Greater Cincinnati Hikes: Table of Contents
I. Butler County
1. Hueston Woods State Park
2. Miami University Natural Areas Trail System
3. Governor Bebb Preserve
4. Gilmore Ponds Interpretive Preserve
5. Rentschler Forest Preserve
6. Miami University, Middletown
7. Dudley Woods
II. Warren and Clinton Counties
8. Fort Ancient State Memorial
9. Little Miami State Park
10. Caesar Creek Lake Park
11. Caesar Creek State Park
12. Caesar Creek Gorge State Nature Preserve
13. Spring Valley Wildlife Area
14. Cowan Lake State Park
III. Clermont County
15. Cincinnati Nature Center: Rowe Woods
16. Stonelick State Park
17. East Fork State Park
18. Crooked Run Nature Sanctuary
IV. Highland and Adams Counties
19. Paint Creek State Park
20. 7 Caves
21. Rocky Fork State Park
22. Fort Hill State Memorial
23. Serpent Mound State Memorial
24. Davis Memorial State Nature Preserve
25. Adams Lake State Nature Preserve
26. Chaparral State Nature Preserve
27. Edge of Appalachia: Buzzardroost Rock
28. Edge of Appalachia: Wilderness Preserve
29. Edge of Appalachia: Lynx Prairie Preserve
V. Northern Kentucky
30. Boone County Cliffs State Nature Preserve
31. Middle Creek Park
32. Big Bone Link State Park
33. Highland Cemetery Forest Preserve
34. Tower Park
35. Kincaid Lake State Park
36. Quiet Trails State Nature Preserve
VI. Southeast Indiana
37. Clifty Falls State Park
38. Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge
39. Versailles State Park
40. Whitewater Memorial State Park
41. Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary
VII. Hamilton County
42. Shawnee Lookout County Park
43. Miami Whitewater Forest County Park
44. Mitchell Memorial Forest
45. Mt. Airy Forest
46. Winton Woods County Park
47. Sharon Woods County Park
48. French Park
49. California Woods
50. Woodland Mound County Park
51. Withrow Nature Preserve
Chapter One: Butler County
US Hamilton 5 I-75
Located directly north of the Cincinnati metropolitan area, Butler County represents the
largest greater Cincinnati county in terms of population other than Hamilton County. The city of
Hamilton, population 61,000, is the county seat of Butler County. If you pass through Hamilton
on your way to one of these trailheads, check out the historic courthouse and the Fort Hamilton
Museum, located on SR 129 on the east bank of the Great Miami River.
Large portions of Butler County are developed areas. Hamilton, Middletown, and eastern
Fairfield represent the industrial heart of the county, while rapidly developing West Chester in
southeastern Butler County is mostly residential and retail. The town of Oxford, most famous for
Miami University, dominates the northwestern part of the county. Southwestern Butler County
largely retains its rural character.
In terms of natural features, Butler County lies on the eastern edge of the Till Plains in the
portion of Ohio that was once covered by glaciers. Thus, the land in Butler County is generally
flat with some steeper areas near streams where erosion has taken place. The Great Miami River
bisects the county into eastern and western halves with most of the county lying in the river’s
watershed. The major exception is eastern Fairfield and West Chester, which are drained by the
Due to its developed nature, hiking opportunities in some parts of Butler County are
somewhat limited. In spite of this fact, Butler County is one of only three counties included in the
Ohio portion of this guide that operates a significant park system. Butler County Metroparks
operates 13 lands covering all corners of the county. Not all of these lands contain worthwhile
hiking trails, and most of the trails that do exist are of the shorter nature trail variety. Still, these
parks comprise some of the better hiking opportunities in the county, and several of these trails are
For longer, more developed trail systems, one must look to northwestern Butler County
where two crown jewels of hiking exist. Hueston Woods State Park, the most famous destination
and only state park land in the county, features some excellent woodlands surrounding man-made
Acton Lake, the largest lake in the county. Lesser known, but equally interesting as a hiking
destination, is the Miami University Natural Areas Trail System located on the eastern edge of
Oxford. Whether it is shorter nature trails or well-developed trail systems that you seek after,
Butler County has a hike made-to-order.
Hike #1 Hueston Woods State Park
Main Park Road
Big Woods Trail
Trails: Big Woods and Hedge Apple Trails
Nearest City: Oxford, Ohio
Length: 3 miles
Overview: A moderately difficult, hilly hike first through mature forest, then through younger
Park Information: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/tabid/745/default.aspx
Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Oxford, take SR 732 north about 5 miles to the park
entrance. Turn left to enter the park. At the first fork in the main park road, keep to the left.
Follow the park road past the golf course to where it intersects Brown Rd. comes in from the left.
At this intersection, turn right onto a narrow, shaded, blacktop park road. You will come upon a
small parking area on the left just before the road bends to the right. Park here. Additional
parking is available further down the road if this lot is full.
The Hike: It was 1797 when young Matt Hueston first settled the land now occupied by the park
that bears his name. Covered by mature forest at the time of settlement, the land was soon cleared
to make way for farming with one exception. 200 acres along the west shore of present-day Acton
Lake was allowed to stand either because the land was too steep to plow or because the family
wanted the sweet syrup the maple trees had to offer.
This tract of woodland was held in private hands for many years until the state bought it in
1941. The recovering farmland around the forest was purchased in small chunks during the
following years to create the park you see today. This hike takes you through both the mature
forest of the original tract of land and some reclaimed farmland that is only starting on the road
back to its original state.
From the parking area, hike south on the narrow blacktop road back toward the main park
loop. About half way back to the loop road, look for a water fountain off to the right of the road.
This is the easiest way to identify the beginning of the Big Woods Trail, which leaves the blacktop
just to the left of the water fountain. Grab a drink of water here, for it is the only working water
supply on this hike. The fountain at the other parking area further along was not functioning when
I was there.
Turn right off of the park road to begin the Big Woods Trail. This trail is characterized by
big trees, sharp bends, and continuous hills. The trail immediately starts down a gentle slope
toward the first of three large creeks, which it crosses on stepping stones. During times of high
water, this ford may require some wading. Across the creek, the trail turns sharply right and
follows the creek downstream for a couple hundred feet. Make sure you hit this turn, and do not
confuse a small drainage that goes straight ahead for the trail.
The trail then takes a sharp left and begins climbing moderately. As soon as it tops this
rise, the trail descends steeply, using steps to aid in the descent, to the second creek, which is
crossed on a well-constructed bridge. This descent in this direction is the last major climb when
returning the opposite direction. All along the trail has been meandering through tall oak, maple,
beech, and ash trees which provide great shade and allow little in the understory.
After crossing another of the wooden bridges (there are five of them), the trail climbs
steeply for the first major climb of the hike. One more valley is crossed, this one less steep than
the previous, before arriving at a shady parking area. Some picnic tables at this area provide the
only good opportunity for rest on the outward portion of this hike.
The trail exits the other side of the parking area, then dips through another steep drainage
and crosses the last big bridge before reaching the main park road. The trail does not continue
straight across the road, but reenters the woods on the opposite side about 150 feet to the right.
Look for a brown street sign that says "Big Woods Trail" to mark the entrance.
Now on the west side of the loop road, the trail passes through some very different scenery.
After starting in young forest with small trees covered by grape vines, the trail soon enters into a
large, old white pine planting. Watch out for poison ivy which seems to be growing abundantly
alongside this portion of the trail.
After a few hundred yards in the pines, another trail goes off to the right. As the white park
sign tells you, this is the intersection of the Big Woods and Hedge Apple trails. The Big Woods
Trail ends here, while the Hedge Apple Trail goes straight and right to form a one mile loop. I
continued straight to hike the loop clockwise.
After a very short distance, the trail leaves the pines and drops steeply to a creek, which it
crosses with the aid of a wooden bridge. Just across the bridge is one of the largest hedge apple
trees I have ever seen. It is the first of many big hedge apples from which this trail derives its
The forest in the creek valley is young broadleaf forest with a dense understory of grass.
This section of trail is much narrower with grass swiping your legs on either side during the
warmer months. There are some large wooden posts marked with numbers, indicating that a
published trail guide might exist. The trail soon recrosses the creek to follow a row of good-sized
A few hundred feet past the creek, the narrow return trail goes off at a sharp angle to the
right. Another trail continues straight ahead to intersect the loop road across from the park office.
If you miss the turn and end up at the park road, backtrack about 200 feet to the trail.
The return loop begins with a long, steady climb out of the creek valley, the second major
climb of the hike. The trail passes an occassional cedar tree before passing through another hedge
apple row. Back when this land was being farmed, hedge apple trees were used to mark
boundaries between two plots of land. Presently, the row seems to mark the edge of the pine
planting you passed through earlier.
The Hedge Apple Trail intersects the Big Woods Trail only a couple hundred feet after
reentering the pines. A left turn at this intersection will return you to the Big Woods Trail, 1 mile
away from your car. Retrace your steps along the Big Woods Trail, making sure to remember the
loop road crossing, back to the parking lot to finish the hike.
Hike #2 Miami University Natural Areas Trail System (MUNATS)
Trail: Bachelor Reserve, Pine and East Loops
City: Oxford, Ohio
Length: 4 miles
Overview: A moderate, well-marked course through a wide variety of forest environments.
Trail Information: http://www.units.muohio.edu/naturalareas/trails/
Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Oxford, follow US 27 south to where it intersects SR
73, then turn left on SR 73. About one mile east of US 27, SR 73 passes the university stables,
Four-Mile Creek, and a gravel parking lot near a soccer field in that order. Park in the gravel lot; it
is on the left side of the road. Walk across the bridge on the far side of the lot. It may be gated,
but this is just to keep vehicles out. The trail starts at a red sign to the right on the other side of the
The hike: Located between Four-Mile Creek and Oxford-Milford Road 0.5 miles east of the Miami
campus, Bachelor Reserve is a large tract of reclaimed land that was being farmed anywhere from
30 to 70 years ago. The land on either side of the preserve is still being cultivated today. The tract
was willed to Miami University upon Dr. Joseph Bachelor's death with the intent of creating a
nature preserve on the premises. The land features a wide variety of habitats ranging from recently
farmed land to mature woods and pine plantings to ponds.
An excellent 5 mile trail system maintained by some students living in the Boesel House,
which is located on the eastern edge of the preserve on Oxford-Milford Road, features trails that
interlink to provide a wide variety of possible hikes. This particular route follows a trail guide
written by Lori Gramlich, a former Miami student. A copy of this guide may be available in a
black mailbox at the trailhead.
From the parking lot, cross the bridge over Harker's Run on the north side of the parking
lot, jumping over or going around the gate at the near side of the bridge. On the other side of the
bridge, go down some steps on the right to the brown board that marks the trailhead. The trail
enters a narrow strip of woods with Harker's Run on the right and a field on the left. During
extremely dry periods it is possible to take a short cut by taking the cinder road from the northeast
side of the parking lot and fording Harker's Run, intersecting the trail at the other side.
The trail begins by traveling east, then slowly turns north around the field through
reclaimed farmland. In the first half mile, the trail passes three large sycamore trees, the last of
which has a hole that has been burned out of it. The strip of woodlands gradually widens, but the
creek is never more than 100 feet to the right.
Shortly after the last large sycamore tree, the East Loop goes across the creek to the right
on a swinging bridge. This is the route by which we will return. Only a few feet later, the trail
forks with the Pine Loop going straight and left. Take the left fork here and begin hiking
clockwise on the Pine Loop.
The trail shortly begins meandering uphill, twisting and turning to make the climb less
steep. This is the first major climb of the hike. This hill represents a small section of tableland
between Four-Mile Creek to the west and Harker's Run to the east. Once atop the hill, the scenery
has changed to young, dense forest with a few cedars thrown in and even the occasional pine.
The trail now has changed from dirt to gravel, and the pine forest is visible on the right. A
few hundred yards after ascending the hill, the Pine Loop takes a 90 degree right turn into the pine
forest with another trail going straight ahead downhill to Bonham Rd. and the North Loop. The
trail is well-worn, and all of MUNATS is well marked, but this turn can be missed if you are not
The trail now goes through the heart of the pine forest with rows of pine trees on either
side. It is obvious that these white and red pines were planted by man because the trees are planted
in uniform rows and columns. Also, the pine tree is not native to Ohio. Still, one should walk this
portion of the trail slowly so as to admire the majesty of the pines soaring 50 feet over your head in
Upon reaching the other side of the forest, the trail first takes a left, then turns back to the
right and steeply descends to the level of Harker's Run to reenter the floodplain forest. A few
yards later, the Pine Loop intersects another trail coming in from the left. Turn right at this
intersection and proceed downstream beside Harker's Run to where a swinging bridge crosses the
creek on your left. This is the beginning of the East Loop. Turn left and cross the bridge.
The trail soon begins gaining elevation as it moves from floodplain to young succession
forest. The forest is now dominated by juniper, ash, and locust trees. The trail temporarily
reverses course to lose some of the elevation it just gained, then continues climbing for the other
major climb of the hike.
At the top of the hill, the trail comes out at an earthen dyke creating a large pond.
Constructed in 1957, the pond is fed by a natural spring and features such aquatic plants as
bulrushes and cattails. The trail follows the pond on the left before taking a sharp right turn to
descend from the dyke. This turn is marked with a sign, but keep an eye out to make sure you do
not miss it.
The trail now heads south through a dense red cedar forest that is just beginning to be
invaded by juniper. The cedars give away this land's agricultural past, as they are among the first
trees to grow on old farmland. Spleenwort, an unusual-looking fern, and prairie grass cover the
ground here. The trail soon passes through the remnant of a wire fence, another clue to the land's
agricultural past, and enters more mature forest. This forest is dominated by maple, ash, and beech
trees, with a dense understory of honeysuckle.
The trail next takes a right turn and begins descending, steeply at times, to Harker's Run.
Cross the creek using another swinging bridge to intersect the outbound portion of the trail. A left
turn and 0.5 miles of level hiking will return you to the trailhead to complete the hike.
Hike #3 Governor Bebb Preserve
West Fork Creek
Trails: Chief Cornstalk and Serenity Trails
City: Okeana, Ohio
Length: 2.25 miles
Overview: A moderately difficult hike through beautiful, rural forest in southwestern Butler
Park Information: http://www.butlercountymetroparks.org/index.cfm?page=govBebb
Directions to the trailhead: From Okeana, which is about 5 miles west of the town of Ross on
SR 126, go west on SR 126 to the park entrance on the left, which is located a short distance
past California Rd. The entrance is a narrow, paved road marked by a large light brown sign.
From past experience, it tends to sneak up on you. Turn left onto the park road and follow it
past the field, covered bridge, and pioneer village to where the road forks at a stop sign. Go to
the left at this fork and park in the first parking area you come to, which is adjacent to a picnic
The hike: Having grown up only 15 minutes east of here, I took my first steps in a nature
preserve on these premises. My dad and I would drive out here on a chilly, late winter day and
go for hikes, sometimes on the trails, and sometimes not. Today, only the stand of forest behind
my house holds greater personal significance to me than this park. So hiking this trail at age 22
to prepare me for this log was a trip down my short memory lane.
Outside of its personal significance to me, this preserve, part of Butler County Metroparks,
is named for governor William Bebb, Ohio’s third governor, who was born here in the early
1800's. Today, the land is wedged in between farms to the north and west and roads to the
south and east. It is an excellent woodland in rural southwestern Butler County whose trails do
not get very much traffic. Of particular note are the large, mature patches of pine trees
intermingled within the broadleaf forest. This hike is organized in two loops that interlink to
form a figure-eight. It takes you past several pine forests in addition to deciduous forest, creek,
and pond habitats.
Begin by retracing your steps a couple hundred feet back to the fork in the road. Turn left
here and follow the blacktop road down the steep incline. At the bottom of the hill, where the
road turns right, notice a small parking lot on the left and a sign marking the trailhead for the
Chief Cornstalk Trail. This is our first of the two loops. The trail is unmarked except for some
blazes for the American Discovery Trail. The official-looking emblems on white plastic
triangles mark the course for a trail that stretches across much of the midwest.
The wide dirt trail enters a mature forest and is soon flanked by West Fork Creek on the
right and the steep hill you just descended on the left. In recent years much of the underbrush
has been removed by man, making for a more open-feeling forest. The trail follows the creek
before turning left and ascending rather steeply to a fork in the trail. Even though this trail is a
loop trail, our hike only uses half of the loop-portion represented by the fork. Turning right, the
trail continues to ascend, though less steeply now, as it traces the edge of a small pine forest on
the left. There is a much larger and grander one later in the hike.
On the east side of the pine forest, the American Discovery Trail turns right as the Chief
Cornstalk Trail goes straight ahead to close the loop. Turn right here and ascend a small, steep
hill through another small pine forest to come out at a dead end blacktop road. The American
Discovery Trail continues straight ahead and eventually comes out on California Rd. To
complete the first loop of our hike, turn left on the blacktop road and follow it back to the
parking lot where your car is parked, putting us half way through the hike.
When you return to the parking lot, walk back to the main park road, but turn right this
time. A couple hundred feet ahead is a break in the wooden fence that marks the entrance to the
pioneer village on the left. Enter the pioneer village here. The Serenity Trail starts behind the
pioneer village just north of the entry point at a small wooden sign that says "Serenity Trail."
The trail enters the woods and curves its way down one side of a ravine, using steps to aid the
descent. At the bottom of the steps, the trail reaches a bridge over a small stream. The bridge is
in poor condition, as it tilts at a large angle from right to left. Plans to rebuild the bridge were
being implemented while I was there. The trail then takes a sharp right turn and begins
ascending the other side of the ravine.
The trail quickly comes to a wire fence, telling you that you are at the boundary of the
preserve. The trail turns left, keeping the fence on the right, and ascends out of the ravine with
the aid of steps. This was a scary part of the trail for me at age 10, as the steps seemed way too
high for my short legs. In reality, they are only a little steeper than average, if that.
At the top of the hill, the trail turns left away from the fence and soon another trail
intersects from the right. This is the return portion of the loop. Continuing straight, the trail
passes the first of two small ponds (this one filled with green algae) on the right, then turns left
to skirt the pine forest, which we will see much more of later. After a brief stint in the pines, the
trail returns to deciduous forest and takes a sharp turn to the right. For the next several hundred
feet the trail stays along the rim of a steep hill on the left and the pines on the right. In the
winter, the park's picnic area can be seen well below you through the trees on the left.
After crossing a hogs back between another pond (little algae in this one) on the right and a
fence to prevent you from falling down the hill on the left, a trail comes in from the left. This
is an abandoned trail that leads to the aforementioned picnic area. Serenity Trail takes a sharp
right turn and follows beside the campground immediately on the left and the finest pine forest
in the park on the right. It passes the trail entrance from the campground, then reaches a shack
that resembles a concession stand. The unmarked Serenity Trail makes a sharp, easy-to-miss
right turn into the pine forest at this shack.
The next several hundred feet is my favorite part of the hike. The trail goes right through
the heart of the pines, which tower some 70 feet overhead. Stop in the middle of the forest to
listen: if you are alone, you will at most hear the whispering of the wind through the pine
needles. It is this section of the hike that gives the trail its name.
On the other end of the pine forest, the trail reaches the T-intersection at the brink of a
ravine to complete the loop. Turn left here and retrace your steps back through the ravine to the
pioneer village. The last climb out of the ravine marks the final ascent of the hike. You may
wish to take a moment to view the outstanding collection of log buildings from around the area
that has been assembled in this park. From where the trail enters you must angle to the right to
exit the village onto the main park road. A short walk to the covered bridge on the left may be
worth your time as well. A right turn on the park road, then a left turn at the fork will return
you to your car, completing this superb, but often overlooked hike.
Hike #4 Gilmore Ponds Interpretive Preserve
Trails: Blue and Red Trails
Nearest City: Fairfield, Ohio
Length: 2.5 miles
Overview: A flat hike through wetlands, offering good wildlife viewing opportunities.
Park Information: http://www.butlercountymetroparks.org/index.cfm?page=gilmorePonds
Directions to the trailhead: From I-275 on the north side of Cincinnati, take exit 41 onto SR 4 and
go north on SR 4. Take SR 4 north to By-pass 4 and turn right on By-pass 4. Take By-pass 4
north a couple of miles to Symmes Rd. and turn left on Symmes Rd. Take Symmes Rd. west to
Gilmore Rd. and turn right on Gilmore Rd. Both of these previous two turns occur at traffic lights.
Take Gilmore Rd. north 0.6 miles to the preserve's main blacktop parking lot on the right and park
in this lot.
The hike: Set in the industrialized area of eastern Fairfield, scenic Gilmore Ponds provides a
needed home and rest area to many species of flowers, trees, and birds. Most nature preserves
consist of mature or young woods set in rolling terrain with a few creeks or a small pond. This is
not the scenery that will greet a visitor to Gilmore Ponds. Rather, a flat, open, prairie-type setting
typifies most of the land, with only some small areas of very young forest.
Four trails criss-cross this area. The trails have names, but they are most easily identified
by color because trails are marked with white carsonite posts containing colored emblems (which I
think look like porcupines), each trail with a different color.
Begin this hike on the blue trail, which leaves the parking area going north across a
"boardwalk." The brown boardwalk looks like wood from a distance, but a closer inspection
reveals that it is actually composed of a synthetic plastic substance. After a couple hundred feet,
the boardwalk ends and the blue trail turns right to follow a low voltage powerline right-of-way
eastward. Power lines criss-cross the property due to the transformer located just outside the
western boundary of the preserve. The trail follows the power line along a dyke with some shrubs
in a floodplain on the right and a drainage canal (probably man-made) on the left. There is also a
fairly well-used railroad on the left.
After passing the first of the four ponds for which the preserve is named, take a detour to
right to the bird blind and bench that overlook the pond. I observed a Canadian goose, three
turtles, and several frogs while sitting on the bench. While in the bird blind, a robin not 3 yards
away from me was sitting so still, I thought it was a statue at first. This is one of the best places
along the trail to observe wildlife, so take some time here to get to know your furry and feathery
When done at the bird blind, return to the blue trail and turn right, continuing along the
powerline. At a couple of points, the drainage to the left has been blocked by a fallen log and
some debris, the handy work of nature, man, or a beaver. After passing another seasonal pond on
the right, the trail takes a sharp right turn on the dyke and begins heading due south, leaving the
Where the blue trail turns right, continue straight and begin hiking the red trail, which still
follows the drainage on the left. After passing a small pond on the right and going through a
young black walnut thicket, the trail turns right, descends from the dyke, and crosses a short
After passing by a large industrial building, the trail passes through a dense, young forest
and comes out at another powerline right-of-way. A carsonite post directs you to the right along
the powerline, which is enclosed on either side by honeysuckle. A couple hundred feet later, the
red trail ends at an intersection with the blue trail. Turn left here on the blue trail, cross through a
shallow dip in the trail, and intersect the purple trail, which goes off to the left.
Keep to the right to stay on the blue trail. The scenery up to now has consisted mainly of
shrubs, ponds, and young forest. This section of the trail takes you through a more traditional
prairie-type environment. Thistle, goldenrod, nodding onion, prairie grass, and other species you
would expect to see in a prairie dominate this portion of the preserve.
Take a moment to observe wildlife in the cattail marsh from a wooden overlook that sits
beside the trail. Be careful on this overlook: the wood is old and rotting and seems to want to
splinter. Continue along the blue trail past a pond and come out behind a picnic area adjacent to the
parking lot containing your car. Reading the plaques along the mulched trail in the picnic area will
provide you with some more information about the purpose of and need for places like Gilmore
Ponds in an increasingly industrialized America.
Hike #5 Rentschler Forest Preserve
Trails: Pumpkin Vine Trail and Cascades Trail
Nearest City: Hamilton, Ohio
Length: 1.9 miles
Overview: Two very different loop trails offering a good overview of natural environments, plus a
Park Information: http://www.butlercountymetroparks.org/index.cfm?page=rentschlerForest
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 129 and SR 4 in Hamilton, take SR 4
north to Reigart Road, which goes off to the left just after passing the traffic light for by-pass 4.
Turn left on Reigart Rd. Where this road forks, keep to the left. Pass the gate house and climb a
small hill to where another park road goes off to the left. Turn left here and proceed to a small
parking lot by the Walsh picnic shelter. Park here. You should be at the trailhead for the Cascades
The hike: Rentschler Forest is located on 258 acres of rolling land donated to Butler County
Metroparks about 30 years ago. The land is situated between some new housing developments on
the south and the Great Miami River on the north. The park features numerous picnic shelters,
including one dedicated to Judge Walsh near this trailhead.
The park also features two hiking trails that interconnect to form this hike. The 0.9 mile
Cascades Trail takes you through mature forest and a creek valley, while the Pumpkin Vine Trail
takes you through young forest and past an old homestead. They can be hiked separately, but they
combine nicely with a 0.1 mile connector trail. These trails are best hiked during wet weather so
that the waterfall on the Cascades Trail will be in top form.
Start at the sign near the parking lot which says "Cascades Trail entrance." There may be a
trail guide for the Cascades Trail available at this point. It is a little outdated, but still provides
some good information about the natural features of the area. The trail enters young forest behind
the trail sign and begins curving right. Just before reaching the park boundary fence, the connector
trail to the Pumpkin Vine Trail exits to the right. To “save the best for last,” I suggest hiking the
Pumpkin Vine Trail first. To do this, turn right at this junction and begin the wide, grassy trail
with the park boundary fence immediately to the left.
Upon connecting with the Pumpkin Vine Trail, stay left and head slightly downhill passing
a row of hedgeapple trees. Hedgeapple trees are often a sign on past human existence. Not to
disappoint, after crossing a sewer line clearing, the trail comes to the remains of an old building.
Part of the building is constructed of rocks while the remainder consists of old concrete. The
southern portion of this building is built into the ground, possibly as an old food cellar.
Ignore a wild trail that goes left and continue winding through young forest before coming
out at the sewer right-of-way again. Note that this portion of the trail gets rather narrow in the
summer. If you look to the left you will see what remains of the Miami-Erie Canal. During the
early to mid-1800’s, this canal was one of the most important transportation routes in Ohio,
connecting the Ohio River to Lake Erie. Mules would be walk along either side of the canal
propelling the boat along. By the end of the Civil War, the railroad had replaced the canal as the
preferred means of transportation, and the canal fell into various stages of disrepair. The old
mulepath still visible on this side of the canal is slated to be turned into a paved bike path in the
next few years. A right turn on the sewer right-of-way will return you to the outgoing Pumpkin
Vine Trail. Retrace your steps from this intersection back to where you left the Cascades Trail.
Upon intersecting the Cascades Trail, continue straight to continue the hike. Your trail
guide will now come in handy. The stops on the guide are represented by wooden markers painted
a light brown along side the trail. With the boundary fence on the right, the scenery is slowly
changing from shrubs to mature forest, which is dominated by oak with an occasional wild cherry
and hickory. Where a shortcut trail goes left, keep to the right and cross a long wooded footbridge,
now in the tall timber. This boundary between mature and young forest is crossed twice more
before the trail begins its descent to Kennedy Run, aided by some wooden steps.
At the bottom of the hill, the trail meets Kennedy Run just above a small but pretty
waterfall. Water drops about 8 feet from a limestone shelf into a large, deep, muddy pool. When I
was here in the middle of a summer drought, the waterfall was but a trickle, but the plunge pool
was still full of water. In all, this waterfall is pretty typical of most waterfalls in southwest Ohio.
For the next several hundred yards the trail follows the creek through a mature floodplain
forest containing some decent-sized sycamores. The creek is on your right and the hillside only
feet away on your left. Post 11 on your guide marks a large buckeye tree, which can be
distinguished because its leaves occur in groups of five.
Upon reaching the entrance road, the trail makes a sharp left turn and ascends out of the
floodplain for the only major climb of the hike. At the top of the hill, the shortcut trail enters from
the left. The trail next crosses another long wooden bridge and meanders through some young
forest before coming out into a white pine planting. White pines can be distinguished by their
needles, which always grow in clusters of five. You can tell that the pines have been planted by
man because they are arranged in a perfect row and column configuration. From the end of the
pine forest, only about 100 feet remain to return you to the parking area and complete your hike.
Hike #6 Miami University, Middletown
Trail: MUM Nature Trail
Nearest City: Middletown, Ohio
Length: about 2 miles
Overview: A moderate course through beautiful, mesophytic forest.
Directions to the trailhead: Take 1-75 exit 32 onto SR 122 and go west on SR 122. Take SR 122 a
little over 2 miles to Briel Blvd. and turn right onto Briel Blvd. Take Briel Blvd. north 1.3 miles to
the entrance to the Miami University Middletown campus and turn left to enter the campus. Park
in the first parking lot on the left. There is a brown sign that says "MUM Nature Trail" at the
The hike: Miami University, Middletown (MUM) is an offshoot of Miami's main campus in
Oxford, some 20 miles west, and like its parent in Oxford, maintains a network of well-designed
and maintained trails along the perimeter of its campus. Outside the university students and
faculty, these trails, open to the public, are little-known and seldom-used. This is a shame because,
given this trail's location in the bustling city of Middletown, a walk through this forest yields a
good deal of solitude and offers pleasant scenery any time of the year.
The trail begins at an information kiosk (which was empty when I was there) on the very
northeast side of the parking lot. Heading east, the trail immediately enters a mesophytic forest
dominated by oak and begins ascending moderately toward Briel Blvd. The understory in this part
of the forest is sparse, with only an occasional honeysuckle bush. The trail approaches, but never
reaches, a wire fence marking the boundary of the preserve before making a sweeping 180-degree
Now winding westward through the best forest on the trail, the trail crosses several shallow
drainages, each with the aid of a wooden bridge, before coming to the edge of a larger ravine. The
trail drops into the ravine using a single switchback, crosses the creek, then ascends the opposite
bank rather steeply. Note that the parking lot can be accessed from this point on the trail, allowing
one to short-circuit this hike if desired.
Once the hill is ascended, the composition of the forest changes considerably. This section
is much younger than the part you just departed and consists primarily of maple and ash.
Furthermore, the understory contains a dense covering of honeysuckle. The trail shortly reaches a
bare spot on top of a hill which contains some concrete and steel pillars, possibly foundation
supports from an old building.
From this point, trail conditions deteriorate somewhat. The trail descending the hill takes a
direct route rather than the winding and switchbacks that were utilized earlier. As a result, the
grade is steeper, and trail erosion has become a problem. This problem could be eliminated with
the devices suggested above or by installing a few waterbars. About half-way down the long hill,
cross a blacktop maintenance road that leads to the gymnasium. At the bottom of the hill, the trail
comes out beside some tennis courts on the western side of campus.
Angle to the right to intersect a blacktop road. Although the trail does continue across the
road by ascending some stone steps, this part of the trail was closed due to a building under
construction when I hiked this trail. The trail eventually ends on the main road on campus near
Verity Lodge. For this hike, turn right on the blacktop road andfollow it through a vehicle gate
back to the parking lot to finish the hike.
Hike #7 Dudley Woods
Nearest city: Monroe, Ohio
Length: 1.1 miles
Overview: A splendid, easy stroll, first through second growth forest, then along the banks of
Park Information: http://www.butlercountymetroparks.org/index.cfm?page=dudleyWoods
Directions to the trailhead: From Monroe, go west on SR 63 to Salzman Rd. which is reached just
after passing under a railroad bridge. Turn left on Saizman Rd. Follow Salzman Rd. south to its
end at Hankins Rd. and turn right on Hankins Rd. Dudley Woods is located on the left side of
Hankins Rd. about 1000 feet before Hankins Rd. ends at Lesourdsville-West Chester Rd. Park in
the only parking lot.
The hike: Opened in 1998, Dudley Woods is one of the newer parks in the Butler County
Metroparks system. The land had been donated by the Dudley's (who still live on adjacent land)
several years ago, but money was not found to develop the premeses until just recently. The park
is maintained jointly by Butler County Metroparks and Liberty Township.
Adjacent to the parking lot are, from right-to-left, a picnic shelter, an information kiosk,
and newly-constructed restrooms. Before beginning the hike, pause at the information kiosk,
which gives an over-simplified map of the trail and some information about facilities in Butler
County Metroparks. I had a difficult time finding this information from other sources. The park
district has hiking trails scattered throughout the county, but due to a lack of marketing and
publicity, relatively few people know where to find them. Thus, these trails can provide a nice
degree of solitude in a rather urban county.
The woods are accessed by a single 1.1 mile loop trail. This trail begins as a blacktop path
behind the restrooms. Where the blacktop ends, look to the right for a well-placed bench alongside
Gregory Creek. It provides a nice place to sit and simply watch the creek peacefully flow by. The
trail, now dirt, continues straight, following the steep east bank of Gregory Creek for a short
distance, then gently turning left to leave the creek bank. When the trail forks shortly, take the left
trail to hike the loop clockwise as I did, and use the right one as the return route. Ignore another
trail (a short cut) that goes off to the right just a couple hundred feet past the first fork.
The trail begins to wind its way up the ravine of a small stream that flows into Gregory
Creek not far from the first fork in the trail. The forest of the ravine is relatively young forest. The
few older and larger trees that are scattered in are mostly maple and sycamore. The trail
eventually turns left and climbs to the north rim of the ravine, where a bench awaits the hiker.
Only a couple hundred feet later, the trail takes a right and drops back into the ravine. The
trail crosses the stream without the aid of the bridge (the water is only 1 inch deep) and then climbs
the south side of the ravine to reach another bench. From this point, the trail meanders away from
the ravine, crosses a couple of small streams, and begins to slowly descend toward Gregory Creek.
The larger trees have been left behind in the ravine. Honeysuckle, hedgeapples, and field
grass are the dominant species here. This section of the trail is rather undefined and can be very
difficult to follow, so watch your steps carefully to prevent becoming lost. The trail soon reaches a
field that is early in the process of reverting to its previous forested state. Gregory Creek and a
farmhouse are visible to the right.
At the southern edge of the preserve, the trail makes a sharp right turn and begins following
Gregory Creek as it makes its way towards the Great Miami River. When I walked this section of
the trail, I scared off some Canadian geese and some mallards that were enjoying the cool, shallow
waters of the creek. The area along the creek is dominated by field grass with some thistle.
After following the creek for several hundred feet, the trail takes a right turn away from the
creek and crosses the small stream from the ravine just before closing the loop. When I hiked this
trail in February of 1999, this was a wet crossing complicated by a steep bank. I got my shoes
covered in mud when trying to cross the stream. A wooden bridge was under construction when I
was there, and I suspect it will be ready for use in a short period of time. Once across the stream, a
left turn and a short hike will return you to your car.
Chapter Two: Warren and Clinton Counties
SR 73 I-71
non SR 350
Located northeast of Cincinnati, Warren and Clinton Counties have very little in common
except location and a border. Most famous for the Golden Lamb Inn, the historic city of Lebanon
serves as the county seat for Warren County. Lebanon is also the northern terminus of the Turtle
Creek Scenic Railway, one of two restored scenic railroads that operate in greater Cincinnati. A
stop in Lebanon combined with a trip to Trader’s World in Monroe to the west or Waynesville, a
local antiques capital to the north, will fill out a day already half-full with hiking.
Whereas much of Warren County is developed with retail and industrial outlets,
neighboring Clinton County largely retains its rural character. Wilmington serves as the county
seat of Clinton County, and Wilmington is most famous for Wilmington College, which used to
serve as the training camp for the Cincinnati Bengals. Wilmington is also a popular stop-over
about halfway between Cincinnati and Columbus.
Warren and Clinton Counties lie on the eastern edge of the Till Plains, so most of these
counties are very flat. The only major exception lies around the Little Miami River which has cut
a deep gorge into the landscape. I-71 uses the highest interstate bridge in Ohio to cross this chasm.
Views of this bridge can be seen from either rest area just south of the river crossing. The Little
Miami runs south through the center of Warren County, draining all but the northwestern portion
of the county. This area drains west into the Great Miami. The western two-thirds of Clinton
County also flows into the Little Miami River, whereas the eastern third drains into Paint Creek
and ultimately into the Scioto River.
Neither Warren nor Clinton Counties have developed county park systems, so hiking
opportunities are somewhat limited. The one major exception to this statement is the area
immediately surrounding the Little Miami River in Warren County. In fact, most of the hikes in
this chapter lie within a couple miles of the river. Of particular note is the Caesar Creek area,
located between Waynesville and I-71. Caesar Creek State Park, the largest state land in these
counties, surrounds Caesar Creek Lake, a popular destination for boaters on sunny summer
weekends. Downstream from the Caesar Creek area lies Fort Ancient, a nationally famous Indian
Although not fully described here, one other trail of note is the Little Miami Scenic Bike
Path, also known as Little Miami State Park. This trail is a paved bike path that begins in Milford
in the south and follows the Little Miami north to Springfield in the north, passing through Warren
County for much of that distance. Since bike paths do not make for good nature hiking, this trail is
of greatest interest to bikers. However, I have had plenty of enjoyable hikes along this bike path,
especially during the colder months when the low sun angle causes dirt trails to become mud due
to lack of evaporation. When you get cabin fever in late winter, a walk along this bike path can be
exactly what the doctor ordered.
Hike #8 Fort Ancient State Memorial
Trails: Stone Circle, Earthworks, and Terrace Trails
Location: Fort Ancient State Memorial
Nearest City: Lebanon, Ohio
Length: 2.5 miles
Overview: A fairly easy hike, only steep in a couple of places, past the burial mounds at Fort
Park Information: http://ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/places/sw04/index.shtml#info
Directions to the trailhead: Take I-71 to exit 36 (Wilmington Road). Exit, go east on Wilmington
Road, and almost immediately turn right onto Middleton Rd. Take Middleton Rd. 2 miles to SR
350 and turn right on SR 350. Take SR 350 1 mile to Fort Ancient’s entrance on the left. Turn left
to enter the memorial. Pay the entrance fee and immediately turn left onto a park road that leads to
the visitor center. Park in the blacktop parking lot just beyond the visitor center.
The hike: A trip to Fort Ancient is like taking an archeology class in college, for nowhere else in
greater Cincinnati will you find the rich human history that is to be found on this site. The
ceremonial burial mounds were actually constructed in two parts. The north fort, the larger part
that now contains the visitor center, was built between 100 B.C. and 500A.D. by the Hopewell
Indians. The south fort, which now contains picnic areas and hiking trails, was built much later,
around 1200 A.D. by a culture called the Fort Ancient culture because little else is known about
them. The name fort comes from the fact that the earthworks form a very rough circle enclosing
an area much like a military fort does. For this reason, early archeologists called the earthworks
“forts,” and the name has stuck.
When the Ohio River valley was settled by European civilizations, this site was not
immediately recognized as a site of significance. In the late 1700’s, the Lebanon Chillicothe Road
cut through the north fort, as builders needed to take one of the few easy access routes to the Little
Miami River. The road still exists today as SR 350, meaning that you drove through this original
disruption on your way in. In 1891, the Ohio legislature voted to preserve the site, making Fort
Ancient the first state land set aside for public enjoyment. Later, management responsibility was
transferred to the Ohio Historical Society, who still manages the land and operates the museum
today. Fort Ancient has also been declared a National Historic Landmark.
A visit to Fort Ancient should start with a walk through the museum. Due to state budget
cuts, the museum’s hours are very limited, so plan a weekend visit to make sure the museum is
open. Inside the museum you will find dioramas depicting the cultures that have lived here.
Outside you will find a garden where, in season, many plants and vegetables cultivated by Indians
can be seen to grow.
When you are done exploring the museum, head back toward the parking lot and pick up
the Stone Circle Trail, which enters the woods to the right near a mound layered with stones. The
narrow dirt trail crosses a mown maintenance pathway and continues south, heading slightly
downhill. Just before reaching the southern-most earthwork of the north fort, the trail crosses a
bridge and turns right. In only 0.25 miles, the trail comes back out into a clearing behind the
museum. This marks the end of the Stone Circle Trail.
The best trails at Fort Ancient run through the south fort, and to get there you have two
options. For the hiking purist, turn left from the end of the Stone Circle Trail and walk south along
the park road. All along the road walk you can see the earthworks on either side of the road. Just
before reaching the trailhead for the Earthworks Trail you will pass through a narrow section of
road guarded either side by the northern wall of South Fort. This is called the Gateway, and it
represents an enlargement of an original opening to the South Fort. The Earthworks Trailhead is
located on the right just after passing through the Gateway. For those wishing to avoid road walks,
you can also drive along this same road and park near the picnic area in the South Fort, picking up
the Earthworks Trailhead after parking your car.
However you get there, go to a small sign on the west side of the road that indicates the
beginning of the Earthworks Trail, and pick up a brochure if they are available. The Earthworks
Trail heads west through young, disturbed forest with a steep ravine on the right and the park road
only a few feet to the left. After 0.25 miles, come to a picnic table where the road ends at a small
parking lot. The Earthworks Trail turns left, but you should follow a gravel trail to the right that
leads to a scenic overlook of the Little Miami River. This overlook, built in the 1930’s by the
CCC, gives you a nice view of the I-71 bridge over the Little Miami, the tallest interstate highway
bridge in Ohio. Also, since the Little Miami River valley is populated mostly with maple and
beech trees, the fall colors in mid-to-late October are excellent from this overlook as well.
After you have admired this view, you again have two options. The easy option involves
turning left and continuing along the Earthworks Trail, which traverses young forest atop inside
the south fort. The route described here will give you a different view, a view from below the
South Fort. The cost is a couple of steep sections of trail, so take the easier route if your health and
conditioning requires it.
From the North Overlook, begin following the Terrace Trail, which leaves from the right
side of the overlook and descends steeply. After 0.1 miles, the trail levels off as the Connector
Trail exits to the right. As its name suggests, this trail continues downhill and connects with the
Little Miami Scenic Bike Path. The Little Miami Bike Path is a paved trail that follows an
abandoned railroad grade for 65 miles along the Little Miami River. The path begins in Milford
and ends in Springfield, Ohio, a city east of Dayton. While bike paths usually do not make for
great hiking, some sections of this one are an exception. I have hiked several sections of this bike
path, particularly when the ground is too wet to make hiking nature trails comfortable. My
favorite places to begin are SR 350, just 1.5 miles west of Fort Ancient, and Spring Valley, which
is north of Waynesville on US 42.
Continue straight to follow the Terrace Trail, which proceeds at a mostly level contour 65
feet below the fort. The earthworks are still visible through the trees uphill and to the left. This
vantage point gives you an idea of how the fort might have appeared to explorers and pioneers
before roads were built. After crossing a pair of bridges over small streams, the trail climbs
steeply to regain the elevation of the fort. One final bridge over the fort itself at a point called The
Pass returns you to the Earthworks Trail.
Turn right to continue along the Earthworks Trail. After dipping to pass through a steep
ravine, the trail continues along the southern boundary of the fort and soon comes to a clearing.
The trail curves right and follows the right edge of the clearing before arriving at spur trail to the
South Overlook. You should take this short trail, which very shortly arrives at another stone
overlook of the Little Miami River valley. This overlook does not feature the I-71 bridge, but
rather gives you an idea of what the area might have looked like back when Indians looked out
from the fort.
Retrace your steps to the Earthworks Trail and walk across a mown-grass field to arrive at
the picnic area parking lot. If you chose to drive down from the Visitor Center, this will complete
your hike. Otherwise, retrace your steps along the park road, again making sure to walk on the left
side against traffic, to return you to the Visitor Center and complete your journey through this
Hike #9 Little Miami State Park
Little Miami River
Trail: Little Miami Scenic Trail
City: Lebanon, Ohio
Overview: An easy hike along a bike path parallel to the Little Miami Scenic River.
Park Information: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/tabid/756/Default.aspx
Directions to the trailhead: Take I-71 to SR 123 (exit 29). Exit and go east on SR 123. Almost
immediately, turn left onto SR 350. 2 miles later, descend steeply and cross the Little Miami
River. Park in one of the gravel state park parking areas, one on either side of the road, located
across the river but before reaching the bike path itself.
The hike: Hiking along a flat strip of pavement shared with bicycles with few sites to see other
than the natural surroundings is not everyone’s idea of the perfect hike. True, this hike does not
fall exactly under the category of a nature hike. But as I was putting together hikes for this work, I
remembered the many pleasant walks I had along this bike path, especially in the colder months
when other dirt trails are too muddy for comfortable hiking. Save this hike for late winter when
you get a strong case of cabin fever but the weather does not yet permit a more ideal activity.
The Little Miami Scenic Trail is a former railroad line that runs for 67 miles, starting in
Milford in the south and ending in Springfield (east of Dayton) in the north. The trail is paved its
entire length, and if you go on a nice weekend, you will share the path with plenty of bicycle
riders. I set a goal for myself of hiking the entire bike path, with most of my headway coming in
the colder months. As of this writing, I am only 1/3 of the way to that goal. The trail cuts path
diagonally across Warren County from southwest to northeast, and this section of trail contains
some of the more scenic sections. There are many access points, but I chose the section around SR
350 because you can reach interesting destinations in rather short order in either direction.
To the left (north), the trail curves gently right through a brushy area with the river in view
on the left and the hillside going up on the right. In 0.5 miles, notice the 28 painted on the
blacktop, marking the 28th mile of the trail. Mile marker 0 lies in Milford with numbers increasing
as you go north.
In just over 1 mile, the trail rounds a gentle bend, and the I-71 bridge over the Little Miami
River comes into sight. Only by canoe or by this bike path will you ever see this bridge from this
perspective. The blue pillars stretch to the ground from the concrete bridge some 200 feet above.
You can also see some steel walkways attached to the bottom of the bridge that are used to inspect
and maintain the bridge. If you continue north for another 1.5 miles, you will come to the village
of Oregonia, a small town that contains one family-owned restaurant. Note that the last segment
prior to reaching Oregonia also parallels Wilmington Rd. on the right, so you can decide where
you want to turn around based on what kind of scenery suits your taste.
Back at SR 350, turning right and heading south will take you along the base of Fort
Ancient, which rises abruptly to the left. There are no roads, homes, or other development in this
section, so wildlife viewing can be undertaken with some success here. The trail to Fort Ancient
itself (see hike #8) departs left at a signed intersection and climbs to the fort. During the leafless
months, the north overlook from the fort can be seen uphill to the left. Again, proceed as far south
as you like, or feel like turning around. In just over 2 miles, the path crosses Strout Road at a
canoe campground that also has a public concession stand. In just under 5 miles, the path arrives
in Morrow, which has a wide assortment of restaurant and an interesting old steel railroad bridge
that is now used by the path. No matter which way you go, remember that you will have to retrace
your steps to SR 350, so leave some energy in the tank for the return trip so you can complete the
Hike #10 Caesar Creek Lake Park
Road Flat Fork Ridge
Trail: Gorge and Flat Fork Ridge trails
City: Waynesville, Ohio
Length: about 2.5 miles
Overview: A moderate hike through the Caesar Creek Gorge just below Caesar Creek dam.
Park Information: http://corpslakes.usace.army.mil/visitors/projects.cfm?Id=H202350
Directions to the trailhead: From Waynesville, take SR 73 east a short distance to Clarksville
Road. There is a brown sign that says "Caesar Creek Visitor Center" at this intersection. Turn
right on Clarksville. Just past the Visitor Center and before the dam, there is a paved road that goes
off to the right and leads into the gorge. Turn right at this road and park in the parking lot at the
end of the road.
The hike: Caesar Creek Lake is a long, narrow lake formed by an Army Corps of Engineers dam
of Caesar Creek just above where it flows into the Little Miami River. This park and nearby
Caesar Creek State Park were created along the lake's shores for purposes of recreation. Just
below the dam, the creek flows through a tree-covered gorge, which is the focus of this hike.
From the parking lot, cross an old wooden and steel bridge to where the Gorge Trail begins
its loop. The trail is a little easier to walk clockwise, so turn left on the Gorge Trail, which is
marked with blue blazes. The trail at this point follows an old graveled roadbed and begins a long,
moderate climb to the rim of the gorge. Shortly after the crest of the hill, the gorge trail turns to
the right and becomes a dirt path. Do not take it yet, but continue ahead for a few yards to where
the trail, still marked in blue blazes, leaves the road and turns left, now with a field on the right and
woods on the left. This is the connection to the Flat Fork Ridge Trail. Note that taking the Gorge
Trail here would reduce the hike to one mile in length.
After a couple hundred feet, the trail climbs an embankment to Clarksville Rd. Turn left on
the road and follow it a short distance to the Flat Fork Ridge Picnic Area on the right, a paved road
marked by a brown sign. Go a few hundred feet down the road and find an information board on
the left. Restrooms are at this location as well. Behind the restrooms, a gravel trail marked with
yellow blazes enters the rather mature forest; this is the Flat Fork Ridge Trail.
Follow this trail as it first leads downhill to the upper side of the dam creating Caesar Creek
Lake, then turns right and comes to a wooden platform overlooking the lake. The construction of
this overlook is interesting, as holes have been created in the floor of the overlook to allow existing
trees to continue to grow through the platform. Continuing on the trail, the trail goes uphill
moderately past some picnic tables, then turns left as a paved trail continues straight ahead to the
parking lot. In about 100 feet, the trail connects with a longer, linear trail, also marked with
yellow blazes, and heads east along the hillside above the lake.
In a couple hundred yards, the trail comes out of the woods into the field that constitutes
the spillway to the dam. The Flat Fork Ridge Trail ends here as the longer trail continues across
the spillway and up the eastern side of the lake. Turn around here, and retrace your steps first to
the parking lot, then back to Clarksville Road, and finally back down the embankment, following
the blue blazes back to the Gorge Trail. Recall that this means a left on Clarksville Road, a right
down the embankment, and then another right on the old roadbed.
Once back on the old road walk a few yards to where the Gorge Trail goes off to the left.
This intersection is marked with blue blazes and a brown and yellow sign that says "Gorge Trail 1
mile." Turn left here, and in just a few feet come to a pond on the left that borders a field. This is
a nice place for insect and bullfrog observing. Continuing on the Gorge Trail, the trail follows
along the edge of the field, then enters the woods by meandering to the right. After a short but
very steep uphill hike the trail runs along the edge of the rim, affording nice views, looking straight
down into the gorge. A bench shortly after the major climb allows the hiker to sit and absorb the
The treadway turns to mulch and makes a sweeping left turn along with the gorge rim. A
couple hundred feet later, the trail forks, with the left fork staying on the rim and the right heading
downhill into the gorge. Take the right fork, as the left one leads to the spillway, where you were
on the Flat Fork Ridge Trail a mile ago. The right fork makes a sharp right turn, then descends
into the gorge, using steps to compensate for the steep grade. Caesar Creek is straight ahead, and
there is another smaller creek on the left. When I was here in the dry summer months, this creek
was completely dry, but I suspect from the numerous rocks in and the width of the creek bed that it
would be a different story in the spring.
At the bottom of the hill, the mulch trail intersects the old road bed, which now runs right
beside Caesar Creek. A right turn on the road bed leaves a flat walk along the creek back to the
bridge and the trailhead.
Hike #11 Caesar Creek State Park
Caesar Creek Lake
Trail: Perimeter Trail; Bluebird Trail; Interpretive Loop Trail
Nearest City: Waynesville, Ohio
Length: 5.5 miles
Overview: A moderate hike along the west shore of Caesar Creek Lake.
Park Information: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/tabid/720/Default.aspx
Directions to the trailhead: From Waynesville, take SR 73 east to Clarksville Road. There is a
large brown sign that says "Caesar Creek Lake" here. Turn right on Clarksville Road and follow it
south to where Middletown Road goes off to the right. Immediately across from Middletown
Road, the entrance to the Day Lodge goes off to the left. Turn onto this road and park in the gravel
lot in front of the Day Lodge at the end of the road.
The hike: For my comments on Caesar Creek Lake and the surrounding area, see 1998 hike 8.
Spanning 38 miles, the Perimeter Trail extends along the entire west side of Caesar Creek Lake
and the southern 4.5 miles of the east side. Due to its length, it is impossible to hike the entire trail
in just one day.
The advanced hiker may consider a 13.5 mile loop around the southern end of the lake.
Such a hike would start at the visitor center, proceed north to SR 73, cross the lake on the SR 73
bridge, then head south on the other side of the lake. Crossing the dam at the very southern end of
the lake would conclude the hike. Our hike is suitable for the more average hiker. This hike
covers the southern 2.25 miles of this trail from the Day Lodge south to the Visitor's Center, as
well as a couple of shorter trails near the Visitor's Center.
From the parking lot for the day lodge, start out heading south, back up the entrance road.
Where the road turns right, continue straight, stepping across a yellow cable to block vehicles. The
trail is well-marked with blue and yellow blazes, though they are often not necessary, as the trail is
well-worn and easily followed. The blue blazes confirm that this trail is shared by the Buckeye
Trail, a 1200-mile trail encircling the state of Ohio.
The trail begins descending through a young forest, then dips through a couple of shallow
ravines. It then makes a left turn alongside a rusted barbed-wire fence and enters a long straight
stretch heading for the lake and descending gradually all the time. The fence is a relic from the
days that this land was farmed. Barbed wire fences such as this were used to mark boundaries
between two plots of land.
The trail turns right and begins following an old wagon trail for a short distance, making
the walking easy. Soon, the trail leaves the road for denser forest, and begins meandering along
the hillside before taking a right hand turn and ascending moderately. Shortly, the trail turns left
and emerges at a narrow blacktop road. This road goes off of the entrance road to the Day Lodge
and dead ends at the lake. Before the creek was dammed, this road probably went across the creek
and connected with what is now a picnic shelter access road on the other side. Presently, though,
the road is in disrepair and is overgrown on either side with hedges, leaving just enough room for
hikers to pass.
A blue arrow painted on the pavement tells you to turn left down the hill toward the lake.
A few hundred feet later, the trail reenters the woods on the right side, again cued by a blue arrow.
The trail begins descending, with the lake in view on the left through the trees. After reaching the
bottom of the ravine, the hiking gets a little more rugged, as the trail begins ascending for the first
major climb of the hike.
At the top of the hill, the trail enters what is now a small but thick area of cedars. Look
carefully at this area. All of the cedars are entirely dead except for the very top few branches.
They are being out-competed by the taller deciduous trees. In a couple of decades, the cedars will
be completely gone, replaced by the deciduous forest you have seen up until now.
The trail soon leaves the cedars and returns to the deciduous forest, which is comprised
mostly of maples, with a few beech trees thrown in. This section of forest is made more
interesting by a dense lower layer of paw paw bushes on either side of the trail. Shortly, the trail
turns left and begins descending into a steep ravine using small, wooden steps. At the bottom of
the hill is an old bridge which makes a nice place to rest. We are about half way to the visitor's
The trail climbs the other side of the ravine, again using steps, for the second major climb
of the hike. The trail meanders through the forest for the next several hundred feet, then makes a
left turn along a hogsback, heading straight for the lake. A short, but steep descent takes you to a
clearing that provides a great view of the lake and the dam. The trail does a U-turn at this point
and begins heading up a creek valley following an old wagon trail. The banks of the creek are
sufficiently steep to force the trail upstream in search of a good spot to cross. A few hundred feet
later, the trail finds it, crosses the creek on stepping stones, then does another U-turn and heads
back for the lake.
The trail follows the edge of the lake for awhile, then heads up the bank of a small
tributary. After a moderate climb, the trail comes out of the woods and intersects a wide, grassy
trail. This marks the end of the Perimeter Trail; the intersecting trail is the Bluebird Trail.
Turn right here to take the Bluebird Trail, which is an easy, flat 0.75 mile loop. The trail
splits in only a few yards. I used the right trail as the outward loop, and the left one as the return
trail. The trail meanders mostly through field, but occasionally dips into the edge of the woods.
This is a good trail to watch for deer. After completing this loop, continue straight, dipping
through a small ravine and coming out at a small pond with the visitor's center in sight. Turn left
and skirt the edge of the pond.
On the other side of the pond, intersect the Interpretive Loop Trail, another easy 0.25 mile
trail. This trail features numerous signs and benches and culminates in a terrific overlook of the
lake located behind the visitor's center. After admiring the lake, take a short cut through the
parking lot and begin your journey back to the Day Lodge on the Perimeter Trail. Note that a two
car shuttle, with one car at the visitor's center and another at the Day Lodge, will shorten this hike
to 3.2 miles. You also might be able to cut off some distance by walking up Clarksville Road to
the Day Lodge instead of using the trail.
Hike #12 Caesar Creek Gorge State Nature Preserve
Trail: Caesar's Trace
Nearest City: Lebanon, Ohio
Length: 2.5 miles
Overview: A moderate loop hike through the young forest of Caesar Creek Gorge.
Preserve Information: Caesar_creek
Directions to the trailhead: From Lebanon, go north on US 42 to Old 122, an intersection marked
by a flashing yellow light. Turn right on Old 122. Take Old 122 into the Little Miami River
floodplain and turn right on Middletown Rd. to cross the river on a covered bridge. At the next
intersection, turn right on Corwin Rd. Proceed 0.5 mile to the preserve parking lot on the left.
The hike: Located in northeastern Warren County, Caesar Creek Gorge State Nature Preserve
protects a wild, remote, scenic portion of Caesar Creek. With Caesar Creek Dam and Lake 5 miles
to the east and the Little Miami river just to the west, the preserve is one of the few portions of
Caesar Creek left in its natural state. This portion was a good choice, as it features as the center of
the preserve the 100-foot high limestone cliffs of Caesar Creek Gorge. In addition to the preserve,
visitors may be interested in the Little Miami Bike Path, a 50-mile paved bike trail extending from
Milford in the south to Xenia in the north.
The trail begins as a wide grassy path in a small meadow at the far side of the parking lot,
soon to enter the young forest, the trail soon intersects an old roadbed, where a white arrow on a
brown post directs you to turn right. Caesar's Trace is supposedly named for a black slave named
Cizar taken captive by the Shawnee Indians. In 1776, when pioneer Simon Kenton was planning
his escape from Shawnee captivity, Cizar advised Simon that following "his creek" to the Little
Miami River was the best route to avoid detection. Simon's escape was successful, the creek
became known as Caesar's Creek, and the trail Simon used became known as Caesar's Trace.
The wide trail heads uphill through forest dominated by oak with a few beech and an
occasional red cedar. About half way up the hill, another post directs you to turn left onto a
narrow dirt trail. This intersection forms the loop portion of the hike, and I suggest turning left to
follow the arrows so that the course is marked. The trail drops steeply to lose the elevation you
just gained and return to the floodplain. This part of the trail is extremely narrow, so I recommend
pants for this hike. Also, butterflies and other insects are very plentiful throughout the warmer
After crossing a short wooden bridge, the trail continues through floodplain forest as the
creek can be heard from the left. A few sycamores, black walnuts, and ash are mixed into the
forest composition with a dense understory of paw paw, garlic mustard, poison ivy, and solomons
seal. The rippling creek soon becomes visible on the left as a few short side trails lead to the
Soon after reaching the creek, the off-white limestone cliffs come into view on the opposite
side of the creek. This is a good point to describe the formation of the gorge. The creek valley
underwent drastic changes in the last ice age. Caesar Creek used to flow east into the ancient
Teays River. As the ice from the last ice age began to melt from south to north, water began
backing up, held back by rock and ice. Once a weakness was found, massive amounts of water
began pouring through the gap causing large amounts of erosion. One of those gaps formed the
gorge we see today. Furthermore, the melted ice flowing into the Little Miami River reversed the
course of the creek to the westward one of the present day.
Past the bedrock exposure, the trail turns away from the creek and passes an osage orange
tree, an indicator of the land's past use by humans. Next, the trail climbs 6 wooden steps to
intersect an old road and turns right to begin climbing on a broad path out of the gorge. At first the
climb is gentle, but it soon steepens on a rocky, eroded course.
Once atop the hill, the trail surface turns to grass as it comes out into a sunny meadow
intermingled with red cedar trees. This land is in the very early stages of succession from
farmland to mature forest; it was probably being farmed less than 30 years ago. The trail soon
intersects a low voltage power line swath and turns gently right to follow it. After 750 feet of
following the powerline, the trail turns left and begins descending toward the trailhead, back in the
forest. Soon passing the outward portion of the loop, the trail continues downhill to arrive at the
parking lot and complete the hike.
Hike #13 Spring Valley Wildlife Area
Nearest City: Waynesville, Ohio
Length: 2 miles
Overview: A flat loop hike offering outstanding wildlife viewing opportunities.
Park Map: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/portals/9/pdf/pub032.pdf
Directions to the trailhead: From the traffic light in Waynesville, go north on US 42 for 5.5 miles
to Roxanna-New Burlington Road. Turn right and go 1.5 miles to Township Rd. 238. There is a
sign for the Frontier Campground at this intersection. Turn right again and follow this road past
the campground until it deadends at a large blacktop parking lot in the wildlife area. Park here.
The hike: Tucked away in the very northeastern corner of Warren County, the trails at the Spring
Valley Wildlife area offer an experience different from others in the area. The land is under the
jurisdiction of the Ohio Division of Wildlife. This agency has as its top priority the management
of wildlife and its habitats. This includes supervising hunting and fishing activities on its grounds.
Other agencies have goals of conservation and recreation. The land itself is not particularly
attractive. It is flat, contains no mature forest, and some 70% of the area inside the loop is
submerged throughout the year. Yet, the water, cattail marsh, and small trees make for ideal
nesting and therefore attract all types of birds. The combination of jurisdiction, water, and
elevated observation platform make Spring Valley Wildlife Area one of the best places for wildlife
viewing in Greater Cincinnati.
There are no marked trails through the area, but a set of wide two-track dirt paths provide
access to the marsh area. The main 2 mile path described here encircles the lake with several paths
leading away from the lake to various parking areas. To follow the main path counterclockwise,
simply stay left at every intersection. Insect repellent is a good idea in the warmer months. As I
mentioned above, the area is open to hunting. If you are hiking in the fall or winter, wear bright
orange or red clothing to help avoid accidents. Above all things, do not hurry. Getting the most
out of wildlife viewing requires careful observation. If nothing appears to be around, just wait for
a few minutes. Look for any rustle or movement and listen for any sound. A cattail moving could
just be the wind, or it could indicate the presence of a hidden bird, frog, turtle, insect, or duck.
The trail heads into the forest on the right (east) side of the parking lot with the lake on
your left. Step under a rope designed to keep vehicles off of the trail and proceed north on the
wide dirt path. The forest is a mixture of young oak, ash, a few sycamores, and an occasional
maple. A dense understory of the alien bush honeysuckle is ever present along the trail. The deep
southern end of the lake is a favorite of ducks and geese such as mallards, wood ducks, grebes, and
Canadian Geese. The Canadian goose had nearly disappeared from Ohio in the mid 1980's when a
ban on hunting them was put in place. The goose has made an astounding comeback since then.
At present, they can be found in droves throughout the state.
Stop at a duck blind on the left to view some of these waterfowl. Some benches along the
trail provide respite on a warm, sunny, summer day. As the trail reaches the shallow, cattail
covered, north end of the lake it angles to the right to top a small rise and intersect a side trail
leading right to a parking area along Township Road #238. Stay left and immediately descend
back to the lake and another intersection. We will eventually take the trail to the right around the
north end of the lake, but for now continue straight. This path heads out into the marsh, first on a
earthen dike, then on a sturdy boardwalk. Watch the cattails for any rustle that could identify a
bird, duck, or frog. The boardwalk ends by climbing steps to an elevated platform that overlooks
the entire area. Binoculars are handy here, as they will allow you to view waterfowl and other
birds that could be flying over the water hundreds of yards away.
Back on the boardwalk, observe the water around the pussywillows, cattails and green
algae for tadpoles seeing their first sunlight in the spring. Back at the intersection, turn left and
head around the north end of the marsh. Bypass another side trail that goes right and cross one of
the main feeder streams for the marsh. Now out of the forest, the trail is elevated about one foot
over marsh bordering closely on either side.
Angling left again, the trail heads south to begin the long journey back down the west side
of the lake. Do not be surprised to share the trail with geese, as I did one afternoon. Still out of
the forest and with the lake bordering the trail on the left, pass a short side trail leading to the Little
Miami Scenic Trail. This 50-mile paved bike path follows the former route of the Penn Central
Railroad. This corridor along the Little Miami River became one of the state's major Rails-to
Trails project in the early and mid 1990's. All along the west side of the lake the results of their
efforts can be seen across the marsh to the right of our trail. Round the southern end of the lake,
pass a popular fishing spot, and go through a metal turnstile to return to the parking lot and close
Hike #14 Cowen Lake State Park
Cowan Lake Bench
Trails: Oldfield and Lotus Cove Trails
Nearest City: Wilmington, Ohio
Distance: 1.5 miles
Overview: Two easy trails featuring one of the largest collections of water lilies in Ohio.
Park Information: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/tabid/722/Default.aspx
Directions to the Trailhead: From Wilmington, take US 68 south about 3 miles to McGuinn Road.
Turn right on McGuinn Road and go a very short distance to Dalton Road. Turn left on Dalton
Road. Take Dalton Road about 1.6 miles to where the road makes a sharp right hand turn. Take a
soft left onto the park entrance road and go a short distance to the blacktop parking lot on the left.
The hike: After several hundred years of occupation by the Miami and Shawnee Indians, the land
that currently makes up Cowen Lake State Park vas settled in 1797 by farmer William Smalley, a
veteran of the Indian Wars. Some 150 years later, the land fell into state hands, and a dam was
constructed across Cowan Creek to form the lake we see today.
In 1968, the land became a state park. The park is named after John Cowan, the first
surveyor in the area. Today, located in rural southern Clinton County, the park is most famous for
the huge colonies of American lotus (water lily) flowers that reside in the shallow east end of the
lake. Come between July and September to see the peak of the lotus' blooming season.
Despite the awe-inspiring display of lilies, the park is not heavily visited due to its location.
Thus, the 5.6 miles of well-marked trails this park provides an excellent destination for the
experienced or novice hiker.
The hike described here on the north side of the lake is one of the more popular in the park,
as it contains the aforementioned lotus colony. The trails form the figure-eight formation, with the
shared parking lot as the pinch. The 0.8 mile Oldfield Trail starts across the road, while the 0.7
mile Lotus Cove Trail starts at a large wooden sign downhill to the right of the parking lot. The
trails can be hiked individually, but can easily be combined to form this 1.5 mile hike.
To save the best for last, start with the Oldfield Trail, which begins beyond a gate across
the road from the parking lot. This trail is marked with an occasional green hiker symbol painted
on small metal circles. The narrow dirt trail enters the forest and quickly comes to a fork. I
usually hike this trail counter-clockwise by turning right at this split and using the left trail as the
The trail going right stays in the second-growth forest and dips through a steep-sided
ravine. On the other side of the ravine, the trail passes an old wire fencerow and enters the old
field for which this trail is named. The trail here changes to grass and passes through a pair of
intersections. Stay left at each one. This portion of the trail is bordered on the right by the field
and on the left by the forest.
After passing a couple of tulip poplars, the trail comes to a confusing intersection with a
long wooden bridge going left. There are no markers to indicate that the trail goes left across the
bridge as opposed to straight or right on some "wild" trails. Back in the forest, the trail climbs
slightly and angles left to close the loop. Follow a sign that directs the hiker to the right to arrive
at the Lotus Cove Trail. This turn will return you to the parking lot where your car is parked, thus
completing the first of the two loop trails on this hike.
Next, enter the Lotus Cove Trail, which begins beside a large wooden sign just to the right
of the parking lot. This trail is marked with an occasional yellow arrow on small wooden posts.
The trail begins as a wide mulch path and gradually descends toward the lake. The forest is mostly
young second-growth hardwoods with some maple, oak, beech, walnut, and poplar with an
occasional dying red cedar and juniper.
While meandering toward the lake, the hiker gets a nice view of a cattail marsh in a small
inlet of the lake on the right. After crossing a narrow wooden bridge, the trail narrows a bit before
coming to a split that forms the loop portion of the trail. For no particular reason, I turn right here
and use the left trail as the comeback portion of the loop.
Turning to the right, the trail climbs slightly through a more mature forest to reach a bluff
overlooking the lake. After circling to the left, the trail comes to a wooden staircase that descends
to the lake on the right. Do not take it, as it leads to an abandoned pier. Instead, continue straight
and soon arrive at another trail that goes off at a sharp angle to the left. Turn left here and descend
to a bench perched beside the lake.
From July through September, the view from the pier is simply awe-inspiring. Large,
white lotus flowers sit about two feet above the water and cover the lake all around you from one
bank to the other on all four sides. I have not seen any lotus colony near the size of this one
anywhere. This is truly one of the great natural attractions in greater Cincinnati.
When you are done viewing the lotus, climb back to the main trail and continue the loop.
The trail soon takes a sharp left turn for a view of the creek valley forest, which contains some
sycamore and black walnut trees. After completing the loop, stay to the right and retrace your
steps uphill to the parking lot to complete this hike.
Chapter Three: Clermont County
Located directly east of Cincinnati, Clermont County is not the first county to come to
mind when you think of tourism and development. In fact, much of western Clermont County near
I-275 has been developed into residential areas. Only Eastgate Mall and the surrounding retail
area located at I-275 and SR 32 attract large numbers of visitors from outside the county. In fact,
most of the rest of the county is dotted with small towns, usually only a couple of miles apart. For
those visitors that venture beyond the interstate, towns such as Batavia, Williamsburg, New
Richmond, and Goshen lie in wait for the finding and exploration.
Perhaps the richest natural resource in Clermont County is water. The Ohio River borders
the south side of the county, offering recreational opportunities and scenery galore. The Ohio
River State Scenic By-way, better known as US 52 in this part of the state, travels through the very
southern edge of the county. The Little Miami National Scenic River borders the northwest corner
of the county and carries with it the southern terminus of the Little Miami Bike Trail described in
the previous chapter. The East Fork of the Little Miami River was dammed to form Harsha Lake,
the centerpiece of East Fork State Park, located in the center of the county.
Offering two of the very few backpacking trails in greater Cincinnati, East Fork State Park
is clearly the crown jewel of Clermont County hiking. Two other state parks, Little Miami in the
northwest and Stonelick in the northeast, offer more limited but still enjoyable hiking
opportunities. Clermont County does maintain a system of county parks, and the most enjoyable
hiking in this system can be found at Crooked Run, which offers a rare hike right along the Ohio
River. Clermont County is also the home of the unique (in Greater Cincinnati) Cincinnati Nature
Center, a not-for-profit organization that offers many miles of well-maintained trails accessible for
a small fee. Though the hiking opportunities in Clermont County are limited in number, those that
do exist will provide a great walk with nice scenery.
Hike #15 Cincinnati Nature Center: Rowe Woods
Trails: Edge, Geology, and Fox Rock Trails
Nearest City: Batavia, Ohio
Length: 2 miles
Overview: A wonderful, moderate short hike featuring a lake, a rock outcropping, and two
Park Information: http://www.cincynature.org/rowe.asp
Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Cincinnati, take I-275 to exit 63B, which goes onto
SR 32 east. Take SR 32 east for 1.2 miles to Glen Este-Withamsville Road (the first traffic light)
and turn left. Follow this road north 0.4 miles to Old SR 74 and turn right. Take Old SR 74 east
for 0.25 miles and turn left onto Tealtown Rd. The Cincinnati Nature Center is about 3 miles
ahead on Tealtown Rd. on the left. A large "Rowe Woods" sign marks the entrance. Pay the small
parking fee and proceed to the main parking lot in front of the interpretive building, where our hike
will begin. A second gravel parking area is available to the right of the main parking area, should
the main area be full.
The hike: The Cincinnati Nature Center is one of a few private organizations in greater Cincinnati
dedicated to preserving the natural environment. Founded in 1967, the Center operates three sites,
this nature preserve and two working farms where visitors can become farmers for a day. One can
purchase an annual membership to the Center, but this is moderately expensive.
The nature preserve (named Rowe Woods after Mr. Stanley M. Rowe, a major benefactor
of the Center) features 14.5 miles of well-marked and maintained trails over a diverse 790 acres of
forest, creeks, hills, meadows, and ponds. The Lookout Trail alone (not described here) will take
you past each of these ecosystems. Before you begin, be sure to stop in the Rowe Interpretive
Center, which houses exhibits on the local flora and fauna, a gift shop featuring a good selection of
books, and a large picture window for bird watching.
The route that described here is one of the most scenic short hikes in greater Cincinnati.
There is more to see in these 2 miles than on most trails twice as long. This route is beautiful all
year long, but it is especially nice during the wet season when its two waterfalls are in top form.
Avey's Run is a small stream, and I suspect that the waterfalls dry up during a summer drought.
Be sure to wear some insect repellent, as the deep woods and still water are perfect for mosquito
Walk out the front door of the Rowe Building and turn right onto an alternating gravel and
dirt trail. This is the Edge Trail, which is probably named for its route along the edge of Powel
Crosley Lake. Walking through a mature oak forest, the trail soon comes to a newly constructed
bird blind on the left. On the morning I was here, not many animals were choosing to partake of
the delicacies the park managers had offered to lure birds to this spot. Only a couple of cardinals
could be spotted.
Continuing along the trail, cross an arm of the lake on a wooden footbridge and pass a
small meadow on the left before coming to Marsh Pond on the right. A short boardwalk takes you
out into the pond, which was a light brown color when I was there. Not much wildlife appeared to
enjoy this particular habitat either.
The trail next turns to the right and crosses a drainage before coming to marker #3, a trail
intersection. This is indicated on the trail by a snail three-inch concrete cylinder with green and
white numbers. Ignore the trail that goes left here and continue straight, shortly reaching a shelter
house overlooking the lake. There was a couple feeding some bread to four Canadian geese on the
day I was here. Feeding wild animals is generally not a good idea. As animals become used to
receiving handouts from humans, they expect each hiker passing by to give them some food to eat.
This results in a lower ability to survive in the wild and more aggressive behavior around people.
Leaving the lake, the trail descends to cross two small drainages before climbing uphill to
marker #5, the intersection of the Geology and Edge trails. Turn left at marker #5 onto the
Geology Trails which uses some wooden steps to descend steeply into the ravine created by the
East Branch of Avey's Run. The first of the two waterfalls on this branch is located at the very
bottom of this steep descent. This small but pretty waterfall drops about 5 feet from a resistant
limestone overhang onto less resistant limestone.
When you are done looking at the waterfall, continue hiking a short distance on the
Geology Trail to marker #6. This is where the Fax Rock Trail goes off to the left. Turn left here
and cross an old wooden bridge over Avey's Run; we will later close the loop by using the
Geology Trail on the right. The trail next turns right and begins following the south side of the
stream. The stream soon begins to disappear below you on the right as the stream decreases in
elevation while the trail is moderately gaining elevation.
At the top of the hill, the trail reaches marker #33, where the Deep Woods Trail goes off to
the left. Stay to the right at this intersection. The trail now follows the top of the ridge through a
mature maple/beech/ash forest featuring tall, stately trees. As the trail approaches the end of the
ridge, it passes a shelter featuring a nice view of the Avey's Run valley now a couple hundred feet
Just past the shelter, come to a trail intersection with wooden steps descending both to the
right and the left. Turn left here to view Fox Rock, a small limestone outcropping. It is reached
via a steep set of wooden steps and a boardwalk, allowing you a great view from just a couple feet
away from the outcropping. Be careful as you descend the narrow steps. The boardwalk ends at
the end of the outcropping, forcing the hiker to backtrack to the trail intersection mentioned above.
Turn left and descend the other set of wooden steps. This set is longer but less steep than
the first and returns you to Avey's Run. Cross the creek without the aid of the bridge (this may
require some wading during times of high water) and come to an intersection on the edge of a
grassy meadow. The Fox Rock Trail ends at this intersection with the Geology Trail.
Turn right to begin the return portion of this hike. Pass marker #9 and enter the streamside
forest. The streamside forest is dominated by maple and beech trees, and honeysuckle seems to
grow just about everywhere. The trail meanders to the right to follow alongside the creek. After a
couple hundred feet, the trail crosses the creek on stepping stones, only to recross it again in 100
feet. Originally, the trail remained on the north side of Avey's Run, but a landslide in 1974 forced
this short section of the trail to be moved to the opposite bank. Again, during times of very high
water, the stepping stones may be submerged, and some wading may be required.
After passing marker #8, arrive at an old pump house perched on the bank of the stream.
The stone structure, abandoned long ago, has several windows and a door where hikers can peer in
at the stone floor. Still going east along Avey's Run, the trail comes to the other waterfall in the
same creek about 700 feet past the pump house. This is a very unusual waterfall. When the creek
is not very high, the water disappears underneath a limestone bridge for about one foot before
cascading 6 feet over rocks.
Pass marker #7 before coming to marker #6 where the Fox Rock Trail comes in from the
right, thus closing the loop. Retrace your steps up the hill for the last major climb of the hike.
This returns you to the Edge Trail. Turn left, pass a well-placed bench and a wooden pier before
coming to the boardwalk. This boardwalk takes you out into Powel Crosley Lake, which is
frequented by Canadian geese, mallards, wood ducks, and great blue herons. The boardwalk
terminates at the rear of the interpretive building, thus completing the hike.
Hike #16 Stonelick State Park
Trails: Lakeview, Southwoods, and Red Fox Trails
Nearest City: Goshen, Ohio
Length: 3.8 miles
Overview: A fairly easy hike through lowland forest with some nice lake views.
Park Information: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/tabid/789/Default.aspx
Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Cincinnati, take I-275 to SR 28 (exit 57). Exit and
go east. Take SR 28 east 2.5 miles to Woodville Pike, and take a soft right on Woodville Pike.
Take Woodville Pike east 7 miles to SR 727 and turn right on SR 727. Take SR 727 south 1.3
miles to Lake Drive, the park entrance road, on the left. Turn left, enter the park, and drive 0.7
miles to the lakeside picnic area on the left, which is located just after passing the beach access
road. Park in the picnic area parking lot. The trail begins at the far end of the picnic area.
The hike: Stonelick State Park is one of those places that one does not just wander into. Indeed, on
one occasion I had planned to go hiking here, but having left my map at home on a Sunday
afternoon, I was had to rely on road signs to direct me in the right direction. Unfortunately, the
signs I was expecting to exist did not, and my intended destination was forcibly altered.
Two years later, with map in hand this time, I finally drove down the park entrance road.
What I found was a friendly, family-oriented park, remarkable uncrowded given its location in
populous Clermont County. This is the place to go to kill a nice afternoon with no itinerary or
The park is also a nice destination for fossil hunters. The Cincinnati Arch, narrow, uplifted
strip of land that creates a semicircle around the east side of Cincinnati, was created when the
Appalachian Mountains uplifted and passes through the park. Trilobites, brachiopods, and
cephalopods are common finds in the park.
In terms of facilities, the park features a 113-site campground, a 200 acre lake with a single
launch ramp, a public beach located near the trailhead for this hike, and four hiking trails totaling
5.3 miles. The hike described here uses the three trails along the lake in their entirety. The fourth
trail, the 1.5 mile Beech Tree Trail, follows the southern park boundary, exiting our hike just short
of midway, and coming out near the park entrance.
Begin at the far end of the picnic area where the yellow-blazed Lakeview Trail enters the
woods. The trail begins parallel to the lake on the left and some traffic from the park road audible
uphill to the right. This land has been in public hands since the late 1940’s, so there are some
decent sized maple and beech trees in the forest above the lake.
0.25 miles from the trailhead, the trail climbs gently uphill to cross a tributary to Stonelick
Lake right beside the park road before angling left back into the forest. Still walking parallel to the
park road, the trail begins following a ravine on the left that contains another tributary of the lake.
0.5 miles from the start, the Lakeview Trail ends at an intersection with two other trails.
By continuing straight and crossing the park road, one will come to the beginning of the Beechtree
Trail described in the introduction. Our hike turns left onto the green-blazed Southwoods Trail
and begins heading northeast. The trail dips to cross the tributary mentioned above on stepping-
stones. The rocks were stable when I crossed them, though a few downpours could change that
After 0.4 miles of walking through second-growth beech-maple forest, the Southwoods
Trail ends at the park road just outside the campground. If one wanted to shorten this hike, there is
a small parking lot located just inside the campground that one could park in, picking up the trail at
this point. From the exit of the Southwoods Trail, angle to the right and cross the park road to
pick up the red-blazed Red Fox Trail. The Red Fox Trail enters the woods and in 200 feet the trail
forks. Unlike the first two trails, which is linear, this trail forms a 2-mile loop. This description
will go to the left at first and return using the right route.
The trail now passes through younger forest with an unusually high percentage of
sweetgum trees. Several creeks are crossed by the trail using metal grates as bridges. A couple of
the grates are beginning to crack and fall apart, so watch your step as you cross. After 0.6 miles,
angle to the left and arrive in a field that contains a couple of old quarries. Notice the pits to the
left that are now filled with water. The stagnant water makes great breeding grounds for
mosquitos, so be sure to wear plenty of bug repellant for this hike.
Keep left at each intersection to arrive at a small peninsula that just out into the lake. This
is an excellent spot to observe wildlife, as some bushes provide a natural blind for bird viewing.
After observing the lake, begin retracing your steps back to the quarry area. Ignore an abandoned
trail that exits left just after leaving the peninsula, opting instead for the relocated trail that exits
left opposite the quarry.
The trail, marked now with some large red paint blazes, passes around a couple of large
windfalls as it begins angling to the right. All trails at Stonelick are wide and easy to follow, so
the scarcity of blazes does not create a problem. SR 133 can be heard only a few hundred feet to
the left, but soon the trail angles to the right again and leaves the road behind. Ignore a shortcut
trail that exits right and continue tracing the loop. The 2 mile loop closes, and a sharp right turn is
needed to return you to the park road. From here, retrace your steps along the Southwoods and
Lakeview Trails to return to the parking lot. For a longer variation, one could choose the
Beechtree Trail instead of the Lakeview Trail, but this option will come out at the park road
outside of the picnic shelter. A right turn and a walk along the park road would be needed to
return you to the parking lot at complete the hike.
Hike #17 East Fork State Park
Trails: Backpack and World-walker Trails
Nearest City: Amelia, Ohio
Length: 4.75 miles
Overview: A moderate state park hike through the forest on the south shore of Harsha Lake.
Park Information: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/tabid/732/Default.aspx
Directions to the trailhead: From Amelia, go east on SR 125. At the traffic light where SR 222
goes right, turn left onto Bantam-Williamsburg Rd. Proceed 0.2 miles to the state park entrance
and turn left to enter the park. Take the main park road 0.3 miles to the gravel road leading left to
the main backpack trailhead. Drive 0.1 miles on the gravel road, passing a pond on the right, to the
large gravel parking lot beside the trailhead. Park in this parking lot.
The hike: At 10,100 acres, East Fork State Park is one of the largest state parks in Ohio. The park
is centered around William H. Harsha Lake, a 2100 acre lake created by damming the East Fork of
the Little Miami River in 1978. The beach on the south shore of the lake becomes packed on
warm summer afternoons. Other than the beach and a few picnic areas, the state park is relatively
undeveloped, making for thousands of acres of uninterrupted forest for hunting and hiking. Due to
the land allocation and its location only 25 miles east of Cincinnati, this park is a magnet for
people who enjoy the outdoors.
As far as hiking goes, 73 miles of trails weave through the young forest surrounding the
lake. Most of this mileage is contained within two long-distance backpacking trails. The 14 mile
Backpack Trail stays on the south shore of Harsha Lake and can be walked either as a long day-
hike or as a multi-day trip. It is popular during the summer with backpackers from Cincinnati
because the first campground can be reached on a Friday night after work.
The other main trail is the 32 mile Perimeter Trail, recently renamed the Steve Newman
Worldwalker Trail for the local man that walked around the world in 1989. This trail circles
Harsha Lake and takes 2 or 3 days to hike. Our hike combines parts of both of these trails to create
this 4.75 mile hike. This is a loop hike with numerous potential access points. I have chosen the
main trailhead because it is well marked and easy to find.
Our hike starts at the information kiosk for the backpack trail, located on the north side of
the parking area. The Backpack Trail is blazed with orange blazes. This trail is also a portion of
the American Discovery Trail, so the light blue blazes for this trail can be helpful as well. The trail
heads north through very young forest comprised of a dense mixture of maple and ash. In 0.2
miles, the trail crosses a noticeable natural boundary as it enters a deep ravine. The maple forest
along the ravine is more mature than the forest at the start of the hike.
The trail drops into the ravine and crosses a wide, rocky creek without the aid of the bridge.
This crossing could be difficult or dangerous during times of high water, but it is usually an easy
rock-hop. On the opposite side of the creek, the trail uses numerous switchbacks to gain elevation.
The hillside is not extremely steep, so the switchbacks may not be necessary but they still make the
hiking significantly easier.
Now heading north, the trail dips through another shallow ravine and begins treading a
fairly constant elevation along the hillside above the main stream. Just as the lake comes into
view, the trail turns abruptly right and leaves the main stream behind for good. Now treading east
parallel to the lake shore, the trail stays out of view of the lake while crossing five small
tributaries, each at the bottom of a shallow ravine, before coming out at the road leading to the
With the lake in clear view straight ahead, the trail crosses the road and descends a steep
set of steps to reach only 20 feet above the lake, the lowest point on the hike. The trail crosses
three additional tributaries while climbing away from the lake before reaching the beach access
road. Reenter the woods across the road and soon reach a picnic table that appears to be alone in
the middle of the forest. Actually, it is part of a larger picnic area, which the trail now skirts. This
picnic table makes a nice resting spot at the midpoint of the hike.
With the biggest hills behind, the trail climbs slightly, crosses a small drainage, then begins
treading a constant elevation about 60 feet above the lake, which is now in clear view to the left.
The trail finally turns right away from the lake and reaches an intersection. The main Backpack
Trail continues left for another 11 miles, but our hike angles right onto a trail marked “Overnight
Camp #1.” This trail serves a double function in that it connects the Backpack Trail to a primitive
camping area and links the Backpack Trail to the Worldwalker Perimeter Trail. Of course, we will
use it for the latter function.
The connector trail, marked with white blazes, crosses the main park road and enters much
younger forest. Some spots on this trail become rather wet after a nice rain, so come prepared. In
0.5 miles pass through the primitive camping area and shortly thereafter come to a creek. When I
hiked this trail, one would have to get wet feet to cross this creek at the trail crossing, but the creek
could easily be rock-hopped either shortly upstream of downstream from this location.
Once across the creek, the trail climbs slightly to intersect the Worldwalker Perimeter Trail, which
is marked with green. Turn right on this trail, heading for a private building before turning right to
enter the forest. The trail crosses a small drainage and then enters an old field. The final 0.5 miles
of this hike pass through a dense red cedar forest before intersecting the main park road directly
across from the gravel road leading to the trailhead. Walk down this gravel road, pausing to look
for frogs or turtles in the pond before reaching the parking lot, thus completing the hike.
Hike #18 Crooked Run Nature Preserve
Trail: Outer Loop trail
Nearest City: New Richmond, Ohio
Length: 1 mile
Overview: An easy, wildlife-filled walk along the banks of the Ohio River.
Preserve Information: crooked run
Directions to the trailhead: From New Richmond, go east on US 52 15 miles to the town of Chilo.
Where SR 222 goes off to the left, turn right. Proceed two blocks to a “no outlet” sign and turn left
onto a narrow paved road. From here follow signs first for “Chilo Lock #34 Park” then to
“Crooked Run Nature Preserve.” Park in the parking lot by the superintendent’s office.
The hike: Prior to the 1920’s, the stream flowing into the Ohio River at the eastern edge of this
nature preserve was known simply as Crooked Run Creek. Waters in the river were shallower at
that time and backed up less than a mile into the creek. This created a small and insignificant inlet,
at least by the Ohio River’s standards.
All of that changed with the construction of Chilo Dam on the Ohio River by the Army
Corps of Engineers. This dam was part of a larger project to make the river’s levels more
consistent and easier to navigate. The result was to raise the river’s level at Chilo several feet,
causing water to back up into Crooked Run Creek for seven miles.
Today, this section of the creek is known as Crooked Run Estuary, one of the few
remaining untarnished estuaries on the Ohio River. By means of the park which bears the dam’s
name, Clermont County and the state of Ohio (they jointly administer this park) plan to keep this
area as a haven for wildlife and a source of recreation. The 77 acre preserve was made possible by
a generous land donation by Robert and Mimi Paul. Upon her death in 1991, Mimi had lived on
the land for over 55 years. Now the land is open for all of us to enjoy.
The land gift was made to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources via a life trust in
1980. The park is managed by the Clermont County Park District and includes picnic tables and a
sand volleyball court in addition to the preserve. Several trails allow access to the preserve. My
favorite is the Outer Loop Trail, which traces the boundary of the preserve. It allows views of the
river, estuary, a pond, a field, and some young forest.
Begin by following the gravel road east from the superintendent’s house, pass a couple of
tents, and arrive at a wooden board on the edge of the forest that contains a trail map. This marks
the trailhead for all of the preserve’s trails. A small pamphlet containing a trail map and some
information about the preserve may be available from a dispenser at this point too.
The outer loop trail leaves from the right of the kiosk as the gravel road continues straight
ahead. Proceed east through young forest and in 0.1 miles arrive at a trail intersection. First, turn
right to arrive at an Ohio River overlook. From this vantage point, one can watch for waterfowl or
simply watch boats both large and small go up and down the river. A left turn at this intersection
will lead on a short side trail to a wooden observation deck overlooking a 30-acre meadow. Birds
such as larks, cardinals, and blue jays can be observed from this deck in addition to butterflies and
other insects dashing from flower to flower in the field.
Once both of these attractions have been taken in, continue east on the Outer Loop Trail in
a narrow strip of forest between the river, which is in view on the right, and the field to your left.
Pass a side trail that exits left and soon arrive at a “trail closed” sign. Do not despair, as the trail
we are following turns left here and quickly arrives at a gravel road.
As directed by signs, turn left on the gravel road and walk 300 feet to where the trail
reenters the forest on the right. The estuary is now in view on the right, and you will soon come to
the first of three bird blinds overlooking the waters. On my visit to the estuary, I saw a great blue
heron, a blackbird, and a downey woodpecker, and I could here various types of songbirds
chirping away in the nearby trees.
Continue past the bird blinds and begin hiking the westward, heading back to the meadow
you overlooked earlier. Being at ground level gives a very different perspective than the
observation deck. Chipmunks, raccoons, and squirrels can be seen scurrying into the forest. On
my visit, a saw no less than five rabbits, two of which were probably less than one year old.
Adding to the scenery is a small pond containing bullfrogs with a small titmouse diving into the
shallow algae-filled water for a meal.
Past the pond, the trail ducks into and out of young forest before intersecting the gravel
road for the final time. A right turn on this road will return you first to the information board, then
to the parking lot to complete the hike.
Chapter Four: Highland and Adams Counties
Brown County 24
SR 125 West
Located on the very eastern edge of greater Cincinnati, most Cincinnatians never visit
Highland and Adams Counties, or if they do, they are simply passing through on SR 32, the
Appalachian Highway, to points further east. Most Cincinnatians do not realize the pleasures they
are missing. Indeed, my two journeys to Adams County were two of the most enjoyable trips I
have ever taken in greater Cincinnati. Both of these counties retain a very rural character. The
largest town in either county is Hillsboro, a town I passed through and stopped in (for lunch)
several times on my hiking trips to this area. In fact, Adams County, despite its large land size, is
one of the smallest counties in terms of population in Ohio.
Highland and Adams Counties also possess another unique feature in greater Cincinnati.
All other points in greater Cincinnati lie in the eastern half of the dissected till plains, characterized
by flat, fertile land with deep valleys cut by rivers and streams. Points further east, such as
Portsmouth, Ohio and Huntington, West Virginia, lie on the Appalachian Plateau, characterized by
low, steep hills. The geological boundary between these two major sections of the United States
passes through central Adams County and eastern Highland County. As you travel east on SR 32,
SR 125, or US 50 out of Cincinnati, you will find yourself surrounded by flat farmland in Brown
and western Adams Counties, but the hills soon appear off in the distance. The first large hill on
SR 32 comes just as you begin to exit Adams County, heading for Pike County and points further
As far as hiking goes, the presence of this geologic boundary means that you can have a
hiking experience in this region that is unlike any other in greater Cincinnati. In fact, some of the
steepest hills, and thus most difficult trails, in Ohio can be found in these two counties. Of
particular note in the area of difficulty are the trails at Fort Hill State Memorial and Buzzardroost
Rock. Both of these trails involve steep or long climbs and should only be attempted with
adequate preparation and conditioning.
On the brighter side, along with the increased difficulty, trails in this section of greater
Cincinnati also offer greater rewards. The view from Buzzardroost Rock ranks as one of the best
in Ohio, not to mention the region. Cliffs, plants, and caves exist along trails in this part of the
region that you will find nowhere else. Perhaps most importantly for some of us, the trails in these
counties offer a serenity that cannot be found in most other parts of the region on a regular basis.
Two other items deserve mention in this chapter introduction. First, Brown County
deserves some mention as an important part of greater Cincinnati. Like western Adams and
Highland Counties, Brown County retains a rural character and consists mostly of farmland dotted
by a few small towns. While I have visited Brown County several times, all of which have been
enjoyable, I simply had no hiking experiences in Brown County that made my hiking log.
Second, I should say a word about getting to Adams County from Cincinnati. No matter
which of these hikes you are trying to get to, the fastest way to get there from Cincinnati is to take
SR 32, a 4-lane divided highway. If you want to go to the West Union area, take SR 32 east and
the SR 247 south. As I found out on one summer morning, SR 125 is a slow, though somewhat
scenic, way to get to West Union.
Hike #19 Paint Creek State Park
Trails: Falls and Fern Hollow Trails
Nearest City: Hillsboro, Ohio
Length: 2.5 miles
Overview: A short, steep climb to the ridgetop, followed by a moderate scenic course through
Park Information: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/tabid/776/Default.aspx
Directions to the trailhead: From Hillsboro, go east on US 50 to the town of Rainsboro where it
intersects SR 753. Turn left on SR 753. Take SR 753 north 4.5 miles to Snake Road and turn
right on Snake Road. After 0.2 miles, where Snake Road goes right, continue straight on the park
road to the boat launch parking lot, where the road ends. Park at the far end of the lot.
The hike: Located in eastern Highland County, Paint Creek State Park sits right on the border of
the Till Plains to the west and the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to the east. The center of
the park is 1200 acre Paint Creek Lake, formed by the damming of Paint Creek in 1967. The
additional 9000 land acres were dedicated as a state park in 1972, making Paint Creek relatively
young by state park standards.
The lake is popular for fishing, boating, and swimming, while on the land 47 miles of trails
lure hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. On the west side of the lake, the Falls and Fern
Hollow trails share a trailhead and offer a scenic excursion into a remote part of the park.
A sign at the rear of the boat launch parking lot says "Fern Hollow/Falls Trail" with a white
arrow pointing right. Follow this lead through a grassy area to where the trail enters the woods and
immediately begins a steep climb using three sets of steps. This climb takes you through a gap in
the exposed limestone outcropping, which can be seen to the left and right of the last set of steps.
Clearly visible here and at a couple other points along the trail is the top layer of limestone and
underlying softer Ohio shale.
At the top of the steps reach a trail junction with the Falls Trail, which goes left and right.
We will go both directions here before the hike is over, but I started by turning right, heading for
the waterfall. The trail assumes a ridgetop course, with a general tendency to descend. The forest
is young maple/ash in variety with numerous paw paw bushes in the understory and a few ferns
near streams. The area is remote receiving little traffic and the trail sometimes blends in with the
surroundings. Should this happen and you are not sure which way the trail goes, use the white
blazes as your guide. Each time you pass a tree with a white paint mark, scan the trees nearby for
the next white blaze.
The trail descends slightly to arrive at an unbridged creek crossing. Ford the creek and
soon arrive at a sign that says "Falls Overlook" off to the right. Turn right here and hike a 30 yard
spur trail to an unprotected overlook of a high, but small in terms of water volume, waterfall.
When I arrived here in the fall, only two spouts of water trickled down the hillside onto the rock
below. I suspect that during a drought the waterfall dries up completely. Be careful at this
overlook, as you must proceed to the very edge of a 40-foot cliff before the waterfall can be seen.
Back at the overlook sign, the Falls Trail continues uneventfully in an overgrown course to
intersect the extensive bridle trail system in 0.5 miles. I suggest turning around at the overlook and
retracing your steps to the trail junction to begin the Fern Hollow Trail.
Keep right at the trail junction and cross a small drainage to arrive at a clearing with a few
red cedars. Ignore a grass maintenance road that goes off to the right and soon arrive at the fork in
the trail that forms the Fern Hollow Loop. Stay left here to hike the loop clockwise. The trail
surface turns back to dirt as it reenters the young maple forest. Paint Creek Lake appears in the
distance straight ahead and to the left.
The trail takes a sharp right turn at what appears to be a trail intersection, as directed by an
arrow on a wooden post. Actually, the "trail" that appears to go straight ahead dead ends by the
lake in 0.2 miles. The next section of trail is one of the most scenic, but it is also one of the
hardest to distinguish from the surroundings. Again, use the blazes as guides.
The trail descends sharply to assume a creekside course along one of the feeder streams to
Paint Creek Lake. Exposed limestone stands above you to the right of the trail, while the creek lies
to the left. Numerous ferns grow in this area, the likely origin of the trail's name. Past a
particularly dense area of ferns, the trail ascends gradually to leave the hollow and close the loop.
A left turn at this intersection and right turn at the original trailhead will return you to your car,
completing the hike.
Hike #20 7 Caves
Road Bear Cave
Cave Canyon Trail
Trails: Cave Canyon, Palisades, and Indian Trails
City: Hillsboro, Ohio
Length: about 3.25 miles
Overview: An unusual, but difficult hike passing through all seven caves in the park.
Park Information: http://www.highlandssanctuary.org/7Caves/7Caves.htm
Directions to the trailhead: From Hillsboro, take US 50 east to Cave Road, which goes off to the
right just shy of the Ross County line. Turn right on Cave Rd. Seven Caves is located atop the hill
with the parking on the left and the concession stand on the right.
The hike: To the strictest of nature lovers, this hike at Seven Caves would not be considered a
nature hike, and in the strictest sense of the word they would be right. But this hike is so special I
had to include Seven Caves is a combination nature preserve and tourist attraction located just off
US 50 at the Ross-Highland County line. As such, many of the walkways are improved with
extensive concrete steps, there is only one pathway through each area (there are three areas, thus
the three trails), the hike uses pavement for part of the way, and the trails are heavily traveled,
causing a lack of serenity and the occasional destruction of nature. In spite of all of this, the
unique geography of the area makes Seven Caves a special place worth exploring to tourists and
nature lovers alike.
The walk through Seven Caves is a difficult one, as the trail uses steep stone staircases to
dip in and out of the gorge cut by Rocky Fork Creek. Start your journey with the Cave Canyon
Trail. No maps are provided by the park, but there is only one trail and it is well marked and worn,
so it is hard to get lost. The Cave Canyon Trail leaves the main park road and begins to curve
around the eastern side of a steep gorge cut by a small creek, which can be seen running through
the bottom of the gorge. First come to Witch's Cave (yes, there are indeed seven underground
caves in the park), a small cave with barely enough room for two people. As with all of the caves,
the trails are well lit, and lights activated by pushing a button point out formations of interest.
Continuing on up the gorge, the second cave is the largest, with an impressive rockface at
the entrance. A couple caves later, the trail turns left, goes under a natural arch, then descends a
steep stone staircase to the gorge floor where you come to a T-intersection. First, take the trail to
the right, which dead ends shortly at a small, but very pretty waterfall with lots of small, green
plants along the sides of the creek. This is the head of the gorge. Reversing course, the trail
follows the creek downstream with steep walls on either side to the top of a waterfall that goes
underneath a bridge on the main park road; you will get a better look at this small waterfall later.
The trail then climbs out of the gorge via a stone staircase. At the rim of the gorge, first
turn right to view Bear Cave, then retrace your steps past where the trail came up out of the gorge
to the park road. This marks the end of the Cave Canyon Trail.
Turn left on the road, cross the bridge, then begin the Palisades Trail, which leaves the road
on the right and enters mature forest, which covers all of the land at Seven Caves. The trail shortly
comes to a T, and a sign directs you to go to the right first. This portion of the trail takes the hiker
to the very edge of the rock-walled gorge cut by Rocky Fork Creek. This gorge is much wider and
deeper than the one the Cave Canyon Trail passed through. The trail continues along the south wall
of the gorge and dead ends at a cave once used by an outlaw to hide from the sheriff. After
retracing your steps back to the intersection, continue straight as the trail continues to skirt the
gorge on the right, and for a while passes by the back of the concession shack on the left.
After crossing a tributary on a high bridge, the trail first turns left, then does a 130 back to
the right, all the time descending more stone steps, to arrive alongside Rocky Fork Creek at the
base of the gorge. The trail turns right to follow beside the creek, going downstream, then passes
some talus (large slabs of rock that have fallen from the cliff long ago) and a couple of very large
hemlocks, which grow well in the cool, damp gorge. After following the creek for a few hundred
feet, the trail comes to the waterfall that you saw the top of earlier. This is another small, but
pretty waterfall which looks much like the one at the head of the gorge without all of the plants.
The trail then climbs out of the gorge via, you guessed it, more stone steps, and arrives at
the park road to conclude the Palisades Trail. Turn right on the park road and cross the bridge,
arriving at the concession stand. The sheltered picnic area adjacent to the building makes a nice
place for a well-deserved rest, as do the numerous benches located along the trails.
The last segment of the hike, the Indian Trail, starts immediately in front of the buildings
and heads west. Of all of the trails here at Seven Caves, this one most resembles a nature trail, as
it is paved with dirt and has only one concrete stairway. To top it off, the scenery is fabulous. The
trail starts along the south rim of the gorge, passing a couple of scenic overlooks and crossing two
tributaries. It then takes a sharp right and descends the concrete stairway to the floor of the gorge,
again coming out by the creek.
The trail turns left and soon begins to tread a narrow path between the creek on the right
and a 100-foot sheer rock wall on the left. The trail is very rocky and rooty here, so watch your
step. After following this pattern for a while, the trail dead ends underneath a rock shelter. The
view here is terrific: the creek threads its way through the sheer rock gorge in the background as a
huge slab of rock in the shape of a ship dominates the foreground. From here, retrace your steps
back to the concession stand. Arriving there for the fourth time today marks the end of the hike.
Hike #21 Rocky Fork State Park
Trail: Deer Loop Trail
Nearest City: Hillsboro, Ohio
Length: 1.25 miles
Overview: A moderate course through young forest atop a bluff overlooking the backwaters of
Rocky Fork Lake.
Park Information: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/tabid/784/Default.aspx
Directions to the trailhead: From Hillsboro, take SR 124 east out of the city. SR 124 follows US
50 for a short piece. Take SR 124 to North Shore Drive, which goes off to the left about 3.5 miles
east of Hillsboro. Turn left on North Shore. Take North Shore past the airport and the
campground. Just past the campground, look for a small sign that says "Deer Trail" with a gravel
drive on the left. Turn left on this gravel drive and park in a turnaround just a few yards later.
The hike: Rocky Fork State Park consists of a narrow ring of land surrounding Rocky Fork Lake.
The 2000 acre lake was created by a dam in the 1950's located a few miles east of the trailhead.
This is a popular area, as evidenced by the numerous condos and new homes along North Shore
In spite of this, the Deer Loop Trail offers a bit of serenity. The huge lake, campground,
and two beaches are the big draws, with this short trail often overlooked. This is a relatively easy,
scenic hike through a wide variety of forest. For the more advanced hiker, try combining this hike
with Seven Caves or a hike at Paint Creek State Park, both of which are within a few minutes drive
from Rocky Fork.
The trail begins and ends at the gravel turnaround. I hiked this trail counter-clockwise for
no particular reason. To follow my route, go to the very far end of the parking area where the trail,
which at first is a mown grass treadway, enters into mature forest. Soon the trail narrows and turns
to dirt. At some points the trail is barely wide enough for one person to pass with knee-high weeds
on either side, so come prepared. Along those same lines, this trail goes mostly through deep
woods, so insects can be a nuisance in the summer.
The trail passes through a dip, then winds its way through the woods, soon crossing two
small streams on wooden bridges, each of which will be crossed again later for a total of four
Shortly after this second bridge, the scenery changes quite noticeably. The large trees of a
mature forest are left behind, and ahead is smaller trees in larger numbers, indicative of less mature
forest. A field is visible through the cracks of the trees on the right. A few hundred feet later, the
trail makes a sweeping left turn, marking the farthest point on the hike.
The hike as been only mediocre to this point, but the more interesting portion lies ahead.
Not long after making the left turn, the trail takes a right, descends some stairs, and arrives at the
rim of a 75 foot gorge on the right. The trail follows the rim of the gorge for a while, then turns
left and descends through a small valley, re-crossing one of the creeks it crossed before.
On the other side of the valley, the trail turns left and begins descending into the valley of
the other creek it previously crossed. After crossing the last bridge, the trail ascends steeply, the
only major climb of the hike, using some wooden logs which double as steps and erosion controls.
At the top of the hill, the trail comes out of the woods onto a mown-grass treadway that lies in a
small field. A sweeping left turn leads back to the parking lot and ends the hike.
While in the area, consider hiking the Audubon Bird Trail, which goes off of North Shore
Drive immediately opposite the campground. It is a short trail (.37 miles) that leads to a small bird
blind overlooking a marsh. I only spent a couple minutes there, but I saw a great blue heron,
several ducks, and many bullfrogs during my visit. This is well worth a few minutes, even for non
bird experts such as myself.
Hike #22 Fort Hill State Memorial
Trails: Gorge and Fort Trails
Nearest City: Hillsboro, Ohio
Length: 5 miles
Overview; A rugged, difficult course along Bakers Fork followed by a steep climb to the fort.
Park Information: http://ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/places/sw06/
Directions to the trailhead: From Hillsboro, go east on US 50 to SR 753 and turn right on SR 753.
Take SR 753 south for 10 miles to SR 41 and turn right on SR 41. Go south on SR 41 for less than
a mile to Fort Hill Road, a narrow, paved road that goes off on the right. Turn right and go less
than a mile to the state memorial entrance on the left. Park on the right side of the second and last
The hike: Located in rural, rugged southeastern Highland county, Fort Hill State Memorial features
one of the best preserved Indian earthworks in the entire state. It is believed the ceremonial fort
was built between 300 B.C. and 600 A.D. by the Hopewell culture. John Locke, a pioneer
geologist of the early 1800's, became the first white man to document the fort's features in his 1838
work "Second Annual report on the Geological Survey of the State of Ohio."
In 1932, the state of Ohio took advantage of an opportunity to purchase 237 acres
containing the fort. 1000 additional acres have since been purchased to yield the current memorial.
In 1968, a museum was built along the entrance road to interpret the fort's archeological
significance. It is open March through October.
The memorial is accessed by three concentric, interconnecting trails. The red-blazed Fort
Trail is the shortest and easiest at 2.3 miles in length. This trail climbs 400 feet and loops around
the top of Fort Hill, where the fort is located. It makes a good alternate for those unable to hike the
entire route described here.
The route described here uses part of the Fort Trail and part of the yellow-blazed Gorge
Trail, a 4.0-mile trail that loops around the base of Fort Hill. The outer-most loop is the 5.3 mile
blue-blazed Deer Trail. Suited for the more adventuresome, the Deer Trail is an extremely
difficult trail topping three hills with several steep sections. I note that all three trails involve steep
climbs and caution regarding your ability and trail conditions should be exercised. An outline and
drawing of the trails can be found at the information kiosk at the trailhead.
With the disclaimers out of the way, let's get hiking! From the information board, go right
through a grassy area where the combined Deer and Gorge Trails enter the woods. Watch for the
yellow markings of the Gorge Trail to guide your way. For the first 2.5 miles, the trail generally
parallels Baker's Fork on the right with Fort Hill looming to the left. The trail rises and falls twice
to cross two arms of Fort Hill. The first climb is gradual, but the second one steeper.
Finally, descend steeply to arrive at creek level. The trail passes through a mature beech-
maple forest with a very thin understory. In the winter, watch for ice on this part of the trail, now
on the shady north side of Fort Hill. After crossing two tributaries, the trail rises slightly to reach a
trail junction. The Deer Trail departs to the right to cross Baker Fork on stepping stones. Our trail
continues by angling left and arriving at a restored log cabin.
Past the cabin, the trail stays on the south side of Baker's Fork, alternating between
creekside and bluff. This section of trail gives good views of the towering exposed dolomite
formations along the creek. If you are to see the small, rare Sullivantia plant attached to the side of
the rock, this is the place. Fort Hill has an unusual rock composition. The base consists of
dolomite, which can be seen along the creek. Further up, the next layer consists of Ohio Black
shale, a soft flaky rock that can be seen on the climb to the fort. The hill is capped by the
sandstone that was used to build the fort. Keep your eye out across the creek, as you will see a pair
of natural bridges cut into the hillside. The second one has an opening about 40 feet tall and 10
Just past this second bridge, the Deer Trail rejoins from the right. Cross two more steep
bluffs with more exposed dolomite, then take a left turn away from the creek along a feeder
stream. The trail climbs gradually with more exposed dolomite on either side. Look for a natural
arch to the right of the trail. Arches differ from bridges in terms of their geologic formation.
Natural bridges are created by water flowing through rock and carving out the opening. Arches are
formed by chunks of rock breaking off, leaving the arch behind. As a practical matter, I look at
where the overhanging rock is connected. If the overhang connects with the surrounding rock at
the top, you are probably looking at a bridge. If it connects at the bottom, it is probably an arch.
This rule of thumb works about 95% of the time.
The trail takes a sharp right to join an old road, then a sharp left where the Buckeye Trail
continues straight. Watch for the yellow blazes. Climbing gently, the trail comes to another trail
intersection where the Deer Trail exits to the right. Stay left on the Gorge Trail and begin a long
moderate climb up Fort Hill. Over 0.3 miles the trail gains 200 feet in elevation to arrive at a
junction with the Fort Trail. To view the fort, turn left on the red-blazed Fort Trail. The trail
maintains a constant elevation as it traces the west side of Fort Hill. Notice the peaks and valleys
in the fort wall, visible uphill and to the right, which look like turrets in a castle.
At the northwestern corner of the hill, the trail turns right and begins a short, but very steep
final ascent to the fort. After passing through the fort wall, the trail assumes a level, eastward
course through mature forest. In the winter when the trees are leafless. Reeds Hill and Jarnagans
Knob can be seen to the left.
On the east end of the fort the trail arrives at View Point, which offers nice views of the
surrounding hills and valleys of the Appalachian Plateau. From here, the trail turns right and
passes through the fort wall. Only a 400-foot descent on switchbacks to the parking lot remains to
finish the hike.
Hike #23 Serpent Mound State Memorial
Trails: Mound Trail and Ohio Brush Creek Trail
Nearest City: Peebles, Ohio
Length: 1 mile
Overview: An easy blacktop trail around the mound, followed by a moderate dirt trail along the
Park Information: http://ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/places/sw16/
Directions to the trailhead: From Peebles, go north on SR 31 4 miles to SR 73 and turn left on SR
73. Go west on SR 73 5 miles to the entrance to the memorial on your right. Turn into the
blacktop driveway, pay the $5 entrance fee, and park in the large blacktop lot.
The hike: By far the best known of all Indian earthworks in greater Cincinnati, and perhaps in the
entire United States, is the Great Serpent Mound in Adams County. The mound built in the shape
of an uncoiling serpent is nearly 0.25 miles long and 2 to 6 feet high. The coiled tail lies closest to
the parking lot and museum, while the large oval for a head lies on a cliff overlooking Ohio Brush
The builders of the mound remain somewhat of a mystery. No artifacts have been
unearthed in the serpent mound, but two other conical mounds nearby (both of which are within
the park and can be easily viewed today) have produced artifacts dating to the time of the Adena
Indians, 800 B.C. to 1 A.D. Therefore, it was long accepted that the Adena Indians constructed the
serpent mound. However, recent carbon dating tests taking from clay within the mound date the
material to only 1000 A.D. This is roughly the time of the Ft. Ancient Indians, constructors of the
mounds at Ft. Ancient State Memorial in Warren County, covered elsewhere in this book. Thus,
there is a debate over who really deserves credit for building serpent mound.
Serpent mound did not take long to attract the attention of white settlers moving into the
Ohio valley. The first study of the mound was conducted by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis in
their famous tome Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, dated 1848. Unfortunately, by
the late 1800’s, attention from novice scientists and damage from the area’s agriculture were
slowly destroying the mound. A Harvard scientist named Frederick Putnam realized the historical
value of the mound to research on the ancient peoples and for the public good. In 1886, Putnam
raised enough money to purchase the land in Harvard’s name and, after a proper excavation of the
mound, returned it to its original state. In 1900, Putnam deeded the land to the Ohio Historical
Society, who has managed it ever since.
The grassy mound is still the center of the park today, though some picnic tables,
restrooms, a museum, and an observation tower have been added. There are also two trails around
the mound. A blacktop trail, which would be handicapped accessible, makes a tight 0.5 mile
within sight of the mound all the way. There is also a more challenging nature trail that allows the
visitor to see the natural area around the mound, the way the builders might have seen the site. A
good visit, as described below, takes advantage of all of these facilities.
Make a couple of stops before you start hiking the trails. Both of the conical mounds
within the park sit right beside the parking area, so take a look at the lesser known constructions
first. One mound is only three feet in height, while the other is the tallest mound in the park at
Your next stop should be the log cabin that serves as a museum. Though small, the
museum provides some interesting information about the serpent mound and the lives of those who
built it. A trail guide for the nature trail can also be obtained free of charge from the small gift
shop near the exit of the museum.
Armed with a better understanding of the mound, proceed down the blacktop path and
climb the metal observation tower overlooking the mound. Located beside the coiled-up tail, the
view gives you a good perspective of the mound as well as the surrounding farmland. After you
have admired the earthwork from this perspective, descend back to the blacktop path and begin
walking counterclockwise around the mound. The mound will be on the left and the forest on the
A frequent question is: what is inside the mound? The core of the mound consists of hard
yellow clay. Archaeologists suspect that this core was laid down in order to fine-tune the shape of
the mound. Many baskets of dirt were then transported to the site to form the mound we see today.
Over time, grass has covered the mound, and the mound must be mowed once in a while to give it
its refined appearance. Note that no bones or other artifacts have been found within the mound.
This suggests that the mound was probably ceremonial rather than functional in nature. Serpents
are a powerful symbol not only in the Christian culture, but in the Indian culture as well.
After passing an overgrown overlook at the head of the serpent, continue counterclockwise
around the mound, looking for a large white sign with blue letters saying “Entrance Ohio Brush
Creek Nature Trail” at the edge of the forest on your right. This sign marks where the nature trail
enters the forest. Leave the blacktop path, enter the forest, and proceed downhill using some
You will soon arrive in the Ohio Brush Creek floodplain. There are actually two Brush
Creeks in Adams County. Ohio Brush Creek flows south into the Ohio River, draining most of
central Adams and southern Highland Counties. Scioto Brush Creek begins only a few miles
southeast of here and flows eastward into the Scioto River, draining eastern Adams, southern Pike,
and northern Scioto Counties.
The trail of the floodplain can be a bit confusing. At one time numerous trails existing at
Serpent Mound State Memorial, but all but one of them have been abandoned. Stay on the right
trail by following the numbered posts which correspond to the trail guide you picked up at the
The trail makes a very small loop through the floodplain, passing some trees where beavers
have left their calling card. Once plentiful throughout Ohio, the beaver nearly became extinct due
to overhunting of beaver skins. Since that practice was restricted, beavers have made a remarkable
comeback. Their handiwork can now be seen along many Ohio creeks. Ohio Brush Creek itself
may look very peaceful now, but the creek is famous for its rapid and serious flooding. Ohio
Brush Creek has one of the longest unrestricted channels in Ohio. Thus, there is no flood control,
and the steep hills of Adams County feed large amounts of water into small places like Ohio Brush
Post #6 describes a large, smooth dolomite rock formation called Serpent Cliff. One can
easily imagine how an Indian in a culture that reveres the serpent viewing this serpent-shaped rock
could be inspired to plan the mound that lies at the top of the cliff.
As the trail curves left and begins climbing back toward the mound, you may notice that
the park’s nature trail does not get much use by the spider webs stretched over the treadway. One
tactic is to hold a walking stick in front of your face so that the stick will break the webs instead of
your face. If you came unprepared such as I did, you may find that your hand works almost as
After a moderate climb, you will arrive back at the blacktop trail on the opposite side of the
mound from which you entered the forest. One can either turn right, see the mound again, and
complete a circumnavigation of the mound, or turn left and proceed clockwise past the observation
tower. Either route will eventually return you to the parking lot to complete your visit.
Hike #24 Davis Memorial State Nature Preserve
Cedar Creek TWP
Trails: Sullivantia and Agave Ridge Trails
Nearest City: Peebles, Ohio
Length: 1.75 miles
Overview: A moderate, geologically interesting hike through beautiful forest in the mineral
springs section of Adams County.
Preserve Information: Davis Memorial
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 32 and SR 41 just south of Peebles, go
east on SR 32 0.5 mile to Steam Furnace Rd. and turn right (south) on Steam Furnace Rd. Go 0.4
miles on Steam Furnace Rd. to paved, but unmarked Township route 129. Turn left on route 129.
Go 2.9 miles, passing a quarry and crossing a wooden bridge to arrive at the preserve. The
preserve sign and the small gravel parking lot is on the right.
The hike: The surroundings and landmarks passed while driving into Davis Memorial give a
strong indication to the land’s past. Northeastern Adams County was an important source of iron
ore during the War of 1812. In fact, three iron furnaces existed across Adams County during that
time period. Steam Furnace Road’s name is derived from one of these furnaces located in this
area. It was used to melt down iron ore and produce weapons for the war. This heavy industry
soon vanished due to competition from larger and better quality ore mines in places such as
You probably also noticed some large farms along SR 32 on your way here. Throughout
the 1800’s and early 1900’s most of Adams County was very heavily farmed. In fact, it was one of
the first areas of the Virginia Military District, a land gift set aside for veterans of the
Revolutionary War, due to its close proximity to the Ohio River.
In the 1920’s, the famous botanist E. Lucy Braun, a professor at the University of
Cincinnati, began visiting the area. By this time, the land was extremely worn out from
agricultural overuse, and the economy was influenced by, of all things, tourism. Visitors were
attracted to the area’s mineral springs. Braun was particularly interested in the area, and in 1928
published a booklet entitled Vegetation of the Mineral Springs Area of Adams County, Ohio.
Braun’s most famous work entitled Deciduous Forests of Eastern America, however, would not be
published until 22 years later.
The area today is still heavily influenced by agriculture, as evidenced by the large array of
farms passed along any major route through Brown or Adams Counties. You may have also
noticed a working quarry on the left side of Route 129 on your way in. Adams County remains a
significant source of Ohio limestone, used most often for high-quality gravel and occasionally for
The 87 acres of the park were donated to the Ohio Historical Society in 1967 in honor of
Edwin Davis, president of Davon, Inc. Originally managed as Edwin Davis State Memorial,
management of the land was transferred to the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves in
1993 and became Davis Memorial State Nature Preserve.
Two short interpretive loop trails access the preserve. They are connected by another more
rugged 0.5 mile trail, allowing a total of 1.75 miles in the forest. The Buckeye Trail also passes
through the preserve, using parts of all three trails. Our hike follows the Buckeye Trail at first,
then loops back to cover all of the interpretive loops.
Start at the information kiosk behind the parking lot, from which the Sullivantia Trail
leaves downhill to the left and right. Take the portion going left and use the one coming from the
right as a return route. The trail heads downhill and curves to the right to cross a small feeder
stream. Heading back uphill, the trail passes some dieing Virginia pines that are being out-
competed by their oak and maple counterparts.
At the intersection at the crest of the ridge, turn left to leave the Sullivantia trail (for now)
and begin the connecting trail. The 0.5 mile connector is more rugged than the interpretive loops
as it passes around the heads of two feeder streams of Cedar Creek, which is now visible downhill
at the base cliffs to the right. Be particularly careful of roots, rocks, and some extremely steep and
narrow sections along the banks of the feeder streams. You can tell the area is not total wilderness,
though, as sparsely traveled gravel TWP route 126 can be seen uphill to the left.
The connector trail joins the Agave Ridge Trail at its northern-most point. A black sign
with white markings tells you that the Agave Ridge Trail goes left and straight. Other than the
blue blazes of the Buckeye Trail, the trails at Davis Memorial are not marked. However, they are
clear and easy to follow with directional signs at each intersection.
Taking the right fork at this intersection, the Agave Ridge trail descends a double
switchback to the floodplain of Cedar Creek. Bedrock in this section of Adams County is very
near the surface. Thus, only trees such as redbud and red cedars that enjoy alkaline soils can
survive in this area. Black walnut and sycamore make an appearance in the floodplain.
Just before the trail takes a sharp left away from the stream, an interpretive sign tells about
an interesting geological feature. When the waters of Cedar Creek are clear enough, one can see a
fault line running perpendicular to the creek banks in the rocks beneath the creek. This 6-mile
long fault is similar in nature to the famous San Andreas fault in California except, of course, it is
much smaller. Notice the cliffs on the opposite side of the creek and how they change at the fault
line. The rocks to the right of the fault are Greenfield dolomite. Note the jagged edges and the
higher cliffs, a result of the rocks being more resistant to erosion. By contrast, the Peebles
dolomite to the left of the fault form lower cliffs and have a more rounded appearance.
Leaving the creek, the trail climbs moderately out of the floodplain passing several more
interpretive signs. At the top of the hill, where a side trail goes off to a second parking lot on the
right, stay left and lose some of the elevation you just gained to close the Agave Ridge loop. Turn
right at the close of the loop and follow the connector trail back to the Sullivantia Trail.
Upon intersecting the Sullivantia Trail, turn left and proceed clockwise, descending back
into the floodplain. Now along the banks of Cedar Creek, the trail becomes boardwalk and begins
passing underneath a dolomite cliff on the right and the creek on the left. The trail’s name comes
from a small plant that was first discovered growing on the cliffs of southwestern Ohio. Observe
the cliffs carefully to view this rare creation.
While you are on the boardwalk, notice your close proximity to TWP Route 129 on the
right and the wooden bridge you crossed on your drive in. As you can notice on your drive out,
the boardwalk and cliffs are easily visible from the road, but probably did not even notice them on
your way in. It is amazing what wonders of nature our modern, fast means of transportation can
cause us to miss.
Before reaching the road, the trail curves right, leaving the creek and boardwalk behind.
The trail climbs a couple of grassy mounds to arrive at the information kiosk representing the
trailhead, completing the hike.
Hike #25 Adams Lake Prairie State Nature Preserve
Trails: Prairie Dock and Post Oak Trails
Nearest City: West Union, Ohio
Length: 0.75 miles
Overview: A unique hike, first through a prairie opening, then through some second growth
Park Information: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/tabid/710/Default.aspx
Directions to the trailhead: From the West Union, take SR 41 north 2 miles to the park entrance
on the left, marked by a large, beige park sign. From SR 32, go 11 miles south on SR 41 to the
park entrance, which would be on the right from this direction. Follow the main park road past the
park office for a total of 0.5 mile. Watch for the preserve sign uphill to the left and park in the
parking lot adjacent to the picnic area on the right.
The hike: One of the most interesting short hikes in greater Cincinnati can be found at Adams Lake
Prairie State Nature Preserve. The preserve is contained within Adams Lake State Park, which is
popular for picnicking, fishing, and boating. The state park itself does not contain any trails but
does provide facilities such as restrooms and water for the preserve.
At only 22 acres, the state nature preserve is one of the smaller preserves described in this
book. Likewise, at 0.75 miles, some may argue that this hike alone may not be worth the 2 hour
drive from Cincinnati to central Adams County. What this hike does offer is one of the most
beautiful, unspoiled examples of a prairie opening in the region. If more hiking is desired,
consider hiking trails at nearby Buzzardroost Rock, Chaparral State Nature Preserve, or Davis
Memorial, all of which are described in this book.
A prairie opening is a unique, complex habitat very different from the tallgrass prairie
plantings found in some of our metroparks. Also called xeric, barren, or shortgrass prairies, the
land of a prairie opening is drier and supports more broad-leaf shrubs than its tallgrass counterpart.
One similarity is that controlled burns must be executed every 2 to 3 years in both environments so
that forests, the natural habitat for most of southwestern Ohio, does not take the prairie over.
Two short interpretive trails access the preserve. We will hike both trails in their entirety,
starting with the Prairie Dock Trail, which traverses the preserve’s small prairie opening, then
moving onto the Post Oak Trail, which covers some more mature woodland. As with other trails
in Adams County’s state nature preserves, they are unmarked, well-signed at intersections, and
feature small black signs interpreting some of the sights along the trail.
Start from the preserve sign and the nearby information kiosk across the park road from the
picnic area. Take the trail going straight behind the kiosk and hike uphill into young cedar woods,
stepping over a couple of erosion controls. In only 80 yards you will come out at the edge of the
prairie opening. When the trail forks, turn right and begin the Prairie Dock trail as it loops through
the small prairie opening. The prairie opening at nearby Chaparral State Nature Preserve is many
times the size of this one. However, Adams Lake’s prairie opening is special because it is
surrounded on all sides by tall deciduous trees, keeping the xeric prairie away from the sights and
sound of development.
Probably your first observation will be the large 2 foot high mounds of dirt scattered
throughout the prairie opening. These mounds are actually large anthills, home of the Allegany
red ant. One mound can house up to 100,000 ants. These ants are among the most aggressive ants
in the world, and their strong jaws give their bites quite a sting. The ants usually will not attack
humans unless they feel their home is endangered. Nevertheless, it is best to keep some distance
between yourself and the mounds.
You should also notice the large-leafed plants that cover much of the ground in the prairie
opening. This is prairie dock, the plant for which this trail is named. It is the most common plant
on the xeric prairie. Other flowering plants of the prairie to look for include blazing star,
coreopsis, rosinweed, and gentian. The prairie plants seem to attract a large number of butterflies
in the summer. The flowers are at their height in late summer, so plan a visit between late July and
early September to see a real show of color.
Just before closing the loop of the Prairie Dock Trail, our hike takes a right turn to begin
following the Post Oak Trail. This trail quickly leaves the prairie and winds through the upper
reaches of several small drainages. The larger trees in the forest are oaks and hickories, but the
younger saplings in the understory are all maples. The oak trees seem to be having a tougher time
reproducing than the maples. If this trend continues, over time this forest will cease to be an oak-
hickory forest and become dominated by maples.
The trail turns gently curves left and descends moderately almost to park road level,
passing some very large oak trees. Now heading west, the trail crosses the lower reaches of the
same ravines and soon ends at the Prairie Dock Trail. A right turn here and a short walk down the
hill and across the park road will complete the hike.
Hike #26 Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve
Trails: Hawk Hill Trail
Nearest City: West Union, Ohio
Length: 0.75 miles
Overview: An easy walk through one of the largest xeric prairies in the region.
Preserve Information: chaparral prairie
Directions to the trailhead: From West Union, go north on SR 247 0.7 to Chaparral Rd. going off
to the left. The street sign was obscured by bushes when I drove to the trailhead, so be on the
lookout. Take Chaparral Rd. 2.7 miles to its intersection with Hawk Hill Rd. Take a very soft
right onto Hawk Hill Road, as Chaparral Rd. curves sharply to the left. Go 0.2 miles on Hawk hill
Rd. to the preserve maintenance building and trailhead on the left. Park in the blacktop lot. The
trail begins at an information kiosk behind the maintenance building.
The hike: At first glance, the rolling, barren land of Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve looks
rather uninviting for a hike. There are no stately trees to admire, no stunning cliffs or sweeping
views. Indeed, to an all-too casual observer the preserve looks like a 66 acre weed patch.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. For starters, making its debut in 1984,
Chaparral Prairie is one of the newest additions to Ohio’s nature preserves. The fact that the land
was farmed only shortly before the acquisition explains the absence of large old-growth trees. In
fact, the forests found along the trail here are some of the youngest forests described in this book.
I would recommend returning every two or three years and watching this forest grow and gradually
proceed through the various stages of field succession.
The forest is not the main attraction at Chaparral, though. Chaparral harbors one of the
largest prairie openings in Ohio, and that is the focus of our hike. The preserve offers an excellent
opportunity to learn about the plants and wildlife of the prairie through several small, black
interpretive signs scattered throughout the trail. I suggest a late summer visit, as this is when the
prairie will show its best color.
The preserve is accessed by a single 0.75 mile loop trail, roughly in the shape of a square.
Go left from the information kiosk and begin hiking the trail clockwise. The prairie unfolds
downhill to the right as the grass trail passes through a shallow ravine. Look for prairie dock,
rattlesnake master, blazing star, and coreopsis in the prairie.
The origin of this prairie opening is somewhat of a mystery. Most experts agree that
Adams County’s prairies have their roots some 5000 years ago during an unusually warm period of
time called the Xerothermic Period. Higher temperature allowed prairie plants to migrate from the
Great Plains to the west into Ohio. When temperatures cooled down, most of the land was retaken
by forest. Still, a few pockets of prairie such as this one remain for our habitat diversity and
The trail soon passes underneath a power line and climbs into the preserve’s young forest
before making a sharp right turn. Most of the forest is still red cedar, one of the first hardwood
species to move into a reverting field. Over time, first juniper, ash, and black cherry will begin the
broadleaf invasion, followed by maple, hickory, oak and beech.
The trail descends slightly, passing back underneath the power line, then crosses a couple
of small ravines on wooden footbridges. As the trail curves right again and begins heading back
uphill, pass an interpretive sign describing some lichens living on a rock. Lichens are unusual
beings in that they consist both of an algae and a fungus. The algae derives its energy from
photosynthesis, the process of turning carbon-dioxide into oxygen, while the fungus performs
respiration (turning oxygen back into CO2). This symbiotic relationship allows the combined
entity to live in extremely harsh environments, such as on rocks.
A couple of times the trail crosses what appears to be another grassy trail. Actually, this
other “trail” is a firebreak for use when park rangers perform controlled burns. Every 2 to 3 years,
rangers must burn various plants on the prairie so that the prairie plants are not overtaken by
woody forest plants. Firebreaks placed at appropriate places help keep the flames under control.
Without such burning, the woody plants of the forest native to this area would out-compete the
lower prairie plants for food and sunlight, causing the land to revert to forest. Watch for black
posts with white arrows to point you the correct direction at such intersections.
First the old barn, then the modern maintenance building come into view uphill on the
horizon, signaling we are approaching the end of the hike. Just before closing the loop, notice an
old hand water-pump near the back of the barn. Only 50 yards later, the trail comes out at the
blacktop maintenance road behind the building, thus completing the hike.
Hike #27 Edge of Appalachia: Buzzardroost Rock
Trail: Buzzardroost Rock Trail
Location: Edge of Appalachia Preserve
Nearest City: West Union, Ohio
Length: 3.5 miles
Overview: A steep, difficult climb to one of the best overlooks in Ohio.
Trail Information: Buzzardroost Trail Map
Directions to the trailhead: From West Union, head east on SR 125. Take SR 125 7.1 miles to
CR 26 (this will be the second time you intersect CR 26). Turn left CR 26. Take CR 26 0.2 miles
to the small gravel parking area on the left. This is a popular route, so you may need to park along
the road if the lot is full. Make sure not to block any cars (including those parked in the lot).
The hike: Located in hilly, rural Adams County, the Edge of Appalachia Preserve contains 13,000
acres of some of the most rugged land in the state of Ohio. The preserve is jointly managed by the
Nature Conservancy and the Cincinnati Museum Center. Purchase of property began in 1958, and
continued small additions have grown the total preserve to the size mentioned above. The
preserve’s name comes from its location, in the “knobs” region just outside of glaciated central
Ohio. In this sense, Adams County is located on the edge of Appalachia, the unglaciated region of
Of the three public trails located within the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, the Buzzardroost
Rock Trail is by far the most popular. One trip up this trail and you will know why. The overlook
at the end of this trail rivals any in the state of Ohio for scenery. One should be warned, though,
that this hike is one of the steepest trails in greater Cincinnati. Thus, the journey should be
attempted only by those in reasonably good health.
The trail departs from the southwest corner of the parking area, descends some rock steps,
and immediately begins a moderate descent. The trail is not marked, but traffic is heavy enough
and trail maintenance good enough that following the trail is not a problem. Pass a sign that says
“Buzzardroost Rock-Christian and Emma Goetz Preserve” before crossing SR 125. Continue
downhill and, 0.2 miles from the trailhead, cross a new wooden bridge over Easter Run, a tributary
of Ohio Brush Creek. Across the bridge, the trail curves right. You can hear but not see Easter
Falls to the right.
The trail now begins ascending gently and curves to the left to follow the contours above
Ohio Brush Creek which is downhill to the right. The soil is very thin and does not drain well, so
expect some wet spots even if it has not rained recently. The forest is still in early stages of
succession, and the red cedar forest along this trail is one of the densest red cedar forests that I am
aware of in greater Cincinnati.
The trail passes some dolomite slump blocks that have fallen from the cliffs, which are
usually not visible to the left. As the cliffs close in on the left, the forest opens up and changes to
hardwood forest consisting of older maple and beech trees. 1 mile into the hike, although you have
climbed about 70 feet from Easter Run, you are still about 60 feet below the elevation of the
At this point, the trail turns to the left and the serious climbing begins. Over the next 0.2
miles, the trail gains 200 feet in elevation with the aid of 5 switchbacks (without which the ascent
would be nearly vertical). There is no bench, so take your time ascending the hill. On the bright
side, as you ascend the hill, the trail gets drier, so your footing will improve.
Once atop the hill, the trail drops through the upper reaches of a small ravine. On the other
side of this dip, a sign directs you to turn right where an abandoned trail goes straight. After 0.15
miles of level ridge-top hiking, the trail once again climbs steeply, gaining another 80 feet in
elevation to reach the highest point on the trail and the summit of Buzzardroost Rock. From here,
a short downhill stint remains to bring you to the overlook.
Standing atop the weathered dolomite rock, views explode in three directions. To the right,
Ohio Brush Creek can be seen 300 feet below. Straight ahead looking south, some farms can be
seen as the Brush Creek flows toward the Ohio River. To the left, the heavily forested ravine of
Sam’s Run falls away. There are some benches at the overlook, which is protected with steel
railings, and a nice breeze keeps the overlook cool even on warm summer days.
After spending some time at the overlook, retrace your steps back downhill. The route
described is the only public route within the Buzzardroost Rock portion of the Edge of Appalachia
Preserve. Other routes either cross private land or have been abandoned, so you will have to
retrace your steps for 1.5 miles back to your car. While you are here, consider hiking either the
Wilderness Trail and/or the Lynx Prairie Trail, both of which are located within a very short drive
of Buzzardroost Rock.
Hike #28 Edge of Appalachia: Wilderness Preserve
Trail: Wilderness Trail
Location: Edge of Appalachia Preserve
Nearest City: West Union, Ohio
Length: 2.5 miles
Overview: A difficult woodland trail over steep terrain featuring dolomite cliffs.
Trail Information: Wilderness Trail Map
Directions to the trailhead: From West Union, head east on SR 125. Take SR 125 7.6 miles to
Lynx Road and turn left on Lynx Road. Take Lynx Road east 0.4 miles to Shivener Rd. and turn
left on Shivener Rd. Shivener Rd. shortly becomes a gravel road. Take Shivener Rd. north 0.6
miles to the gravel pull-out on the left. Just past this pull-out, a wire fence blocks access to the
Museum Center youth camp property.
The hike: Have you ever heard of the Adams County branch of the Cincinnati Museum Center? If
you haven’t, you are not alone. While most people think of the Museum Center as the restored
Union Terminal in downtown Cincinnati, the Museum Center also manages a nature camp for
youth centered around this hike. On a summer day, you might find a van with Hamilton County
license plates parked in the parking area beside you, having just made the two-hour trip out east
with several young people.
This trail passes through a portion of the preserve known for many years as “the
Wilderness.” After a visit to this area in 1961, the famous Ohio botanist called the area a “howling
wilderness,” and since then the name has stuck. Actually, the terrain is no more harsh than that at
Buzzardroost Rock located just a few miles down the road. As with that hike, this trail should only
be attempted by those in decent health, as some difficulty will be encountered, especially on the
trip back uphill to the trailhead.
The trail begins at an opening in the fence about 30 feet left (south) of the trailhead. Go
through this opening and immediately begin a gradual descent toward a small stream on the left.
The trail is well-marked with frequent yellow blazes. These blazes do come in handy: this trail is
the newest (opened in 2001) and least traveled in the preserve, so the treadway itself will
sometimes be difficult to discern. Make sure you keep on the watch for the blazes, and you won’t
get lost. Also due to the light traffic, numerous spiders like to spin their webs across the trail.
Bring your hiking stick so that it will break the webs instead of your face.
0.4 miles into the hike, as the trail curves to the right and climbs slightly, look for some
short, light green evergreen trees on the right of the trail. These trees are white cedar (not to be
confused with the more typical red cedar) and are rarely found this far south. Some people believe
that these cedars are holdovers from the last ice age, while others think that these cedars have
migrated north from the cooler ridgetops in the higher elevations of the Appalachians. Either way,
to see white cedar trees in southern Ohio is an unusual sight, so take a few minutes to observe
Continuing downhill, the trail passes over a shallow rock shelter (which can be seen
underneath you to the left) and some dolomite cliffs visible through the trees uphill to the right.
0.75 miles into the hike, after finishing the steepest descent of the hike, the trail curves right and
level out at an elevation about 175 feet below where you started. The forest here is very young
with lots of sunlight reaching the floor, allowing a thick stand of paw paw bushes to grow in the
The trail continues to lose elevation gradually until, 1.5 miles into the hike, the trail crosses
a gravelly stream without the aid of a bridge. The water is only a couple inches deep under normal
water tables, so you should be able to cross without getting your feet too wet. This stream crossing
marks the lowest point on the hike, 275 feet below the trailhead.
The trail now follows the north side of the ravine and begins the most difficult climb of the
hike, gaining 120 feet of elevation in about 0.2 miles. More dolomite cliffs can be seen to the left.
At the top of the steepest section, the trail turns right, crosses a stream on a wooden footbridge, and
begins a more moderate climb out of the head of the ravine.
2.3 mile into the hike, the trail comes out at a small prairie opening that is also used as a
power line swath. Notice the warmer environment of the prairie opening and the different kind of
plants and insects that this environment supports. The trail narrows as it climbs through the prairie
and reenters the forest on the other side.
In only another 0.1 miles, the trail comes out in the Museum Center camp behind an old
barn. Hike straight ahead and you will arrive at the end of Shivener Rd. A short walk up one final
hill along the gravel road will return you to the parking lot, thus completing the hike.
Hike #29 Edge of Appalachia: Lynx Prairie Preserve
Trail: Lynx Prairie Trail
Location: Edge of Appalachia Preserve
Nearest City: West Union, Ohio
Length: 1.25 miles
Overview: An easy walk along a narrow trail through numerous prairie openings.
Preserve Information: Edge of Appalachia Main
Directions to the trailhead: From West Union, head east on SR 125. Take SR 125 8.2 miles to
Tulip Road (in the town of Lynx). Turn left on Tulip Rd. Take Tulip Rd. south 0.3 miles to
Prairie Road, which is also the driveway to the East Liberty Church. Turn left on Prairie Rd. and
follow it to its end in the East Liberty Church Cemetery. The trail departs from the southern edge
of the cemetery.
The hike: The vast Edge of Appalachia preserve in southern Adams County does an excellent job
of providing three well-maintained trails through the unique habitats and locations along the
western edge of the Appalachian Mountain region of the United States. Combined, these three
trails provide a nice day-outing not too far from home. The Buzzardroost Rock Trail ascends
through succession forest to a view rivaling any in Ohio. The Wilderness Trail leads past forested
dolomite cliffs and through a white cedar community, an unusual site in climates this warm.
The Lynx Prairie Trail completes the trio. This trail is by far the shortest and easiest of the
three, but it takes a little more work to appreciate the prairie habitat than it does an outstanding
view or tall, vertical cliffs. Those who succeed will find that this trail provides perhaps the best
and most extensive examples of prairie openings in greater Cincinnati. Just keep your eyes open,
and see what natural and living wonders are there to be seen.
Looking south through the cemetery, you will see a front section, an area of trees that cuts
into the cemetery, and then a back section of the cemetery. The trail departs through an opening in
the fence at the rear of the front section. A national landmark plaque rests just beyond this
opening, and the dirt trail heads downhill. The trail skirts North Prairie on the left side, uses a
boardwalk to cross a wet area, then ascends to a self-registration box and the beginning of the loop.
This description follows the Green Loop, which a post tells you departs to the right.
The Green Trail heads south through Dock Prairie, named for the large amount of prairie
dock that grows here; look for plants about 1 foot high with a single large, green leaf. This is the
largest of the prairie openings, and the lack of trees makes it much easier to spot songbirds here
than in the forest. Also, insects such as dragonflies and damselflies like the plants and sunlight of
0.4 miles into the hike, arrive at the intersection of the Green and White Loops. Continue
straight to begin the White Loop, as the Green Loop exits left and becomes overgrown before
closing. The White Loop descends gently. None of the trails are well-marked, but you will find an
occasional blaze nailed to a tree just over head-high.
At another intersection, follow a sign that tells you to turn left to continue on the White
Loop. The trail reenters the young forest, crosses a small stream, and ascends moderately to arrive
at a junction with the Red Loop, which goes to the right. Turn right, then immediately take
another right to begin following the Red Loop, the outermost of the three loops, counterclockwise.
The Red Loop descends gently through Narrow Prairie, named for its elongated
dimensions. The Red Loop traverses Narrow Prairie lengthwise, then curves left to pass through
Annette’s Prairie, the smallest of the prairie openings on this site. The trail curves left again and
begins climbing, passing a rock ledge on the left that looks out of place in the prairie.
The return route proceeds almost entirely through young maple forest, climbing gently
most of the way. First the Red Loop is closed, then the White and Green Loops enter from the
right. You finally arrive back at the self-registration box, thus closing the entire loop portion of
this hike. A short uphill hike remains to return you to the cemetery. On your way out, notice the
dates and names on the headstones, some of which date to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This
short walk through the cemetery completes the hike.
Chapter Five: Northern Kentucky
Our first venture outside of Ohio takes us to the southern part of Greater Cincinnati and the
northern part of Kentucky. A few years ago Northern Kentucky was thought of as the sleepy side
of the river, a respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown Cincinnati to the north. Such is no
longer the case, as attractions such as the Newport Aquarium, Riverboat Row, and Mainstrasse
now lure plenty of visitors to the south banks of the Ohio River.
In spite of these attractions, the number one draw of people into Northern Kentucky
remains the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Located near I-275 just west of
I-75, thousands of people per day enter and leave Greater Cincinnati through the airport. Partly as
a result of the airport, Northern Kentucky has seen extensive development in the past few years. In
some parts of the region, development has proceeded unchecked, placing shopping areas adjacent
to residential homes. Nevertheless, if you are willing to venture just a few miles south of the I-275
loop, you will find rural, rolling hills covered with trees and fields.
Hiking opportunities in Northern Kentucky come in many shapes and sizes. If small urban
parks are to your liking, Highland Cemetery Forest Preserve and Tower Park should be up your
alley. Additionally, though not described here, Devou Park in Covington provides some fantastic
views of the Cincinnati skyline and a couple of nice walking trails. Two state parks, Big Bone
Lick with its famous fossil dig and Kincaid Lake provide some nice, though short, trail systems.
For those seeking solitude, one will scarcely do better in Greater Cincinnati than the remote Quiet
Trails State Nature Preserve near Falmouth. Whatever your preferences, a hiking trip to Northern
Kentucky is sure to clear your mind and invigorate your body.
Hike #30 Boone County Cliffs State Nature Preserve
Trail: Main Trail
Nearest City: Burlington, Kentucky
Length: 1.75 miles
Overview: A scenic hike around the rim of a cliff-lined ravine.
Preserve Information: http://www.naturepreserves.ky.gov/stewardship/boonecntycliffs.htm
Directions to the trailhead: From Burlington, go west on SR 18 about 6 miles to its intersection
with Middle Creek Road, a paved road marked with a green street sign. Turn left on Middle Creek
Road and follow the narrow winding road about 2 miles to the small gravel parking area on the
left. Note that the parking area can only hold four cars at a time, so try to plan a visit when other
people are not.
The hike: Set in rural western Boone County, the rugged terrain of Boone County Cliffs is a
naturalist's dream. There are only a couple of exposed rock outcrops visible from the trail, so the
name is a bit misleading. The rest of the preserve is characterized by mature forest and steep
Despite the fact that the land was purchased by the state of Kentucky only 25 years ago,
most of the land in the preserve has never been farmed or grazed. Enjoy this walk through the hills
of northern Kentucky.
Begin along the main trail, which departs from the northwest side of the parking area. The
trail soon reaches a small but pretty stream and takes two right turns before beginning a long, steep
ascent out of the creek valley. At the top of the hill, take a quick detour to the left to see an
overlook of the creek valley from the top of a shale rock outcrop. The view is somewhat
obstructed by trees, but is still a good reward for the hard climb up the hill.
Retrace your steps to the main trail and go straight at the intersection to continue the loop.
The trail now begins meandering through mature forest along the east side of the ravine, which is
dominated by maple, beech, and oak, with an occasional basswood. The ground is completely
covered by the alien herb garlic mustard in the warmer months, which looks like a green carpet on
the forest floor.
After dipping in and out of a steep drainage for the last major climb of the hike, the trail
takes a left turn around the head of the main ravine in the preserve. Now on the west side of the
ravine, the trail continues along a narrow ridge with a steep ravine on either side. Larkspur and
violets seem to like this section of the forest.
Soon, the trail passes through a section of woods that is considerably younger than the rest
of the forest. This area was farmed probably only 40 years ago, before the land was purchased by
the state. Once clear of this area, the trail continues along the ridge, which is even narrower now.
Once the end of the ridge is reached, the trail begins a steep descent back to the creek valley that
runs through the middle of the preserve. Elm and ash dominate the creek valley. Cross the small
creek without the aid of a bridge and then come out onto Middle Creek Rd. a couple hundred feet
west of the parking area. A short uphill walk on the paved road ends the hike.
Hike #31 Middle Creek Park
State Route 18
Trail: Trail #l
Nearest City: Burlington, Kentucky
Length: 3 miles
Overview: A moderately difficult hike, first along Middle Creek, then across hillier terrain.
Park Information: http://www.boonecountyky.org/parks/parks/MiddleCreek.aspx
Directions to trailhead: From Burlington, Kentucky, take SR 18 west about 6 miles to the large
gravel parking area, which is on the left. A brown wooden sign at the entrance says "Middle Creek
Park," and a yellow road sign with a flashing light warning of pedestrians hangs over this
The hike: Managed by the Boone County Park Commission, Middle Creek Park derives its name
from the large creek that flows through the middle of the park. This relatively undeveloped park
offers some picnic tables, located at the parking area, and an extensive system of hiking trails,
many of which double as bridle trails. The main trail through the park, trail #l, takes you through
some mature forest along Middle Creek and over some steep ridges.
A word of caution: this trail is best hiked during the dry season because many parts become
very muddy after any significant rainfall. Also, parts of the trail have been "chewed up" by the
horse traffic, making hiking more difficult and exacerbating the mud problem. If you choose to
hike this trail when the ground is the least bit wet, be sure to come prepared for some mud.
The trail starts from the far right side of the parking area and immediately enters the woods,
which initially is dominated by maple. The trail soon descends some wooden steps to Middle
Creek's floodplain. Ignore an overgrown trail that goes to the right and take the trail marked "short
cut," which soon takes a left turn to join Trail #l. This trail is well-marked (for the most part) using
brown signs with red letters.
The trail goes east beside the steep-walled creek past some very large sycamore trees. The
forest floor is covered densely with chickweed, with some occasional soloman's seal. The trail
soon crosses the creek on a long wooden footbridge and comes to a complex intersection. This
marks the beginning of the loop portion of Trail #l. We will use the left trail as the outbound
portion, and the one on the right as the inbound portion. Trails 2, 6, and 4 go straight ahead here.
Turning left here, the trail continues to follow the creek, passing some more large sycamore
trees. Some side trails appear to go off to either side, but the main direction of the trail is always
obvious. In some spots, black plastic-like material has been placed in the dirt trail to control the
mud problem, but with very little success. The creek is still visible on the left, as is Middle Creek
Road at this point. After passing some young sycamore trees, the trail takes a sharp right turn
beside larger sycamore trees.
A couple hundred yards later, the trail arrives at an intersection where a weedy trail goes to
the left under some powerlines. This intersection is confusing due to an old wooden post that
identifies "Trail 2" as the trail going to the right, suggesting that Trail 1 goes under the powerlines.
In reality, Trail 1 goes to the right and stays in the forest.
The trail soon begins a long, steep uphill climb out of the floodplain for the first major
climb of the hike. Once atop the hill, the trail turns to the right and follows the ridge for a few
hundred feet through more maple forest. Keep to the left at a well-marked intersection with trails
2 and 3, possibly after a short detour to observe the pond which is located only a few feet down
Trail 1 next drops steeply into a small drainage, then begins another long, steep ascent that
makes up the last major climb of the hike. Once atop the ridge, the trail turns right again and soon
intersects Trail 6, a short cut back to the bridge over Middle Creek. An unmarked trail goes
downhill to the left here. Stay on Trail 1, which continues atop the narrow ridge. In terms of
wildflowers, chickweed, violets, and larkspur seem to like the ridgetop. Also, notice a rare sight: a
large sycamore on the ridge top. These are usually found only near water.
At about the 2 mile point, you must climb over a large log that makes a good makeshift
bench. At the next intersection, an unmarked trail continues straight ahead where a wooden post
says that Trail 1 turns right to descend back to Middle Creek. Before turning right, go just a few
yards down the unmarked trail to a stone fireplace, the only remnant of an old house.
Continuing on trail 1, the trail begins a long and very steep descent to Middle Creek. After
carefully descending the hill, another wooden post tells you to turn right. This section of the trail
appears to be an abandoned road or driveway. There is a barbed-wire fence and a row of dead
hedgeapple trees on the left, both of which probably marked an old property boundary. The small
hedgeapples are being out-competed by the larger maples growing nearby.
After crossing a small drainage on stepping stones, arrive back at the intersection beside the
bridge across Middle Creek. Turn left here, cross the bridge, and retrace your steps .4 miles to the
parking lot to finish the hike.
Hike #32 Big Bone Lick State Park
To SR 338
Nearest City: Union, Kentucky
Length: 2.25 miles
Overview: A hilly course through young forest and field near the perimeter of the state park.
Park Information: http://parks.ky.gov/findparks/recparks/bb/
Directions to the trailhead: Take I-75 in Kentucky to SR 338 (exit 175). Exit and go west. Take
SR 338 west 7 miles to the park entrance. Turn left to enter the park. Turn left at the first side
road. Park in the gravel lot at the end of this road.
The hike: Nestled in the rural hills of southern Boone County, Big Bone Lick State Park is a
popular recreation spot and getaway for many people in greater Cincinnati. The park is named for
a fossil excavation that took place on this land earlier this century. This and other features of the
land's history can be explored at a museum located on park
grounds. Just follow signs from the park entrance to get there.
The state park also contains a small lake popular for fishing, a picnic area, a developed
campground that stays very busy in the warmer months, and two hiking trails. The shorter trail
traces a course around the lake, while the longer one follows the park boundary for much of its
distance. This hike combines portions of both trails.
The hike begins where the side road leading to our parking area ends at a vehicle gate. Past
the gate, the trail turns right and begins a short, but steep ascent to the dam creating the park's 7.5
acre lake. The lake is not visible until you have almost completed the climb up the wooden in-
ground steps. Reach a trail intersection on the right (west) side of the dam. Turn left here, cross
the dam, continue straight at another intersection on the east side of the dam, and enter the forest.
The trail begins a steep descent through young forest to arrive near Big Bone Creek. At
this point, the wide dirt trail turns right and begins an equally steep climb out of the creek valley.
Over the next 0.2 miles you will gain over 200 feet in elevation. At the top of the hill, the forest
opens up somewhat and a hay field comes into view just over the fence on your left.
The trail proceeds to turn gradually to the right, dipping through a couple of drainages from
the fields on your left. A herd of cows not 20 feet away stared at me eerily as I walked along the
trail this evening. The trail soon climbs a small rise and comes out at the rear of the campground
near a white water tower. Make your way to the paved campground road, so as not to disturb the
campers, and go right.
Stay to the right whenever the road forks and soon arrive at the recreation hall on the right.
Go to the rear of the hall and pick up a trail that enters the forest at a red Kentucky State Park sign.
The trail drops steeply, heading toward the park's small lake. At a T-intersection, turn left and
cross a small footbridge soon to come out at a wide gravel road. Turn right on this trail, and soon
the lake comes into sight.
The trail turns left to follow the west shore of the lake on the right. A sharp right turn to
cross the spillway on a wooden footbridge will return you to the top of the wooden steps leading
down to the parking lot. Turn left and descend the steps to finish the hike.
Hike #33 Highland Cemetery Forest Preserve
Nearest City: Fort Mitchell, Kentucky
Length: 3.5 miles
Overview: A fairly difficult hike with young maple forest and two waterfalls.
Directions to the trailhead: Take I-75 in Kentucky to Dixie Hwy. (exit 189). Exit and go south
0.25 miles to the Highland Cemetery entrance. Turn left to enter the cemetery. At each
intersection, turn right and proceed to the very rear of the cemetery where the road is gated. Turn
left on the last road before you reach the gate and park where the road curves sharply left. The
trail heads east into the forest just to the right of the road.
The hike: Located on a steep hillside in Northern Kentucky, Highland Cemetery Forest Preserve is
a rugged, green oasis in an otherwise highly developed area. Adjacent Highland Cemetery is the
second largest in the state. In 1990, the cemetery's Board of Directors decided to set aside 150
acres of wooded land as a nature preserve and authorized construction of a trail system.
Three trails were constructed at that time, and two more have been added since. Despite
the preserve's close proximity to downtown Cincinnati, the narrow trails and steep hills allow the
preserve to provide a good bit of solitude. I suggest hiking these trails in early spring or late fall
when understory growth is at the least. Also, these trails contain numerous unbridged stream
crossings that are made easier when water levels are low.
The trail starts at a wooden post at the cemetery's edge and heads steeply downhill through
a field before turning left to enter the forest. Each of the six trails are marked with a different color
and symbol. Trail #l is marked with an orange deer track. This part of the trail is steep, badly
eroded, and heavily encumbered with undergrowth. Fortunately, trail conditions only improve
from here. The trail drops steeply through young maple forest toward a small feeder stream.
At the bottom of the hill, the trail forks, with orange-blazed trail #l going left and the green-
blazed trail #6 staying along the stream going right. The trails reunite in 0.2 miles, so the choice is
yours. I would suggest hiking trail #6, as it gives you a view of an old stone springhouse located
downhill and across the stream. Early settlers to the area used such places to keep perishables
fresh during the warmer months.
After trail #6 rejoins trail #l, the trail stays at a nearly constant elevation on the hillside
heading for its junction with trail #2. Again, these two trails rejoin later in the hike, so either route
will do. I suggest turning right and following trail #2 downhill to follow along a larger creek.
From the intersection, trail #2, which is blazed with red oak leaves, descends rather steeply to the
The water level in this south-flowing creek varies throughout the year from a dry bed of
rocks to a raging river after a thunderstorm. The streamside forest is still dominated by maple with
a few black walnuts and sycamores mixed in. The trail stays on the west side of the creek and
soon begins a moderate climb to rejoin trail #l.
Continuing straight on trail #l, the trail curves left around the hillside, soon descending
gently to cross a significant tributary of the larger creek. There is no bridge at this stream crossing,
so you could get your feet wet during periods of high water. Across the stream lies a trail
intersection with trail #l and trail #3. Turn right to begin trail #3, a loop trail that gives access to
the newer and more remote section of the preserve. After only 500 feet, the trail forks to form the
trail #3 loop. I suggest turning right and hiking the loop counterclockwise.
Marked by a yellow maple leaf, trail #3 maintains a level elevation with the hillside on the
left and the main stream, now smaller than it was back on trail #2, on the right. About half way
around the loop, trail #3 turns left while trail #4 continues straight, deeper into the preserve.
Begin purple-blazed trail #4, a short loop trail. Still following the stream, trail #4 proceeds
500 yards to intersect trail #5, another short loop trail. Continue straight to begin trail #5, which is
blazed with pink paw prints. Clinging tenuously to the hillside, trail #5 leads to a small waterfall
in the main stream. A well-placed bench overlooks the waterfall, making a good resting point.
This is also the farthest point from the trailhead on this hike.
Continuing past the waterfall, the trail turns left and ascends the ridge. Although the hill is
steep, the trail uses a switchback to ascend the ridge, thereby slowing the rate of ascent. This
newer trail is an example of good trail construction, contrasting with the older trails #l and #2,
which go straight down the hillside, making for a steeper, more difficult climb. Also, steeper hills
mean greater potential for trail erosion, thus hurting the landscape and making hiking even less
After a short stint high along the hillside, the trail turns left and descends to close the loop
and rejoin trail #4. Turn right to continue counterclockwise around trail #4, which ascends the
ridge via a double switchback. Like before, the trail continues high on the hillside for about 500
feet before descending to intersect trail #3. Turn right on trail #3. From this point, 900 feet of
level hiking will close the trail #3 loop and bring you back to trail #l.
Upon, reaching trail #l, turn right to pass a small waterfall in the stream to your left that
looks very similar to the one you saw earlier. The trail next climbs to a small bluff before
descending steeply to cross the creek again. Immediately after crossing the creek, trail #l forks.
The trail going right follows the steam and ascends moderately to join the cemetery road. I
suggest turning left: although more difficult, this option will keep you in the forest longer, making
for a more scenic walk.
The trail begins a long and very steep ascent to the ridgetop. In case you had not guessed,
we have returned to the older section of the trail system. Once atop the ridge, the trail turns right
and passes a few sinkholes on either side of the trail. Sinkholes such as these are created when
groundwater erodes the underlying limestone, causing the soil above it to cave in. Past the
depressions, the trail passes through a small meadow before leaving the preserve to
intersect the cemetery road. A left turn will return you to your car and complete the hike.
Hike #34 Tower Park
Trail: Landmark Tree Trail
Nearest City: Ft. Thomas, Kentucky
Length: 1.3 miles
Overview: A moderate course through second growth forest highlighted by the remnants of Fort
Thomas and some large, old trees.
Directions to the trailhead: In terms of navigability, the narrow, winding, numerous streets of Ft.
Thomas rank among the most confusing in greater Cincinnati. In addition, Tower Park is small
and easily missed, so follow these directions very carefully. Take I-471 to Grand Ave. (exit 3).
Exit and go east on Grand Ave. Follow Grand Ave. past St. Luke Hospital to its terminus at South
Fort Thomas Blvd., marked by an all-way stop. Continue straight to go south on S. Ft. Thomas
Blvd. Proceed south on S. Ft. Thomas Blvd. for 0.5 mile and approach the intersection with River
Road (SR 445), which enters from the left at a traffic light. 10 yards before reaching this
intersection a narrow, unmarked street exits to the left beside a sign for a VA Nursing Home
facility. The official name for this street is Carmel Manor Drive. Turn left on this narrow street,
go two blocks to a second three-way stop, this one in front of the US Army Reserve building.
Turn right, and park in the parking lot for the athletic field on your left. The trailhead is about a 3
minute walk from this lot, described below.
The hike: Tower Park is one of those small, out-of-the-way places familiar to only those in the
very nearby community (until now, at least!). The land is owned by Carmel Manor Nursing
Home, located next door to the trailhead. The nursing home parking lot is private property, and we
ask that you do not use it for visiting this preserve. The Fort Thomas Tree Commission has leased
the area for the enjoyment of the public.
The land is of interest for several reasons. First, contained within the boundaries of the
park are some of the largest and oldest trees in the state of Kentucky. Fifteen of these trees have
been identified with large numbers and can be seen from this trail. Also, the land contains the
remnants of the stone military fort that gave Fort Thomas its name. It too can be viewed along the
single well-designed 1.1 mile loop trail that provides access to the forest within the park.
Unlike many hikes in this book, the location of this trailhead is not obvious from the
parking lot. Begin by walking back to the three-way stop in front of the Army Reserve Center and
turn right on Carmel Manor Drive. Walk along this narrow street with the reserve center on your
left and the athletic track downhill through the trees on your right. As the road curves north, watch
for a bench and sign on the right side of the street marking the trailhead. It is about a three to five
minute walk from the parking lot. The Carmel Manor Nursing Home can be seen across a mown
grass area some 100 yards ahead and on the right.
The dirt trail enters the woods immediately and descends slightly to join a trail coming in
from the left. This trail provides access to the preserve from the nursing home. Stay right and in
50 yards intersect another trail leaving at a sharp angle to the right. The trail straight ahead and the
one going right form the two arms of our loop trail. I suggest continuing straight and hiking the
loop clockwise, as this makes the uphill climb coming back a bit less steep.
The trail soon passes the first of the 15 featured trees, this one a coffeetree on the left. This
tree is not particularly large, but it is noteworthy because the coffeetree is the official state tree of
Kentucky. Continue ahead for another 75 yards to a side trail that goes off to the right beside a
sign that says “ruins.” As the sign suggests, this short trail leads to some piles of stones, all that
remain of Fort Thomas. Overlooking the Ohio River, the fort was built for the protection of
newly-arrived settlers from across the Appalachians. As you stand peacefully atop these stones,
imagine the rigor and hardships the new settlers must have faced attempting to defend themselves
against Indian attacks and nature’s attacks in the form of disease, starvation, and cold, hot, and
Back on the main trail, pass tree numbers two , three, and four (all oaks) as you dip through
a shallow ravine. When I walked this trail one April evening, the forest floor was covered with
violets, phlox, solomon’s seal, and mayapple. Where the trail appears to fork, stay right and begin
a steep descent with the aid of some wooden steps and wide switchbacks. Be sure not to miss tree
#6, a huge sycamore on the right side of the trail. This is the largest tree in the park.
At the base of the hill, the trail turns sharply right and begins following an even elevation
with the Ohio river visible through some gaps in the trees on the left and the steep hillside on the
right. Unfortunately, SR 8 can be heard to the left as well. Cross a wooden bridge over a creekbed
featuring large rocks and begin the long, moderate climb back to the trailhead. For most of the
climb the grade is not particularly steep, as the trail stays within the ravines of a pair of drainage
channels. A couple of windfalls make the hiking a bit more difficult.
Along the way you will pass trees #9-15, all large oaks. At the top of the hill, the trail
rejoins the outward-portion to close the loop. Turn left at each of the trail intersections to arrive
back at the trailhead. Remember that your car is located about 0.1 miles to the left in the athletic
field parking lot.
Hike #35 Kincaid Lake State Park
Trail: Ironwood Loop Trail
Nearest City: Falmouth, Kentucky
Length: 2 miles
Overview: An excellent, moderate hike on well-maintained trails in Kentucky hill country.
Park Information: http://parks.ky.gov/findparks/recparks/kl/
Directions to the trailhead: From Falmouth, go east on SR 22 for 0.3 miles to its intersection with
SR 159. Turn left on SR 159. The state park entrance is 3 miles north on SR 159, marked by two
large signs. Turn right to enter the park. Follow the main park road past the park office and the
lake. Where the road continues straight to enter the campground, bear right to arrive at the
recreation area. Park in the only lot.
The hike: Tucked away in rural Pendleton County, 850 acre Kincaid Lake State Park offers a
quaint getaway for the people of northern Kentucky. The 183 acre lake is popular with swimmers,
boaters, and fishermen. The small campground is complete with amphitheater, recreation area, and
access to the trail system.
The trails at Kincaid Lake are laid out in two adjoining loops that share a common
trailhead. The 1.5 mile
Ironwood Loop takes you along the creek while the 1 mile Spicebush Loop circles a ridgetop. Our
hike uses part of both trails adding up to 2 miles.
From the parking lot, pass through the recreation center and behind the basketball courts to
reach the large, dark red sign that marks the beginning of the trail. The trail enters young forest on
a rocky course and after 0.1 miles reaches a trail shelter at a three-way intersection. The trail
shelter contains a bench, a large, multi-colored trail map, and some drawings of common flora and
fauna of the forest. Taking the left trail would lead uphill and come out at the campground
Turn right here to begin the common spur trail to access the trail system. The trail
descends moderately through young maple forest to arrive alongside a tributary of Kincaid Lake.
Begin traveling upstream and soon arrive at a fork in the trail. The Spicebush Trail goes right and
uses a wooden bridge to cross the stream. Our course, the Ironwood Trail, goes left and remains
on the west side of the creek.
The wide dirt trail parallels the creek, heading upstream, occasionally climbing to top a
bluff or dropping to cross a drainage. On the fall evening I hiked this trail, the forest was alive
with numerous large white-tailed deer, woodpeckers, squirrels, and chipmunks.
Upon reaching the upper reaches of the creek, the trail turns right and crosses the now
small creek without the aid of a bridge. This crossing is usually an easy rock-hop, but could
provide wet feet after a recent rainstorm. The trail now turns away from the creek and begins a
long, moderate climb to the ridgetop east of the creek. At the top of the hill, the trail turns to grass
and enters a red cedar thicket.
Keep right where a maintenance road goes left. 0.2 miles later, the Ironwood Trail ends at
the Spicebush Trail, which goes left and right. We are currently at the midpoint of the Spicebush
Trail loop, so one could take either route at this intersection. The right trail descends 0.5 miles
through more young forest and parallels the Ironwood Loop. I believe the left route is more
scenic, so I suggest turning left and beginning a ridgetop course through more red cedars.
After 0.2 miles, the trail begins a steep descent, first through a small CCC pine planting,
then through some mature maple forest. This is the most beautiful. The trail arrives at streamside
and heads upstream to intersect the other arm of the Spicebush Loop. Turn left to cross the stream
on the wooden bridge to intersect the Ironwood Trail. Turn left and retrace your steps uphill and
past the shelter and recreation center to complete the hike.
Hike #36 Quiet Trails State Nature Preserve
Trails: Challenger and Sassafras Trails
Nearest City: Falmouth, Kentucky
Length: 2 miles
Overview: A peaceful hike through young forest overlooking the Licking River.
Preserve Information: http://www.naturepreserves.ky.gov/stewardship/quiettrails.htm
Directions to the trailhead: From Falmouth, go south on US 27 to SR 1284, which is 2 miles
across the Harrison County line. Take a soft left onto SR 1284. Where the state route turns right
at a four-way stop, continue straight on Pughs Ferry Road. The nature preserve is 1.8 miles past
this intersection on Pughs Ferry Rd. Park in the small gravel parking lot on the right.
The hike: The origins of this preserve’s name are obvious. Tucked away on a one-lane paved road
20 miles from the nearest traffic light or supermarket, one does not stumble upon Quiet Trails State
Nature Preserve by accident. Likewise, the area is far from a tourist trap, as there is no fabulous
scenery here, nor did a major historical event occur on these premises. Indeed, you must be a
nature lover seeking out an isolated, quiet hike to end up here.
For those willing to take on this role, the preserve has something that many preserves in
Greater Cincinnati cannot offer: solitude. Very likely yours will be the only group hiking these
trails. This can be highly advantageous, as there is nobody else to scare the wildlife away or
interrupt your enjoyment of nature. Of course, if you are new to the sport of hiking, enjoy
comradery, or get lost very easily, this could be a disadvantage. Follow this map and directions
and stay on the marked trails.
The 267 acres of the preserve itself is covered entirely by field and young forest. The land
has an agricultural history, and judging from the age of the forest was probably farmed no more
than 30 years ago. Indeed, a pair of old barns and a farm pond along the trails testify to the land’s
The preserve today is laced by a 3.5 mile network of wide, grassy hiking trails. The best
time to hike these trails can be matter of debate. Summer offers excellent wildlife viewing
opportunities and catches the field wildflowers at their peaks. Unfortunately, some of the side
trails in this preserve can become extremely overgrown during the summer months, and the still
waters make excellent breeding grounds for mosquitos and other insects.
Winter offers better views of the Licking River and better conditions on the side trails, but wildlife
is harder to see. My advice is to hike these trails at both times of the year and see which one you
prefer the best.
Begin by passing through the creaky wooden gate and begin hiking the Challenger Trail, a
two-track grassy trail that usually remains in relatively good condition, even during the summer.
Trails in the preserve are not blazed, but intersections are marked by wooden signs nailed to trees.
Pass by a green mailbox that may at times contain a preserve trail map, though none were available
when I opened the latch. Hike away from the road and descend gradually to pass the remnants of
an old farm pond. My presence in the area caused a mallard duck and a bullfrog to temporarily
Just past the pond the Cedar Trail exits to the right. Though it was overgrown when I was
here in the summer, the Cedar Trail might make a good alternative to the Challenger Trail during
the winter months, as the two trails rejoin in about 0.5 miles. Still treading through young forest
consisting mostly of cedars, our trail tops a small rise to reach an intersection with the Sassafras
Trail. The Sassafras Trail offers a short, interesting diversion from the straight ridgetop course of
the Challenger Trail. In addition, the trail usually stays relatively weed-free.
Turn left to take this short detour and descend into young deciduous forest occupying a
shallow ravine. The trail curves right and crosses the upper reaches of the ravine using an old,
wooden footbridge. Now at the boundary of the preserve, marked by orange rings painted around
trees, the trail curves right and climbs moderately to rejoin the Challenger Trail.
Turn left at this intersection. In less than 50 feet the trail takes a sharp right and begins a
long moderate descent into the floodplain of the Licking River. About halfway down the hill, pass
an old wooden barn on the right. Now completely vacant, imagine the days when this barn was the
work center of a prosperous farm along the fertile banks of the flood-prone Licking River, which is
now less than 0.25 mile in front of you.
Only 0.1 past the barn the Deep Hollow Trail exits to the right. Like the Cedar Trail, tall
grass prevents enjoyable passage in the summer, but this trail may make a suitable return route
during the winter months. Continuing downhill will bring you to a decaying picnic shelter
overlooking the banks of the river. In the summer months, the view is completely blocked by a
lush understory, but I suspect the river would be visible during the winter.
The Challenger Trail ends here. To return to the parking lot, retrace your steps one mile
back uphill along the Challenger Trail. Alternatively and if the season permits, choose either the
Deep Hollow or Cedar Trails for a change of scenery on the return route.
Chapter Six: Southeast Indiana
For many people in Greater Cincinnati, Indiana represents the third state in the “Tri-state”
region. Indeed, the time once was when people from outside Indiana rarely ventured into the
Hoosier state, except maybe driving along the 3 miles of I-275 on their way to or from the airport.
Since Indiana became the only state in the Tri-state region to legalize riverboat gambling, that has
begun to change. Now thousands of people each weekend make the journey across the state line to
Lawrenceburg, Aurora, or Vevay to try their luck on the games.
While the development and tourists brought by the casino boats also brought their share of
problems, most of these negatives have stayed on and near the river. Much of southeast Indiana
still retains its rural character, complete with farmland and two-lane roads.
For those willing to venture into southeast Indiana, this region offers a wide variety of
hiking opportunities. State parks range from the dramatic Clifty Falls near Madison to mammoth
Brookville Reservoir near Brookville and Liberty to quiet and peaceful Laughery Creek near
Versailles. In addition, southeast Indiana is home to two types of lands found nowhere else in
Greater Cincinnati. Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge is the only federal land open to hiking
in Greater Cincinnati, while Mary Gray Sanctuary is the only Audobon Society land in Greater
Cincinnati. Whatever your hiking fancy, take a trip off the beaten path to Southeast Indiana to find
a hiking delight just right for you.
Hike #37 Clifty Falls State Park
Trails: Numbers 1, 5, 7
Nearest City: Madison, Indiana
Length: about 2.5 miles total walking
Overview: A tour of one of Indiana’s oldest parks, passing four waterfalls.
Park Information: http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/properties/park_cliftyfalls.html
Directions to the trailhead: From Madison, go west on SR 56 2 miles to the park entrance on the
right. Turn right to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee at the gatehouse, and proceed uphill
on the park road. The first stop, the nature center, is 1.5 miles from the gatehouse on the left. The
main park road continues to the north entrance at SR 62, where the final parking area on this
description is located.
The hike: Set in southern Indiana just 2 miles west of the scenic town of Madison, Clifty Falls
State Park spreads itself out over steep, rocky, and rugged Clifty Creek canyon. Established in
1920, Clifty Falls is one of the oldest state parks in Indiana. It was created to protect the four
major waterfalls in Clifty Creek canyon, all of which are over 60 feet tall and can be seen on this
tour of the park.
This "nature hike" actually consists of several smaller hikes, allowing the visitor to see the
entire park without an extended day hike. Of course, this means that some substantial driving is
needed to get from one point of interest to the next.
Begin at the south park entrance, which is located off of state route 56 just west of
Madison. Pay the $5 entrance fee from your vehicle at the gate house and begin climbing uphill on
the narrow park road. The road takes you past a rock cut on your right, across a high concrete
bridge, and past Clifty Inn. Just past Clifty Inn, turn left to park beside the nature center, the first
stop on our tour. The nature center features some interesting exhibits on the park's history, gives
some information on the flora and fauna likely to be seen in the park, and provides a bird
observation window. When I was there, a red-headed woodpecker, a cardinal, and a mourning
dove were enjoying a dinner of bird seed outside the window.
When finished at the nature center, return to the parking lot and begin hiking trail #l, which
starts at the far end of the parking lot. This rocky trail descends through some young forest on its
way to an observation tower which overlooks Madison and the Ohio River. On the way, notice a
point where the trail appears to divide for a short distance, with the trail to the right descending
some stone steps to rejoin the other trail. A closer inspection reveals that the stone steps are part of
some stonework that remains from a railroad line that ran through the gorge many years ago.
Upon reaching the tower, climb to the top for a nice view of the surrounding area
mentioned above. The 20 foot tower is steel with a wooden floor and can be a little shaky on a
windy day. At the tower, the trail switchbacks into the gorge for a longer hike. Retrace your steps
uphill (major climb #l) to complete the first short hike.
Back in your car, continue driving north on the park road, ignoring another road that goes
off to the right just north of the nature center. Our next stop is Hoffman Falls, the first major
waterfall. This parking area and all others we will be visiting are clearly marked with black
wooden signs and yellow letters. Take the only trail out of the parking area, which descends some
wooden steps to an overlook of the falls. The water tumbles 78 feet over a U-shaped rock shelter
into a small plunge pool. The overlook is in good position, but some small trees partially obstruct
views, and the base of the falls is not accessible from the trail.
Return up the wooden steps to your car. The next point of interest is Lilly Memorial, which
is an overlook of the gorge and the Ohio River. After a quick stop here, continue north to the
parking area for Tunnel Falls, site of our next short hike. From the north side of the parking area,
begin Trail #5, which descends some wooden steps to the Tunnel Falls Overlook. The waterfall
looks much like Hoffman Falls with about, the same height and volume of water. The best place
to view the falls is from a point on the trail just south of the overlook, as most other places a
partially obstructed by trees.
After viewing the falls, continue south on trail #5 to see how the falls got its name. The
rocky trail threads its way through the forest between the gorge on the right and the hillside on the
left. A few hundred feet later, arrive at the abandoned railroad tunnel that gave the falls its name.
The dark, muddy tunnel enters the limestone bedrock on the left and passes under the park road
and a picnic shelter before coming out on the other side. Do not enter the tunnel without a
Continue south on Trail #5 and ascend a new wooden staircase to the aforementioned
picnic shelter. From this point, walk a short distance north on the park road to arrive at your car.
Drive further north on the park road and make a left turn to park at the Clifty Shelter, the origin for
our last hike, this one over the 1.25 mile Trail #7.
Begin on the east side of the parking area where the trail enters the woods and descends
gradually. The dirt trail turns left through maple forest and begins following Little Clifty Creek
north. Just before intersecting the park road, the trail turns right, crosses the creek on a long
wooden footbridge, and then takes another right to follow the east side of the creek. This portion
of the creek, which flows about 20 feet below the trail's level, contains some small, but scenic
Where the trail reaches an unmarked intersection, keep to the left; the trail to the right goes
steeply downhill to the other side of this loop. Our trail ascends gradually to intersect with trail #6.
Take a short detour on this trail to arrive at Lookout Point, which provides a dramatic overlook of
Clifty Falls from across the gorge. This falls brings Clifty Creek's main tributary into the gorge; it
is the highlight of the park. A closer view of the waterfall will be experienced later.
Retrace your steps along Trail #6 to the intersection and turn left on Trail #7. This trail
descends to a point just above Little Clifty Creek and then follows the creek upstream to an
overlook of Little Clifty Falls. Unfortunately, trees block most views of the falls, and there is no
very good place to view the falls from.
Continuing along the trail, the trail crosses the creek above the falls on a wooden bridge and forks.
Take the left fork, which leads to Cake Rock, a slab of limestone that looks like a piece of birthday
Where trail #2 exits to the left, continue on Trail #7, which climbs some steps to the Clifty
Shelter picnic area for the final major climb. Walk a short distance to your left for an overlook of
Clifty Falls, a 60 foot waterfall with the largest volume of water of any falls in the park. Walk
through the picnic area to your car, completing our tour of the park.
Hike #38 Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge
Trails: East and West River Trails
Nearest City: North Vernon, Indiana
Length: 5.8 miles
Overview: A flat hike through young riverside forest.
Refuge Information: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=31530
Directions to the trailhead: Take US 50 west through North Vernon. The wildlife refuge is 10
miles west of North Vernon, with the well-marked entrance to the left off of US 50. Proceed south
along the main park road, perhaps stopping at the visitor center to pick up a few brochures. The
main road soon turns from asphalt to gravel. About 4 miles south of the visitor center, the main
road ends at a T-intersection. The trail begins straight ahead through the gate. Park either along
the road, making sure not to block the gate, or in a small parking lot some 200 feet back up the
main park road on the west side.
The hike: Managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Service, Muscatatuck National Wildlife
Refuge is one of the few federally owned preserves in greater Cincinnati. That is not to say that
the Midwest is without federal land. Indeed, go 200 miles east, south, or west of Cincinnati and
you are in the midst of national forest land. Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky,
Wayne National Forest in southeast Ohio, and Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana all
provide many miles of excellent, scenic, well-maintained hiking trails for the nature hiker and the
Yet, the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge is the only federal land close enough to
Cincinnati to be considered in this work. The refuge consists of young second growth forest and
field, all of which are reverting from an agricultural past. The federal government made the first
purchase of land in 1966 and has been adding since to make up the current sum of 7724 acres. The
refuge is an important area for birds, and over 280 species of birds have been seen within the
refuge boundaries. The birds are attracted to the many acres of wetlands that are contained within
There are many trails in the refuge, but most of them are short (less than 1 mile) and good
for only bird-watching hikes. One of the shorter trails that is worth noting is the Richart Lake
Trail, a 0.9 mile trail along Richart Lake that leads to an observation tower. There are pines beside
Richart Lake that have been known on occasion to contain bald eagles, a rare sight in greater
Cincinnati. The hike described here is the longest and most isolated in the refuge. Thus, it offers a
good degree of solitude, plus it traverses relatively open land, making for good wildlife viewing.
One caution: just like the state wildlife refuges, hunting is allowed within the refuge, so make sure
to wear a red or orange hat or jacket during the fall, winter, and spring months to avoid accidents.
Begin by trekking around the vehicle gate and heading south on a gravel path through
young ash forest. Bypass the West River trail exiting to the right at a brown metal sign bearing the
universal hiking symbol (this will be our return route) and proceed to the East River Trail, which
soon exits left at another such sign. After crossing the heads of a couple small streams, the trail
climbs gently to begin passing through a field. Notice the berry briars that thrive in the transition
between the forest and field.
Now on top of a low ridge, the trail curves right having reached the easternmost point of
the hike and begins heading south, gradually descending back into the forest. The trail never
reaches the river that marks the south boundary of the park, making the name “East River Trail” a
misnomer, but comes to an intersection with the Half-Moon Lake trail. This side trail heads south
another 0.5 miles to the lake and riverside. Hiking it would add an additional mile to the hike, but
this description turns right here and within 0.25 miles reaches a restored pioneer cemetery. The
headstones here bear the Myers name, one of the first families to settle the Muscatatuck River
valley in the early 1800’s. The restored cabin and barn are located within the preserve about 0.5
miles west of this trailhead.
The trail now descends a bit more to arrive at the banks of a muddy stream that can swell
quite wide after a heavy rain. Several tributaries of this stream must be crossed, but these
crossings have been made easier by piles of medium-sized rocks placed in the stream that serve as
creative bridges. Past the rocks, another 0.8 miles brings you to the end of the East River Trail.
At the end of the East River Trail, the hiker has two options. A right turn will return you to
the gravel road and cut the hike down to only 3 miles. This description turns left to begin the West
River Trail. This trail is aptly named, as almost immediately the trail comes out at the top of a
steep bank along the Muscatatuck River. The Muscatutuck is the closest thing we have in greater
Cincinnati to a prairie river. The river is wide and shallow most of the year, but after a heavy rain
the river becomes very muddy and swells, sometimes over its banks. Thus, the hiking along the
river can be muddy during the wet season.
The trail parallels the river bank heading downstream. On the chilly winter morning that I
hiked this trail, songbirds such as woodpeckers, blue jays, and chickadees were out doing their
morning chores. In 0.5 miles, the hiker reaches a place where the original trail has been washed
out, leaving a vertical bank some 12 feet above the water. This is a testament to the massive
amounts of water that flow down the river after a rain. Fortunately, this area can be easily by-
passed by the open area around the washout. Be careful not to get too close to the edge, as it could
prove to be quite unstable should the appropriate weight be applied. 0.3 miles past the washout,
the hiker must climb over a pile of sticks left by the last flood, again a testament to the river’s
In another 0.5 miles, the trail curves to the right away from the river and heads into an area
that is flooded in the winter to provide resting area for birds. When the area is flooded, the trail
can become a pond, forcing the hiker to either wade or turn around. The trail curves right again
and heads east in nearly a straight line to intersect the gravel road, thus closing the loop. A left
turn and 0.3 miles of walking will return you to the vehicle gate, thus completing the hike.
Hike #39 Versailles State Park
Trails: Trails #2 and #3
Nearest city: Versailles, Indiana
Length: 3 miles
Overview: A pleasant, easy streamside excursion followed by a moderate hillside course.
Park Information: http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/properties/park_versailles.html
Directions to the trailhead: The entrance to the state park is located on the north side of US 50 2
miles east of Versailles. Pass the gate house, where a small daily fee will be required. At the next
three intersections, turn right, left, and right in that order. Park in either the nature center parking
lot or the swimming pool parking lot.
The hike: Versailles State Park has an unusual history as park land. Before the land first fell into
public hands in 1934 the land was used for farming, but the hills were too steep and the soil too
poor to make particularly good farmland. Thus, in the middle of the Great Depression, the federal
government purchased the land for development by the National Park Service as the Versailles
Over the next nine years, the CCC and WPA began planting trees and constructing
facilities. In 1943, the 5300 acres of land were deeded to the state of Indiana, and Versailles State
Park was born. In 1958, Laughery Creek was damned to create 230 acre Versailles Lake, one of
the chief attractions of the park today.
The park also features a swimming pool complex, three campgrounds, numerous picnic
shelters, and three hiking trails totaling 6.5 miles. This hike takes you on parts of two of the trails,
leading you through Fallen Timber Creek Ravine and some of the nicest forest the state park has to
Start the hike by picking up trail #3 on the east side of the main park road near the
combined nature center and camp store. The gravel trail heads east through young floodplain
forest with the creek 20 yards to the right and the steep hillside 20 yards to the left. The forest
contains mostly young black walnut, ash, and sycamore with an occassional dying red cedar.
After 0.75 miles of level hiking in the floodplain, the trail crosses Fallen Timber Creek for
the first of three times without the aid of a bridge. Except after a recent rainstorm, these should be
dry crossings, requiring only careful navigation of rocks. If the water is high and current swift, do
not attempt to wade the creek. Tall clay bluffs tower on the opposite shore of the creek.
After the third crossing, the trail takes a sharp right turn at a wooden fence and begins a
long, rocky, gradual climb out of the ravine. At the top of the hill, trail #3 ends at an intersection
with trail #2, which goes right and straight. Since the paths reconverge in 0.5 miles, either route
can be chosen. The trail going straight provides an easier and shorter route, leading past
Campground B. The trail going right, the one I will describe, is slightly longer and more difficult,
but much more scenic.
Turning right, the trail dips to cross a drainage on a wooden footbridge and assumes a
course that clings to the top of the ravine, which drops 50 to 100 feet down on the right. You are
encompassed by a beautiful mature beech/maple/ash forest with a thin understory. After 0.5 miles
of following the hillside, the trail reaches another wooden fence and turns almost 180 degrees to
the left. Many years ago, the trail continues straight here, dipping to cross a tributary and continue
on its course back toward the trailhead, but erosion has forced the trail to be rerouted onto a more
gradual safer course.
The trail soon intersects the other fork of trail #2, where a right turn is necessary to
continue the hike. After dropping slightly to cross another tributary, the trail reaches another
intersection. Again, either path can be chosen, as they rejoin at a later point, but this time the right
fork is both the more direct and more scenic route.
Turning right, the trail skirts the ravine on the right with Campground A uphill to the left.
Where the trail appears to come out into the campground, stay to the right and head for where the
trail reenters the forest in 100 feet. From this point, the trail begins a long, steep descent over
some old, eroded wooden steps placed in the ground.
At the bottom of the hill, the other fork of trail #2 rejoins at a three-way intersection. A
right turn will lead you down a constructed wooden staircase to the main park road. Turn right on
the road and cross Fallen Timber Creek and walk 0.2 miles to trail #3's trailhead, completing the
Hike #40 Whitewater Memorial State Park
Trail: Red Springs Loop
Nearest City; Liberty, Indiana
Length: 1.5 miles
Overview: A moderate hike through mature forest, passing an iron-laden water spring.
Park Information: http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/properties/park_whitewater.html
Directions to the trailhead: From Liberty, take SR 101 south about 2 miles to the state park
entrance. Turn right to enter the park. Follow the main park road past the turnoffs to the beach
and launch ramp. Cross the dam and park in the small gravel turnoff on the right of the road just
beyond the dam.
The hike: Whitewater Memorial State Park surrounds Whitewater Lake, a small lake created by
damming Silver Creek 1.5 miles south of this trailhead. The park also borders on Brookville
Reservoir, a very large lake created by a dam 20 miles south of the park. The big lake is featured
in the next hike. The park derives its name from its founding in 1949 as a memorial to the soldiers
of World War II.
Six trails covering 10.5 miles interlink within the state park. Until just recently, the trails
were simply designated by a number, ranging from one to six. In late 1998, new signs were
erected giving each trail a name. Older park maps do not reflect this change, thereby creating
some confusion. Hopefully, this will soon be cleared up to make the trail system easier to
The Red Springs Loop Trail (noted as trail #5 on the park map) is the most beautiful stretch
of hiking in the state park. The trail probably derives its name from the natural springs that flow
near part of the trail. It is a fairly rugged trek over hills and through valleys, but the spectacular
scenery viewed any time of the year throughout the hike is well worth the effort.
Two signs saying "Red Loop Trail" can be found near the trailhead. I will describe this
trail going counterclockwise, so begin heading west following the trail on the same side of the
road. We will return on the trail coming in the opposite side of the road.
The trail begins paralleling the road, climbing gently, with the lake visible downhill several
hundred feet to the right. The trail next takes a right turn away from the road to navigate around a
small ridge. To the left of the trail is a twenty foot square fenced-in area. The fencing protects the
plants inside from being eaten by deer. By comparing the size and quantity of plants inside the
fence to those outside, one can estimate the area’s deer population.
On the north side of the ridge, the forest is dominated by maple and beech trees, but as you
round the ridge the composition changes to oak-hickory. This entire area is part of the Hornbeam
Nature Preserve, so mature forest can be seen throughout the route. After rounding the ridge, the
trail comes out at a blacktop parking area where the Lakeshore Trail (Trail #4 on the map) goes off
to the right. Our trail turns left to cross the road and reenter the forest on the other side. Be careful
of some small tree stumps that stick up out of the ground in the middle of the trail, as they can
easily trip you.
After several hundred feet of winding through the ridgetop forest, the trail descends, very
steeply at times, into a deep ravine using a double switchback to ease the descent. At the bottom
of the hill, a side trail goes right to connect with the Veterans Vista Trail on top of the opposing
hill. Continuing straight, the trail soon climbs out of the ravine for the only major climb of the
hike, only to descend to mid-level a short time later.
The natural springs soon come into view downhill about 20 yards to the right. The springs
do appear a dark orange in color, but I am not sure as to the source of the color. Possibilities
include dyes from the leaves falling into the water or iron in the ground. In any case, this is the
special spot on this trail, not only due to the springs themselves, but because the area around the
springs teems with wildlife. Grey squirrels scurry through the leaves, white-tailed deer scamper
through the forest, a downy woodpecker chisels out its home, and all types of songbirds play a
beautiful symphony for all to hear.
Leaving the springs, the trail turns left and climbs steeply around a landslide to arrive at the
park road. The gravel turnoff where we started is located directly across the road, thus completing
Hike #41 Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary
Trails: Tulip Poplar, Woodpecker, Cardinal, Wildflower, and Beech Trails
Nearest City: Connersville, IN
Length: 2.5 miles
Overview: A quiet, moderate hike through mature second growth hardwood forest.
Sanctuary Information: http://www.indianaaudubon.org/MaryGray.htm
Directions to the trailhead: From Connersville, take SR 121 south for 4 miles to CR 350S. Take a
soft right on CR 350S. Take CR 350S west 3.1 miles to the entrance to the sanctuary, which
appears as a gravel road that goes straight ahead while the paved county road takes a hard right.
Descend on the gravel entrance road and park in the main parking area on the right, which is
reached just after passing the red Markle barn and just before the road is gated. The trail starts at
the vehicle gate.
The hike: As I sat down to write about my experiences on the trail from this chilly morning in mid-
October, I had a hard time putting into words why this hike had such vividness to me. Perhaps it
was the time of year, as the last few yellow and orange spots clung to the trees. Perhaps it was the
solitude I experienced on these trails, as for the entire time I was the only person hiking in the
sanctuary. Or perhaps it was the remarkable similarity this forest had to the ones I grew up near
such as the woods behind my childhood home or those at Govenor Bebb (see hike #3). In any
case, the hiking I did at Mary Gray was one of the many truly enjoyable experiences I encountered
while preparing for this work.
Indeed, Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary is the place to go for just a quiet walk in the woods.
The sanctuary is owned and maintained by the Indiana Audubon Society, one of the oldest
conservation groups in a state without a stellar history on conservation. The sanctuary’s name was
given by Alice Gray as a memorial to her daughter Mary who had preceded her in death. The
initial gift of 264 acres occurred in 1943, with subsequent gifts and purchases bringing the current
total to 660. So the land has been used as a sanctuary for longer than most in Indiana, as the
mature forest makes evident.
The sanctuary has several structures and picnic areas for activity, the most striking of
which is the classic red Markle Barn you drove past on your way in. The trail system at Mary
Gray, laid out by Dr. Earl Brooks, the sanctuary’s first director, is well-developed and offers many
hiking options. The service road, which continues past the vehicle gate, gives an interesting tour
of the isolated southern part of the property. This description will give a grand circle tour of the
more developed eastern section of Mary Gray while offering several options to shorten or lengthen
the hike if so desired.
Begin at the vehicle gate, picking up an information brochure and trail map at the
information kiosk beside the gate. Follow the gravel service road through a shallow ravine, soon
arriving at the “Yellow Brick House,” which is actually an old homestead and still sits to the right
of the road. Ignore several side trails that exit right and proceed downhill with a tallgrass prairie
on the right. The 10-foot high grass was all that remained of the previous summer’s growth, but
the color here should be excellent in the mid-to-late summer months.
Past the prairie, look for the wooden bridge to the left of the trail that crosses a creek rather
than using the road and getting wet feet. All of the creek crossings at Mary Gray are done by
wooden bridges, although some of the bridges are narrow and old. All were safe on my visit,
Immediately after crossing the creek, turn left onto the Tulip Poplar trail (trail #3) and
leave the road behind. Trail 3 follows the creek you just crossed upstream through some nice
beech/ maple forest, with some poplar trees, as the name suggests. Some old fencing along the
trail reminds us of the land’s agricultural past.
0.75 miles from the start, the trail curves left to cross a couple of ravines, heading north.
The trail is well-designed, so none of these grades are too steep. As the Markle Barn comes into
sight ahead and to the left, turn right onto the Woodpecker Trail, which crosses another creek
before climbing gently toward the park’s eastern boundary. Note that going straight at this
junction will short circuit the hike,by taking you back to the parking area in only an additional 0.2
The Woodpecker Trail attains the highest point of the hike as it turns north and parallels the
park boundary fence on the right. An active hay field is visible to the right. Along this boundary,
some storm damage has created an opening in the canopy, providing for a dense understory and
creating one of the better bird viewing opportunities on this hike. Most of the forest in Mary Gray
is too dense to be able to see very many birds.
The trail curves left and begins heading downhill, intersecting the gravel park entrance road
at 1.25 miles from the start. Turn left and walk a very short distance on the road, looking for the
Wildflower Trail that exits to the right. This trail is trail #1, and this intersection is marked by a
wooden post bearing a yellow “1.”
Begin walking north on trail #1, crossing another stream, and then paralleling the stream on
the right. After 0.2 miles of walking along the creek, the trail makes a wide curve left, now in the
very northeastern corner of the preserve. Ignore some side trails that exit left to the campground,
and proceed gently downhill to cross another stream and intersect the Beech Trail, trail #2. Turn
sharply left on the Beech Trail, which parallels the creek downstream and comes out of the woods
near the park ranger’s residence. A walk to the left and across the grass will return you to the
parking area and complete the hike.
Chapter Seven: Hamilton County
I-275 46 47
44 45 I-75
Home to the city of Cincinnati, Hamilton County is at the center of everything in Greater
Cincinnati. Maybe you have come to Hamilton County to see the Reds or Bengals play baseball
or football. Maybe you have come to the skyscrapers of downtown Cincinnati to conduct
business or earn a paycheck. Maybe you have toured the “cave” in the Museum Center at Union
Terminal. Maybe you have taken in history at the Cincinnati History Museum or at the Freedom
Center. Maybe you have viewed the Riverfest fireworks in person on some Labor Day.
Whatever the reason you come here, unlike some of the other regions in this log, nearly everyone
in Cincinnati has been to Hamilton County at some point.
As you might expect, most of Hamilton County is extensively developed. In fact, much
of Hamilton County is incorporated land, either by the city of Cincinnati or by other, smaller
suburbs. Thus, major four-lane highways, housing, and retail development dominate most of the
county. The only major exception to this rule is extreme western Hamilton County near the
Indiana state line. In this section, you will still find some farmland and narrow, curving two-lane
roads for your relaxation.
Of all of the other features Hamilton County has to offer, many people do not realize that
hiking is one of them. In fact, Hamilton County possesses the most extensively developed county
park system in Greater Cincinnati. Highlights include the magnificent views at Shawnee Lookout
(extreme southwestern Hamilton County) and the waterfalls of Sharon Woods Gorge
(northeastern Hamilton County). All of the trails in the county park system are paved with
crushed limestone making them usable when other trails in the region are too muddy.
In addition to the county parks, the city of Cincinnati operates a park system that offers
many fine hiking opportunities. Two of these opportunities have made this log. Mount Airy
Forest, a green jewel in the center of Cincinnati’s urban areas, possesses the most extensive trail
system in the county and offers a great experience for the ravines of Cincinnati in their natural
state. The second of the city parks to be described here, California Woods, offers an interesting
system of trails through dense woods on the east side of the city. In addition to Cincinnati’s city
parks, Amberley Village boasts French Park, another nice respite from the development
encumbering most of the county. Whether it is short, manicured trails or extensive trail systems,
you will find something you want to hike near home in Hamilton County.
Hike #42 Shawnee Lookout County Park
Trail: Miami Fort Trail
Nearest city: Cleves, Ohio
Length: 1.4 miles
Overview: A steep climb to the fort, followed by a moderate course with several lookouts over the
adjacent river valleys.
Park Information: http://www.hamiltoncountyparks.org/parks/shawnee.htm
Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of Cincinnati, take the I-275 exit onto US 50 (in
Indiana) and go east on US 50. Just after crossing into Ohio, turn right on Lawrenceburg Rd.
There is a traffic light at this intersection. During times of high water, Lawrenceburg Rd. may be
flooded. If this is the case, continue east on US 50 to the town of Cleves. Once there, turn right
on Mt. Nebo Rd. (again, a traffic light is provided) which intersects Lawrenceburg Rd. several
miles outside of Cleves. Once on Lawrenceburg Rd. continue south to the park entrance which is
on the left. Parking for the Miami Fort Trail is located where the main park road dead-ends.
The hike: Though only 1156 acres large, Shawnee Lookout County Park is truly a hidden gem in
the Hamilton County Park District. The land beneath the park has both historic and natural
significance. Acquired via donation from the old Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company (now
Cinergy) in 1967, the park sits atop a steep bluff overlooking the confluence of the Ohio, Great
Miami, and Whitewater Rivers.
The park also has some historic significance. Long before the first white settlers entered
the Ohio valley, the Hopewell and Adena Indians constructed an earthen “fort” atop this bluff we
now call the Miami Fort. The earthwork gets its name from the Miami Indian Tribe who settled
the area shortly after the fort was built. They still occupied the area when settlers began invading
in the early 1700’s. The park of today includes dramatic river overlooks, Indian earthworks,
some nice forest, a golf course, a museum, and hiking.
The three nature trails in this park total 4.7 miles and combine to offer a nice day of
hiking. Despite these features and its location only 20 miles west of downtown Cincinnati, these
trails are not heavily traveled, even on a pretty weekend afternoon. This is probably because the
park is tucked away in the southwest corner of Hamilton County and can only be accessed by
narrow, rural roads. In other words, you will not just stumble into Shawnee Lookout County
Park. You must be going there to get there.
Of the three trails at Shawnee Lookout, the Miami Fort Trail is definitely my personal
favorite. Though not the longest of the three, it offers dramatic river overlooks, a close-up view
of the Indian earthworks, and a wide variety of forest/field habitats. I seem to see something new
every time I hike the trail, and I enjoy the trail more and more with each journey. Before viewing
the earthworks, consider stopping at the small Indian-themed museum located in the visitors
center/golf course clubhouse. The museum houses and describes some of the artifacts
archaeologists have unearthed within the walls of the fort.
A shagbark hickory greets the hiker to the left of the trailhead. From there, the graveled
trail immediately begins ascending rather steeply through a semi-mature maple forest. This is one
of the great climbs in Hamilton County and represents the first, and most difficult, climb of the
hike. At the top of the hill, the trail swings to the left and enters a mowed field. At roughly the
same spot, a sign tells you that you are entering the ceremonial fort for which the trail is named. A
well-placed bench sits on the right looking out on the first of several overlooks. This one looks to
the northwest over the Great Miami River valley. The river and the Oxbow wildlife refuge are in
the foreground, fields and 1-275 are in the middle ground, and the hills of southern Indiana are in
After taking a moment to catch your breath and admire the scenery, continue up the trail
through the field. In a very short distance, the trail forks. I suggest taking the right fork and using
the left as the return route, as the hiking is a little easier this way. The trail moves along the north
edge of the field for a short distance, then reenters the forest. For the next several hundred yards
the trail undulates moderately and meanders through the forest. Eventually, the trail comes out to
the edge of a steep wooded precipice (actually, the hill on which the park sits).
In another couple hundred feet, a trail goes off to the left. Do not take it yet, but continue
straight ahead for some nice overlooks of the rivers. The trail descends moderately, with the aid
of some steps, then bends right to come to an overlook, marked by another bench, of the Great
Miami River’s floodplain. Do not spend a lot of time here, as another overlook is just ahead.
Continue on the trail, which again descends using steps, and in a short distance, come to the final
overlook, with another bench. From this point, one can see three states, Ohio (beneath you),
Indiana (about 1 mile straight ahead), and Kentucky (across the Ohio River, which is seen on the
left). One can also see the 1-275 bridge across the Ohio River. In my childhood, I thought the
steel supports of this bridge looked like an inchworm and "named" the bridge appropriately. I
have called it the inchworm bridge ever since.
This last overlook marks the furthest point on the trail. From here, retrace your steps back
up the hill to the trail you passed earlier. Turn right here; this is the return route. After a couple
hundred feet, the trail dips into and out of a steep ravine via steps. At the other side of this ravine,
the trail comes out into the field that you crossed on the outbound section of the trail. The trail
passes a small stone monument (erected to honor the famous conservationist Daniel Carter Beard)
on the left and the cooling tower of Cinergy’s Miami Fort Generation Station on the right, then
takes a stiff left turn to intersect the outbound trail. At this intersection, a right turn and a steep
downhill walk remain to finish the hike.
Hike #43 Miami Whitewater Forest County Park
Trails: Oakleaf and Badlands Trails (outer loop)
City: Harrison, Ohio
Length: 2.4 miles
Overview: A difficult, hilly hike featuring a combination of two loop trails.
Park Information: http://www.hamiltoncountyparks.org/parks/miami.htm
Directions to the trailhead: Take I-74 to the Miamitown exit (exit 7). Exit and go north on SR
128. Take SR 128 through Miamitown for about three miles to where Mt. Hope Rd. goes off to
the left. Turn left on Mt. Hope Rd. Where the road forks at the top of the hill, go to the right.
Take Mt. Hope Rd. past the golf course to the park entrance on the left. Turn left here, then take
an immediate right. This road takes you across the lake and over a hill to its intersection with
another park road. Turn left here and take this road to the top of the hill, where trailhead parking
is on the left. The Oakleaf Trail goes off to the left, while the Badlands Trail goes off to the right.
The hike: Located in western Hamilton County, Miami Whitewater Forest, the largest park in the
Hamilton County Park District, consists mainly of reclaimed farmland. Most of the land has been
in public hands for only about 30 years, so much of the forest remains in various stages of field
succession. The park is very popular due to its size, location, and facilities. It offers a nice 18
hole golf course, frisbee golf, picnic areas, boating on a small lake, and a small nature center.
The park also features possibly the best paved hike/bike trail in the county, namely the 7.8
mile Shaker Trace. The trail traverses the Shaker Trace Wetlands located north of the lake. Once
a vast wetlands along the banks of the Great Miami, most of the land has since been drained and
succumbed to the farmer’s plow. The flat paved trail is an excellent long day hike or short bike
ride with good wildlife viewing opportunities.
In addition to the facilities described above, there are three nature trails in Whitewater
Forest. The 1.6 mile Badlands Trail and the .75 mile Oakleaf Trail share a parking area. The
shorter Tallgrass Prairie Trail is located to the south and has a trailhead all to itself. The Oakleaf
Trail is the shorter of the two described here, but it is very enjoyable for its scenic vistas when the
leaves are off the trees during late fall and winter as well as for the large oak and hickory trees
that give the trail its name. The Badlands Trail is one of my favorite trails in the area and,
considering it is only 20 minutes from my home, I do not hike it as often as I should or would
like. This trail gets its name from the unusual sinkhole formations that it passes. It is a splendid
walk through many types of forest and environments, including creek bed, reverting farmland,
and mature hardwood. A word of caution: despite the modest length, these trails are rather
demanding to walk as they are constantly climbing or descending. Make sure to allow ample
time. I hike them in about 1.5 hours.
Start with the Oakleaf Trail, which leaves the parking lot near a wooden cabin on the east
side of the lot. A large sign says "Oakleaf Trail" to announce your arrival at the trailhead. The
gravel trail immediately starts downhill through mature forest. All along the trail there are brown
carsonite stakes with white numbers on them, suggesting that there might be a trail guide printed
for this trail. However, there are none availible at the trailhead, and no directions to obtain one
After several hundred feet of steep descent, the trail levels out to cross a dyke between two
muddy ponds. A large, underground metal pipe allows water to pass from one pond to the other
and creates a small waterfall a couple feet to the left of the trail. At the other side of the dyke, the
trail forks to create the loop. To make the uphill climb a little easier, I turn left here to hike the
loop clockwise, using the right trail as the return route.
The trail follows along the pond with the water on the left and the hillside on the right.
The pond-side forest is of the beech/maple variety. Especially noteworthy are some large beech
trees near the pond's bank. The trail soon makes a right turn away from the water and comes to a
T-intersection. The left trail is a short spur that leads to a bench that overlooks the pond. The
peaceful pond is a good place for viewing mallards, grebes, and maybe even a wood duck or great
blue heron. Since this is a very popular trail, this bench may be occupied when you arrive. There
is another bench further along the trail that offers a similar view if this is the case.
Back at the T-intersection, the trail turns right and begins ascending steeply for the first
climb of the hike. As you ascend the ridge, notice that the composition of the forest is changing
from beech/maple to oak/hickory. This is because the levels of sunlight, moisture, and nutrients
in the soil are better suited for oak and hickory trees on top of the ridge as opposed to the valley
beside the pond. This is one of the better collections of hickory trees in the area, and the large
oaks are rather impressive as well. The trail follows the top of the ridge for several hundred feet,
then takes a right turn and descends very steeply to the other pond you passed on your way in,
using steps to aid the descent.
At the bottom of the hill, the trail turns right again and begins following the pond, with the
pond on your left and the hillside on your right. The trail crosses some boardwalk, provides
another bench overlooking the pond, and passes some more nice beech trees. At the intersection
with the outbound trail, a left turn and a steep climb will return you to the parking lot and
complete the Oakleaf Trail.
To hike the Badlands Trail, cross the park road and find the large sign that says "Badlands
Trail," marking the trailhead. From the trailhead, the gravel trail immediately begins descending
into a mature forest. Shortly into the woods, the trail forks. I suggest taking a right here and
walking the trail counter-clockwise, as it is a bit less tiring that way. The trail uses a bridge to
cross a fairly large creek and then begins a long uphill climb while slowly curving to the left
around the hill. A bench is provided at the top of the steepest part of the hill as a much-needed
The trail continues climbing, though less steeply, as it meanders along the top of a small
ridge. The trail then takes a sharp right turn and passes through a valley before the inner loop
trail, which cuts the trail’s length in half, exits to the left. The best of the badlands is still to
come, so take a right here and continue on the outer loop. Still in mature forest, the trail passes
some large sinkholes, at one point passing along a narrow ridge with a sinkhole on either side.
The undulating trail next passes through two valleys, all the time making a gradual left hand turn.
Reaching the lowest point on the hike, the trail begins a long, steep uphill climb. Again, a bench
is provided in case you need it.
Your surroundings have changed quite dramatically once you reach the top of this hill.
You are now ascending and descending smaller, but still fairly steep, ridges, with the trail
meandering through a red cedar forest. The trees here are not as high, and the cedars do not shade
the trail in the summer like their larger hardwood counterparts do. This area was probably
farmland not too long ago, as cedars are among the first trees to reclaim abandoned farmland. As
the forest matures, the cedars eventually get invaded and smothered by the larger deciduous trees
native to the area. Deer are rather common sights in this section of the forest.
After several tenths of a mile, the forest slowly begins to turn back into mature forest as
the connecting trail you passed earlier comes in from the left. Continue straight ahead, making
sure not be fooled by several wild trails that go off to the right. You finally begin a long descent
down the valley of a small stream, soon closing the loop. Only a steep uphill climb remains to
return you to the parking area.
While you are in the park, consider hiking the other trail mentioned in the introduction, the
Tallgrass Prairie Trail. It is a short, easy .7 mile hike that takes you through some mature forest
to a very nice re-creation of a tallgrass prairie. It might not be long enough to warrant a separate
visit, but the scenery is definitely worth a look while you are in the area.
Hike #44 Mitchell Memorial Forest
Duck Park Pond
Trail: Wood Duck Trail
Nearest City: Miamitown, Ohio
Length: 1.3 miles
Overview: An easy walk through young woodlands and past a small pond.
Park Information: http://www.hamiltoncountyparks.org/parks/mitchell.htm
Directions to the Trailhead: There is no broad, direct route to this park, so follow these directions
on the back roads carefully. Take exit 7 from I-74 onto SR 128 and go north on SR 128. Take SR
128 north a short distance to the center of Miamitown and turn right onto Harrison Ave. Take
Harrison Ave. across the Great Miami River to East Miami River Road and turn right. Take this
road south to Gum Run Road, a narrow road that goes up the hillside, and turn left on Gum Run.
Take Gum Run to where it ends at Buffalo Ridge Rd. and turn right on Buffalo Ridge. Take
Buffalo Ridge south to Zion Rd. and turn left onto Zion. The park entrance is only a few feet
ahead on Zion Rd. Turn right onto the park entrance road and park in the parking lot on the left
just past the lake on the right.
The hike: Mitchell Memorial Forest, part of the Hamilton County Park District, sits on a high
bluff on the eastern side of the Great Miami River. The park was created in 1977 with the
donation of the land to the Park District. Despite its isolated location (relative to the rest of
Hamilton County), the park is popular with hikers, fishermen, and picnickers.
From the parking lot, the trail immediately enters the woods and begins a gradual march
downhill. In the fall, this is one of the prettiest sections of the trail, as a row of young maple trees
with bright yellow leaves stands on either side of the trail. After passing through the rows of
maples, the trail forks in the middle of a small open area. Assuming you are going to hike the
trail counter-clockwise as I did, turn right here and use the left as the return trail.
The wide gravel trail crosses a drainage pipe, then turns sharply left and begins steadily
climbing a ridge. After a short climb, the trail levels off for a short distance, then begins climbing
again, this time more steeply. Once atop the hill, the trail levels off atop a hogsback with steep
drop-offs on either side. This section of the trail goes through young forest consisting mostly of
maple trees, with the occasional ash.
After several hundred feet atop the ridge, the trail takes a sharp left turn and descends
rather steeply into the valley. At the bottom of this hill you will get your best glimpse of the large
pond that may contain the species for which this trail is named. Upon my visit here, I saw a few
brown ducks and several mallards peacefully swimming in the green algae of the pond, but no
wood ducks. From the shore, they appeared to be having a very good time.
Having done your duck watching for the day, continue along the trail as it crosses a small
hill, then begins meandering along a small stream on the left. The bedrock is very close to the
surface here, and pines and young maples are the dominant species. Watch for a spot in the creek
where water tumbles over the layers of bedrock. I imagine this makes for a small but pretty
waterfall during the wet season.
At about this point, the trail becomes noticeably rocky with medium-sized blocks of
limestone sticking up in the trail. Their origin may be explained by a concrete water trough that
stands not far from the closing of the two arms of the loop. These items combined with the
youthfulness of the forest suggest that this area may have been a farm as little as a couple of
After joining the other half of the loop, only a short uphill walk remains to the parking lot.
Hike #45 Mt. Airy Forest
Trail Ridge Road P
Trails: Ponderosa, Furnas, Twin Bridge, and Red Oak Trails
Nearest City: Cincinnati, Ohio
Length: 4 miles
Overview: A moderately difficult course over the steep ridges of Cincinnati.
Park Information: http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/cityparks/pages/-4570-/
Directions to the Trailhead: From downtown Cincinnati, take I-75 north to I-74, then go west on I-
74. Take I-74 to Colerain Ave. (exit 18). Exit and turn left. Take Colerain Ave. about 1.3 miles
to the forest entrance on the left. Turn left here, then bear left at the first intersection onto Trail
Ridge Rd. Take Trail Ridge Rd. 0.9 miles to picnic area #21 on the right. Park in the adjacent lot.
The hike: Those of us who live in Cincinnati are extremely fortunate to have such a large natural
area only 4 miles from downtown. Covering over 400 acres, Mt. Airy Forest consists of a complex
set of steep ridges and ravines that comprise one of the seven hills of Cincinnati. The forest,
operated by the city of Cincinnati, boasts an arboretum, 3 lodges, 33 picnic areas, and 12 hiking
trails including a 12 mile scout trail.
The extensive trail system is worth hiking for the wildflowers in the spring, birds in the
summer, leaves in the fall, and scenic views in the winter. The best of these trails is the 3-mile
(each way) Ponderosa Trail, part of which is combined with several others to form this scenic 4
mile loop hike.
Start by walking south on the forest road. About 20 yards south of the parking lot is a sign
stating "Ponderosa Trail" with an arrow pointing left. A three hundred foot connector trail departs
the road on the left at this point. Take this trail, which soon descends to intersect the Ponderosa
Trail. This intersection is marked by one of several wooden "street signs" that make the trail
system more navigable. Bear right on the Ponderosa Trail. The trail hugs the side of Ponderosa
Ridge with a steep ravine on the left. The young forest consists mostly of oak with a few red pines
Throughout the hike, the shrub layer is dominated by honeysuckle of varying levels of
density. The trail son curves left to arrive at Ponderosa Shelter, a small wooden structure
overlooking the I-74 valley to the southeast. The trail departs the shelter, begins descending
moderately, and soon comes to a 3-way trail intersection where the Ponderosa Trail ends. The trail
going left is the Quarry Trail, which loops back to the trailhead for a 1 mile hike. Do not take it,
but continue straight on the Furnas Trail, which is blazed in white.
The trail continues descending, crosses a stream, then ascends Trail Ridge on the other
side. Once atop the ridge, the trail curves to the right and braces a route around the tip of Trail
Ridge. At several points the trail comes very close to the extremely steep side of the ridge.
Throughout this part of the trail, noisy 1-74 can be heard only 1000 feet to the left.
Now proceeding to follow the west side of Trail Ridge, the Furnas Trail crosses a couple of
small nameless ravines before turning right to head up Hawthorn Ravine. The cooler, moister
ravine is more suited to maple, beech, and hemlock trees than the oaks you passed earlier.
Continue straight at the next trail intersection, following the White blazes.
Near the head of the ravine, cross the creek, this time without the aid of a bridge. As the
trail begins heading down the other side of the ravine, watch for an unmarked trail that goes off to
the right; this is the Twin Bridge Trail. Turn right, go about 20 yards, then turn right again on a
broad ridgetop path that is probably an old access road. In about 0.2 miles, the trail comes out at
picnic area 13 along Trail Ridge Road, which makes a good rest area at the midpoint of this hike.
Cross the picnic area and pick up the Red Oak Trail, which is marked with blue blazes and
a small wooden sign. The trail immediately begins descending along the left (south) bank of Red
Oak Creek, named for the numerous small oak trees in the area. The trail soon intersects the
Ponderosa Trail, which goes right to cross the creek. Turn right to begin the hike along the
Ponderosa Trail back to the trailhead. This side of Trail Ridge is much quieter than the other due
to the lack of noise from 1-74.
The trail ascends moderately to circle the tip of Hidden Ridge, probably named for the fact
that neighboring Oak and Stone Steps ridges block your view of Hidden Ridge when coining from
downtown. On the other side of Hidden Ridge, the trail begins going up a ravine before turning
left to cross the creek just before reaching the ravine's head.
After crossing the creek on another fine wooden bridge, the trail heads down the opposite
side of the ravine while beginning a long ascent up Stone Steps Ridge. The ascent begins
gradually, but becomes steeper as the crest is approached. Once the crest is reached, the trail
completes its trip around Stone Steps Ridge and intersects the Quarry Trail. The trail crosses
several drainages before intersecting the entrance trail from area 21. A right turn here and a short
uphill hike will return you to your car to complete the hike.
Hike #46 Winton Woods County Park
Kingfisher Trail P
Trail: Kingfisher Trail
Nearest City: Greenhills, Ohio
Length: 1 mile
Overview: An easy stroll along Kingfisher Creek and the surrounding hillside.
Park Information: http://www.hamiltoncountyparks.org/parks/winton.htm
Directions to the trailhead: On the north side of Cincinnati, take the Winton Road exit (exit 39)
off of 1-275 and go south on Winton Rd. Take Winton Rd. through Forest Park and Greenhills to
Lakeview Dr. which intersects Winton Rd. at a traffic light located just before Winton Rd. crosses
a bridge over the lake. Turn right on Lakeview Dr. Parking for the Kingfisher Trail is a short
distance ahead; a sign will indicate its location.
The hike: Much of the rolling north-central Hamilton County land comprising today’s Winton
Woods County Park has been in public hands for some time. The initial tract of land 905 acres in
size was leased by the county from the federal government in 1939. This makes Winton Woods
the second oldest park in the Hamilton County Park District. As a result, the forest at Winton
Woods is considerably more mature than at other local parks. In fact, two areas within the park,
the Greenbelt and Spring Beauty Dell, have been dedicated state nature preserves for exactly this
The park we see today came into being in the early 1960’s with the damming of the West
Fork of the Mill Creek. The resulting lake, called Winton Lake, became the centerpiece of the
recreational activities found in today’s Winton Woods County Park. These activities include
golfing at the recently renovated Mill Golf Course, picnicking in one of the numerous picnic
spots, boating or fishing on the lake, or bicycling on the Harbor Trail, a 1.7 mile paved trail
encircling part of the east end of the lake. Of interest to people with children will be Parky’s
Farm (a nature study center) and Parky’s playground.
Though not a mecca, Winton Woods offers ample opportunities for nature hiking as well.
Two nature trails loop on either side of Kingfisher Creek, a tributary of Winton Lake. Because
the Kingfisher Trail described here is exactly one mile in length and it is located close to a heavily
populated area, it is very popular with the casual weekend hiker and the cross-country runner. In
fact, houses and cars can be seen or heard for much of the hike. Thus, this is not the place to be
alone with nature. However, don’t let these “drawbacks” keep you away from this hike. This
short trail provides an interesting walk through several wildlife habitats. The walking is easy and
scenic, offering a lot to see given its close proximity to the city.
The trail departs from a sign on the north side of the park road. Only a few hundred feet
from the road, the trail forks. I always hike this trail counter-clockwise because it breaks up the
ascent of the hillside into small chunks. To do this, choose the right fork here and use the left one
as the return portion of the loop. The trail immediately begins to climb the hillside, with the trail
turning to the right, climbing a few feet up the hill, then to the left, flattening out again. All
along, the trail crosses a few small drainages that empty into Kingfisher Creek at the bottom of
the hill. The very apex of the hill provides a nice view of the valley and the opposing hillside
during the winter and fall, when the view is not obstructed by leaves.
From here, the trail begins a moderate descent to the creek in the valley. This part of the
trail appears to follow an old wagon road. Some small logs have been placed in the trail to try to
prevent erosion, but they have only been moderately successful. At the bottom of the hill, the
trail crosses a short boardwalk and then descends a short flight of stairs to a T-intersection. Turn
left here to get back to the trailhead; the right path takes you to a picnic area along Springdale Rd.
The remainder of the trail takes you along Kingfisher Creek, in which can be seen brown
ducks, mallards, and other birds, not to mention insects. I have never seen the noisy bird for
which this trail is named, but if you are to see one, this would probably be the section of the trail
that it would be spotted. The small, blue-chested kingfisher obtains its food by diving into the
water. thus, your best chance to see one is here along the creek. If you plan to spend some time
here in the summer (when the bird resides in Greater Cincinnati), make sure you have on several
layers of insect repellent. Mosquitos find the stagnant water of Kingfisher Creek equally
appealing as a breeding ground.
A final boardwalk takes you over a wetland to where you join up with the outward loop.
From here, it is only a couple hundred feet to your car. While in the area, consider hiking the
Great Oaks Trail, the other nature trail at Winton Woods. The trailhead is located a short drive
west on the park road. It is only 0.75 miles long and offers a fascinating hike passing numerous
large oak trees.
Hike #47 Sharon Woods County Park
Trail: Durrell Gorge Trail
City: Sharonville, Ohio
Length: 1.6 miles
Overview: A rolling, linear hike through the mature forest of Sharon Woods Gorge passing two
Park Information: http://www.hamiltoncountyparks.org/parks/sharon.htm
Directions to the trailhead: From I-275, take exit 46 onto US 42 and go south on US 42. Less
than a mile later, turn left onto Kemper Rd. with the aid of a traffic light. Take Kemper Rd. a
short distance to the park entrance, then turn right to enter the park. Where the main entrance
road comes to a T-intersection, turn left onto another park road. Take this road downhill and
across the dam. Parking is located on the right immediately after crossing the dam.
The hike: Sharon Woods is a popular park with two central features: the gorge through which this
trail passes and the man-made lake located just upstream. The natural beauty of this trail makes it
one of the most scenic in the county. Yet, it can get a bit crowded on a nice weekend because it is
a short trail near a major population center. The presence of civilization in the form of a golf
course and automobiles cuts into the beauty somewhat. Still, this trail is well worth the hike for
the views and waterfalls that it accesses.
The trail starts a few feet up the road, to the west of the parking area. From the trailhead,
it starts immediately up a small hill with the creek about 50 feet below on the right. Once on top,
you begin the long, slow descent into the gorge, which starts out rather steeply, and then becomes
more gradual. At about the end of the steep section is an overlook of the gorge and a beautiful
cascade in the creek below. The creek hardly ever dries up thanks to the regulated flow of water
provided by the dam you passed at the very beginning of the hike. The trail becomes less steeply
sloped as you continue through rather mature forest, with the creek becoming closer and closer on
your right and the golf course that I mentioned in the introduction doing the same on your left.
At the bottom of the hill, the trail takes a turn to the right and crosses the creek on a
relatively new, high bridge. Make sure to observe the cliff face and the wildflowers along this
part of the trail. Shortly after passing an old bridge abuttment, a rest area on the left overlooks
another waterfall, this one not quite as high but equally breathtaking as the cascades you saw from
the overlook a ways back. A few years ago, the return route took you along the opposite face of
the gorge, but due to erosion, the Gorge Trail is now a linear trail and ends here. To get back to
you car, you can either retrace your steps back along the Gorge Trail (a prettier walk), or continue
onward and take the parcourse fitness trail back up the hill.
Hike #48 French Park
Nearest City: Amberley Village, Ohio
Length: 1.75 miles
Overview: A loop hike, first through a young upland forest, then through a more mature streamside
Park Information: http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/cityparks/pages/-4706-/
Directions to the trailhead: In Ohio, take I-71 to Ridge Road (exit 8) and enter north on Ridge
Road. Take Ridge Road north 2 miles to Section Road (there is a traffic light at this intersection)
and turn right on Section Road. Take Section Road east 0.1 miles to the entrance to French Park
on the left. Park either in the blacktop lot on the right or the small gravel lot on the left, both of
which will be encountered within 0.1 miles of entering the park.
The hike: Set on 276 acres of rolling land in the heart of suburbia, French Park exhibits its
agricultural history better than most any park in greater Cincinnati. The land was donated to the
city of Cincinnati by Mr. Herbert French who had built his farm, called Reachmont Farm, on the
land. The small red-brick house that was his home is still the centerpiece of the park today. The
house sits along the main park road atop the hill and is used by numerous conservation groups as
their business headquarters. You will pass it on your way out since the park road is one way. The
park is maintained by the city of Cincinnati Park Board.
A pair of unnamed, unmarked loop trails provide access to the surrounding forest. The
western trail treads across high ground through young forest. The eastern loop passes along the
small tributary of Mill Creek that passes through the park through more mature forest. The hike
described here starts on the western trail, then follows a connector trail over to the eastern loop.
Start at the small gravel parking lot mention in the directions. The two arms of the western
loop leave from the rear of this parking lot. I suggest taking the right trail, which is the shorter of
the two options, and begin ascending moderately over a wide two-track dirt road. The forest is
very young with honeysuckles lining both sides of the trail. Wildflowers are plentiful in the
After 0.5 miles of climbing, look for a narrower trail that exits into the forest on the right.
Be on the lookout for this turn, as it is unmarked and easy to miss. If the trail begins curving left
and heading back south to the trailhead, you have missed the turn. This narrow gravel trail is the
connector trail that will take you over to the eastern loop.
Now heading downhill, the trail undulates through more mature beech-maple forest,
crossing numerous feeder streams with the aid of wooden bridges. Some of these ravines are quite
steep, and some steps have been constructed to make the undulations more manageable. Ignore a
side trail that exits left before making the final descent to the major stream in the park.
Now at a T-intersection with the eastern loop, look to the left and see the first of several
small waterfalls this creek has to offer. The eastern loop continues in this direction and comes out
at a picnic shelter, but our hike assumes a streamside course and begins heading south. The creek
starts on the left with the hillside on the right, but on two occasions the trail crosses the creek via
stepping stones to avoid a steep bluff. These crossings could be hazardous immediately following
At the second of these crossings, look across the creek at the stone wall from the land’s
agricultural past. An usual sight today, walls such as these could be built to help maintain the
stability of the nearby land so as to make it more productive for farming. The trail crosses the
creek one final time and comes out at the main park road behind a picnic area. Watch traffic on
the road and cross the narrow park road bridge to return to the parking lot and complete the hike.
Hike #49 California Woods Nature Preserve
Junction Trail Trillium
Trail Ridge Trail
Trails: California Junction, Trillium Valley, Moon Ridge, and Twin Oaks Trails
City: Mt. Washington, Ohio
Length: 2.5 miles
Overview: A moderate to difficult hike along heavily forested ridges.
Park Information: http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/cityparks/pages/-4682-/
Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Cincinnati, take I-275 to Kellogg Ave. (exit 62).
Exit and go west on Kellogg Ave. Take Kellogg Ave. 1.2 miles to the preserve entrance. The
entrance is just past California Golf Course and just before Salem Rd. Turn right to enter the park.
Proceed 0.2 miles to the park’s nature center and park in the nature center parking lot.
The hike: Managed by the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, the 110 acres of California Woods
Nature Preserve contain some of the best, most mature hardwood forest in Hamilton County. The
preserve is nestled in a tight, dark ravine that seems secluded despite the fact that the preserve is
surrounded by city. The outward facing walls of the ravine remind you that the city is nearby, but
the interior part of the ravine is fairly quiet, with only an occasional airplane from nearby Lunken
Airport flying overhead.
As you would expect in a nature preserve, the park is void of facilities except for a small
nature center, restrooms, a small picnic area, and 8 miles of trails. The preserve is laid out with a
creek and park road running north-south through the middle and trails on either side. None of the
trails are marked, but all are maintained and easy to follow. The eastern half of the preserve
features a 0.5 acre reconstructed tall grass prairie, but the most interesting trails lie on the western
side of the ravine. Indeed, both of the designated national recreation trails, the California Junction
Trail and the Trillium Valley Trail, are located in the western half of the preserve. This hike takes
you along both of the national recreation trails and along other scenic trails in the western half of
From the nature center, walk south along the road back toward Kellogg Avenue. Pass the
entrance to the Trillium Valley Trail (you will come back to that later) and look for the sign
marking the beginning of the California Junction Trail on the right. Turn right onto the dirt path.
In quick fashion, the trail curves left and climbs moderately out of the main valley before reaching
a T-intersection that forms the loop-portion of this trail. This description will turn left here and use
the right fork as the return trail.
The trail narrows somewhat as it begins a level grade with the hill on the right and valley
on the left. If the name California Junction conjures up railroad images, there is good reason for
that. A short line railroad used to occupy this treadway, back in the days when California Junction
(now just called California) was a railroad stop on the eastern fringe of Cincinnati. The railroad
then left the Ohio River and climbed into the surrounding hills on the trail that we walk today. The
legacy is evident today by the gentle grade of the trail and by the depressions in the hillside that
were left from where dirt was excavated during the construction.
As the trail curves right, the sights and sounds of Kellogg Avenue become fully apparent
downhill to the left. The Ohio River then comes into view along with a couple of marinas full of
boats in the summertime. All along, the trail has been imperceptively descending along the
railroad bed. This comes to an abrupt end at a pile of sticks where the trail turns right, leaves the
railroad bed, and climbs moderately to a small trail shelter. Less than 200 feet further and the trail
rejoins the railroad bed, still heading downhill. In another 0.2 miles the trail closes the loop. Turn
left on the entrance route to descend back to the park road and complete the California Junction
Turn left on the park road and retrace your steps back to the Trillium Valley trail, which
exits to the left. This trail begins alongside a small stream, but soon begins climbing a steep,
narrow ravine. The trail curves right and begins climbing along a tributary. This is an east-west
ravine, and the north facing slope here would be ideal for wildflowers in late March and early
The trail climbs from the ravine rather steeply to arrive at a sycamore tree with two main
branches that split apart close to the ground like a field goal post. 500 feet later, the Trillium
Valley Trail ends at a ridgetop junction with the Ravine Trail, which goes right, and the Ridge
Trail, which goes left. Turn left and begin the aptly-named Ridge Trail. The east side of the ridge
features open forest with good-sized maple beech trees and little understory, but the Ridge Trail
soon crosses over to the west side which is heavily encumbered with honeysuckle.
Ignore side trails that go to the right and return to the park road and stick with the Ridge
Trail as it gradually descends along the ridgeline, occasionally crossing some small drainages with
the aid of bridges. After about 0.5 miles on the ridge, the trail begins descending more steeply and
eventually arrives at a trail junction along the creek. A left turn would connect to the trails on the
east side of the park road and extend the hike. This description turns right and in 0.2 miles returns
you to the nature center to complete this hike.
Hike #50 Woodland Mound County Park
Trails: Seasongood and Hedge Apple trails
City: Anderson Township, Hamilton County, Ohio
Length: 1.9 miles
Overview: A pair of easy nature trails through young forest featuring an Ohio River overlook.
Park Information: http://www.hamiltoncountyparks.org/parks/woodland.htm
Directions to the trailhead: Take I-275 to SR 125 (exit 65). Exit and go east. Take SR 125 a very
short distance to Nine Mile Road and turn right on Nine Mile Rd. Take Nine Mile south to
Nordyke Rd. and turn right on Nordyke. Take Nordyke west to the park entrance road, which goes
off on the left. Turn left on the park road. The trailhead is located at the Seasongood Nature
Center, which is on the right of the park road. Park in the nature center parking lot.
The hike: Woodland Mound is a very popular park located in the southeastern corner of Hamilton
County. The park had been in the planning for a long time when the land purchase took place in
1974. Thus, it has been in public ownership for a very short time, and most of the forest in the park
is still very young. The park offers a top-notch golf course and two short nature trails, which have
been combined here to provide a somewhat longer hike.
After parking in the main lot in front of the nature center, follow signs to the trailhead for
the Seasongood trail, which is located behind the nature center. This is an unexciting, half-mile
loop through young forest. After entering the woods and ascending a slight rise, you come to a
fork in the trail. I hiked this loop counter-clockwise, so take a right and continue ascending
gradually to a small meadow. Numerous signs along the trail describe the flora and fauna of the
young forest land which was used as an orchard and vineyard not too long ago. A pair of benches
are provided, although I doubt that they are frequently used given how short and easy this trail is to
After making a pass down and then up a small hill with logs in the trail designed to prevent
erosion (they seem to be doing a good job), arrive back at the outgoing portion of the trail. Turn
right here to get back to the trailhead. When passing the nature center, look to your right for a
partially obstructed view of the Ohio River; we will get a better view later in the hike.
Things only get more interesting from here. Return to the parking lot and hike to its far end
where a blacktop path leads across the road. Follow this path across the road, then up a hill to the
trailhead for the Hedge Apple trail, which is located between a blacktop path leading to the bigger
Ohio River overlook: (to be seen at the very end of the hike) and the Parcourse Fitness trail. This
walk can be eliminated by driving your car from the nature center parking lot to the Hedge Apple
trailhead parking lot. To reach it, turn right onto the park's main road and go straight at the stop
The Hedge Apple trail immediately begins descending through relatively young forest,
with plenty of hedge apple trees, from which the trail derives its name, growing alongside the trail.
When the trail divides for a short distance, I suggest taking the left trail on your outward journey,
as it makes the long, uphill, inward climb a bit less strenuous. This branch of the trail takes you
down some steps to a mud hole that might be a small pond just after a heavy rain. From there, the
trail undulates until it rejoins the other branch, then continues downhill, again using some logs as
erosion control. The trail reaches a pond on the right, then takes a left turn and descends some
stairs to reach the larger pond at its end. While the hiker sits on a bench provided his ears will be
filled with the sounds of insects and bull frogs creating a natural symphony. Only the sound of
traffic on Kellogg Ave. in the background interferes with this melodious blend of music.
After a few moments here, hike the trail back uphill, this time using the left, return fork at
the divide. Once back to the trailhead, turn left and follow the blacktop path to a wonderful
overlook of the Ohio River. A pair of powerplants can be seen upstream, and the 1-275 bridge can
be seen downstream in addition to the rolling hills of Kentucky on the other side and the boat
traffic on the river. When you are done soaking in this view, retrace your steps first to the Hedge
Apple trailhead, then, assuming you left your car at the nature center, back across the road to your
Hike #51 Withrow Nature Preserve
Trail Old Farm
Trail: Trout Lily Trail
City: Anderson Township, Hamilton County, Ohio
Length: 2 miles
Overview: An interesting hike young forest and field featuring on Ohio River overlook.
Park Information: http://www.hamiltoncountyparks.org/parks/withrow.htm
Directions to the trailhead: Take I-275 to Five Mile Road (exit 69). Exit and go south on Five
Mile. Take Five Mile about one mile to the Withrow Nature Preserve park road, which goes off to
the left. Park in the lot at the end of the park road.
The hike: By all accounts this is one of the best trails in the county. It is composed of two
overlapping loops, the Old Farm Loop and the Hepatica Hill Loop. The trail that links the two
starts from the trailhead and immediately enters rather mature woods and begins descending. After
a short downhill hike, you reach the split, with the Old Farm Loop on the left and the Hepatica Hill
loop on the right. I suggest hiking the longer Old Farm Loop first, as hiking the other loop first
will cause you to retrace some steps.
The Old Farm Loop winds along the bank of a ravine, crossing a few small wet-weather
branches on footbridges or pipes. Some nice ferns are present at this point in the loop. As the trail
leaves the ravine and continues winding through the woods, an old water pump, a relic from the
old Withrow farm, stands on the left side of the trail. Shortly after this, a confusing gravel trail
exits to the left. Do not take it, as it is just a short cut back
to the parking lot, but continue straight ahead. The woods are considerably younger on this section
After another 200 yards, come to a split in the trail at the edge of an open field. A small
white arrow on a brown carsonite stake suggests a right turn. I think this is a good idea. The
return trail through the field criss-crosses itself and can be very confusing without the help of
carsonite stakes to guide you. Turning right at this intersection, the trail leads along the edge of
the field through more young forest, and comes out at an overlook of the Ohio River. Take a
moment to sit on the bench provided and take in the very nice view of the Ohio River, looking
upstream. When you are done here, continue around the loop, exiting the viewing area the
opposite way you came.
This next section of trail is a great place for wildlife viewing. After a couple hundred feet,
the trail crosses a bridge over a drainage that apparently gets very high after a rain, evidenced by
the great deal of erosion on the steep sides of the channel. Shortly afterward, the trail, now
bordered on both sides by waist-high grass, comes out at a small clearing containing a beautiful,
dark brown log cabin. Take a moment to admire this cabin before leaving on a wider gravel trail
that leads to the field. This is the section of the trail that can be confusing; look for small, white
arrows on brown carsonite stakes for guidance.
Shortly into the field, "another" trail crosses the one you are on, and the arrows direct you
to turn right. You are now walking on mown grass with the tall grass of the field on either side.
The field is a great place for viewing insects and birds, though it can be a bit warm on a hot, sunny
afternoon. The grass trail ends at what appears to be another gravel access road, and another arrow
directs you to the left. This trail takes you to the edge of the field before taking two left turns and
arriving at "another" intersection. Actually, this is the same one you were at only minutes ago, and
the "other" trail is actually the same one you have been following all along. The white arrows lead
in a mini-loop through the field.
Another arrow directs you to the right, out of the loop, down a gravel access road that soon
empties onto the main park road. Just before this intersection, still in the field, another arrow leads
you to the left down a mowed path. This path shortly intersects the outward portion of the Old
Farm Loop. Go straight, retracing your steps to where the two loops of the trail part ways.
Back at this intersection, take a left to begin the Hepatica Hill Loop. Though it is only 0.25
miles in length, this is the most strenuous part of the trail. After passing a hollowed-out sycamore
tree, the trail descends a steep set of stairs to a bench at the bottom of the ravine. Though it
provides a welcome rest and a decent view, sunlight and bugs detract from the experience during
the summer. The trail then starts climbing steeply, using constructed wooden stairs for a
considerable distance, the only major climb of the hike. The trail tops the hill behind Highwood
Lodge where a well-placed bench is located for the weary. From this point, only a short walk
down a well-graveled path beside the lodge is left to finish the hike.