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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!