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Birding Escapes: Shawnee State Forest: Ohio’s Little Smokies

By Bobby Harrison
Birding Escapes: Shawnee State Forest: Ohio's Little Smokies

Bordering the Ohio River atop the Appalachian Plateau, Shawnee State Forest is a 63,000-acre remnant of the vast woodlands that once stretched throughout the Ohio River drainage. The wooded ridges and meadows were once the hunting grounds of the Shawnee, the state forest’s namesake. Today, it is the largest contiguous wilderness in Ohio.

Looking east and west from high points in the forest reveals a vista of repeating ridges extending to the horizon. The bluish vapor that lingers between the receding ridges casts a smoky haze over the hills, giving this mountainous habitat its nickname, “Ohio’s Little Smokies.” Streams fed by springs in the higher elevations feed the forest’s many lakes, providing lush habitat for a myriad of plants and animals. Although the forest is managed for logging, an 8,000-acre wilderness area and a 1,200-acre state park in the Shawnee State Forest are fully protected. More than 130 miles of roads traverse the forest, providing easy access for nature viewing, hiking, and photography. Seventy miles of hiking trails crisscross this rugged landscape.

Spring and fall are the best times to visit, when temperatures are mild, humidity is low, and the forest is filled with migrant and resident birds, wildflowers, and flowering trees. Fourteen species of warblers, including Ovenbird, American Redstart (above), Black-and-white, and more, nest in the Shawnee. Other birds include the Northern Cardinal (Ohio’s state bird), Pileated Woodpecker (at right), Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Wild Turkey, and several species of raptors. Altogether, more than 250 species of birds live in or pass through the Shawnee. Less than a two-hour drive from Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton, Ohio, the Shawnee State Forest is one of mid-America’s great birding destinations.


From the intersection of US Highway 52 and State Highway 852 in Portsmouth, Ohio, travel west on Highway 52 for 6 miles to State Highway 125. Turn right onto State Highway 125, which traverses Shawnee State Forest.

On the web: Shawnee State Forest

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library

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