Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shawnee Backpack Trail Trip Report

Last weekend we went off on an overnight backpacking trip to Shawnee State Forest. Camp 6 is reputed to being the prettiest campsite in the entire forest, so we set our sights on getting them by nightfall. The camp is located about 10 miles from the trail head and is surrounded by tall pine trees and nestled next to a babbling brook. We passed the campsite on a previous trip, and so were very excited about staying there finally.

After passing up camp 7, we hiked about a half mile or so before reaching a clearing with no marking. Little did we know that we had missed the turn off for the trail a quarter mile ago. Thinking we were still on the trail, we plodded along on the random ATV trail we had been following. An hour went by and there was still no sign of an orange blaze. I started to panic.

How could we be lost? It's definitely something that no one plans on being. It was very easy to miss the improperly marked turnoff, however. I had settled on camping on the rough ATV trail that night (it was growing dark) and filtering water from a small mud stream nearby. Miraculously, we soon emerged out of the humid foliage and found the trail. But there was one problem.

We didn't know which way to go. Studying the map, we tried to determine where we were based on elevation. The forest service maps did not include unmarked ATV routes, so we could not even identify that. Finally, Chiliman determined that we needed to go south and that we needed to turn left in order to do so according to the position of the sun. I thought he was probably right, but I also thought that we should stay low in elevation, which is where the campsite would have been located. We decided to go right.

Two hours later from when we passed camp 7, we arrived right back at camp 7. It was disheartening. We had backtracked terribly, and it was partly my fault for misjudging Chiliman's instinct. The real curplit? Unmarked trail. If you are heading out to Shawnee State Forest to backpack, please note that there is a drastic one-hundred degree righthand turn a quarter of a mile from camp 7 on your way to camp 6. The turn is hidden amongst brush and overgrowth.

Unmarked, improperly marked or even unmaintained trails are easy to get lost on. This was the first time we did not bring a compass with us, and it was the first time we needed it.

To avoid getting lost on a trail, pay attention at all times. Do not move forward unless you see a marker or a blaze indicating the proper direction. We plowed straight ahead on what we assumed was the trail, but it turned out to be a misleading ATV track. This can happen to you too. Be prepared. Bring a map and a compass at all times. If you have a GPS unit, I would bring that too. If you become lost- do not go any further! Backtrack until you find yourself back on the trail or in familiar surroundings.

I hope this helps prepare you either for a trek in Shawnee State Forest, or any other backpacking adventure where backcountry hiking is involved.


  1. How much fire damage did you guys run into down in the southwest section of the backpack trail? I'm looking to get out there here towards the end of the month and am trying to get a handle on the extent of the damage

  2. Ryan, I apologize for the dely in response, as I'm sure you had already made your trip! But for the other readers, I'll answer your question.

    We didn't run into too much damage the rest of the trail. Even with the recent forest fires and ice storms, most it was either cleared or being cleared. The summer of 2008 we hiked the entire trail from camp 7 to camp 1 and didn't have any problems. However, there seems to be frequent re-routing of this trail, so I would just be aware of that and pay close attention to the spacing between orange blazes.

  3. I know the area where you made the wrong turn. They had do do some cutting and rerouting to make access for fire roads a couple years back. It is a confusing spot if you haven't did it before.

  4. Michael, yes, it was very confusing! This is the very type of thing that many people fail to take into account when venturing into the backcountry. Always be prepared!

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  6. I was just hiking there this week and found the map between the trail head and Camp 1 to be inaccurate. The map shows the BP Trail crossing Forest Service Rd 6 twice east of the Copperhead Tower, but it doesn't cross at all. It took me an hour trying to find the trail before I finally gave up and took a bridle trail instead. Finally found the BP trail where crossed the Bridle Trail, but it cost me lots of time and substantial energy due to two unnecessary hill climbs.

  7. James, it has been a while since we have been out on that trail, but I wonder if the difficulty you experienced had anything to do with rerouting due to the wind storm. It doesn't seem like the BP trail is as maintained as others, so it can be confusing in many spots, especially if there has been temporary re-routing. Thanks for the update.


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