9800 North Shore Drive Hillsboro, Ohio 45133Rocky Fork State Park Official Website
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Highland County Birding Drive
Rocky Fork Lake is located between Hillsboro and Bainbridge. This is a large (about 3000 acre) lake with well-developed beaches and marinas, and campgrounds. Since there is a lot of boating, water-skiing, and other activities, it is not a good place to bird during summer and early autumn. On the other hand, winter and early spring can be very productive. The lake is not lowered in winter so there is always plenty of water that seldom freezes over completely. The best times to bird are during the week when the traffic is at its lowest. In about fifteen years of birding in the area, we have listed about 135 species, but more should be present. There are primitive restrooms all around the lake, but most will be locked during winter.
Rocky Fork State Park Driving Tour
To get to Rocky Fork Lake from either east or west, follow US-50. About halfway between Hillsboro and Bainbridge, turn south on OH-753. There is a large house on the west side at the corner and a truck stop on the east.
Behind the truck stop is a small pond that often has ducks in the winter. Continue along this road, and turn right onto McCoppin’s Mill Rd.; follow it to East Shore Drive and turn right. This road follows the lake shore all the way to the dam. The large parking lot almost always has large numbers of Canada Geese and American Coots. Scan the lake carefully with a scope: is possible to find rafts of diving ducks, Common Loons, Pied-billed and Horned Grebes. This is a favorite spot for duck and goose hunters, so be careful to separate the decoys from the real thing. In the past, there have been a few Surf and White-winged Scoters in the area around the islands. The next parking lot usually has ducks between the jetties along the shore. Continuing along the drive be sure to scan the area between the drive and the marina. In winter, this is a good spot for Common Loons. As you continue toward the dam, the trees and brush are good spots to look for migrant warblers in spring and fall, and sparrows, etc in the winter. After turning around at the dam, keep an eye on the field on the right. Northern Harriers have been spotted there several times. There is a Bluebird Walk along the drive with several nest boxes. Check out the small swamp at the end of the cove. Continue back to McCoppin’s Mill Road and turn right.
This road leads down into the gorge of Rocky Fork Creek. Looking west from the bridge toward the dam can be rewarding, but be very careful of the traffic. At one time there was a grist mill located here, but it has since burned down and only ruins remain. Continue up the hill and turn right into the parking lot. Just after turning into the parking lot, turn left into the road leading down into a wooded area. The trees here are tall and dense, and woodpeckers are almost always to be seen. On the south side of the road, the bird feeders behind the houses usually have the usual winter birds. At the parking lot, turn right and continue along McCoppin’s Mill Road.
The next road of interest is Lucas Lane, which turns off to the right. This road leads to the Marina and Restaurant. The restaurant is usually closed in winter. There are several parking lots and boat ramps along this road and all are worthy of investigation. At the marina, look carefully around and between the docks for grebes. There are usually large numbers of Ring-billed Gulls on the docks along with some Bonaparte’s Gulls and an occasional Herring Gull. Return back to McCoppin’s Mill Road, and turn right. The water on the right is always worth close attention.
Follow this road and keep a sharp eye out for Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls in the fields along the road. Turn right onto Spruance Road. This road leads through open fields and woody gullies and often contains a great variety of birds. Follow the road and turn right at Blue Ribbon Road or South Beach Road, as it is known locally. This leads to one of the two main swimming beaches at Rocky Fork. Just before entering the parking lot, take to the road to the right. This leads down to the lake just where a cove extends into the shore. In windy times as many as fifty Pied-billed Grebes have been counted there getting out of the wind. The parking lot offers views of a large part of the lake. From the west end of the parking lot, scan the trees along the lake carefully. This is the beginning of the areas where Bald Eagles are found. Just before leaving the parking lot, take the road to the right or west and follow it to the end. The large cove is a good place for diving ducks and grebes. Always scan the open lake for Common Loons and rafts of diving ducks. The ducks sometimes number in the hundreds. Return to the crossroads and turn right. Note that the road is now named Chestnut Road.
Chestnut Road runs through some deep gullies and open fields. Follow it until Fisherman’s Wharf Road turns off to the right. This road leads down to the lake again, and a small marina and parking lot. The inlet with the boat docks often has Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks in some of the coves and there are grebes nearer the lake. Scan the lake for rafts of ducks and loons, and check out the large trees for the Bald Eagles. This area is often the roosting area for both Black and Turkey Vultures. In the late evening, there may be well over one hundred of each species. Return to Chestnut Road and turn right and follow it until it crosses. State Rte. 124. Turn right on this road and proceed west. The road passes mostly through open fields and farmland. There is little to see here, and it’s just as well because the traffic tends to be heavy and fast. Continue to North Shore Drive leading to the right just after crossing Rocky Fork Creek.
North Shore Drive passes a local airport and then drops down to lake level, where the entrance to the campground is located on the right. On the left side of the road is a parking area with a trail leading to an observation area over the swamp. It is well worth checking out. During the camping season, there is an attendant at the campground entrance, but one can usually get permission to drive in the check the birds. Out of season, there is no problem. The road to the campground itself turns to the right, and if the road is open, is well worth the time. The campground is located in a large grove of trees. These trees abound with woodpeckers, and here is the only place in the park where the Red-headed Woodpecker can be found. Spring and fall are the best times, but frequently it can be found in winter as well. The campground has the only modern restroom in the park and is usually kept warm in winter if there are winter campers.
Return down the hill to the entrance and turn right and follow the road back to the lake. There is a small store here, but it is usually open only in summer. The road circles around through a parking area that should be checked very carefully. This is the extreme upper end of the lake and motor boats are not allowed in the area. Large numbers of ducks, especially dabblers, can be found here as well as Great Blue Herons, and Great Egrets. Again, check the large trees. Bald Eagles are found here more than any other place on the lake. As you return, be sure to check the snags and logs in the water. Double-crested Cormorants are commonly found here. After leaving the campground, check the swampy area on the left, but be careful of cars speeding along the road. Just across the bridge over Clear Creek, a road turns to the right and enters an open area along the east side of the lake. The ground is very rough and can be difficult to traverse. Return to North Shore Drive.
Continue east along North Shore Drive. You will pass through open farmland (keep on the lookout for Harriers), and pass Beechwood Road. There is a small restaurant here that is often open in spring, summer, and fall, but not in winter. You can leave the park area here by turning left and continuing on to US-50. Several roads lead off of North Shore Drive but they merely lead into housing developments and vacation home areas. When the road drops down to lake level again, you will cross a small inlet from the lake. Turn right into the marina and drive slowly, keeping a close eye on the opposite bank. Ducks of many kinds like to hug the shore. This area is also a good spot got Canada Geese and grebes. At the top of the hill is a building used for meetings, etc. The large trees around it are home to several woodpeckers, especially Pileated.
Leave this parking lot and drive onto North Beach Road, and turn right. This whole area is the other swimming beach. Follow the road out to the point for some excellent views of the lake. Using a scope will usually turn up loons, grebes, and rafts of ducks. Be sure to check the beach area for shorebirds in season. There are usually large numbers of American Coots along the shore. As you leave the parking lot, be sure to drive along the easternmost road. There is a large cove that often has Wood Ducks as well as other ducks. When you reach North Shore Drive, turn right. There are several roads in this area that lead through housing divisions. Most are unproductive except for feeders in winter.
The final stop at Rocky Fork is a service road leading down to a boat landing and jetty. There is a small parking lot at the lakeside and a large one at the top of the hill. Woodpeckers are common all around this area and the fishing jetty at the bottom is a great place to set up a scope. This gives a good view of the northern shore of the lake and often turns up Common Loons. After leaving this area, turn right and continue to OH-753. Turn left and follow it to OH-50 where you first entered the park.
Open all year during daylight hours.
It is most helpful when submitting eBird observations at Rocky Fork State Park to start a new checklist for each hotspot within the state park. Use this general hotspot when you have a checklist that includes multiple locations or there was not a hotspot or personal location appropriate for your sightings.
See all hotspots at Rocky Fork State Park
Rocky Fork State Park nestled in 1,384 acres in Highland County derives its name from the stream flowing through the park. This stream, winding over dolomite limestone, has eroded spectacular gorges and caves which we can enjoy today.
Present-day Rocky Fork Creek flows through an ancient valley. Blocked by glacial ice more than 12,000 years ago, the stream reversed direction and rapidly cut the 75-foot gorge seen today. Caves in the region formed as rainwater, trickling through the limestone, dissolved the bedrock. Dolomite limestone is particularly vulnerable to this type of weathering. Sullivantia, extremely rare in Ohio, blooms in the gorge. The small white flowers can be seen from the moist cliff face in mid-summer. Other wildflowers include wild geranium, jewelweed, yarrow, and Queen Anne’s lace.
Rocky Fork provides habitats for numerous waterfowl, songbirds, raccoons, skunks, red foxes, and white-tailed deer. The wetlands in the park are home to the green frog, bullfrog, opossum, and muskrat.
Restrooms on site
Content from Rocky Fork State Park Official Website and Ohio Ornithological Society
Last updated February 11, 2023