How to Thru-Hike the Buckeye Trail in 2021 - Greenbelly Meals

How to Hike the Buckeye Trail


An interactive map of the Buckeye Trail and a guide to plan your thru-hike.
Published: March 2nd, 2021


© Zachmusic

The Buckeye Trail in Ohio is one of the longest loop hiking trails in the United States. Following Ohio's perimeter, the Buckeye allows you to walk a whopping 1,200-miles without retracing your steps. It connects Ohio's biggest cities to the state's most beautiful woodlands and its important historical sites.

Below, you'll find an overview of the trail, an interactive map, tips on how to prepare your hike and a sectional breakdown.


Trail Overview


Length: 1,400+ miles

Time to hike: Three to four months

Start and End Points: The trail is a loop, so you technically can start and end anywhere you want. The designated northern terminus is on Lake Erie in Headlands Beach State Park outside of Cleveland, while the southern terminus is Eden Park in Cincinnati.

Highest Elevation: Buckhorn Ridge Bridle Trail in Shawnee section, 1276 feet

First conceived in 1958, the Buckeye trail opened its first 20 miles a year later. Among the founders was none other than Appalachian trail legend Grandma Gatewood. Thanks to a team of organized and dedicated volunteers, the trail has grown to more than 1,400 miles.

The Buckeye Trail lets you explore Ohio at its best. You can find solace in deep forests, walk along old roads, and visit historical locations in some of Ohio's most welcoming cities. Most of the incline is gentle, especially on the western side, which is a welcome change from the arduous climbs on the AT and PCT. The Buckeye trail also shares some of it route with the North County Trail and the American Discovery Trail

To Print PDF: Step 1) Expand to full-screen view (click box in top right-hand corner of the map). Step 2) Zoom in to your desired map section view. Step 3) Click on the three white vertical dots and then "Print Map" from that drop-down menu.


Planning Your Thru-Hike


WHEN TO GO: Timing, Weather and Seasons

The Buckeye Trail is accessible all four seasons, but the best time to hike is in the late spring and early fall. The temperatures are cool and the crowds are at a minimum. The summer is popular because of the long days and warm nights, but it can be blisteringly hot and oppressively humid. No season is perfect, though. Spring and fall have their challenges, too. The spring has pesky bugs and mud, while the fall has shorter days and can get cold at night. Fall also has hunting during October through December. In the end, you pick your seasonal challenges and make the best of it.

The Buckeye trail is the best long-distance hike few people know about so the trail is not overly crowded. There are plenty of day hikers, especially in attractions like Old Man’s Cave. You’ll also see quite a few section hikers, but only a small number of thru-hikers attempt the trail each year.


GETTING THERE: Transportation

Transportation is made easy because the Buckeye trail is a loop and passes near major cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo. You can fly or drive to these cities and then catch an Uber to the trailhead. Instead of an Uber, you may be able to get a ride from one of the many Trail Angels in the area. Because it is a loop, you can leave your car where you start and walk back to it by the end.

© Erica


DIRECTION TO GO: Northbound or Southbound?

The Buckeye Trail is a 1,200-mile loop (or 1,400 if you do the extra side trails) so it really doesn’t matter where you start. In the early spring when it is still cold and snowy, it might be wise to start in the south to minimize your chance of encountering snowstorms and deep snow. Many people, though, start later in the spring and begin their journey in the north on Lake Erie.


NAVIGATION: Maps and Apps

The Buckeye Trail is marked with blue blazes by a dedicated team of volunteers from the Buckeye Trail Association. It is well maintained and marked, but the path is not highly traveled like the Appalachian Trail. You should bring a paper map or purchase a guide with resupply locations, hotels if you need a zero-day, and shelters. If you prefer to use your phone, there is a Guthook guide for the trail.


PACKING: Gear and Clothing

Ohio typically has hot and humid summers and cold winters. Both spring and fall are transitional seasons, which means the weather may be unpredictable. You could get rain one day and snow the next. You need to be prepared with the correct layers to keep you warm and dry. A good raincoat and a warm puffy or synthetic layer are critical. A warm sleeping bag, a comfortable sleeping pad, and a good tent so you have adequate protection from the weather. Check out our guides to the best hiking clothes and recommended ultralight backpacking gear for even more suggestions.

 © Laura


WHERE TO SLEEP: Camping, Shelters, and Hostels

Most of the time, you will be sleeping in campsites and shelters along the trail within a walking distance. The overnight areas are well marked and well maintained by either the Buckeye Trail organization volunteers, individual campsite owners or state park/preserve staff. Dispersed camping is prohibited on private and state lands.

You also can find hostels in the trail towns and more luxurious hotels in the larger cities. Because you hike through small towns and farmland, you may even find a friendly local who has an extra bunk or a warm barn for the night. If you need more information about a section of the trail, reach out to a section supervisor who is more than willing to share their knowledge of the terrain and local resources.


HOW TO RESUPPLY: Food, Water, and Towns

The Buckeye trail has a handful of official trail towns that openly welcome hikers and have services tailor-made (see list at the end of this article). You also pass near small towns and large cities where there are plenty of opportunities to get food and find a place to take a zero-day.

Ohio is lush in the summer with ample rain and lingering humidity to keep everything moist. Water is typically abundant so you don’t have to worry about lugging 5 gallons each day. Make sure you have a water filter so you can purify the water you collect.


OTHER: Practical Information and Regulations

The Buckeye trail crosses several state parks and nature preserves. Each area has its different regulations, so you'll need to use Guthook's or a similar guidebook to make sure you comply with the local rules. Restrictions include no pets in some areas and no bikes on the dirt paths, for example.


SIGHTS: Nature and Wildlife

Animals are abundant on the Buckeye trail. You'll see white-tailed deer, wild turkey, fox, beaver, raccoons, and more. You should keep an eye out for snakes as Ohio is home to two poisonous snakes -- the timber rattlesnake and northern copperhead. Ohio has a small bear population, but you are not likely to encounter a bear on the trail. Nonetheless, you still should hang your food bag or use the bear pole on the campsites that have them. And for birders, the Buckeye Trail has its own birding guide to help you identify common species you'll see on the trail.

 © Bill Fultz


Sectional Overview


The Buckeye trail has a total of 26 official sections. We've grouped them into four regional categories below. For a complete breakdown of each section, check out the Buckeye Trail's official website.


NORTHEASTERN - Burton to Massillon (0 to 166 miles)

The northeastern part of the trail is where it all begins for those who start at the northern terminus. This area starts at Lake Erie and passes near the bustling town of Cleveland. You then reach the Appalachian plateau, where you will find the remnants of the glaciers that covered this side of the state. The 250-mile Buckeye Trail "Little Loop" is here. It starts and ends at the northern terminus of the Buckeye Trail. The Little Loop covers the first five sections of the trail, including Akron, Bedford, Burton, Mogadore, and Massillon. 


SOUTHEASTERN - Bowerston to Shawnee (166 to 630 miles)

The southeastern section of the trail is where it gets interesting. You leave the glaciated landscape behind and enter the most remote and rugged part of the path. This area is dotted with wild rivers, deep gorges, stunning waterfalls, and exciting caves. Amenities are few and far between, so you should be prepared to carry up to a week's worth of food. You are isolated and often alone in this part of the trail.


SOUTHWESTERN - West Union to Troy (166 to 630 miles)

The southwestern part of the trail transitions from remote wilderness to the flat plains that dominate the western part of the state. Here you will encounter farmland as well as populated cities such as Cincinnati. This area is rich with history as you walk along an 1840s rail bed, pass through Camp Dennison, a Union Civil war camp and follow the hunting trails used by the Shawnee and Miami native Americans. The southern terminus of the trail at Eden Park in Cincinnati is in this section.


NORTHWESTERN - St Marys to Medina (630 to 1,200 miles)

The northwestern section continues your living history tour by initially following the Miami-Erie canal, which was built in the 1800s to bring water from Lake Erie to the Ohio River and Toledo. You'll also pass by the Deep Cut, a section of the canal that is 52-feet deep and was dug by hand. Walking is easy in this section as you mostly follow dirt towpaths and the rural roads that line the local farmlands.

© Jenn Brindle


Trail Towns


The Buckeye Trail has a handful of trail towns that officially embrace the trail and the hikers who travel it. The towns offer food and lodging to weary and hungry hikers. They also have cultural events and historical tours for some off-trail entertainment.  These cities and villages are the lifelines for hikers who need a helping hand. 

  • Mentor: Along with Chardon, Meteor is one of the first towns you come to when you leave the northern terminus, Mentor has everything you need to refuel and replenish your mind and body. You also can check out the Holden Arboretum, one of the largest arboreta and botanical gardens in America. History buffs will appreciate the James A Garfield Historic site dedicated to the United States's 20th president.

  • Chardon: Located right outside of Cleveland near the northern terminus of the trail, Chardron is a bustling small city with a close-knit community. During the summer, hikers can take in a concert,  appreciate the craftsmanship at a local arts festival, or visit the farmers market for some homegrown food. 

  • Zoar: The historic village of Zoar once was home to a group of German separatists escaping religious persecution in their home country. The group lived together as a community for more than 80 years, making it one of America's most successful communal settlements. 

  • Deersville: A must stop in the eastern part of the trail, Deersville is known for its old fashioned general store. The Deersville General Store has everything from food to camping supplies for the thru-hiker. It even sells Buckeye Crunch, the official ice cream of the Buckeye Trail Association. 

  • Shawnee: Nestled in the southern part of the state, Shawnee once was a vibrant coal mining town with over 4,000 residents. Now a town of 650+, Shawnee has a scenic downtown that looks just like it did in the 1800s. It's also where the Buckeye Trail Association holds its headquarters. Hikers can take some time to fish in the manmade Tecumseh Lake or camp in the surrounding Wayne County forest. 

  • Milford: Located at the intersection of eight long-distance trails, Milford is a hiker's haven. The Buckeye trail meaders right down the town's main streets, where you will find hiker-friendly restaurants, stores, and camping areas. Milford is home to the Roads Rivers and Trails, a well known local outdoors outfitter. The eight trails that converge in this hub include Buckeye Trail, North Country Trail, American Discovery Trail, Sea to Sea Long Distance Hiking Route, Underground Railroad Cycling Route, Ohio to Erie Cycling Route, the Little Miami Scenic River, and the Little Miami Scenic Trail.

  • Loveland: Loveland is a great stop for hikers who need a break from the trail and want to explore the city and nearby Nisbet Park. Not only can you grab lunch at a picnic table, but you also can catch a few winks at the park's primitive camping site. Best of all you can stay for free. 

  • Xenia: Xenia, in southwestern Ohio, is a must stop for some time off the trail. While taking a few zero days, you can enjoy the city's four rail-to-trial bikeways. 

  • Yellow Springs: You can't miss Yellow Springs as the Buckeye trail goes right down the main street. The trial town has stores, restaurants, and ample outdoor recreation at nearby preserves, state parks, and scenic walking trails. 

  • Dayton: Dayton is a large city in southwestern Ohio with a growing outdoor community. Here you find nearly 50 outdoor-related businesses and 50 outdoor clubs. Need some supplies for your long-distance hike? Dayton will have it.   

  • Troy: Troy is a growing city with plenty of stores, lodging, and recreational activities just north of Dayton. The trail here follows the Great Miami River, which is the same trail used by the Shawnee and Miami native Americans to reach their hunting grounds and settlers looking for land out west. 

  • Piqua: Located in western Ohio, Piqua has everything a hungry hiker needs. Coffee, chocolate, and ice cream? There's a store for each one. You'll also find a YMCA, a YWCA, a laundromat, and a public library with an internet connection to update your blog or check your email. 

  • Defiance: A former shipping and industrial hub in northwest Ohio, Defiance sits at the intersection of the Maumee and Auglaize rivers. There are ample stores, restaurants, and even camping at the nearby Independence Dam State Park. Just outside the city, you'll find acres of farmland and farm stands with locally grown food. 

  • Napoleon: Located in northwest Ohio, Napoleon is known for its easy-hiking towpath that follows the Miami Erie canal.


© Ray


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By Kelly Hodgkins: Kelly is a full-time backpacking guru. She can be found on New Hampshire and Maine trails, leading group backpacking trips, trail running or alpine skiing.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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