Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve

Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve

2200 Gratiot Road Southeast Newark, Ohio 43056

Official Website

Tips for Birding

Black Hand Gorge State Nature Preserve is a 970-acre area with both paved and unpaved trails. All visitors must remain on trails unless a permit has been obtained for restricted areas. Blackhand Trail is a 4.26-mile paved wheelchair-accessible trail that essentially follows a former railway bed along the south side of the Licking River. It passes through the Blackhand Gorge.

The trail features riparian habitat, wetlands (former quarries), mature mixed hardwood forest, and forest edge habitat. This trail does not loop, so unless birders partner to leave a vehicle at one end, it will be necessary to retrace the trail to return to the parking lot. Two trails of interest to birders lead off of the Black Hand Trail: the Chestnut Trail, which does not loop; and the Quarry Rim Trail, which does loop.

The latter trail gives a good view of the quarries, including some waterfowl, and is especially good for viewing flycatchers. There are other trails of interest to birders, especially the Marie Hickey Trail, which is not paved. It does loop. Some good birds can be seen from the Lock Trail in early spring, but that trail is heavily traveled in summer.

The east, or main, entrance is located in Licking County 8 miles east of Newark on OH-16, exit southeast on OH-146, and proceed .25 mile to CR-273 (Toboso Road). The preserve’s entrance and parking lot are 1.5 miles south on CR-273 just outside of Toboso. The west entrance has a small parking lot and no restroom facilities. To access the west entrance, travel east from Dayton Road in Newark 3.3 miles on OH-16 to Brownsville Road (CR-668). Turn right, and go about 1 mile to Brushy Fork Road. Turn left and go about 150 yards to the parking lot on the left. A third small parking lot on Rock Haven Road, with no restroom facilities, gives access to the unpaved Marie Hickey Trail. Another trail can be accessed from the main entrance parking lot by walking west over the Licking River bridge and right down a dirt road. The main paved Blackhand Trail is wheelchair accessible; the other trails are not.

Birds of Interest

Woodpeckers, including Pileated; all the common woodland winter birds. A typical day list for February: Turkey Vulture; Great Blue Heron; Canada Goose; (Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk may be seen occasionally); Red-tailed Hawk (common nester); Wild Turkey; Belted Kingfisher; Rock Pigeon; Mourning Dove; Red-bellied Woodpecker; Downy Woodpecker; Hairy Woodpecker; Northern Flicker; Pileated Woodpecker; Blue Jay; American Crow; chickadee sp.; Tufted Titmouse; White-breasted Nuthatch; Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren; Golden-crowned Kinglet; White-throated Sparrow; Dark-eyed Junco; Northern Cardinal. Barred Owls have been seen, and Eastern Screech-Owl has been heard. The habitat is good for Great Horned Owl as well.
Excellent for all migrant warblers. Watch for nesting Cerulean Warblers near the stream at the west end of the Blackhand trail, and listen for Ovenbird near mile-marker 1. All of the Ohio vireos and flycatchers are possible. Eastern Towhees are numerous. In 2003, Prothonotary Warblers nested near the trail that can be accessed from the main entrance parking lot by walking west over the Licking River bridge and then right down a dirt road. (This trail is not indicated on the brochure map.) The wetlands near where the Prothonotaries nested also have nest boxes for Wood Ducks. Waterfowl that frequent the wetlands in March and April include American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Blue-winged Teal, and American Coot. Mallards and Canada Geese frequent the quarries, along with the occasional Wood Duck.
Nesting Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak; Red-tailed Hawk; Wood Ducks; Yellow-billed Cuckoo; Pileated Woodpeckers; Eastern Towhees; Yellow Warblers; Common Yellowthroat; Carolina and House Wrens. Bank Swallows nested along the river in 2003. Several species of swallows are possible. Sparrows abound in fence rows and brambles. The forest edges feature large numbers of Indigo Buntings. Watch the river for the numerous beaver that make their home there. Henslow’s Sparrows, Prairie Warblers, and Yellow-breasted Chats are easily accessible off Rock Haven Road.
All the migrant passerines could be found here. Watch for Cedar Waxwings hawking insects over the river from the sycamore trees. Other than Killdeer, do not expect to see any shorebirds.

About this Location

The prime feature of this preserve is a narrow, east-west gorge cut by the Licking River through the famous Blackhand sandstone formation. It also boasts the only bike trail in Ohio’s state nature preserve system; more than 4 miles of bike trail wind through the preserve.

  • Geologically spectacular narrow sandstone gorge cut by the Licking River
  • Excellent display of spring wildflowers
  • 10 miles of trail including 4 miles of bike trail

The preserve is rich in natural as well as early Ohio history. The name Blackhand, for which the preserve is named, originated from a dark, hand-shaped Indian petroglyph that was engraved on the face of a massive sandstone cliff along the north side of the river. The engraving was destroyed in 1828 when canal builders dynamited the cliff face, during the construction of the Ohio-Erie Canal, which runs through the gorge. Sections of the canal towpaths and canal locks may be seen from the trails along the river.

The dry hilltops are dominated by oak-hickory mature woods along with Virginia pine and mountain laurel. Yellow birch, cherry birch, and eastern hemlock grow on northerly exposures. It is an excellent site for viewing woodland spring wildflowers.

Located in Licking County 8 miles east of Newark on OH-16, exit southeast on OH-146 and proceed .25 mile to County Road 273. The preserve’s entrance and parking lot are 1.5 miles south on County Road 273 just outside of Toboso.

Notable Trails

Blackhand Gorge Trails
Blackhand Trail – 4.26 miles – paved
Canal Lock Trail – .1 mile
Chestnut Trail – 2.3 miles
Oak Knob Trail – .6 mile
Quarry Rim Trail – 1 mile
Marie Hickey Trail – 2 miles

Marie Hickey Trail
Parking for the Marie Hickey Trail is in the north parking lot on Rock Haven Road Northeast. This trail is a 2.1-mile loop.

There is a gravel parking area at the Marie Hickey Trail on Rock Haven Road. The Marie Hickey Trail is somewhat challenging, with some steep areas, but it yields excellent warbler birding in spring and fall.

This trail overlooks the Licking River gorge. All 3 Ohio Buteos and both Accipiters have been observed here. Barred Owls are often observed and most Ohio migrant warblers pass through. There are breeding Black-and-white, Prairie, Cerulean, Yellow-throated, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Parula, American Redstart, Blue-winged, and maybe Kentucky Warblers. Always a singing Indigo Bunting if you walk past the pumpjack at the southernmost point of the loop. Several singing White-eyed Vireos. Lots of Golden-crowned Kinglets in winter, and tons of White-throated Sparrows, too. Have seen a Mink frolicking in some open grass and two Gray Foxes one spring. Bald Eagles cruise the river.

The beach parking area is closed from November through April, but the beach can often be accessed from the Visitor Center parking area, old Lewis Center Road, or even the west dam parking area. Hogback Preserve may be closed on many winter weekends, but Hogback Road is always open.

The main entrance near Toboso has a large paved parking lot and pit toilets. The west end of the Blackhand Gorge Trail has two gravel parking areas: the old one off of Brushy Fork Road and a new one just south of the bridge on Brownsville Road (County Highway 668). The Blackhand Gorge Bike Trail is wheelchair accessible, and plans are in the works to re-pave it.


  • Restrooms on site

Content from Official Website, Margaret Bowman, Shane Brown, and Ohio Ornithological Society