Shawnee State Park and Forest Are a World-Class Destination Close to Home
The deep woods of Shawnee State Forest and Park once were the traditional hunting grounds of the Shawnee tribes, known and cherished for their abundance and diversity of wildlife. After being timbered, quarried and ravaged by fire in the late 19th century, the land was set aside for preservation and has rebounded in the last 100 years, once again establishing itself as a place where Mother Nature rules.
Located just west of Portsmouth, the nearly 64,000-acre mixed hardwood forest in the un-glaciated hills of Scioto and Adam counties is the largest state forest in Ohio. More than 8,000 acres are designated as wilderness and are noted across the country for their biodiversity, which includes rare and threatened native plant and animal species. Nicknamed “The Little Smokies of Ohio” because of the heavy bluish fog that rises from the forested mountain ridges, the Shawnee State Forest and Park is a haven for nature lovers.
The park, along with its Shawnee Lodge & Conference Center, cabins and campground, has become a favored locale for family vacations, private and corporate events, and conferences. “Many locals don’t realize what an asset we have here or what we have going on,” said Jennifer Hammonds, a park officer. “There are a multitude of reasons to visit.”
Recreation options abound, ranging from swimming and tennis to horseback riding, hiking, and hunting. The park’s nature center is a popular stopping point, and the full-service campground keeps visitors busy with a slate of special events and activities from spring through fall.
The focal point of the park is the lodge, located off Ohio State Route 125. Built in the early 1970s, it has the feel of a true mountain lodge with abundant stonework, large timber construction fireplaces, over-stuffed leather sofas, wrap-around porches lined with Adirondack chairs, and expansive glass windows and skylights. The lodge has 50 suites available. Each features a small porch and is furnished with locally handcrafted pine furniture.
Amenities include two swimming pools, a restaurant and dining room with space for more than 100 guests, and a full-service bar. There’s a game room complete with pool and air hockey tables as well as arcade and video games. A small putting course and shuffleboard also are available on the grounds along with tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, several playgrounds, picnic areas and fire circles. The conference center boasts more than 5,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, accommodating up to 250 guests.
From the lodge and conference center, guests can catch a glimpse of the surrounding Turkey Creek Lake, the larger of the park’s two lakes. Both Turkey Creek and Roosevelt Lake are stocked with fish and open to swimmers andanglers. Paddlers are welcome on both, but only Turkey Creek has a boat ramp for motorized watercraft.
For those who enjoy spending time on the links, the park has an 18-hole championship golf course located along the Ohio River just off U.S. 52 near Friendship, Ohio. The course offers stunning views of the waterway and steep wooded hillsides of Ohio and Kentucky. In addition to the pro-shop and snack bar, the golf course includes a driving range and short game practice facility. Golf lessons are available.
Memberships are available for as little as $100 a year, explained Tyson Phillips the park’s golf pro. “People come from all over and are telling us our greens are the best in the Tri-State.”
With something for everyone, many families opt to visit year after year, according to Lisa Morgan, Shawnee Lodge sales manager. “They tell me they love it here because their kids put down their phones and skip rocks on the lake, play in the creek, or do arts and crafts.”
For those who prefer camping over lodge living, there are 25 cabins on the park property, each with two bedrooms, a screened-in porch, outdoor grill and fire pit.
Meanwhile, the campground has 107 sites for tents, RVs and traditional campers.
Many of the park’s most frequent and dedicated users have never made it up the hill to the lodge grounds, laughs Morgan. “I talked to one man who has been coming here for 25 years and has never stepped foot in the lodge. There are just so many other things to do here!”
That includes more than 70 miles of horse trails along with a primitive equestrian camp with 58 sites. Another 40+ miles of trails are open to hikers and backpackers. The Shawnee Backpack Trail connects to Ohio’s Buckeye Trail, which loops 1,444 miles across the state. Morgan said she reminds trail users that there’s “nothing flat” in the park.
Equestrians are not the only animal lovers at the park and forest. The abundance and diversity of feathered wildlife at Shawnee has made it a Mecca for bird watchers. Morgan added it’s not uncommon to find small groups of birders from across the country – and the world – gathered for events at the lodge.
For those seeking out four-legged creatures, Shawnee is one of Ohio’s most famous deer hunting destinations, renowned for producing large trophy bucks. Hunters from across the country visit the forest during bow and gun season, Morgan noted.
For more information on Shawnee State Park and Forest visit parks.ohiodnr.gov/shawnee or call the park office at (740) 858-6652.