Labor Day may mark the end of the official summer season, but our trek around Lake Vesuvius was our sweatiest and most miserable exploration of the summer. Fortunately, we had amazing views and spectacular wildflowers to distract us. On more than one occasion, I leaned into the humidity, lush plant-life, and the cacophony of birds and insects and pretended I was on a jungle exploration. Fortunately, the weather was made manageable by the knowledge we would have a cold shower and air conditioning before bed.
We ended up at Lake Vesuvius because the Iron Ridge Campground had availability a month before Labor Day. The 8.25 miles of the Lakeshore Trail beckoned as a perfect way to enjoy our first day in Wayne National Forest. We set off from the boat ramp parking lot from which the Rock House Trail also departed. We were fortunate to encounter an employee at Kountry Kayak, the boat concessionaire, who offered a fantastic map of the hiking trails in Wayne National Forest. I had studied this map enough at home to be confident of finding our way by following the lake, but this was a waterproof version that covered lots of trails and will be a great addition to our map collection.
Despite the holiday weekend, we had the parking lot nearly to ourselves at 9am. This park doesn’t seem to host nearly the same crowds as the nearby Hocking Hills. We walked the Lakeshore Trail clockwise and started out just left of the kayak launch. The trailhead is shared with the much longer Backpacking Trail, but the paths soon diverge.
Lake Vesuvius is more of a wide creek than traditional lake, with the shoreline twisting and turning to obscure the view of the entire lake. The vistas constantly changed as we explored along the trail. Large rocks were slumped into the lake and looked like excellent places to explore in a kayak.
After about 1.5 miles, we approached the beach area. At 10:30 in the morning, we had the area and all of the goose poop to ourselves. This is a fee area and beach goers are required to pay $3 to park.
Continuing northeast, we approached the headwaters of the lake. The wildflowers along the trail stunned us. The wet summer seems to have translated into stunning displays of the typical jewelweed, ironweed, and wingstem, as well as dozens of others. The lake became more and more choked with lily pads before dwindling to a stream. In the meanwhile, large rock formations rose inland.
The trail paralleled the narrowing headwaters. While the vegetation crowded the path, it was always obviously which way we should go. If in doubt, blue blazes were numerous. Blue took advantage of the stream to cool off and grab a drink. Unfortunately, we later realized the water in the area is not recommended for consumption due to the historic mining practices in the area. Oops.
Soon we crossed the creek and headed back on the southeast side of the lake.
About six miles in, Blue began to slow down. The heat was getting to all of us, so we took a break to watch the kayakers. An Eastern Fence lizard and Tussock Moth caterpillar share the rock ledge with us.
We approached the trail head to the sounds of rumbling thunder. Unfortunately, drawing closer to the road also meant more trash and graffiti. Sadly, the biggest mark against this park and trail is the horrible way in which it has been treated. Blue didn’t mind and enjoyed one more swim.
The final half mile of trail crosses the damn and then traverses a boardwalk. The boardwalk seemed very popular for fishing though we never saw anyone catch anything. Blue tried to catch some Canada Geese, but also failed.
We took our time on this trail and reached the car in just under five hours. The highlights were definitely the wildflowers and the views of the lake and we made a note to return for the spring ephemerals some year.