Boat on water at Salt Fork State Park (photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources)

Boating, Bigfoot and Ohio’s Largest State Park

Salt Fork State Park covers more ground than any other of Ohio’s 76 state parks, and it contains plenty of history, mystery and adventure. 

Spanning 17,229 acres of land and 2,952 surface acres of water, Salt Fork State Park holds the title as the largest park in Ohio’s state park system, but its beginnings stretch back far beyond its opening in 1970. In 1949, legislators formed both the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio State Park system, setting aside 16 natural areas for the public’s enjoyment, with other areas being added over the years. By 1982, an estimated 66 million people had visited at least one Ohio State Park, and today, the system spans 76 locations.

Salt Fork State Park owes its name to Ohio’s Indigenous people, who collected salt from mineral deposits in a salt well at Salt Fork Creek. Due to the size of the park and the number of things you can do, the area has a “very National Park vibe,” says John Hickenbottom, a Salt Fork State Park naturalist.

“It’s big and everything is spread out,” he adds. “Just driving through the park is an experience.”

And that’s good news for one of the park’s rumored residents: Bigfoot.

“Bigfoot is like 80% of my job,” says Hickenbottom, who notes that Ohio ranks in the top five states for sightings of the creature that has a strong foothold in local lore, with many sightings being reported within the park over the years. Hickenbottom leads programming based on Bigfoot, such as educational hikes, and has represented the park on panels and at conferences.

“Bigfoot is kind of integral to our park,” he says, “and we fully embrace that.”

Alongside cryptid enthusiasts, history buffs may also be drawn to the park for its Kennedy Stone House, built by one of the families that settled in the area during the early 19th century. The sandstone farmhouse is now a living-history museum.

Salt Fork State Park itself offers a variety of activities such as archery, 74 miles of bridle trails, 15 hiking trails (including a portion of the Buckeye Trail), opportunities for hunting, a nature center and more. It also has overnight accommodations, including over 200 camping sites as well as cabins and a lodge. Salt Fork Lake is another of the park’s most popular attractions.

“The lake very much reflects the nature of the park,” Hickenbottom says. “It kind of meanders. You feel very remote.”

14755 Cadiz Rd., Lore City 43755, 740/439-3521,