Ohio Icon: The Buckeye Trail

The Buckeye Trail covers 1,452.7 miles and is Ohio’s longest scenic hiking trail.

Location: Around the state of Ohio in places that encompass forests and fields; riverbanks and lakeshores; public lands and private property; old canal towpaths and new bike paths; and cities, towns, and villages.

Provenance: In a 1958 Columbus Dispatch article, Merrill Gilfillan of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources proposed a public hiking path from Cincinnati to Lake Erie. Gilfillan and other supporters of his idea formed the Buckeye Trail Association (BTA) to develop Ohio’s first long-distance hiking trail, and on Sept. 19, 1959, the Buckeye Trail’s initial 20-mile section was dedicated in Hocking County. BTA founding members who participated in the dedication hike included Gallia County’s Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, who, at age 67, was the first woman to walk the entire Appalachian Trail on her own.

The Buckeye Trail’s original termini were Cincinnati’s Eden Park and Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor, and blue streaks — called blazes — were painted on trees and posts to mark its route. Following the blue blazes became so popular that in 1967, state legislators designated the Buckeye Trail as Ohio’s official trail, and it evolved into a circular route that now loops through 49 of the state’s 88 counties. Still managed by the nonprofit BTA, the Buckeye Trail is maintained by volunteers and financed through donations. “BTA takes no state or federal money,” says Executive Director Andrew Bashaw. “It’s a point of pride that we’re self-funded by people who worked to build and preserve a trail they want to hike.”

Significance: Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, the Buckeye Trail covers 1,452.7 miles and is Ohio’s longest scenic hiking trail. It also ranks among the nation’s largest and most diverse hiking trails and is believed to be the only trail encircling an entire state.

Currently: Overlapping numerous local trails as well as portions of the American Discovery Trail and North Country National Scenic Trail, the Buckeye Trail is considered the backbone of Ohio’s ever-expanding network of trails.

With more than 1,200 members, BTA partners with entities ranging from ODNR to “Trail Town” destinations to help protect and promote the Buckeye Trail, and this fall, it will open a new 15-mile-long trail section in Adams County’s Edge of Appalachia nature preserve.

It’s a little-known fact that: The color of the Buckeye Trail’s blue blazes is called “Sweeping Blue,” and Grandma Gatewood herself purchased the first can of “Sweeping Blue” paint and donated it to the BTA.