Posted in Hiking, Park review, Southeastern Ohio

Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest: Watch Rock

Among the trails available at Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest, there is one called “Watch Rock.” If you look at the official map, there is a side trail to a “starred” feature that itself is called “Watch Rock”. Since we were unable to find a description of what “Watch Rock” was, we could only guess. We figured it was a rocky promontory overlooking a scenic vista, but of course we didn’t know for sure. To add to the mystery, during a previous hike we reached the end of the Watch Rock trail without ever seeing the side trail. So this spring we decided to give it another try.

Entrance to Vinton Experimental Forest

Getting Oriented

Here is the official map of the Vinton Experimental Forest.

Map of the entire Vinton Furnace Forest available as a PDF.

Below I’ve extracted the central part of the official map of Vinton Experimental Forest. Note that there are three stars on the map below. If we have already described the feature, I link to the associated article. Starting from the upper left and going clockwise, the stars point to:

  1. Vinton Iron Furnace
  2. Watch Rock, the objective of the current hike, and
  3. Arch Rock
Detail section of map near the Forest Headquarters showing trails

In our most recent hike, we accidentally started out on Arch Rock Trail for a short while before we realized our error. On the map, there is a red “X” icon where we started heading off in the wrong direction. After our course correction we headed out on Watch Rock Trail, and once again walked to its end without seeing any signage for the side trail to Watch Rock. But since we knew it was on the eastern side of the trail, on the way back we went down every side trail that we came across figuring that one of them must lead to Watch Rock. Below is a trace of our hike.

Screenshot showing a GPS trace of our hike (published at Google My Maps.

In the above map, there are six icons: the upside-down teardrop icon at the bottom is where we parked. The gray icon depicting a building shows the location of the headquarters for the experimental forest. The red icon with an “X” shows our mistaken turn onto Arch Rock Trail. Finally there are three black icons showing the endpoints of the three side trails that we pursued. Since we waited till we reached the end of the main trail to start exploring the side trails, we explored them in a north to south order, starting with the black icon with the white diamond, then the black icon with the white checkmark, and finally the black icon with the white star. The round-trip hike was 5.78 miles in length.

Outbound Hike

The main trails are essentially forest roads that are closed to public traffic. It is about a mile from the visitor parking area to the headquarters. Since we last visited the staff seems to have improvised a corral in the parking area out of old sign posts.

Now we know what happened to the sign showing the Watch Rock Side Trail.

Here are a few views of the main trail.

Walking from the parking area to the headquarters

The headquarters area has a number of buildings, a picnic gazebo, and a couple of public, vault toilets. Continuing down the trail past the toilets there is slight hill with some sort of aparatus on top of it. Just past the hill the trail splits. To the left is the Boneyard Trail and to the right is the Watch Rock Trail.

White apparatus on hilltop. The higher trail is Boneyard Trail. Below is Watch Trail.

If you click on the photo below so that you can see a larger version, you’ll note that there are vertical sign posts naming the two trails after the split.

Boneyard Trail above and to the left. Watch Trail below and to the right.

The trail follows the curve of the ridgeline. Below is a photo of Watch Trail.

Watch Trail following the ridge line

When you come to the end of Watch Trail, it looks like this:

End of Watch Rock Trail

Northern-most Side Trail: Diamond Icon

This was right off the end of the main trail. Below is what the first side trail looked like.

Northern-most side trail denoted by the diamond icon.

In this area the researchers appear to be studying the effects of controlled burns on forests. However, we didn’t see any feature that made us think, “Watch Rock.”

Some charred timber

After checking it out we turned around and traveled southwards on the main Watch Rock Trail. There were two more side trails to explore. Each of the side trails were themselves on “mini-ridges” which we descended onto from the main ridge line.

Middle Side Trail: Checkmark Icon

When viewed from the forest road that is Watch Trail, here is what the second trailhead looked like.

Second trailhead, Checkmark icon

The trailhead is between two trees. The one on the right has a white ribbon around it, plus it is marked with red paint. I assume that it has been targeted for removal because it is diseased. Since it may not be there when you visit, below is a shot with a wider angle to give you more context.

To the right of trailhead there are a number of logs.

And since I think it is more likely that those logs on the ground will still be there than that the tree with tape around it will be there, here is another look at them.

To the far left is the taped tree

As you descend the second trail you will come across man-made, earthen ridges that I believe were put there to slow erosion of the path. Below is a panoramic photo that I took while descending the side trail which is located to the right in the photo.

Watch Trail (the forest road) is on the higher ridge line to the left. The second side trail is on the lower ridge line to the right.

So as I am descending this second side trail, I don’t see any rocky promontory that might aptly be called a “Watch Rock”. However on the other side of the valley, a rocky hilltop catches my eye.

Just to the right of the left-most tree, you can see rocky hilltop.

In the above photo, the scene that is depicted is pretty much what it looks like to the naked eye. Below I zoomed in on it with a telephoto lens.

Rocky hilltop

So if you lived out west, I suppose that would be nothing to brag about. However for Ohio, I thought that was an impressive display of exposed bedrock. So I began to wonder if the “Watch Rock” is a rock you can watch across the valley as opposed to a rock that you stand on as a vantage point for looking into a valley. It is at this point that I bet Bob a dollar that this was in fact Watch Rock. He took me up on the bet, insisting that we still hadn’t come across the true “Watch Rock” yet, which he was sure would be a rocky vantage point from which you would take in a vista. So onward we went.

Southern-most Side Trail: Star Icon

This is the trail head for the southern-most, side trail. There is a sign there that states “Treatment B”.

Leaning, “Treatment B” sign
Pulling back a little, here is another look at the trailhead.

And here is a panoramic photo to give an even broader view of the area. The sign and the trailhead are to the right. This was taken on Watch Rock Trail just south of the trailhead.

The trailhead for the southern-most side trail is to the right.

Shortly after entering the trail, we came across some pipes embedded in the ground that must be part of “Treatment B”.

Pipes driven into the ground… perhaps part of Treatment B?

As we went along the trail, we went through a mossy area that was unique. None of the other side trails were like this.

Bob takes the lead on the mossy trail.

As we proceeded I began to see rock outcroppings to the side of the trail.

Rocky ledge to the side of the trail

And the trail ended at the rocky promontory below.

Rocky ledge

Here is a panoramic photo of the area.

Panoramic view of the rocky ledge

Below is a look past the edge on the left where there appeared to be the steepest drop.

Looking past the edge on the left.

And on the way back you could see another rocky cliff to the side.

Rocky cliff to the side

Since this conformed to our original expectation that “Watch Rock” would be a rocky overlook over some low land, I conceded that Bob had won the bet, and I forked over a dollar.

In addition the GPS trace for this point seemed to line up well with the point on the map for Watch Rock.

Map to the left, GPS trace to the right. The star on the map seems to line up with the star on our GPS trace where we saw the rocky promontory.

Hunters Camp

As we were driving away from the parking area while still within the forest boundaries, we passed by the Hunters Camp. I had published a few photos of the camp in July in our original post on Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest, but it was all scruffy and unkempt then. However, this time it was nicely manicured, so I thought I’d share a couple of photos of the campgrounds.

Kiosk and vault toilet for the Hunters Camp
Hunters Camp
Additional information

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One thought on “Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest: Watch Rock

  1. Hi Deb:
    I can confirm that the rocky ledges you describe in this article are indeed Watch Rock in Vinton Experimental Forest. Ray Showman, one of Ohio’s top lichen experts, took me along the ridge trail to Watch Rock last year and showed me many species of lichens, including several now in my website “Lichens” gallery labeled as “Vinton County”. Ray has a permit and we were able to drive my 4Runner to the “Treatment B” sign. The rock in my “Rock Greenshield” photos is also shown in one of the photos in your article.

    Have a great spring!

    Ian Adams

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