Posted in Hiking, Park review, Southeastern Ohio

Gifford State Forest

At 320 acres Gifford State Forest is the smallest state forest owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The sign at the trailhead suggests that there are a total of 4.7 miles of trail. We hiked most of those miles this past July, and here’s our report as to what they’re like.

Vista Trail

Getting oriented

Below is a tracing I made of the trail map provided in ODNR’s brochure for this state forest. As you can see the trail is north of State Route 377 between McConnelsville and Athens. The trails appear to offer two points of particular interest: a vista and something called “Indian stone.” Neither the brochure nor the official website describe what this “Indian stone” is, and while doing the hike we either missed the stone, or saw it without recognizing its significance.

A tracing of the trail map that I made from one in the ODNR brochure for Gifford State Forest. The dotted blue parts of the map represent streams or creeks, and the dash-dot pattern represents the hiking trails. The part of the trail highlighted in green above was “invisible” since it was an unmown path through a meadow.

And for comparison’s sake, here’s a GPS trace of our actual hike. As you can see we just did the outer loop and skipped one connector trail between a northern and southern segment of the loop. Beyond that you can see that the northwestern corner of the GPS trace looks somewhat different from that trails as laid out in the official map.

GPS trace of our hike at Gifford State Forest. You can also see it at Google Maps.

We hiked 3.5 miles with our total gain in elevation amounting to 1498 feet.

The Hike

Because we wanted to see the Vista near the beginning of our hike, we chose to hike the outer loop in the clockwise direction. This meant that when we reached the first fork in the trail that we needed to go left. However when we did so at the first fork that we recognized, this actually took us down an “unofficial” trail and off the trail map. It turns out that the first fork was invisible because it was supposed to be a junction between mown paths in the meadow near the parking lot, but only one of the paths had actually been mown.

Trailhead near the parking lot for Giffard State Forest.
On the way to the treeline we totally missed seeing the overgrown path marked by the double-headed arrow above. It was only after completing the loop trail that we realized this had to be the path.

Below are a couple photos of me making my way through the meadow portion of the path at the end of our hike. You can see how overgrown the trail was.

On the way back we had to hike through a really overgrown area.
Heading through the field back to the mown path that would take us to the parking area.

Not recognzing that the first junction in the trail map was in the field, the photo below shows a junction that we encountered shortly after entering the forest. There is a wide trail large enough for a vehicle going to the right, and a foot path heading towards the left. Below Bob is heading to the left on the footpath.

At this fork, we went left, but that took us off the official trail map. The path to the left leads to a hollow with some interesting slump blocks. After looking them over, we backtracked to this juncture and went right on the “Vista Trail.”

Although we unknowingly left the “Vista Trail” at this point, a number of slump blocks had slumped their way to the bottom of this hollow, and we enjoyed looking them over. However we soon realize that we had left the trail altogether, so we backtracked to the Vista Trail.

Bob checking out the slump blocks.

The really wide road was the “Vista Trail” which somewhat confusingly leads to another trail that’s simply called “Vista”. “Vista” follows a ridgeline to a point which according to topographical maps will overlook hollows all around it. Below is the sign pointing away.

The “Vista” is a 0.9 mile trail that’s an offshoot of the 1.9-mile “Vista Trail”.

And below shows me on the way to the Vista.

Deb on the trail to the Vista.

To our surprise when we reached the end of the ridgeline and arrived at the vista, there was no vista there. Below is a photo of Bob at the end of the trail with the “vista” behind him.

Bob is flashing a “V” for “Vista”. The Vista is behind him… really.

Presumably there used to be a vista here, but the growth of the surrounding forest blocked off the view. We returned to the junction of “Vista Trail” and “Vista,” then continued northward on Vista Trail till we reached the junction between it and the Indian Stone Trail. Despite being on the lookout for something that might be the “Indian Stone” we didn’t see it. We weren’t really sure what it might look like since we didn’t encounter any description of it.

Sign at juncture between the Indian Stone Trail (blue blaze) and the Vista Trail. The actual “Vista” is a 0.9 mile branch from the “Vista Trail”.
Indian Stone Trail is marked with a blue blaze.

Crossing between ridgelines we went up a steep slope that was edged by blackberry bushes.

Deb making her way past blackberry briars on the way up to the ridgeline.
Ascending to ridgeline.

Once we got to the top of the ridgeline we went to the right to continue our clockwise hike around the outer loop.

Once we climbed the hill, we had to decide whether to go left (the direction shown in this photo), or to the right. If you look at the path, you can see some logs laying down across the path. We believed this was done intentionally to say “Don’t go this way.” So we headed the opposite direction (to the right).
Continuing our trek on the next ridgeline.

As made our way back toward the meadow where our hike had started, we ran into some pretty weedy areas of the trail.

As you can see the weeds on the trail were well past my knee.

Overall I like hiking in this kind of terrain, but it would seem that not many hikers visit here. While we were at Gifford State Forest someone was mowing the lawn around the parking lot and the path, but for some reason a decision has been made to stop mowing one branch of the meadow trail. If you decide to go during the summer, make sure you do a tick check afterwards. I would imagine that the trail is much easier to hike after the undergrowth has died back, but hikers need to be aware that this area is open to public hunting (for more information on when hunting season is, check out our posts on deer hunting and turkey hunting).


We saw a lot of Pipevine swallowtail butterflies during our hike, so many that I was reminded of the areas where butterflies gather in the Zelda videogames.

Pipevine swallowtail. We saw these all over the place, often circling each other in flight.

We also saw a number of other butterflies.

Common Wood Nymph butterfly. This is a type of brushfoot butterfly. Although it looks like it has four feet, there are actually two tiny, fuzzy “brush feet” in the front that are practically invisible.

And as per usual I enjoyed looking at the summer flowers and ferns that we encountered during our hike. The fern below was a new one for me.

Narrow-leaved glade fern (Diplazium pycnocarpon)

And here are a few of the flowers.

Bee on milkweed
A waspish-looking insect on a horse nettle flower.
Birdsfoot trefoil. This is a very tiny flower that looks bigger here than it is.
This is a type of wild mint known as Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa).
An aster.
Additional information


From US-33 take exit 13 and turns left onto OH-550 E/Columbs Rd. toward Amesville. Follow OH-550 for around 14.5 miles. Continue straight onto OH-377 N for about a half mile. The state forest will be on your left.

The driveway for the state forest is at GPS coordinates: 39.441893, -81.908142, and here is a link to the site’s location on Google Maps: You can click the link to get directions to Gifford State forest from your point of origin.

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© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

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