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! It is designed to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace, however, by bike or on foot. The asphalt surface has a number of bumps and small cracks with a thin scattering of small twigs sometimes covering the trail. Weeds bordering the pavement often overhang it. This apparently unkempt condition is enough to make a cyclist cringe. But the idea here is to put the focus on nature, not the cyclist. The fact that one can even bike through this area is a privilege... and a very enjoyable one!
This path has some of the best scenery Ohio has to offer: a river and gorge (of course), spring 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 rail line to pass.
On my most recent visit I marveled at how cool and damp the trail remained in the gorge despite the warm temps and little rain that season. 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 this 80-something degree day, I soon cooled on the trail in what felt like a perfect 70 degree world.
At the eastern end of the park the trail begins at the latrines (there's no sign) opposite a small log cabin. For the first 3 miles or so the trail descends 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, hiking trails and the tall rock walls created by a cut-through for a 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 finally turns south to end at Brushy Fork Road at a small, unmarked parking lot.
If you're the type of person that 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 several 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 points out that there are also sandstone Ohio Canal locks that were mined at an on-site quarry off the main trail.
You can canoe the river to get a perspective from the bottom of the gorge. But before you do, be sure to read Rob's comments. Allow yourself at least a few hours to thoroughly explore the area.
Cyclists should be gracious guests and follow the guidelines posted at the start of the trail when riding through the gorge.
If pedaling less than 10 miles in your round trip ride is not enough for your taste, consider adding a nearby trail to your itinerary. The Blackhand Trail ends within a mile of the Panhandle Trail, which takes you into downtown Newark. Both trails are relatively short and have a combined total length of about 14 miles. This gives you several options: You can round trip ride the Blackhand, an 8.6 mile ride. Or make one pass of both trails for a 14 mile loop, or ride each trail out and back to approach 30 miles.
There are two connecting road routes between the two trails. They are not bike friendly. Depending on the time of day, you may encounter little traffic and relative calm, but don't let that fool you. Trucks are common here and most everyone seems in a hurry. Cyclists are urged to use caution, especially crossing Rt. 16.
There is no signed route or bike lane between the trails, therefore the A3 class is given below.
Length: 4.3 miles / asphalt - approx. 8' wide
Condition: Poor to fair - Take it slow on skinny tires
Facilities: Latrine at east end of the trail (no drinking water).
Food: Pack a lunch or plan on traveling back into nearby Newark to eat.
Parking: At both ends of trail. Eastern trailhead: Take Rt. 16 east out of Newark, turn right on Rt. 146 (Nashport Rd.) & right on Toboso Rd. Look for Blackhand Gorge sign on right. Western trailhead: West end is off Brushy Fork Rd. Take Brownsville Rd. south (off Rt. 16), turn left on Brushy Fork & look for a small unmarked parking lot that will soon appear on your left.