This park moved to the top of my list when a trusted fellow camper declared it one of her favorite sites. I had procrastinated making Labor Day reservations, so I was very excited to find a lone electric site available when I checked a few days prior.
Site availability seems like it would rarely be a problem outside holiday weekends. A total of 192 sites flank Furnace Ridge Rd. However, only 46 are equipped with electric and I am too spoiled to do summer weekends in Ohio without the possibility of air conditioning.
Unfortunately, most other campers seem to feel the same way. So I camped within spitting distance of our neighbors while quite a few non-electric sites sat empty. I am a fan of shaded sites and Lake Hope seems to have escaped the Emerald Ash Borer epidemic that has deforested so many Ohio campgrounds. Of course that means little to no vegetation within the sites themselves. The sites would be a little muddy in wetter weather.
My biggest complaint may be the extreme slope of the sites.To get left-to-right level, I had to do some creative work with the Andersen jack and Lynx levelers. Another time here, I nearly bottomed out the front jack. And one of the downsides of a rear entry door is these kind of sites; my bottom step sits over a foot off the ground sometimes. It is quite a step even for my relatively young knees.
I had heard good things about the hiking. The Zaleski State Forest backpacking loop intersects State Route 278 near the campground. I haven’t yet been up for 11+ miles, and today was no exception. And frankly, Blue insisted on turning around after 1.5 miles of the trail I did pick, so 11 miles might be a little out of her wheelhouse.
The Hope Furnace Trail runs along the west side of Lake Hope and connects the parking area near the archery range to Hope Furnace. I parked at picnic shelter as several trailheads are near Hope Furnace and the parking was very full. This is a multi-use trail and we were passed by a couple mountain bikers, but they were all very courteous and super-appreciative when we stepped off the trail to let them by.
The trail is very easy with little to no elevation. There were plenty of nice views of the lake. It alternated between cooler forests and sunny lakeshores. At 1.5 miles, there is a small clearing that is perfect for a snack and we took advantage of that. I had every intention of continuing on, but Blue’s hiking went from reluctant to a stubborn “no”. So back we went.
On a previous trip I opted for the Peninusla Trail. This 3 mile loop can be picked up from the backpacking parking lot or just down the road near the entrance for the cabins and dining lodge. A gravel lot is available near the road. The trail follows the lake shore of the (surprise) peninsula into lake hope. Much of the way is adequately shaded with the middle part yielding nice views of the lake and the sunny grasses were great habitat for dragonflies. Entering back into the woods, we encountered a few American Redstarts chorusing from the tree tops.
In addition to the great hiking, Lake Hope’s restriction on motor boats makes it a great option for paddling. Kayaks and stand up paddle boards can be rented at the beach area. If you bring your own, there is a boat ramp off 278. Be warned the ramp is a little steep and makes getting out of the kayak a little tricky. The lake is about a mile and a half in length. During my September trip, the red water lilies were blooming and provided for spectacular viewing against the beautiful green shores and blue skies.
On my second hike of the day I made a rookie mistake in planning. I had hoped to pick up a few miles of mountain biking trails connecting to the campground via the Red Oak trail. The Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Ridge trails looked like they made a nice little loop. The map listed the mileage for the two trails as totaling five miles, in addition to the half mile Red Oak access. Surely, the trail couldn’t be that long. It didn’t look like it could be more than a couple miles. I failed to process that these are mountain biking trails that are designed with long switch backs to pack the miles into very little space. I was correct that the loop couldn’t quite be five miles, but it was definitely more than four for a five mile total trek plus an additional mile of walking through the campground. Blue really struggled and I wished I’d brought more water, but it was an enjoyable hike. It is also worth mentioning that the transition from the Red Oak trail to Yosemite Loop requires some brief navigation among the many trails. I admit to making a brief detour on the way back as I mis-read a trail post.
The highlight of any Lake Hope State Park trip may well be dinner. Many official state park restaurants are mediocre at best – serving deep fried frozen fare. Not so at Lake Hope! The restaurant is know for its fresh BBQ and farm-to-table fare. Several people mentioned it as a must-try and it does not disappoint. I was very pleased to learn that they are offering carry-out during COVID with the option of taking it to one of the outside tables. Their no-contact system was excellent. I placed my order through the plexi-window and was handed a pager. When the pager went off, I found my order on a table. Once again, I sampled the brisket, pork, and turkey and none of it disappointed. On another trip, I was fortunate enough to snag one of the outside tables so we had a spectacular view as we ate, but this time I took it back to the campground. Everything we so amazing but don’t forget to get a berry cobbler to go!