Explore Ohio from network of waterways
By David Kennard
MANSFIELD -- The soft gurgle of clear water as it whirlpools around moss-covered stones is the siren call to Ohio’s canoeing enthusiasts.
From the earliest days when American Indians began building wood-framed boats covered with the bark of birch trees, held together with sinew and pine sap, people have explored the waterways that snake across Ohio.
Stepping into a canoe is stepping back in time.
Virtually unchanged in design, canoes continue to carry modern-day explorers seeking adventure through remote areas of our state otherwise inaccessible to humans.
And, as the warm summer months bring more people to the water’s edge, more explorers will answer the call of the streams and rivers that push through deep forests, majestic cliffs and historic areas.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, recreational paddle sports — canoeing and kayaking — account for 20 percent of all watercraft registrations. However, only within the last 10 years has the state committed serious resources to help paddlers discover Ohio’s river systems.
The State Water Trail program began in 2003, and in 2006 the River in east central Ohio became the first river with the designation.
Explorers can put in at Mount Vernon and travel the nearly 28-mile, mostly-wooded river east though Knox and counties. The trail includes a good variety of paddling experiences, including deep water and short rapids.
The and its sister to the north, the Mohican River, are the epicenter of Ohio’s inventory of canoe-able waterways.
“Thousands of visitors come here every year, if you include all the commercial liveries in the area,” said Kim Marshall, director of the Knox County Park District.
Marshall is well acquainted with central Ohio’s popular water ways.
“This whole area is rich in Ohio history,” Marshall said. “I know the Delaware tribes used these waterways. Before that, very early woodland Indians also were in this area.”
Putting in on the Mohican River at Mohican State Park south of , paddlers will push their crafts under the dense forest canopy south and soon begin to see remnants of Ohio’s earliest residents — sandstone bridge piers from vacated railroad grades, stone foundations from early settlement long abandoned.
At the point where Holmes and Knox counties meet, boaters will float past the Treaty line that in 1795 established the boundary between the United States and American Indian land. Drawn after the end of the Northwest Indian War, the line marked land open to settlers to the south, and northern lands that remained American Indian territory.
Any one of Ohio’s nine designated State Water Trails is a good way to introduce yourself to canoeing or test your ability level the same as early Americans did so many years ago.
Nearby: Mohican State Scenic River
has built an industry around a tourist destination that has — for years — drawn visitors to the forests, rivers and trails of southern County.
Six canoe liveries operate in the area, including the oldest livery in the state, Mohican Adventures, which began shuttling paddlers along the Mohican River in 1961.
“This is an essential part of the local economy,” said Bob , executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
This year’s canoeing season, which traditionally begins in April or May depending on water levels, shows all the signs of an excellent year, he said.
“It’s looking pretty good,” said. “Interest in the area is up. We’ve had more phone calls and requests for information. Our website traffic is up.”
The commercial liveries rent canoes, kayaks, tubes and rafts for floating the river system. Detailed information about the services provided can be found at the visitors bureau website, . .com/river-report
The liveries are full-service operations designed to provide everything you need to float the river.
If you bring your own canoe and need shuttle service, call ahead to arrange transport. Each livery operates a little differently.
If you are planning your own trip, the best place to put in is near the entrance to Mohican State Park on Highway 3. Park at the Mountain Bike Trail parking lot. A short day trip — about 11 miles on the river — will take you through Amish country to Greer, near the Wally Road Scenic Byway.
A longer trip will take you further south toward the confluence of the River.
Take plenty of water and always wear a life jacket, as the last 17 miles of the trail take you into a very remote natural area.
Getting startedThe Ohio Department of Natural Resources has detailed information, including maps and descriptions, on the nine waterways designated as State Water Trails.
East Bay Water Trail: This is the only open water trail in Ohio and provides scenic views along Bay on Lake Erie. (15.3 miles, circular route)
Great Miami River Water Trail: This is the longest trail in the state, connecting Indian Lake to the Ohio River in Cincinnati. In Dayton, the Great Miami is joined by the and Mad rivers, which make up the Great Miami River Watershed Water Trail, collectively offering 265 miles of waterway. (157 miles, north to south)
River Water Trail: The trail passes through historic areas in Ohio and includes long lengths of remote river with no human population. (28 miles trail, west to east)
Mad River Water Trail: From to Dayton, this trail includes sections of fast water as it moves paddlers south toward its confluence with the Great Miami River. (65 miles, north to south)
River Water Trail: The trail winds through wooded, rural and urban areas in Trumbull County in northeast Ohio. It’s location near the Western Reserve Trail and Bicycle Route J make it a nice paddle/pedal destination. (23 miles, south to north)
Mohican River Water Trail: The state’s premier paddling destination, The Mohican State Scenic River is a must-visit for anyone serious about canoeing. The trail provides a true wilderness experience through Ohio’s Mohican . (28 miles, north to south)
River Water Trail: The trail connect to the Ohio River along the longest navigable river wholly in the state. It includes the hand-operated locks of the River Parkway and passes through the historic communities of Dresden, , , Beverly and the port town of Marietta. (112 miles, big river paddling, shared water ways with power boats)
River Water Trail: This trail begins in remote County on the west side of the state. The meandering river flows through several small farming communities before merging with the Great Miami River in Dayton. (65 miles, west to southeast)
Water Trail: This unique trail begins in northern Ohio and includes both river and open water travel on Lake Erie before going back inland toward the town of . (27 miles, south to north)
Find a canoeLike most outdoor sports, equipment can be the difference between a great trip or a soggy failure.
Consumers can purchase a decent river canoe for $400 to $2,500. Used canoes also can be purchased for much less. Add to that the expense of paddles and life jackets, and the cost can get pretty high, pretty fast.
A good alternative is renting, especially if you are planning to only occasionally venture off shore or would like to get a taste of the sport.
A simple online search will point to any number of canoe liveries that will quickly get you onto Ohio’s back country water ways. These companies offer every variety of services you may need on your adventure, from equipment to shuttle services.
What to know before you goThere are a number of things you should know before you set off into the wild. Here’s a short list:
- Wear your life jacket: Water seems cool and inviting, but canoes tip easily, putting you and hard rocks within close proximity.
- Mind the weather: A little rain won’t sink your canoe, but wind, heavy rain and lightning can be deadly. Seek shelter when necessary.
- Stay off private property: You’ll see the signs posted.
- Pack it in, pack it out: Carry a litter bag. Don’t bring glass and if you find some, pack it out. Canoes can haul a lot; do your part to keep our water ways clean.
- Wear shoes or sandals at all times: Foot injuries are no fun on a canoe trip.
ResourcesOhio has many resources to help canoeing enthusiasts travel the state’s waterways.
A good place to start your adventure is with information from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. You can find just about anything you need to know at .
Talking to experts at sporting goods stores or a visitors bureau also will point you in the right direction.