Exploring Southeast Ohio’s Burr Oak State Park, with mountaineering, boating, beaching and the lodge that just about wasn’t
GLOUSTER, Ohio – The lake turned pale pink as the sun set on my day in Burr Oak State Park. I had the perfect vantage point to enjoy it – a seat on the balcony on the second floor of the park’s overnight cabin, a glass of wine in hand.
It’s a place that almost didn’t exist.
Eight years ago, the state closed Burr Oak Lodge, one of nine overnight accommodations on the state park grounds. Open since 1967, the lodge required expensive repairs and generated no traffic to justify the investment.
A consultant recommended turning the park and lodge into a hub for all-terrain vehicles.
Ultimately – fortunately – the state decided to reopen the inn and invest the money it would have spent on the demolition in the renovation. After the newly renovated lodge closed for almost a year, it reopened in late 2012.
This was my first visit to Burr Oak State Park in rural southeast Ohio, far from the urban centers of the state. It was the third stop on a three park tour in late August (I could have included a lot more – this part of the state has a really impressive lineup of public areas).
This 2,593-acre park, which spans Counties Morgan, Athens, and Perry, doesn’t have the wow factor of Hocking Hills, about 40 miles west, or the intimacy of Lake Hope, 30 miles south.
- Continue reading:
- Explore Hocking Hills State Park, the crown jewel of Ohio, with new one-way streets and an overnight cabin along the way
- Explore Lake Hope State Park, the scenic solitude, and great food of southeast Ohio
But there’s plenty to recommend, including some great hiking trails, a meandering 660 acre lake, and a well-placed, well-equipped waterfront lodge.
My only complaint: the weather for much of my visit was cloudy and rainy which kept me away from the water. But that only gives me one reason to go back.
Lots of hiking opportunities
The hiking opportunities are numerous here, including 12 miles of the 1,444 mile Buckeye Trail that circles the state. The Buckeye Trail intersects here with the Lakeview Trail, a 20-mile (20-mile) path that winds around Burr Oak Lake, a popular backpacker destination with overnight accommodations in three parking spaces in the park.
We hiked part of the Lakeview / Buckeye Trail through a beautiful gorge with moss-covered tree trunks, rock formations and a view of the lake and snaked our way back along the parallel Buckeye Loop for a total of about 6 km.
I heard thunder above me, which I tried to ignore, and joked with my husband, “Is that a motorboat that I hear on the lake?”
The rain continued so we continued our hike and added the 1 mile (1.6 km) Chipmunk Trail that winds past the park’s popular disc golf course to the water’s edge.
The park is home to two marinas with rentals: pontoons, kayaks, and canoes, which are offered at hourly rates. There is also a 500-foot sandy beach for swimming. The main campsite has 81 electric and non-electric pitches. Two additional small campsites offer more possibilities.
Here too: 30 cabins that are currently being completely renovated with new furniture, kitchens, floors and much more.
It’s the lodge, but that’s the real show stopper.
The front entrance is ordinary enough, but go to the back of the building, which is built on top of a hill, and the ordinary gets extraordinary, with three stories of lake views and a path to the waterfront.
Eight years ago, the private operator Xanterra Travel Collection (formerly Xanterra Parks & Resorts) decided not to renew its contract with the state to operate Burr Oak after losing money in the deal. At the time, Xanterra operated eight out of nine inns in Ohio State Park. Today, the US Hotel & Resort Management, based in South Dakota, operates all but the lodge in Geneva-on-the-Lake.
The occupancy rate at Burr Oak has increased in recent years, although the rate is still low for 2019 – 47%, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The month with the highest occupancy was October when 62% of the rooms were occupied. January was the lowest at just 32%.
Stephanie O’Grady, a department spokeswoman, said the state’s $ 2 million investment in Burr Oak has paid off. “The value goes well beyond the money – having a safe and updated place to relax is a huge benefit for the community and region,” she said. “The lodge offers overnight accommodation, communal rooms and a restaurant. It is also a driver of tourism and visitor numbers for the entire region. “
National Park Lodges occupancy is below 50% for all properties except Maumee Bay and Hueston Woods, although weekend rates in the parks are much higher. In fact, the Saturday night of my visit to Burr Oak was sold out.
We ate in the restaurant twice, for breakfast and dinner, and ate outside both times. The food was just average but the view more than made up for it.
Overnight rooms are impressive too. When the lodge was renovated in 2012, the state took 60 rooms and reduced them to 38, making them all larger and converting some into two-room family suites. I just wish I had requested a lake view room.
No matter. I have my lake view in the lobby.
On the afternoon of our last day, I wanted to go boating on the lake. But the rain drove us back inside.
I spent an hour curled up in the lobby trying to finish a book I’d read for weeks. I finished it here, but it wasn’t easy. My eyes wandered from the sides to the window next to me and the lake view beyond.
If you go: Burr Oak State Park
Where: Coming here is half the fun. Burr Oak is about 180 miles from Cleveland, south on I-77 to Ohio 78 (Exit 25), then southwest on 78 to the park entrance. The route along 78 is spectacular, an Ohio Scenic Byway (the Appalachian Byway) also known as the Edge of the World for its dramatic curves and hills. The trip is worth it for the trip alone.
Accommodation: The lodge has 38 rooms, including suites with two rooms, many of which have a view of the lake. Here too: 30 huts and more than 100 campsites. The lodge has a full service restaurant, indoor pool, mini golf, and more. Room rates start at approximately $ 100 per night.
Information: stayburroak.com, ohiodnr.gov, visitmorgancountyohio.com
Editor’s Note: This is one in an ongoing series about state parks in Ohio and the surrounding states. Please send suggestions to tour guide Susan Glaser at [email protected]
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