It’s been almost five months since I completed my quest to hike every trail in Mahoning County. But I haven’t been able to recapitulate and reflect on my 167-mile, 60-hour, 13-months-long experience… until now. At long last, it’s time to list my Top Ten Hikes in Mahoning County.
It fills my soul to abide in a place, to know an area, to intimately experience its natural landscapes, its roads, its restaurants, its people. My time in Mahoning County was certainly linked to the H2O YSU church plant. I feel a sort of familial pride and concern for the team we sent out. So I guess I want to know that they’ve landed in a good place, where they can grow and thrive. And thankfully, I feel like that’s proved to be the case throughout my Mahoning County hiking quest. The Mahoning Valley is a beautiful place with lots of joy to discover. And while I was at it, I got to spend a lot of time with God — plus some quality time with others — while exploring the area. In some ways, it feels unfair to “play favorites” and narrow the list of forty-six down to my Top Ten. But then again, it’s also kind of fun.
There’s no way of getting around the fact that ranking one’s “Top Ten Hikes” is a highly-subjective exercise. But I like to do things like these sorts of summaries for the sake of my own reference. And if it benefits others who might be looking to get out and experience everything that northeast Ohio has to offer, so much the better.
So anyway: Here’s my list of my Top Ten Hikes in Mahoning County. This list offers a representative sampling of some of the best that this part of Ohio has to offer, ranked Letterman-style: from #10 to #1. Each listing includes a picture and a link to the trail maps.
The McGuffey Wildlife Preserve is lovely, but not exceptional, as far as nature preserves are concerned, in this part of the world. Pretty small. Mostly meadows, with a few sections of thin forest and one area that might be described as either a small pond or a marsh. I made a point of hiking every trail. And even then the whole hike came in just under two miles. What I found most remarkable about the McGuffey Wildlife Preserve was its distinction as “William Holmes McGuffey Boyhood Home Site.” I didn’t know anything about him until I looked the name up on my smartphone, but then I learned McGuffey was “a college professor and president who is best known for writing the McGuffey Readers, the first widely used series of elementary school-level textbooks. More than 120 million copies of McGuffey Readers were sold between 1836 and 1960, placing its sales in a category with the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary.” I appreciated the reminder that those who are rich and powerful and famous in one era can quickly fade to obscurity. So I wanted to include this hike in my Top Ten Hikes of Mahoning County because of its value as an object lesson.
#9 – Lincoln Park
This inclusion in my Top Ten Hikes of Mahoning County is sincere: not ironic, not condescending. But if you’ve ever been to Lincoln Park (or if you decide to try visit Lincoln Park after reading this post), I should advise you that it’s not very well-maintained. It’s in one of the poorer parts of Youngstown. And it has something of a post-apocalyptic feel to it. But that’s actually a part of its charm! I don’t know the actual history of Lincoln Park, but I surmise that it was developed in the middle part of the 20th Century, when the Mahoning Valley was at its peak industrialization. It had basketball courts and baseball diamonds and picnic pavilions and hiking trails… and it was right in the center of town! But today, almost all of the facilities are breaking down. The space is being reclaimed by nature. But it’s actually kind of amazing to witness — right in the center of town! The Industrial Revolution did its best to choke out the natural world, or at least contain it, but nature seems to be having the last laugh.
The hiking trails at Springfield Woods traverse a surprising variety of landscapes. Hills and valleys… beautiful woods and prairies… Even a path down to a lake with a newly-built fishing pier! The only downside to this nature preserve is the proximity to the Ohio Turnpike (and its noise). The audio pollution is negligible in the valley areas, but it’s hard to ignore on the higher ground. I never got the chance to give it a try, but I bet this lake would provide for some amazing ice skating under the right conditions.
This area feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere, even though it’s not all that far from the well-developed areas of Austintown and Canfield. Two-lane roads weave through the forests to get to a small gravel parking lot. And from the parking lot, one passes through some grasslands into a dense, old-growth forest with a beautiful glen in the center of the preserve. Waterfalls cascade from the shale cliffs of the glen to join up with Sawmill Creek and meander through the valley. If only they could get rid of some of the rusty old oil derricks that continue to operate in some corners of the preserve, this hike would rank even higher.
#6 – Collier Preserve
A lot of the newest housing developments and shopping centers in the Mahoning Valley are down in the southern part of the metro area, around Canfield and Boardman. Still, the Collier Preserve has resisted the encroachment of commercialism. And somehow, it has managed to maintain some beautiful grasslands and wetlands. I happened to visit this location on a cold, gray, snowy day in January of 2023, but I still loved it. The place reminded me a lot of the Scottish Highlands, somehow. And I love the Scottish Highlands, so that’s some pretty high praise.
There are enough trails in Austintown Township Park that I couldn’t hike them all in a single visit. So, I got to experience this area twice: once in the dead of winter, with temperatures well below freezing, and once in the peak of summer, with all the flowers blooming and bathing in glorious sunshine. The winter visit was a solitary experience, and the summer visit was with my friends A.J. and Daniel. Even with the dramatic differences, though, both visits were spectacular in their own ways! I love the mix of meadows and forests and sports fields in this space. It’s close to the Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway (which didn’t earn a spot in my Top Ten, even though it’s still a very nice feature of the county parks system). And there’s even an osprey nesting site that can be observed at the Western end of the park!
#4 – Yellow Creek Park
This hike was astonishing. Honestly. It started in a rather uninspiring neighborhood on the southeast rim of the Youngstown metro area. But the trail quickly took me along some rocky bluffs overlooking Yellow Creek (much like the trails around Mill Creek). There were beautiful old stone-works where a storm sewer line crossed over the creek, representing the way that much of Mahoning County deftly combines natural landscapes with Industrial Era craftsmanship. And the southern end of the trail meets an enormous waterfall that, again, seems to be partially natural and partially man-made from where they dammed up the creek to form Lake Hamilton.
The old-growth beeches and hemlocks of this section of the Mill Creek Valley are worth a visit for their beauty, alone. But I had a particularly magic experience in these woods when I encountered an albino deer that alerted me to the Legend of the Great White Stag in these parts. Just a short distance from where I spotted the deer, the forest transformed into a valley of bubbling boulders, all covered in vibrant green moss. And shortly after that, it seemed like the earth started cracking open — ledges, like in the Cuyahoga Valley or Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park — but, again, unusually-green moss covering everything, standing out brilliantly in an otherwise drab environment of gray and brown. It was amazing!
The Mill Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is a crowning jewel of the Mill Creek Metro Park system! It took some extra work to make this hike happen, applying for a permit to this restricted area — but it was worth it! I had the place all to myself, and the variety of birds using this abandoned fish farm was pretty amazing. Aside from the more commonly spotted Goldfinches and Great Blue Herons (which are pretty remarkable in their own ways), I got to see some Double-Crested Cormorants, a few Belted Kingfishers, and a whole flock of Great Egrets! Just one word of caution, if you visit this place in the summertime: use insect repellent and a layer of clothing covering everything, to avoid getting eaten up.
This area combines the best elements of the Mill Creek Wildlife Preserve and Mill Creek proper (which probably could have cracked this Top Ten list more than it did, but even so I stand by my rankings). The area around Newport Lake is lush, wild, remote, and teeming with wildlife — and it is accessible, with well-maintained trails and bridges, and even the natural elements including some clear elements of human design (like a “Daffodil Meadow” and boat ramps for getting out on the lake). It’s a beautiful area, and I got to hike it at an especially beautiful time of the year, in all its summer glory.