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The artist who was commissioned to design Ohio’s official state seal in the early 1800s drew inspiration from a particular set of hills south of Columbus, OH. The seal depicts a rising sun over green hills and a sheaf of wheat in the foreground. In the early 1900s, logging and mining companies began to creep toward these same hills.
The Ohio residents, concerned that the distinctive landscape would be erased, urged the state of Ohio to protect its heritage. The state agreed, purchased several acres in the early 1930s, and officially established it as a state park, naming it Great Seal State Park. A few short years later, the Civilian Conservation Corps, operating under President Roosevelt’s New Deal, descended upon Great Seal State Park to build roads, shelters, the campground, and blaze a few miles of trails. Many of these structures and trails are still being used today.
The closest large town to Great Seal State Park is Chillicothe, which is about six miles south. This small town is full of historic homes and buildings. Majestic Theater was built in 1853 and is one of the longest continuously-operating theaters in the state. In a nod to its Native American heritage, Chillicothe hosts Feast of the Flowering Moon Festival annually in September.
Great Seal State Park sprawls across around 1,800 acres of low mountains. The gently rolling hills are covered by a mix of second-growth hardwood and softwood trees. In spring and summer, the hills are lush green that transforms into a blaze of red, gold, and bronze in falls. Around 25 miles of hiking trails wind and weave through the woods. Some trails ascend to the mountaintops, rewarding patient adventurers with a view of the valleys below. Other trails descend into the valley where fishermen enjoy plying their trade in the babbling creeks in pursuit of largemouth bass and trout. Hikers may find themselves sharing these trails with horseback riders and mountain bikers.
The damp, humid woods of Great Seal State Park are excellent for mushroom hunting, and the lucky few may find precious morels among around 2,000 species known to grow in Ohio. All hunters should take care to identify their finds; there are several toxic species that masquerade safe varieties.
Great Seal State Park is surrounded by several state parks, state forests, regional parks, and preserves. Hocking Hill State Park has several additional miles of hiking trails for people to explore. However, the real star of the park arguably is the Whispering Cave, which has a dramatic 105-foot waterfall that appears only in springtime. Due to a mix of massive sandstone and granite that make up the rocks and boulders found in this park, rock climbing is also a popular activity.
Rent an RV and go RV camping to get away from it all. Cell signal in Great Seal State Park and the surrounding parks is reportedly spotty, and it’s a great park at which to unplug. Great Seal State Park RV campground has 15 sites, and it is fairly primitive, which means fewer neighbors. Though there are no hookups, there are bathrooms with vault toilets, and there are a couple of water faucets.
Should space run out at Great Seal State Park, which does happen during the peak season, there are a few privately-run campgrounds in the area. Sun Valley Family Campground outside Chillicothe, OH, is situated in an open space dotted by tall oak trees. The pastoral campground has 45 sites with electric and water hookups, hot showers, and a playground area with sports courts.
Nearby, the Hocking Hills State Park RV campground is larger, with over 100 sites providing electric hookups and an additional 47 sites with full hookups. The campground also boasts heated showers, a laundry room, a swimming pool, and a dump station.
Though the mid-area of Ohio is largely agricultural, there are plenty of things to see and places to go. Right outside Chillicothe is Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, which explores the local Native American tribes’ ancient past. At the Visitor Center/Museum, learn about the current theories of why the earthen mounds were built 2,000 years ago and examine the artifacts and art on display.
Many small towns near Great Seal State Park host festivals and community events, in part, to bolster the local economy. Among the more unusual ones is the Pumpkin Show in Circleville, which started in 1903. Typically held in late October, the event has diorama displays made out of pumpkins, parades, and perhaps unsurprisingly, baking contests. Local farmers also attempt to seize the coveted world’s largest pumpkin prize.
After you book an RV in Ross County, head up to Columbus. In addition to a dazzling array of shops and restaurants, Columbus is home to several museums, including award-winning COSI, a large science museum and research center. Columbus, like the neighboring small towns, holds several festivals and events, including the self-titled “America’s Biggest Rock Festival,” which takes place in May.
In the evenings, kick up your heels outside your Great Seal State Park camper rental and watch stars appear in the night sky.