The weekend before last Bob and I paid a visit to Great Seal State Park in Ross County, Ohio. This 1862-acre park features 5 miles of nature trail plus an additional 17 miles of multi-use trails that may be used for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. The central feature of the park is a line of hills that are depicted on the Great Seal of Ohio.
The Great Seal Of Ohio
Just like the United States has a great seal (pictured here), all of the individual states have their own great seals. In 1803 Ohio’s first legislature passed a law describing our Great Seal. Although the legislature has authorized changes over time, the engravers of the seal have also introduced a few innovations.
According to the Ohio Historical Society, there are 17 arrows in the lower left because Ohio was admitted as the 17th state into the Union. The bundle of arrows also represents strength in union. In the lower right there is a sheaf of wheat due to the importance that agriculture has played in our economy. The sun is rising in the east to show that Ohio’s future is so bright that we gotta wear shades. 😎 The mountain range in the background is supposed to represent the Alleghenies which is significant because Ohio was the first state to join the union west of the Alleghenies. Although the river in the seal has never been explicitly authorized via legislation it is said to represent the Ohio river after which the state was named.
So what does any of this have to do with Great Seal Park? When Ohio joined the union, the capital was in Chillicothe which is located in Ross County. The engraver also lived in the capital and is thought to have actually modeled the design after the local terrain. The river, which was an innovation on his part, is thought to be modeled after the Scioto River. This hills were supposed to represent Mt. Logan (a really large hill) with the hills that are now part of Great Seal State Park in the background. These hills are made of sandstone and divide the unglaciated part of Ohio in the east and south from the glaciated region of Ohio to the north and west (it was under a glacier during the last Ice Age).
Hiking at Great Seal State Park
We sampled two trails at two different regions of the park. We did a southern loop the took us over part of the Mt. Ives Trail and the Shawnee Ridge Trail (through points MNOPQR). This loop was 2.3 miles varying in elevation from about 670 ft to 1136 ft. After completing the loop we also sampled some trails to the north including more of the Shawnee Ridge Trail, plus part of the Grouse Rock Trail and part of the Rocky Knob Trail (through points I and K). During this hike we stopped on the Rocky Knob Trail before reaching point L and doubled back till we returned to the trailhead. Going to our farthest point and back was about 2.8 miles varying in elevation from 810 ft to 1179 ft. We also drove to the park’s campgrounds to see what they were like.
Hiking the Southern Loop
We got our morning off to a start by hiking the southern (yellow) loop first. Just beyond the parking lot were picnic tables and a kiosk. Park visitors can pick up a trail map for their hike by reaching inside the mailbox near the kiosk.
We hadn’t been expecting much in the way of fall color this late in the year (November 3rd), but there was still a lot of yellow. We headed off to the left with respect to the photo above which led us around the loop in a clockwise direction. Although we splashed through a stream or two, it would have been possible to cross them with dry feet by hopping or using stepping-stones. But it may be a lot wetter in the spring.
The signage for the southern loop was outstanding. The trails were marked by blazes,PVC pipes with letter decals corresponding to the lettered points on the map, and signs announcing the trail name with the corresponding number used on the map.
One of the things that surprised us very early in our hike was the trail below.
As you can see above, the trail was bare dirt here with no leaf litter obscuring the trail. Bob and I wondered how that could be… was someone actually coming out here with a leaf blower?!?! Perhaps this was a favorite trail for mountain bikes and their group was clearing the path in somehow. Most of the trails we hiked that day were completely covered with leaves.
The green you see near the ground in the above photo are young pawpaw trees. Because their leaves hadn’t yet turned colors, they stood out like a sore thumb during our hike. When you see patches of pawpaw like those above, it’s interesting to realize that almost all the trees in such a patch are probably genetically identical. The primary way that this tree propagates is through cloning itself (more on pawpaws here).
Parts of the ridgeline follows along a saddleback; this is a type of terrain where the ridgeline has a very steep slope on each side.
We have yet to hike here after all the leaves have dropped, but it seems like such a hike would offer a great view. From one hill you should be able to see neighboring hills and the plains below. Since there were still quite a few leaves while we were visiting, we could only get glimpses of nearby hills, but for the most part the view was pretty veiled.
Hiking on Bridle Trails
As a general rule of thumb this is the protocol to follow when encountering other people on a multi-use trail. Mountain bikers are supposed to yield to hikers and horseback riders. Hikers are supposed to yield to horseback riders, too.
I’m not that knowledgeable about horses, and I’ve never ridden on a bridle trail. However when I’ve talked to experienced riders, I’m told that a horse may not initially recognize that a hiker is a human being, especially if the hiker is wearing a large pack. This uncertainty may cause the horse to worry that the approaching figure might be some sort of threat. When you encounter riders on the trail, you should move off the trail… preferably to the lower side if you are on a slope. If you move to the higher side, you might make the horse feel as though you are a predator taking the high ground to pounce on it. You should greet the rider in a calm, soft voice and then ask him or her if you are far enough away from the trail for the horse to pass comfortably. Besides getting helpful feedback, when addressing the rider the sound of your voice will also reassure the horse that you are a human. As the horse goes by, you should stand quietly still. Do not reach out to touch or pet the horse since this might spook it. If the owner stops the horse to chat with you, then by all means feel comfortable chatting back but keep your voice calm and soft.
After we completed the southern loop, we had a nice chat with a couple who had just arrived at the trailhead to go for a ride. As you can see below, there were rails for tying up the horse.
After chatting with the riders we had a picnic lunch at one of the tables, then drove to a different trailhead to get started on the northern portion of our hike.
Hiking the Northern leg
The trailhead for the next leg of our hike is at a spot that’s labeled the Great Seal Maintenance Center. It could be that if you continued driving down this lane, you’d see something that resembled a maintenance center, but all you see here is a small parking lot, and a shelter enclosing a kiosk.
If you look down the hill from the parking lot, you’ll see farmland and in the distance more hills.
The trailhead is up the hill form the parking lot. You have to cross Rocky Rd. to get to it.
Unlike the southern loop, the signage for the trail in this northern leg of our hike wasn’t as good. Blazes were few and far between, and many of the signs were on the ground, propped up against something. The lettered PVC pipes were still there, though.
The Shawnee Ridge Trail in this northern leg of our hike had a number of outcroppings on the ridgeline. I’m standing by one below to provide a sense of scale.
According to the Great Seal’s official website maples grow on the hilltops at Great Seal, while chestnut oaks grow on the hillsides. Normally these trees would have the reverse arrangement. Apparently there is something about the underlying sandstone bedrock that is causing this reversal, but to be honest I don’t understand it myself.
The chestnut oaks have an unusual bark with deep, vertical grooves and triangular ridges.
In addition to the odd location of the chestnut oaks and maples, I was also surprised to find an American sycamore way up on the hillside. Normally these are found in hollows near creeks and rivers. Below I’m holding the large leaf of one on the hill.
Originally we were planning on walking the Rocky Knob Loop Trail, but as the sun was getting low we decided to stop short and just turn around and go back. Here’s a scene from Rocky Knob.
I always keep an eye out for wildflowers, but by November they are almost all gone now. The chicory plant below was the only flowering plant that I saw.
The Campground at Great Seal
The campground has its own entrance. The sites are relatively primitive without electrical hookups. Each site has picnic tables, grills and fire rings. There is a playground area and horseshoe court. Ten of the fifteen sites cater to horses. Both the campground and the entire park are dog-friendly, and we chatted with some people who were out hiking with their dogs. Even if you aren’t camping, you might be interested in the site because there is a trailhead here and vault toilets, too.
Other activities available at the park include disc golf, cross-country skiing (on the Spring Run Trail), and hunting in designated areas with a permit.
- TrekOhio: Ross County Parks & Nature Preserves – This is the county where Great Seal Park is located; check out this page for links to the official site and maps, plus information on other nearby parks and preserves.
- Ohio Historical Society: THE GREAT SEAL OF OHIO
- Wikipedia: Seal of Ohio
- ODNR: History of Great Seal Park
Address: 4908 Marietta Road Chillicothe, Ohio 45601.
- GPS Coordinates for points of interest
- Campground and vault toilets: 39.402797,-82.941385
- Maintenance shed parking: 39.37831,-82.93653
- Parking that we used for the loop hike: 39.366971,-82.93802
You can enter these coordinates into any mapping service or device that will take coordinates as input.
In the map below I have placed markers at points of interest. The tent-shaped icon is at the parking lot for the campground and vault toilets. The icon showing two people hiking is located at the small parking lot near the park’s maintenance center. This is where we parked for the northern leg of our hike. The icon of a person on horseback is at the parking area that we used for the southern loop. There is a place to tie horses there, but horseback riding is not limited to just this area. The two car icons show turnoffs into the park.
As always you can click on the link below the embedded map to view the map on Google. If you view the map at Google, you can get directions to any point on the map by right clicking on it, then clicking on the “Directions” link.
More on Ross County