Nature of the Area
West Branch State Park in Portage County is situated on the glaciated plateau of northeastern Ohio. Although the land was uplifted as part of the Appalachian Mountain building process, the glaciers were able to override the gentle hills of the plateau. Huge ice blocks broke free from the glaciers and kettle lakes formed as the blocks melted. Eventually, these lakes filled with sediment leaving boggy wetlands with unique assemblages of plants. The West Branch area contains numerous bogs filled with buttonbush, alder, skunk cabbage and swamp white oak. Another natural feature of the park is the stand of beech-maple forest. In pioneer times, the beech-maple belt in Ohio was very extensive and stretched across the plateau from Mansfield to Pennsylvania. These woodlands harbor a variety of plant and animal life. Woodland wildflowers such as Dutchman's breeches, bloodroot and trillium are found here. Red fox, skunk, opossum and raccoon find the park's habitat suitable. Songbirds occupy the leafy canopy of the woodlands while waterfowl and shorebirds dabble in the reservoir.
History of the Area
West Branch State Park is located on the west branch of the Mahoning River in Portage County. The river was named for the Delaware Indian word meaning "at the salt lick." In early days, a salt works was located southeast of present-day Warren along the river. The salt, which attracted a variety of wildlife, was harvested by Indians and early settlers. At the west end of the park is a crossroads known as Cambellsport, named for Captain John Campbell who mustered militia for the War of 1812 at the site and then marched them on Cleveland. Captain Campbell originally came to the area in 1805 as a surveyor and land agent for proprietor Samuel Hinckley. Captain Campbell also served as Portage County sheriff from 1810 to 1813. He constructed what is said to be the oldest brick land-office building in Ohio (circa 1810). Prior to the flooding of the reservoir, this building was moved to a site at the Portage County Historical Society where it has been preserved and restored.
In 1965, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed construction of the Michael J. Kirwan Reservoir. The reservoir was developed for flood control, water supply, recreation and fish and wildlife management. West Branch State Park was formally opened in 1966.
The family campground offers 155 campsite, with 50-amp electrical hookups, 29 full service campsites and 14 non-electric campsites. Pets are permitted on all sites. Five campsites are ADA, universally accessible, and each showerhouse has one family restroom. The campground also features heated showers, flush toilets, laundry facilities and a trailer dump station. There is a camper's boat launch ramp, and some lakeside sites offer boating access. A horse camp and group camp are available by permit only.
Picnic areas are situated in scenic locations around the lake. Six different picnic shelters are available; two for use on a first-come, first-served basis, and four that can be reserved on-line at ohiostateparks.org or by calling 1-866-644-6727.
The park's 700-foot sand beach includes a restroom with changing areas, outside rinse showers and vending area. A boat swimming area is located in Silver Creek Bay, southwest of the beach. A small campground beach is located near campsite 160.
Year-round fishing at West Branch offers large and smallmouth bass, walleye, crappie, bluegill, catfish and trophy-class muskellunge. Fishing access is available at three paved and two gravel launch areas as well as numerous shoreline access points. A wheelchair accessible fishing pier is located by the marina. A valid Ohio fishing license is required.
West Branch State Park is open for hunting, in season, with small game, waterfowl and deer being most common. The northeastern section of the park, which is bound on the west by Rock Spring Road and on the south by the lakeshore, and several southern lake shore areas are closed to hunting. This no-hunting area includes the park office, camp area, horse camp, picnic areas, beach, marina, dam and East and West Boat Ramps. A 400-foot no hunting/safety zone extends from all other developed facilities. Hunting is limited to shotguns and primitive weapons for most game; squirrel hunting is with shotgun only. A valid Ohio hunting license is required. Contact the park office for details. Target shooting is prohibited.
The lake stretches over seven miles and offers many forks and coves with miles of shoreline. The lake is designated for unlimited horsepower. A no-wake zone extends 300 feet from all shorelines. The entire area west of Rock Spring Road causeway is also a no-wake zone. Boat rentals, gasoline and supplies are available at the marina. Boat camping is permitted at the marina docks. Five launch ramps provide access to the lake. Dock rentals are on a season basis; Dock 9 is wheelchair accessible.
More than fourteeen miles of hiking trails provide access to the natural world. A portion of the state's Buckeye Trail passes through the park and is linked to the campground by a two mile spur trail. The park offers extensive snowmobile trails when conditions permit. Trail starts at the west boat ramp. Mountain biking is permitted on twelve miles of trail in the snowmobile area. Twenty miles of bridle trails traverse woodlands and meadows. Riders must provide their own horses.
More To Do
The campground offers a playground and volleyball court. The camp office loans games and sporting equipment to registered campers. Boat rental is available at the marina.
Other state parks in the area include Lake Milton, Nelson Kennedy Ledges, Quail Hollow, Portage Lakes, Punderson, Tinker's Creek, and Mosquito Lake.
For more information on area attractions, call the Ohio Division of Tourism at 1-800-BUCKEYE or visit ohiotourism.com.
* Denotes Horseman's Campground Reservations are Required. Call 1-866-644-6737 for reservations.
**Add $1.00 for Friday and Saturday nights from May 20 through September 10. Add an additional $1.00 for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights of Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekends. Winter rates are $2.00 LESS.