Hiking is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in America and across the continent for that matter. In fact, several leading travel magazines rank hiking as the number one activity people participate in when they travel to a destination.
It’s truly the best way to explore your surroundings and see the great outdoors no matter where you are. It is also a good form of exercise and a great way to release stress.
Luckily here in Champaign County we have 4 terrific hiking areas nearby to explore the outdoors and discover our natural surroundings. Some of these you may have heard of and even hiked and some or all of you may have never hiked or even heard of.
Hiking is all about exploring, but first one must discover the hiking areas at their disposal in order to hike and enjoy them. Below are Champaign County’s little known and seldom used hiking areas and their respective trails described in detail with directions on how to get there. Happy trails fellow hikers!
Hike the ‘Diamondback Triangle’ in the Blue Hills of Champaign County
There are four incredible hiking gems in Champaign County. If you plot these 4 hiking areas out on a county map they actually form the shape of a triangle. (Which also, by the way, resembles the triangular marks on a Diamondback snake). These local diamonds in the “rough and rugged” outdoors are truly the 4 gems of hiking in Champaign County.
So much so, I say let’s stake our claim and make a name for ourselves in the hiking world and put our fantastic trail system on the map, so to speak. We should call it something cool and catchy like the “Diamondback Triangle.” And, since Urbana is known for its “Blue Hills,” let’s just go ahead and add that on to the title and make it: “Hike the Diamondback Triangle in the Blue Hills of Champaign County.”
So let’s get outside, hit the trails and explore our unique big wonders of nature and outdoor adventures right here in our own back yard.
Davey Woods – (The Little Smokies of Champaign County)
Davey Woods is an Ohio State Nature Preserve located on Lonesome Road just outside of St. Paris and just 7 miles west of Urbana.
To access the trailhead, take U.S. Route 36 and proceed 1 mile north on Neal Road, then 1/2 mile west on Smith Road, and then northwest on Lonesome Road (Township Highway 66) to the preserve entrance.
Davey Woods State Nature Preserve encompasses 103 acres. The park has a small parking lot and two well maintained looped trails. One of the loop trails, the Conrad Trail, is 1.4 miles and the other loop trail, the “Short Loop Trail” (which actually overlaps with the former trail) is 0.6 miles.
This is an incredible outdoors experience with very scenic trails, beautiful vistas and unique features.
This old growth forest has many large tulip trees, ash, oak and sugar maple and is truly one of the best wood lots still remaining in this part of Ohio. Be sure to check the numerous amount of spring flowers.
The preserve was named in honor Davey Tree Expert Company, which through The Nature Conservancy provided half the funding to acquire the site in 1989.
The terrain is very hilly for this part of Ohio. The wooded area is heavily shaded in the summer which makes for pleasant hiking. Colors pop in the fall for postcard views and winter is full of beautiful snowy landscapes and vista scenes. There are many switchback trails to smooth out the hills but this wooded paradise of trails would still be considered rugged and challenging by most standards. A true hidden gem I like to call Champaign County’s “Little Smokies.”
Cedar Bog Preserve (The Crown Jewel trail of Champaign County)
Cedar Bog is an Ohio Historical Society site located at 980 Woodburn Road, Urbana. Just drive 4 miles south of Urbana on U.S. Rte 68, then go west on Woodburn Road for 1 mile to arrive at the signed entrance and parking lot. The preserve encompasses 427 acres with a 1.5 boardwalk hiking trail and a short interactive “Tallgrass Prairie” trail.
Cedar Bog is not actually a bog, but instead is a fen and is truly one of the most exemplary fens in the whole state of Ohio (including both prairies and woods).
Hike along the beautiful 1.5-mile boardwalk for fantastic up-close views of numerous orchids and many other flowers. Also see endangered spotted turtles, dragonflies and over 45 endangered plant species and many endangered animals.
Enjoy the spectacular views of this 450-acre habitat for many rare plants and animals. A Cedar Bog tour guide and naturalist can answer all your questions and educate you on the many rare plants, animals and flowers you will see on this pathway to nature’s paradise. A fee is charged to access the preserve.
Siegenthaler–Kaestner Esker State Nature Preserve (Champaign County’s mysterious hidden treasure)
This state nature preserve is located about 10 miles east of Rosewood. To access the trailhead, from Rosewood follow state Route 29 east 8 miles to Calland Road, proceed north on Calland Road 2.5 miles, then east on Couchman Road 0.5 miles to the preserve entrance. The site encompasses 37 acres.
The hiking trail is over a mile long but it is not a loop. It is more off a “T-shape” so you will have to double back at least part of the way, making the total hike close to 2 miles. The path has interesting geology, bird watching and good upper and lower trails. The trail is relatively flat with a few hills (eskers) which actually resemble Indian mounds.
The terrain of this preserve was shaped during the Ice Age and has a number of Ice Age rocky glacier deposits including the following glacial landforms: eskers (hills), an outwash valley and a kettle pond. The Preserve has a grassy parking area and an information kiosk. Siegenthaler-Esker’s 37 acres were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Vaughn L. Siegenthaler.
This site is virtually unknown and in a very remote location of Champaign County, and is truly a “hidden” gem with many rare spring flowers. It was a little tricky for me to find this site but just drive slow and carefully follow the road signs and your GPS or map directions.
Kiser Lake State Park & Wetlands – (Champaign County’s flagship hiking destination)
The state park is located at 4889 N. state Route 235 in Conover. The park encompasses 531 acres including a 396 acre lake popular for fishing, kayaking, sailing and beach swimming.
There are a total of 4 miles of hiking trails, plus 10 miles of bridle trails. Trails can be used for cross-country skiing in the winter.
Seven hiking trails are found at the park:
•North Bay Trail – 1.5 miles – Moderate
•Rabbit Run Trail – 0.6 mile – Moderate
•Possum Hollow Trail – 0.7 mile – Easy
•Pine Tree Trail – 0.5 mile – Moderate
•Red Oak Trail – 0.7 mile – Moderate
•Marina Trail – 0.11 mile – Easy
•Wetland Trail (Nature Preserve Boardwalk) – 0.7 mile – Moderate
Located within Kiser State Park is the Kiser Lake Wetlands State Nature Preserve. The headwaters section of the preserve is located in the southeast part of the park and is open to the public and it has a boardwalk trail going through a wetland meadow.
The Grand Heights section of the preserve is in the south central part of Kiser Lake State Park and is a prairie fen that requires a written permit to enter.
Photo by Ron Brohm