Typically, the secret to enjoying summer in Ohio is a mixture of air conditioning and swimming pools. On the rare occasion that summer storms bring lower humidity we make a bee-line for the nearest park. It seems we were not the only people with this idea on Saturday. The trade off for not hiking in sweat soaked socks is a trail as busy as the mall in December.
John Bryan State Park is located just outside the quirky town of Yellow Springs. It is home to a 59 site campground. Unfortunately, the only toilets available are single stall vault toilets and they did not smell particularly great by mid-summer. Some sites on the perimeter have relatively level pads, but much of the camping is in the middle of a grassy field. I honestly wish the facilities were a bit better because there are so many great activities to explore in the area. But based on the lack of free camping spaces mid-day Saturday, it seems we are the only ones hesitating to camp.
Multiple trails follow the Little Miami River in the park. They are mostly flat and very well maintained. One of the attractions of the park is the ease with which you are able to create a loop. It is easy to follow the trails once you find the trailheads despite a trail map that looks like it was drawn by a drunken monkey. We started from parking lot near the lower shelter house. In the past we have found the South Gorge Trail to be less crowded, with some of the more spectacular scenery so we were disappointed to find the foot bridge closed for maintenance.
Much of the charm of the region results from the multiple geologic rock types and their differing rates of erosion. According to the many interpretive signs in the park, this caused the large boulder formations that they referred to whimsically as “slump blocks”. If there really is such a thing, that means somewhere there is a geologist who has written multiple papers on “slump blocks”. Perhaps there are even “slump block” experts. This idea tickles me.
Once the trail enters the adjacent Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve it becomes a bit trickier. Be careful not to turn an ankle on the rocky terrain. While we saw many people out for a walk in flip flops. I would not advise it.
The cliffs that have been looming over the trail behind a screen of lush forest now draw close enough to be appreciated. Soon the trail climbs out of the gorge. A small nature center makes a great spot for a break with picnic tables, benches and indoor bathrooms. Sadly from this point on, the road draws so close to the gorge that you lose much of the sense of nature. This is also some of the most spectacular scenery as the fast moving waters create deep crevices and rushing waterfalls. Well maintained boardwalks and over looks make these views accessible for nearly all hikers. The trail ends at another parking lot, providing and alternative starting point for hikers to explore the area.
For me the highlight of the trail was discovering an active honeybee hive in a tree just off the trail. They seemed just as ignorant of the many hikers passing by their home as most of the hikers who never gave them a glance.
On the return trip, we explored the North Rim trail to avoid the dreaded backtracking. This trail travels the tops of the cliffs a couple hundred feet above the river. Sadly there were no views to speak of. We did discover many eyelets in the rocks that local climbers use to anchor their ropes and ran into a couple of folks enjoying the park from a harness. Otherwise is was a nice walk in woods back to the car.
We wrapped the day up with an early dinner in nearby Yellow Springs. We plan to return to the area to explore many of the other activities. The Little Miami bike path passes through town. We’ve heard good things about the Glen Helen Nature Preserve and Young’s Jersey Dairy Farm as well. There is still much to explore in this part of Ohio.
Frankly, we have idea how many miles we walked. The drunk-monkey maps mean we are only estimating, but based on the time we walked, I would say out and back was in the 5-6 mile range. Perfect for a summer stroll!