Adventure Hike – John Bryan State Park/Clifton Gorge Loop

Hike Length: Approximately 5 miles

Hike Difficulty: Moderate – rocks, hills, not level surface, can be muddy. Easy – For fit and seasoned hikers. Caution – There are hazardous cliffs in both parks, so be careful and watch the kiddos. People have fallen to their deaths esp in snowy/icy conditions

Facilities: Multiple pit toilets in John Bryan, nature center (check website for when open), rustic campground in John Bryan, mountain bike trails, day lodge

Note: Pets are allowed in John Bryan but not Clifton Gorge so to do this loop, you can’t take pets but there is plenty of hiking in John Bryan to enjoy with your doggo(s).

Websites: http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/johnbryan

http://naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/cliftongorge

Late November, we got some warm weather for our part of Ohio and ventured out to John Bryan State Park which is located which is east of Dayton near the eclectic town of Yellow Springs. Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve is situated as JB’s east neighbor. We did an approximately 5-mile loop starting at western parking lot at the point marked U on their trail maps. Drive into the park and pass the park office. At the fork, turn left and the very first drive on the right, take this into a wooded parking area.

In roughly the south east corner, there is a trailhead leading down to the North Rim Trail. Turn left (there is a small section that leads down to the stagecoach trail that is the actual start of the North Rim Trail but you will need to walk up or down to the trail start as there is not parking at the start, but it is a short walk. The trail winds through honeysuckle and trees. Along the way there are several wooden deck overlooks that in the winter, you can see down below. As you go along, you will notice along the cliff edges that there are metal hooks which people use for climbing and rappelling in the John Bryan section of the hike.

North Rim Trail

The trail meanders up and down the rolling land including several bridge crossings. We found some of the bridges to have some give and therefore went one person at a time just to be cautious.

Crossing a bridge on North Rim trail

Eventually, you cross into Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve with a warning regarding the hazardous cliffs. As mentioned above, watch your kids, don’t be stupid and fall to your death. Be particularly careful with snow and icy conditions. Again no pets are allowed in the Gorge though I’ve seen people ignore this rule. There are several spurs off to your right that head to the trail below but stay on this trail until you come to a wooden fence on your right that leads to a clearing with a porta-potty and the nature center.

At this point you can continue on the trail passing the wooden steps leading down all the way to trails end which is a parking area on the west side of the small town of Clifton. Clifton Mill situated in the center of town is famous for it’s holiday light display (fee charged) as well as a restaurant and gift shop all year around (https://cliftonmill.com/). But for this loop, head down the steep wooden steps to the Little Miami River. Note: the lower portion of this loop is a bit more challenging so if you need less challenging, simply turn around and return to your vehicle.

Little Miami River

When you reach the trail, you are now on the John L Rich Trail. At this point if there has been rain you will find a lot of muddy areas. The trail winds around the trees, cliffs, rocks and boulders. Again you will find wooden deck overlooks as well. In the spring, this lower trail is a wonderful place to find wildflowers. Soon you will come to a small waterfall which there is more steps leading up to several small overlook decks weaving around the boulders.

There are plenty of cliffs and even some small cave areas to explore. This is our favorite part of the loop even though it can be the most challenging. The river will run into rapids at times and you feel as if you’ve been transported into another world. This is usually cooler than the upper trail in the summer.

When you exit Clifton Gorge, there will be a bridge over the Little Miami on your right and then a trail back up on your right, this is a rocky and steep climb. You can go back up here and rejoin the North Rim Trail or keep going straight along the river. This trail is now the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati Trail and will end at the road. There is a metal gate but if you look to the right, there will be a trail scrambling back up the slope that will take you back to the parking lot and add a little more length to the loop.

Due to the muddy conditions, we went up the rocky incline at the bridge and back onto the North Rim Trail and retraced our steps back to the car.

Some considerations, the trails will be very busy in the summer and especially on the weekends. I prefer to hike during winter and early spring (not when it is icy) to avoid people. There are a lot of trail runners who use these trails so don’t be surprised if someone runs up behind you. This is always a gorgeous hike when the fall colors are at peak. John Bryan is one of my favorite state parks with plenty of picnic tables, some playground areas, excellent and well maintained mountain bike trails which are good for beginners, the campground is open year around and there is a day lodge you can rent.

A few of my favorite places around the area:

Yellow Springs: http://www.yellowspringsohio.org/

Young’s Jersey Dairy (can be very busy): https://youngsdairy.com/

Till the next hike, get out there!

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Hiking Charleston Falls Preserve – Miami County, Ohio

Miami County Park District rocks!  There are sixteen properties/trails under their jurisdiction with my favorite being Charleston Falls Preserve.  When I first started coming to this park in the late 1990’s, it did not get the visitors that it does today so I try to visit it on less popular times like weekdays.  The park is over 216 acres with close to 4 miles of trails that wind up and down through prairie and forest.  Of course there is the 37 foot waterfall but also a small cave, wildflowers, plenty of benches, a gazebo, overlook platform, a pond, wildlife and well maintained facilities.  There are also many programs held in the park as well (see Miami County Parks for information/schedules).

Location:  2535 Ross Road, Tipp City, OH 45371

Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset   Pets are allowed!  (please clean up after your pet)  Do not pick or remove natural items.  

Facilities: Flush toilet restrooms, water fountain, picnic tables, trash receptacles, well-marked trails with map kiosks along the trails, benches, mostly gravel trails with the exception of the prairie area – wide mowed trails.

Overview:  A winding paved driveway leads to the parking area(s).  There is a paved area with several handicapped spots.  To the west is a larger gravel overflow parking area.  On the summer weekends, the overflow parking can almost fill up due to the popularity of this park.  The restrooms are open all year around (heated in the winter) which is a big positive for me as I have to drive almost an hour to reach this park.  They recently put several new picnic tables near the parking area.  Another picnic area requires walking into the woods and to the south.

The waterfall is a fairly easy less than a 1/2 mile walk along a wide gravel path through the woods.  For the most part it’s flat, but there is some gentle rolls.  This makes is great for people with young kids and people with physical limitations as they can see the falls without a long strenuous hike.  This is also the most popular direction for most of the people to walk.  once you walk into the woods, take a left at the fork in the path.  There is an informational kiosk as you walk into the woods and they always post on a sawhorse/sign what time the park closes that day.  There is also a bag dispensary for pet waste if you forget to bring one that usually is stocked.  To the right, you go back to the picnic area or the prairie area with the Golden Hexagon (gazebo).

Essentially all the trails form a loop that go through places like the Thorny Badlands and Redbud Valley.  But for this blog post, I’m going to use my preferred direction.  Once I enter the woods, I take the left of the fork.  Not long, there will be a spur going off to the left that is more narrow.  There is a map kiosk there, so I take a left.  If you stay on the main trail (right of map kiosk), it takes you directly to the falls.  The preserve has several pretty steep hills and I have found going clockwise on the loop is easier on my knees than counter-clockwise.  At 0.30 miles, the trail splits after you climb a short hill (there is a bench conveniently located toward the top).  If you go to the right, the path takes you to Cedar Pond and a prairie area.  To the left, you wind through the Locust Grove until the trail meets back up.

Locust Grove gets less foot traffic as the Cedar Pond is a popular spot.  There are steps down to the pond as well as a partial boardwalk.  You can walk all the way around the small pond but the earthen trail can be muddy after rains.   There are several benches situated above the pond which are nice to sit.  The pond is fill of fish, cat tails and water spiders.  In the summer, tiny yellow flowers bloom in the water by the boardwalk area.  I like to take Locust Grove trail in the heat of the summer as it’s heavily shaded.

Both of these trails converge together into one trail again as you go downhill and back into the woods.  The trail is more steep here as it runs down to the creek.  A wooden bridge goes over the stream but if you go to the left of the bridge, you can wander down to the water.  There are several rocks or concrete steps to allow you to cross the water if the stream isn’t high.  This is one of the most picturesque areas of the park in my opinion.  Once you cross the stream, the trail goes off to the right winding along the stream.

In another almost third of a mile, there is a another fork with a map kiosk.  If you go straight, this takes you through the Thorny Badlands (up a hill) to the Observation Tower.  Don’t expect some great view from the tower as it’s mostly grown up across the tower.  To the right, through the Redbud Valley, if you have hit at the right time in the spring, the many redbuds will color the valley in pink.  There are bits of boardwalk here that leads up to a steep hill that will eventually come up to the area above the falls.  I usually do the Thorny Badlands.  As you come up the first hill from the map kiosk/trail split, you can see the observation tower but also another trail that goes off to the left.  To the left is a 0.25 mile spur that runs through the woods and back up to the trail behind the tower.  I like this trail because of the large trees and the tendency for less traffic.

Soon after the trails rejoin east of the tower, the trail winds through a pine forest that smells wonderful.  The trail goes down across the stream and a wooden bridge and up a steep hill.  At the top of the hill is another thoughtfully placed bench.  You can go either left or right here.  I normally go right and wind along the edge of the cliff above the waterfall.  You get glimpses of the waterfall after a bit.  This trail also joins the trail that goes below the falls and past the small limestone cave.  I normally skip that part and keep along the ridge until you cross the creek that feeds the waterfall on a wooden bridge.  As the trail winds around toward the south, a wooden fenced area marks the upper overlook to Charleston Falls.

In the summer, wild red columbine blooms at the edge of the cliff on the other side of the fence.  An old, stately American Sycamore tree stands sentry at the bottom of the falls.  As you look below, you will see a boardwalk and observation deck at the bottom of the falls.  This can be accessed shortly after you walk on from the falls by following the wooden steps down.  Note:  Spring is usually the best time to see the falls running especially after the snow melt.  In the summer/fall unless there is a lot of rain, the falls can just be a trickle of water though still pretty.  In the winter, sometimes the falls freezes into huge icicle like formations.  This is a wonderful park for winter hiking as well.

At this point if you go to the south or to the left when you turn around from viewing the waterfall, the trail leads out into the prairie area to the Golden Hexagon.  There is a trail that goes completely around the area in a square and another trail that runs right through the middle to the gazebo.  The park thoughtfully put in a ramp as well as steps to the gazebo so it’s more easily accessed.  The trail throughout this prairie area is mostly just mowed grass.  The prairie area is full of wildflowers throughout the blooming season.  To the left, you follow the gravel trail through the woods and back to the parking area.

In conclusion, if you don’t like crowds try to go on a weekday morning.  There are many wildflowers and birds within the park as well as small critters like squirrels and chipmunks.  The Falls is a popular dog walking spot as well.  Many trail runners like the park as well as there is a wide variety of terrain in just under four miles.  Every season has something to offer.  When it’s snowy and icy, you do need to be careful in certain areas.  They offer many programs for kids and adults alike.  I’ve taken an inexpensive Nature Journaling/Sketching class there which sparked my love of sketching with charcoals.  This is one of my favorite parks in Ohio and I visit it often.  The parks department does a stellar job of keeping it maintained and clean.   They deserve our thanks.

If you haven’t visited this park yet, put it on your list as you won’t be disappointed.  Though I’ve been here hundreds of times over the years, I mix up my experience by hiking in different directions or different trails.  I never fail to see something new and beautiful.  Until next hike…