Known as the Buckeye State, Ohio is most often associated with football, buckeye trees, and Lake Erie. However, there’s one more thing Ohio ought to be known for: all of the incredible locations it offers for primitive camping! Primitive camping in Ohio includes dozens of state parks, lakes, rivers, and historical areas to camp. If you’re looking for your next outdoor adventure, you’d do well to give Ohio a try!
Primitive Camping in Northern Ohio
We’ll start our list of recommendations for primitive camping in Ohio in the northern part of the state and move our way south. Northern Ohio includes camping near Lake Erie, national forests, and even island camping. Let’s get started!
Mohican State Park
First on our list of the best places to go primitive camping in Ohio is Mohican State Park.
Located in the heart of Amish and Mennonite country, Mohican State Park is an outdoor paradise. The Mohican River runs through the middle of the park, which includes Mohican State Park Campground. There are 33 primitive, non-electric tent sites in the park, some of which are located along the Mohican River. There are plenty of hiking, biking, canoeing, and fishing opportunities available in the campground and throughout Mohican State Park.
Mosquito Lake State Park
Mosquito Lake State Park Campground is located within Mosquito Lake State Park in northern Ohio. One of the many highlights of the park and campground is that it’s located near Mosquito Lake, one of Ohio’s largest lakes. The campground itself offers 16 primitive campsites and well over 100 electric sites. The campground also features two primitive group sites that can accommodate up to 40 people each. Hiking, fishing, and boating are all on the agenda at Mosquito Lake State Park and campground.
If you thought there weren’t islands in Ohio, you thought wrong. Kelleys Island is home to a state park and one of Ohio’s most beautiful and scenic campgrounds. The island and campground are located in Lake Erie and include over 40 primitive tent sites and two yurts. While the yurts aren’t necessarily primitive, they’re cute and cozy and can sleep up to six at a time.
Lake Erie is one of the best walleye fishing lakes in the country, and there are also boating, hiking, and sightseeing opportunities. If you stay at the campground, you’ll also be close to Cedar Point if you’re looking for some adventure.
Primitive Camping in Eastern Ohio
Salt Fork State Park
Salt Fork State Park and Campground are located in northeastern Ohio near Salt Fork Lake. The campground is massive and offers an entire section dedicated solely to primitive tent camping. There’s also a primitive group camping area near the park entrance. Hiking trails, horse riding, boating, and fishing are common things to do at Salt Fork.
ReCreation Area, Cumberland, Ohio
One of the best-kept secret camping spots in Ohio is the ReCreation Area in Cumberland, Ohio. This area is owned and managed by American Electric Power, one of the largest power companies in the country. It’s the largest piece of recreational land in Ohio and offers free primitive camping that’s first come, first serve. Hunting, fishing, boating, camping, hiking, and so much more are possible in the ReCreation Area.
Rivers Edge Campground
Nestled within the hills of Massillon, Ohio, Rivers Edge Campground is a small, peaceful affair. Camping here is free and primitive, and the grounds include a group site capable of fitting up to 25 people or more. While the camping is free, visitors must fill out a permit before entering the camping area.
Primitive Camping in Western Ohio
Stonelick State Park
Stonelick State Park and Campground are located west of Cincinnati in the southwestern part of the state. The campground is near Stonelick Lake, and some of the primitive campsites are located on the lake’s shore.
Stonelick is probably most famous for the incredibly clear skies that make it a favorite for stargazers. There are also water activities and hiking trails waiting to be explored. Stonelick State Park Campground consists mostly of electric sites, but several sections are dedicated to primitive campers, including a section near the lake.
Independence Dam State Park
Independence Dam State Park Campground features 25 primitive sites for tents only. The park itself is 591 acres of recreational area located on the banks of the Maumee River. You can view the ruins of the ill-fated Miami and Erie Canals within the park, as well as the Independence Dam itself. Hiking, fishing, and boating are fun activities. As with all state parks in Ohio, pets are allowed if they’re kept on a leash.
Caesar Creek State Park
Don’t be fooled by the name; Caesar Creek is actually a large lake. The Caesar Creek State Park Campground is located along its banks and features mostly electric sites, but there are a few primitive camping opportunities. If you get tired of fun on the lake, you can check out the hiking trails and equestrian trails within the state park.
Primitive Camping in Central Ohio
Zaleski State Forest
Zaleski State Forest is the second-largest state forest in Ohio and features several primitive camping options. Atkinson’s Ridge Hunters Camp includes several unofficial first-come-first-serve primitive campsites. The area is extremely popular for squirrel and grouse hunters.
Lake Hope State Park is another popular destination within Zaleski Forest and includes a much larger camping area with more options. Within the state park campground, there are 143 primitive campsites, equestrian campsites, and even primitive backpack-only campsites. These areas are off the beaten path and will fill you with a sense of wonder and adventure.
Zaleski State Forest has nearly 30 miles of hiking trails and the historic Moonville Tunnel. Local legend says that the tunnel is haunted, but we invite you to explore and do your own investigating!
Deer Creek State Park
Deer Creek State Park and Campground are some of Ohio’s most popular camping choices for families. As long as your entire family is 100 people or less, there’s a primitive group site that’s large enough to accommodate you. There is a popular swimming beach along the lake, disc golfing, fishing, hiking, and boating during your stay. Deer Creek is extremely family-friendly, and there’s even a lodge you can stay at if you get tired of the primitive tent sites.
Jesse Owens State Park Campground
Named after Jesse Owens, the world-famous Olympic athlete, Jesse Owens State Park is a sight to behold. It’s located within the previously mentioned AEP ReCreation Area and includes four separate camping facilities. Hook Lake, Maple Grove, Sawmill, and Sand Hollow are the names of the four areas, and all of them offer primitive camping in Ohio opportunities. Camping is free at Jesse Owens State Park as long as you fill out a camping permit upon arrival.
Tar Hollow State Park Campground
Tar Hollow State Park Campground isn’t as popular as Jesse Owens or Zaleski Forest, but it’s right up there with the best spots for primitive camping in Ohio. The campground itself offers both primitive and electric campsites. There are also seven group sites capable of handling up to 20 people per site. If you have a sense of adventure, you can meander down the Logan Backpack Trail and settle down in one of the primitive hike-in campsites along the trail.
Primitive Camping in Southern Ohio
Shawnee State Park
Often referred to as the Little Smokies of Ohio, Shawnee State Park is located within the Shawnee National Forest that stretches into southern Indiana. The park’s highlight is a 40-loop hiking trail that weaves its way through the Appalachian foothills. There are seven primitive camping areas to choose from along the trail, each with its own unique features. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, take a long weekend and hike the entire 40-mile loop, staying at different sites every night.
Wayne National Forest (Burr Oak Cove Campground) (Lamping Homestead Recreational Area)
Wayne National Forest is nearly 250,000 acres of outdoor beauty and splendor. There are over 300 miles of hiking trails throughout the Forest and limitless primitive camping options along the way. Here are a few of the top camping areas within the forest:
- Burr Oak Cove Campground
This area is a short distance from the Burr Oak Reservoir and includes 19 primitive walk-in sites.
- Lamping Homestead Recreational Area
Another popular spot within the Forest is Lamping Homestead Recreational Area. It features six walk-in, primitive sites near a 2-acre pond and two trail loops.
Aside from these two areas, there are dozens more to choose from throughout Wayne National Forest. If you get tired of hiking, there are plenty of fishing, biking, boating, and sightseeing opportunities. Part of the hiking trails in the forest is part of the historic Buckeye Trail.
Hocking Hills State Park
Last, but not least on our list of the best places for primitive camping in Ohio is Hocking Hills State Park.
In terms of natural beauty and breathtaking sights, we’ve saved the best for last. Hocking Hills State Park has some of the most dazzling stone and waterfall displays in Ohio and some of the best hiking and camping to boot. There are luxurious RV sites, cabins, and hike-in primitive sites to choose from.
Primitive camping at Hocking Hills State Park Campground is extremely popular and offers a rustic experience, unlike most others. You won’t have road access to the campsites, and you’ll have to hike at least 1/2 mile to the nearest spots. Hocking Hills State Park has something for everyone, no matter what you’re looking for.
Final Thoughts About the Best Places for Primitive Camping in Ohio
If this hasn’t convinced you to try primitive camping in Ohio yet, I’m unsure what will. Most primitive camping opportunities are located within state parks, forests, or recreational areas, but they all have their own unique feel. You won’t regret giving Ohio a try next time you’re in the mood for a primitive camping experience.