old growth to the parking lot.
The map here has it as 4.8 miles, after hiking it, expect around 6-6.5 miles due to some of the rise and fall and smaller, unmapped curves in the trails. It took us five hours, start to finish, with a 20-minute break for a snack including after the second creek crossing.