The Blackhand Gorge is a state nature preserve located about 7 miles east of Newark, just south of Rt. 16 in Licking County. The preserve offers several nature trails, one of which is paved and allows bikes. [Scroll past 'Trail Facts' to continue reading.]
Location: Licking County, OH
Length: 4.3 miles / asphalt
Condition: Very good (not including unpaved section in need of repair)
Facilities: Latrine at east end of the trail (no water).
Worth Noting: 10 miles of hiking trails reside in the park as well.
Elevation: Mostly flat
More Trails in this Region: SE OH Trails List
The trail received a new asphalt surface in late 2013. In 2014, a hillside slippage caused an indefinite closure. Thanks to a man and a bulldozer, the closure was lifted in 2015, but no timetable has been given for the permanent repairs that are required.
DNR notice on the closure: "The 4-mile bike trail is fully open. Please use caution at the former point of closure (3/4 mile from west parking lot) as the trail narrows to 5 feet in that area. Thank you."
This path has some of the best scenery Ohio has to offer: a river and gorge, water trickling from steep rock ledges, rock formations and cool, thick woods. The trail also crosses a creek and passes between huge sections of rock that had been blasted through to allow a former rail line to pass.
I marveled at how cool and damp the trail remained in the shaded gorge despite the warm summer temps. A thin layer of green moss adorned the edges of much of the pavement. Though I'd entered the gorge with a light sweat on an 80+ degree day, I soon cooled on the trail in what felt like a perfect 70 degree world.
At the eastern end of the park - which serves as the main entrance - the trail begins at the latrines opposite a small log cabin. For the first 3 miles or so the trail descends slightly westward until it reaches a creek crossing. This is perfect for slow cruising to check out the scenery which includes: Blackhand Rock, the gorge river and the tall rock walls created by the cut-through along the former rail line. I walked my bike through the deep cut section and down to the Blackhand Rock viewing area to better experience the nature here.
After crossing the creek, the trail works its way out of the gorge and ends at a small parking lot.
If you're the type of person who prefers to take your time exploring a trail, this one's a "must see." Aside from the scenic beauty along the paved trail, there are also many hiking trails to explore. One such trail on the opposite side of the river features a tunnel through solid rock that at one time accommodated an electric rail line.
Don Williams pointed out that there are also sandstone Ohio Canal locks that were mined at an on-site quarry off the main trail.
You can also canoe the river to get a perspective from the bottom of the gorge. Allow yourself at least a few hours to thoroughly explore the area.
If pedaling less than 10 miles in your round trip ride is not enough mileage for you, consider visiting the nearby Panhandle Trail that connects nearby Hanover with the east side of Newark, OH.