One of my favorite Ohio places for scenic and wildflower photography in early spring is Shawnee State Forest, which sprawls over more than 60,000 acres in Scioto County and Adams County west of Portsmouth and north of the Ohio River. Shawnee is a 4-hour drive from my home in Cuyahoga Falls, but the forest panoramas and diversity of wildflowers make this area a “must visit” place for me during April each year.
Shawnee State Forest is bisected by Rte. 125, which runs northwest to southeast, with about a third of the state forest north of Rte. 125 and the major portion to the south. Most of the scenic vistas are in the southern section, except for a fine view from the Copperhead fire tower near the northern edge of the forest. It’s easy to get lost in this large area, so make sure you have a detailed map of the forest, which can be downloaded from this website: http://www.ohiodnr.com/Portals/18/forests/pdf/ShawneeForest.pdf
There is an extensive vista from the parking area just west of the Copperhead fire tower, which is on Forest Road 6 a few miles north of Roosevelt Lake. If you are not afraid of heights, climb the fire tower for some better views of the forested ridges. The fire tower is safe to climb, but it has a lot of steps and the top is very exposed, so the climb is not for the faint of heart. The view to the north from the top of the tower is blocked by trees, but the view to the south, shown in the photo above, is very fine, with ridges of forest as far as the eye can see. Because you will be facing south, this view is best photographed early or late on a sunny or partly cloudy day. The hillsides are at their most attractive in early or mid-April when the trees are partly leafed out and each hillside is a mosaic of different colors. The photo above was made with my full-frame Sony Alpha 850 and a 24-70mm lens at a 40mm setting.
If you are an early riser, and the weather cooperates, you may be blessed with morning mist, which can provide great opportunities for landscape photography. The photo above was made from Rte. 125, east of Roosevelt Lake. I used my Nikon D2X with a 70-200mm lens at a setting of 170mm. Be sure to check the histogram on your camera to make sure you do not underexpose these misty scenes.
There are few extensive views from Rte. 125, which runs through a valley for the most part, but there is a nice vista from the road, looking to the southwest, near the western edge of the state forest just before it descends a steep hill to the Adams County line near Blue Creek. There are some trees in the foreground, shown in the photo above, that may be used to provide depth and a sense of scale. This image was made with a 70-200mm lens at a 75mm setting on my Nikon D2x.
Forest interior photographs like the one above are plentiful on a misty morning along any of the forest roads at Shawnee. I strongly recommend using a tripod for all these photographs, so you can use a low ISO value for the best quality image, and a small f/stop and slow shutter speed, if needed. Using a tripod also forces you to slow down and lets you examine the composition carefully in the viewfinder. The photo above was made about 12 years ago, when I was still shooting with film, along Forest Road 2, which provides an exhilarating drive for more than a dozen miles along the ridge tops of the southern section of the state forest. I used a 65mm wide-angle lens on my 6x8cm Fuji GX680 view camera, using Fujichrome Velvia film.
Scenes like the view shown above, when early morning mist fills the hollows of the forest, have earned Shawnee State Forest its nickname as the “Little Smoky Mountains of Ohio.” There is nowhere else in the Buckeye State where you can experience endless vistas of forest, easily reached by an exciting drive on well-maintained dirt roads that are easily traversed without the need for a high-clearance or 4-wheel-drive vehicle.
Shawnee State Forest is also a great place for photographing spring wildflowers, and later this week I’ll share another blog article on a few of my favorites.