For a great place to stay and have outdoor fun in southern Ohio, Happy Trails would be a wonderful choice. You can save a few bucks and have a great time.
On my most recent hike to Ohio I discovered this stable/ campground/ resort. I’ve listed it under campgrounds, because I think people associate the word “resort” with places that are less rustic, but this is much more than a campground. In fact, as a campground it’s strictly low-key, but the total package makes it a very special place.
Happy Trails is located on the northwest corner of the Shawnee State Forest about halfway between Portsmouth and West Union, Ohio (in Ohio’s southern tip). This location gives you a lot of additional recreation options very near the campground. Ben’s is primarily a horseback riding stable. They offer trail rides, boarding, and stud service. However, you don’t have to be into horses to stay there.
There are quite a few options for “lodging.” Primitive camping is the cheapest. There are some sites directly across from the lodge with only a fire ring and a couple of picnic tables for several sites to share. Toilet facilities are in the lodge.
In back of the lodge are several campsites with electricity. There are latrines near these sites, or the lodge is open 24 hours.
In the second story of the lodge are two rooms with beds (not bunks) that cost a little more. These will sleep 3 people. Use the facilities in the lodge
Ben has recently built 3 lovely cabins. These are the most expensive option at $75 a night, but with a double bed and futon, each could sleep four- if that cost is split three or four ways, these are very reasonable. Each cabin has a bedroom, living room/kitchen/, and bath. There is heat and air conditioning. See pictures below.
The ambiance at Happy Trails is what made it a very special place to me. Ben is hospitality itself. He has a special love for Buckeye Trail/ North Country Trail hikers, so I received a few extra perks, but I saw that his general hospitality was extended to all who stay there. It begins with the lodge.
The lodge is a rustic building with one large room downstairs. When I say rustic, I do not mean upscale, decorator rustic. If that is the kind of experience you want, go somewhere else (and pay a lot more money– an example would be the Shawnee Lodge within the Shawnee State Forest). The lodge has picnic tables down the middle, and a full kitchen that is available for any campers to use whenever they want. There are bathrooms, showers, and laundry facilities. Ben’s office is in one corner, and the other corner is defined by a circle of couches and chairs with a television.
Every morning that Ben has guests or trail riders he will fix breakfast for those who want it. These are hefty working day breakfasts... not fruit and muffins! The first day I was there he fixed bacon, sausage, and southern biscuits with gravy. That kept me hiking all day, for sure!
I really liked having the lodge available as an option to fix my dinners when I came back in the evening, since I was returning near dark every night that I was there. There were not a lot of other campers around most of the time I stayed there, so I had the lodge pretty much to myself. I suppose it might not always be so peaceful.
Shawnee State Forest has many miles of hiking and horseback riding trails. Several small lakes created by dams provide fishing and swimming opportunities. There are lots of picnic grounds as well. These are all within just a few miles of Ben’s. (Of course the park has campgrounds too, but I just fell in love with this place).
The bottom line for me was LOCATION. For anyone hiking the Buckeye/ North Country Trails, Ben’s is located directly on the route (important for someone on foot). In addition to this it is nestled in a curve of the trail so that you could stay there for several nights, and go out each day to hike. About 60 miles of the trail are within 30 driving miles of Happy Trails. For anyone who is trying to base camp and do day hikes, that time needed to spot vehicles each day can get out of hand quickly, so this location is ideal.
The downside for some people would be that this is a working ranch, and it is not serviced each day by a cleaning staff. There are horses, chickens, mules, donkeys, a dozen or so dogs, and all the noise and dirt that goes with that type of establishment. But if this is fine with you... check it out!
Ben's Happy Trails Riding Stable