In 1958 the Columbus Dispatch published an article by Merrill Gilfillan with a dream to have a looping trail that went around Ohio, connecting Cincinnati to Lake Erie. The first 20 miles were dedicated to the cause a year later, but it would not be completed for another 20 years. Today it is a 1,444-mile loop, all maintained by volunteers of the Buckeye Trail Association.
The Buckeye Trail was done in 88 days by Andy “Captain Blue” Niekamp, hiking independently. Since then, those doing supported speed hikes have broken the “Blue Blazes” record. In 2021, Josh Horsefall completed it in 38d 5h 4m. So a regular backpacker can expect to take around 100-144 days.
Very few people complete the Buckeye Trail in a single shot. The “Blue Blazes,” nicknamed for its markers, is broken into 26 sections. Folks tick off the sections as time allows, completing it in 3-4 years. Hikers that do the Buckeye in pieces are still awarded a patch by the Buckeye Trail Association. In fact, the BTA hosts weekend-guided events throughout the year where hikers are welcome to join.
How Many Days To Do The Buckeye Trail?
The Buckeye Trail is 1,444 miles long. Done on its own, without support, takes longer than those that can arrange shuttles to prevent repeating certain sections.
For example, Josh Horsefall managed to do it in 38 days, 5 hours, and 4 minutes with support. That’s 38 miles a day, with no zero-days for rest. An incredible feat, and not your average backpacker pace. Andy Niekamp’s solo loop took 88 days, averaging 16.4 miles a day. This is still a highly respectable clip.
Thus, a person averaging 10-miles a day on the Buckeye Trail will take 144.4 days. Days where a backpacker does more will provide them with a zero-day. That’s more than a third of a year, and why most who do the entire trail do it in pieces. For example, it could be done over the course of two summer breaks.
What’s The Best Time Of Year To Do The Buckeye Trail?
Ohio is known for cold winters and hot summers, making late spring and fall the ideal times to hike. However, the Buckeye trail is open all year. Those trying for a speed record will have more luck if they pick a period in these temperate times of the year.
Thanks to it going through so many towns, hikers that plan well can tick off sections of the loop on winter weekends while ensuring they have a proper bed to sleep in overnight. But for those determined to be in a tent no matter the weather, the Buckeye Trail Association does provide a camping map.
Where Does The Buckeye Trail Begin?
The Buckeye Trail does not have an official beginning or end, as it is a loop. However, Lake Erie is a popular starting spot for those trying to do it in one go. But hikers setting off in early spring are advised to first hit the trail at the southern end of the state, reducing the chances of folks having to trudge through a late-season snowfall.
What To Pack For The Buckeye Trail?
For those wanting to do The Buckeye Trail as fast as possible, they need to pack ultra-light. Thankfully, the loop goes through many towns, making it easy to refill food. Thus, Josh Horsefall’s pack was pretty sparse:
- Sleeping bag
- Inflatable air mattress
- Puffy coat
- Wool Hat
- Wool gloves
However, most people will want to travel with a bit more in their packs. Three members of the Buckeye Trail Association have made lists of what they use when following the Blue Blazes:
Be advised while there are no grizzlies in the area, there are bears, so that overnight hikers will need a bear bag or canister.
Also, while the Buckeye Trail goes through many towns, there will still be times you have to refill on the trail. The loop is known for having plenty of water along the way, but it will still need to be filtered and, preferably, treated with iodine or boiled.
Do You Need A Permit For The Buckeye Trail?
The Buckeye Trail does not have a special permit that will grant access to the entire 1,444-miles. Instead, specific sections cross state parks and nature preserves, and these areas may require permits. Also, there will be areas that allow hikers to pass through without paperwork, but to camp for the night will mean obtaining a permit.
There is an app called FarOut, formally Guthook, that will tell you if a section requires a permit along with other essential info. The app is available on GooglePlay and iTunes. FarOut is not specific to the Buckeye, thus can be used to obtain information on over a hundred other trails. For example, in addition to permits, some sections of the trail does not allow pets or bicycles, and the app can tell you when these rules apply, too.
Why Do The Buckeye Trail Maps Change?
It is essential always to have the latest route info on the Buckeye Trail. Unfortunately, maps and trail info do change. Sometimes this has to do with damage that requires the trail to temporarily or permanently reroute around the closed section.
Other times the Buckeye Trail maps change due to improvements. For example, there are still sections that require hikers to be on the road rather than a path. But gradually, as land becomes available, a road is replaced by a new section of trail, allowing hikers to enjoy more woodland scenery. Thus, even if you have maps printed off from the year before, be sure to check they’re still current.
Thankfully, the Buckeye Trail is well marked, with its famous blue rectangles. This helps guide hikers when your map is soaked and your phone and GPS are out of battery. (Bring a charger, get a compass, and consider waterproofing your maps.)
The Buckeye Trail is long, and thus it can easily take a hiker over a third of a year to complete the journey. However, some people have done it faster, usually with preplanning and support. However, for those that do not have that kind of time to spare, the trail can be enjoyed in 26 smaller sections. So enjoy following the Blue Blazes, and may the mosquitos never bite.