Great camping (preferably with canoeing) within 6-8 hours of Cleveland?
July 7, 2013 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Since moving to Cleveland, I miss the great canoeing and rustic camping options I had in Wisconsin. Can you suggest some places nearby, or within a day's drive?

I like "real" camping - the kind where your campsite is only accessible by canoe or by hiking your equipment in. Cabin camping or drive-up camping are fun, but I already know where to do those (e.g., Mohican). I'm looking for something further out, more pristine, and more or less only accessible by hiking or paddling in. Back in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin River was great for a quick overnight - it wasn’t that far out so there were always other campers and float trips, but it wasn’t too developed or surrounded by rowdy campsites and since you could set up camp all alone on a sand bar it felt secluded enough. And if you wanted to really get away from everything and head to a pristine area for a week, it was less than 8 hours to drive to the Boundary Waters, which is more or less my ideal camping spot.

So those are the kinds of places I'm looking for - the less accessible and more pristine, the better. I’d like suggestions for good-enough places close by, and would also like to hear about places that are really great (on the order of the Boundary Waters area, which is incredible) that are reachable if I’m willing to drive for a day. Suggestions in Canada are certainly welcome as well. Canoeing is a plus, but places that only offer good hiking are welcome as well.

(The answers to this semi-related question mostly mention areas with nice cabins, so that’s a good example of what I’m trying to avoid - cabins attract too many people and are usually easily accessible by car).
posted by Tehhund to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You're asking about a kind of camping I've always wanted to do but basically haven't done, so I can only suggest some general directions to look in. I don't know of anything like what you're asking for *inside* of Ohio. There are so many people in Ohio, and so much of the land is farmland that there's not a lot of room for wilderness. 15 years ago a friend moved away from Ohio specifically because, as he put it, "Somebody owns everything."

For mountainous areas that are probably better for hiking than canoeing, look west and south to the Alleghenys in PA and WV. For remote canoeing, I'd look to Canada. My Father in Law has taken me on fishing trips on a reservoir on the Magnetewan river, which you can get to in 7-8 hours, going through Buffalo, past Toronto and straight North from there, a little ways past Parry Sound. Canoeists periodically came through the reservoir on their way along the river. I know they had to portage their canoes around the dam and past some rapids to get out of the lake, but I know they'd eventually get through to some truly remote areas. We hiked down around the dam ourselves a few times, and could sometimes fish for hours without seeing anyone else.
posted by jon1270 at 12:33 PM on July 7, 2013

Best answer: The Ohio State Parks are all pretty developed, but the National Parks have more rustic and walk-in campgrounds. Burr Oak, for example, is part of Wayne National Forest, and has bits that are walk-in. It's been years since I've been there but it used to have significantly less traffic than the other parks since everyone wanted to go to the Hocking Hills. Look in particular at the dispersed camping sections.
posted by Runes at 1:10 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cuyahoga Valley National Park!

Camping link

Canoeing and Kayaking link (though, do pay attention to the water quality reports).
posted by jms18 at 4:08 PM on July 7, 2013

I asked a friend on facebook for his thoughts. His response:
I just looked and Runes provides a good answer. Everything in Ohio is well within a 6-8 hour drive and as the respondent mentions, the Ohio State Park System, which is fantastic, is well developed and provides lots of accomodations and accessibility. Nearby states like PA and KY are known for less developed State Park Systems and would probably offer an experience closer to what the asker is looking for. But my expertise is within Ohio and again I will agree with Runes. The places to go could be within the Wayne National Forest or even within one of Ohio's State Forests. These are the places to go if you want rustic, low impact camping, canoeing, or backpacking in Ohio. Southeast Ohio is in my opinion the best way to go. For canoeing, I would also look at some of the state owned public use lands around East Liverpool and Stuebenville. I think canoeing may be better there than around Burr Oak / Hocking Hills, but both areas are wonderful places in Ohio to experience the outdoors.
Gray and Company is a local publishing company. They have several outdoors titles, but nothing really specific to camping. They seem to be focused more on hiking (plus one on fishing), but I can't say as I haven't read them. Still, it might be worth a trip to the library.
posted by stuart_s at 8:16 PM on July 7, 2013

I think northern lower Michigan offers a lot of what you're looking for, within 6ish hours of you. Some lovely rivers (I can personally vouch for the Manistee and the Au Sable) and lots of state and national forest land. Avoid the state parks, but the state forest campgrounds I've been to have been great and generally pretty rustic. The book "Canoeing Michigan Rivers" by Jerry Dennis may be helpful. You might also want to look into the Upper Peninsula; it may be farther than you want to drive, but there are a lot of rivers and fewer people.
posted by Empidonax at 8:24 PM on July 7, 2013

No canoeing, but Monongahela National Forest should be about a 5 hour drive from Cleveland and has some excellent hiking, "dispersed" camping just about anywhere so long as you follow the rules, and several small "primitive" campgrounds that are typically a handful of basic tent sites (8-15 or so), a water source and a pit toilet.

I don't have personal experience with Alleghany National Forest in PA, but it's even closer and does have canoeing opportunities, boat-in campgrounds, and dispersed riverside campsites.

Basically, look into the national forests.
posted by drlith at 8:30 PM on July 7, 2013

My source also sent along this link: Canoeing the Wayne National Forest.
posted by stuart_s at 8:00 PM on July 16, 2013

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