Clear Creek Metro Park

It was going to be a beautiful day in February (55 degrees and sunny) and after a few days without precipitation, I figured it would be a great day for a dry winter hike.  I ventured out to Clear Creek Metro Park south of Lancaster where I have been wanting to return to for awhile after visiting a couple time years ago.

Clear Creek is not your typical metro park in that it is well outside a metro area and contains some excellent terrain for hiking.  Given the proximity to the Hocking Hills area, it almost seems like it should be part of the Hocking Hills State Park network as opposed to the Franklin County Metro Park system.  It is probably the only metro park I will include on this blog, even though we enjoy walks in some of the other Franklin County Metro Parks near our home.

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Originally I didn’t consider Clear Creek to be a reasonable destination for my typical 12-mile day hikes, but after analyzing the map and available trails more closely, I was surprised to find that I could easily get more than 12 miles, and combine them so that I only duplicate about 2 miles of the hike.

Overall, it is a nice place to hike and get some good terrain, however I was a little disappointed at how “improved” much of the trail network has become.  For over half of the trip you are hiking on service roads or wide, groomed paths.  I prefer to hike on narrower tracks amongst woods or along ridges to provide more the feeling of isolation and wilderness.  Additionally, there are large portions of the park dedicated to being a preserve that you can tell could have wonderful trails through hemlock forests and along ravines, but it appears the intent is to keep visitors our of these areas.

I started at the Cemetery Ridge Trailhead along the park road, a short walk along the Creekside Trail fromt he Creekside Meadows Picnic Area.  The start of the hike was a decent 300′ ascent to the ridge.  Despite the warnings of rugged terrain and an unimproved trail, it was not very much of either.  After the ascent, you end up walking along a service road for a gas pipeline that is prominent throught the ridge and creek portions of the park.  After about a mile you run into a neat old barn just off the trail.

Pennsylvania 3-bay Barn

The hike is easy and less enjoyable than walking through a forest, however it does provide views of other ridges, and I imagine would be pretty during fall color.  In 2.5 miles, you reach the intersection of the Chestnut Trail.  At this point (and further along the Cemetery Ridge Trail), there is a large open area with a well-groomed trail.  The beginning of the Chestnut Trail was exactly what I seek in this type of Ohio hike, a narrower trail through a rolling forest.

Chestnut Trail

There were a couple times the trail dropped down into ravines that were really nice, and perfect spots to have trails that explore the ravines.  After 1.5 miles or so, the Chestnut Trail reaches a confluence with the Ott Road and other service roads, and unfortunately follows a gravel service road the rest of the way.  Once I reached the Lake Trail, I decided to circumnavigate all the short trails in the Barnebey Hambleton Area, which is the “top of the park”.

The Lake Trail descended down to Lake Ramona, and was a really nice trail through forest, aroung a ridge and through some hemlocks (featured image above).  At Lake Ramona, there is a nice deck with benches and a really good place for a break.  The lake was larger than I remembered.

Lake Ramona

The climb out of Lake Ramona is fairly steep and steps are provided.  At the top, the Ironwood Picnic Area is laid out in a very nice setting.  From here, there are several trails that come out of the Valley View Picnic Area.  I walked around the Prairie Warbler Trail (a very well groomed trail, kind of boring) and then connected to the Tulip Tree Trail.  Tulip Tree was more interesting and incorporated some hemlocks.  I stopped for a rest at the picnic area, which is a really good vista across the neighboring ridges and a great spot when leaves are changing colors.

Valley View Panorama

This was at the 7-mile mark, and I backtracked on the Chestnut Trail (2.2 miles despite some signs that indicate 3 miles).  I ran into two hikers that I crossed paths with earlier.  Additionally, back at the intersection with Cemetery Ridge Trail I ran into a gentleman that was practicing for an Appalacian Trail hike starting in two months.  We traded preparation and gear analysis based off of my John Muir Trail hike last year.  After a nice break and talk, I headed south on the Cemetery Ridge Trail toward the Fern Trail.

Once I cleared the open area with the well groomed trail, I entered the more desireable forest trail of the Hemlock Trail after a short side trip on the Fern Trail.  The Hemlock Trail very quickly became my favorite trail of the park.  Nice elevation changes, pretty forest, and several sections that went through stands of pretty hemlocks.  There were also many sandstone formations as the trail descended, and the bottom of the trail is a nice section following a creek with a lot of sandstone.

Hemlock Trail Sandstone

Upon the return to the park road, I accessed the Creekside Meadows Trail for the short (0.6 miles) walk back to the car.  This trail is very well groomed and flat, but is interesting in that it follows the creek closely with easy access along the way.  The creek is very nice, and per the name, very clear!

Clear Creek

Overall an enjoyable experience on such a beautiful day, however I have to say I like the trails at Great Seal State Park and Tar Hollow State Park better (as well as Zaleski Backpack Trail and Grandma Gatewood Trail, to be documented at a later time).  When I do come back, I think I will bypass the Cemetery Ridge Trail and focus on the Hemlock, Fern (not included in this hike) and beginning of the Chestnut trails.  I think it would also be worthwhile visiting the park again as the leaves are changing colors.

The complete photo album.

The GPS track for the almost 12-mile hike.

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