Backpacking Archers Fork Loop Trail: Solitude in Southeast Ohio
Located in southeast Ohio's sprawling Wayne National Forest, Archers Fork Loop Trail winds and weaves through the state's hill country, in and out of dense hardwood hollows, beside lazy streams, and along large sandstone formations. Considered one of the premier backpacking loops in Ohio, the 14-mile trail offers some of the best backcountry camping options in the region and delivers big on solitude. Great for those looking to cut their teeth in the world of backpacking and seasoned hikers alike, hiking Archers Fork offers a little bit for everyone.
Trailhead elevation 1,095'
Water numerous sources throughout
Don't miss the Great Cave, Irish Run Natural Bridge, and backcountry campsites at 8.2 and 10.1 miles
Hiking Archers Fork
Trailhead parking can be found beside St Patrick's Cemetery near coordinates 39.523783, -81.181011 in the village of New Matamoras. The lot can accommodate about six vehicles, but most days you'll have it to yourself. A trail kiosk is located in the southwest corner of the lot, however this is not the trailhead. If you were to stand looking at the cemetery, the actual trailhead is located just to the left of it, as shown below.
At 0.35 miles the yellow-blazed trail reaches a signed junction where you'll choose which direction to hike the loop in, clockwise or counterclockwise. Either will do, but this article focuses on the latter.
After making a right, the trail begins a gradual descent and continues until it reaches the first established campsite at 0.55 miles. At the end of this article we provide comprehensive information about each established campsite along the route, including detail on their size and water availability. Just after passing the campsite, keep an eye out for a sign on the right side of the trail indicating "Great Cave." Adjacent to the sign, you'll spot a spur trail leading to the left. If you follow this spur trail for 100' or so, you'll arrive at the large recess sandstone cave.
The cave was likely used as refuge by the Shawnee who inhabited the area centuries ago, but any evidence of their habitation is long since gone. The view from within the cave is fairly impressive making the quick detour a worthwhile stop.
Roughly 100' after the spur trail leading down to the cave, the main trail reaches a junction where you'll want to turn left and follow the sign reading "To Natural Bridge."
Around the 1.3-mile mark, you will encounter a marked spur trail on the left side of the main trail, which leads to Irish Run Natural Bridge. As you proceed down the spur trail, you'll soon catch sight of the 50-foot natural bridge to your right. For the best view, continue along until you are directly underneath it. Although not particularly large, it's definitely worth the quick detour.
From this point, the main trail continues through hardwood forest, gradually descending in elevation. Along the way, you'll encounter several sandstone ledges and plenty of moss-covered deadfall lining the trail.
At 3.3 miles, the trail crosses Jackson Run, the first of six easy to navigate water crossings. The photo below was taken in early July after a few days of heavy rainfall.
Shortly after the first water crossing, the trail passes by a large pile of debris, the remnants of an old oil pump shed. It's not much to see, but worth noting. Between the first water crossing and the abandoned equipment, you will find a fantastic campsite on the far side of Jackson Run. However, given its close proximity to the trailhead, this site is better suited for those backpacking in the opposite direction.
Around 3.7 miles, while the trail runs parallel to a broader stretch of Jackson Run, you may spot an abandoned white house situated in an overgrown field on the left. Continuing onward, less than a quarter mile later, the trail will cross Jackson Run for a second time. Then, at 4.3 miles, the trail crosses the stream once more. Depending on the time of year or recent rainfall, the third crossing may necessitate removing your boots or crossing 50-100' upstream to keep your feet dry. The photo below was taken in early July after a few days of heavy rainfall.
Just a short distance beyond the third crossing of Jackson Run, at roughly 4.4 miles, the trail intersects with Jackson Run Rd and begins a moderately steep ascent that spans about one mile. This is the longest and steepest ascent found anywhere along the Archer Fork Loop Trail. Following this, the trail winds its way through the forest, maintaining relatively stable elevation. Around the 7.3-mile mark, right after reaching a marked junction with the North Country Trail, the trail descends again towards Jackson Run. Then, at 8.2 miles, you will come across the best campsite along the trail, situated on the right side.
Distinguishing itself from other sites, this particular campsite is situated farther away from the trail than others. It features a soft floor covered in pine needles, the largest stone ring fire pit among all the sites, and, notably, two stone benches and two benches made from deadfall. Additionally, you can find a filterable water source just 50 feet away at Jackson Run.
Upon reaching the 8.5-mile mark, the trail crosses over Jackson Run once again. Following this, you will encounter a moderate ascent that spans roughly one mile, rises roughly 300', and includes a few minor sandstone ledges.
At the 10-mile mark, the trail crosses Jackson Run for the fifth time. Immediately after this crossing, you will come across another excellent campsite situated along the right side of the trail, positioned a dozen feet above the stream. This site offers a few log stools, a large stone ring fire pit, and can accommodate a larger number of tents compared to other sites along the trail. However, it's worth noting that there are some drawbacks. Adjacent to the site, there is a decommissioned gas line running along the edge, as well as a rusted out storage tank located 100' upstream, which somewhat detract from the natural beauty of the area.
The following stretch of trail covers 2.2 miles and passes through similar hardwood forest until it reaches Township Rd 58. At this point, the trail appears to disappear, but if you make a right turn and follow the gravel road for a quarter mile, you'll reconnect with the trail. Once you have reconnected, the trail proceeds through the forest for another two miles, including a sixth water crossing, before eventually arriving at the signed junction near the trail's starting point.
From there, it's a quick third of a mile back to the trailhead. That's Archers Fork Loop Trail in a nutshell. Think of the loop strictly as a forest hike. You won't experience grand vistas or picturesque waterfalls along the hike, but those looking for solitude in southeast Ohio, look no further. As a bonus, there is zero cell phone coverage throughout the loop. Lastly, If you're unfamiliar with the area, it's a good idea to download it to offline Google Maps for directions to and from the trailhead. Like much of Wayne National Forest, there is near zero cell phone coverage within twenty miles of the trailhead in every direction.
Archers Fork Campsites
Camping is permitted along the trail without fee or permit, but using established sites is encouraged. A full list of these sites, all of which come equipped with stone fire rings, can be found below. Mileage is listed from the trailhead, hiking counterclockwise.
0.55 miles - 1 to 2 tents, dry site, above the Great Cave
1.70 miles - 1 to 2 tents, dry site
3.30 miles - 2 to 3 tents, beside Jackson Run (great site)
3.60 miles - 3 to 4 tents, near Jackson Run
3.80 miles - 1 to 2 tents, dry site, grassy and can be overgrown at times
8.20 miles - 2 to 3 tents, near Jackson Run (great site)
8.50 miles - 2 to 3 tents, near Jackson Run, grassy and can be overgrown at times
9.40 miles - 2 to 3 tents, dry site
9.80 miles - 1 tent, dry site
10.1 miles - 3 to 4 tents, beside Jackson Run (great site)
10.8 miles - 1 to 2 tents, dry site
14.2 miles - 3 to 4 tents, dry site