Friday, May 31, 2013

Daniel Boone National Forest: Silvermine Arch Trail (Blog Hike #28)

This hike is no longer posted; it is part of Blog Hike #140.

Natural Bridge State Park: Original/Balanced Rock Loop (Blog Hike #27)

Trails: Original, Laurel Ridge, and Balanced Rock Trails
Hike Location: Natural Bridge State Park
Geographic Location: south of SladeKY (37.77297, -83.67878)
Length: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: September 1998
Overview: A moderate to difficult climb to Natural Bridge followed by an interesting ridgetop hike and descent past Balanced Rock.

Directions to the trailhead: Take the Mountain Parkway to SR 11 (exit 33).  Exit and go south on SR 11.  Take SR 11 south 2 miles to the entrance to Natural Bridge State Park.  Turn right to enter the park.  Follow park signs leading you to Hemlock Lodge.  The trail starts at the far end of the lodge parking lot.

The hike: Located only 45 minutes from LexingtonNatural Bridge State Park is not only a good place for some hiking but also a very popular tourist attraction.  The centerpiece of the park is the huge Natural Bridge, a rock bridge that measures 85 feet wide at the base and 40 feet thick at the top.  Natural bridges are created when water and wind erode a softer layer of rock that lies underneath a harder layer, leaving just the upper layer, fastened to rock on either side, suspended over thin air.
            The route described here is the shortest, easiest, and thus most popular one to the bridge, so do not count on peaceful serenity, especially for the first portion of this hike.  From the far end of the Hemlock Lodge parking lot, take the concrete path down a gentle grade to the beginning of the Original Trail (trail #1 on the hiking map) which goes off to the right.  Turning right on this trail, the trail immediately begins climbing some steep limestone steps.
            After about 80 of these steps, the trail levels out, and soon the Battleship Rock Trail (trail #3) goes off to the right.  Stay left on the Original Trail, which soon passes a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) shelter and begins meandering beside a creek in a steep-sided valley.  After following the creek for several hundred feet, the trail reaches the head of the valley and begins climbing again, this time without the aid of steps.  This long and fairly steep climb is the most strenuous section of this trail.  The trail takes a right, then switches back to the left.   At this point, the right side of the trail is flush against an orange sandstone cliff which has some pretty, white calcite seeping through it, much like you would find in a cave.  The trail soon takes a sharp right and passes another CCC shelter, climbing all the time. 
Calcite seepage along Original Trail
            Shortly thereafter, with another sandstone cliff on the left, the immense natural bridge first comes into view.  On the evening I approached the bridge, it appeared through the trees as a large, yellow shadow against the sapphire blue sky.  The trail curves left, with some stairs leading to the Battleship Rock Trail going off to the right, and passes underneath the rock bridge. 
On the other side of the rock bridge, look for a natural fracture about two feet wide on the left side of the bridge.  Some steps have been carved in the fracture to allow access to the top of the bridge.  Go up these stairs, making sure that nobody is coming down, as the narrowness of the fracture makes for a tight fit, and arrive at the top of the natural bridge.  Now through the hardest part of the hike, some boulders in this area and a large wooden shelter make for good spots to sit and rest from your efforts.
Hiking across Natural Bridge
            From the top of the stairway, walk across the natural bridge, noting the outstanding view it offers to either side (this is the highest point for miles around), and pick up the Laurel Ridge Trail (trail #9) on the other side.  The Laurel Ridge Trail is a flat, easy-walking trail that features some very scenic views.  The first of these can be found several hundred feet from the bridge at the skylift terminal.  Appearing as a red string draped across the mountain, the skylift provides access to the bridge for those who do not wish to walk up the hill.  For hikers, this area provides a nice view of the tree-covered Kentucky hills in the distance. 
            Continue past the skylift as the trail curves along the edge of the mountain with a steep drop-off on the right.  A few minutes after departing the skylift, arrive at Lookout Point.  This unprotected overlook sits atop a cliff and offers an unmatched postcard view of the natural bridge, which now lies across the valley to the right.  Some more hills and a pretty rock outcrop lie dead ahead.  Be careful at this overlook, as there is no railing to prevent you from venturing out too far and falling into the valley 100 feet below. 
Natural Bridge, as seen from Lookout Point
            Continuing on the trail, pass Devil's Gulch and Needle's Eye Stairway on the right and head into some dense rhododendron.  In a short distance, come out at Lover's Leap, which offers another fantastic view of the surrounding valleys and hills.  Devil's Pulpit can be viewed on the left.  This is another unprotected overlook, so again, be careful where you step.  The Laurel Ridge Trail dead ends at Lover's Leap, so you will need to turn around and retrace your steps back to the natural bridge, where the last leg of our hike will begin.
View from Lover's Leap
            Back at the natural bridge, cross the bridge and pick up the Balanced Rock Trail (trail #2), which goes off to the right of the big wooden shelter you saw earlier.  After scrambling over some exposed rock, the trail begins to climb steeply, but only for a rather short distance.  At the top of the hill, stay to the left as the Sand Gap Trail (trail #5) goes off to the right.  The Sand Gap Trail offers a moderate to difficult 10 mile loop through the backcountry on the west side of the bridge.  The long loop is worth the trip should you have the energy and time to take it.
Wooden steps on Balanced Rock Trail
            The Balanced Rock Trail enters a thick patch of rhododendron and soon begins descending, first rather gently, then very steeply using extensive wooden step construction.  Generally, a cliff rises to the right, and a very steep valley falls off to the left.  At last, the trail comes to Balanced Rock, a large slab of sandstone perched precariously atop another chunk of sandstone.  Since you must get down from the natural bridge somehow, this site is well worth the extra walking of this trail. 
Balanced Rock
            From the rock, the trail curves to the left and passes a cave on the left.  The trail then curves to the right down some steep stone stairs while a connector to the Original Trail goes straight ahead.  Climb down the stairs and arrive at the concrete path you started on.  A left turn and gentle uphill hike will return you to Hemlock Lodge to complete the hike.

Pilot Knob State Nature Preserve: Oscar Geralds, Jr. Trail (Blog Hike #26)

Trail: Oscar Geralds, Jr. Trail
Hike Location: Pilot Knob State Nature Preserve
Geographic Location: north of Clay CityKY (37.91208, -83.94513)
Length: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: September 1998; some pics taken May 2017
Overview: A moderate climb to an historic point offering great views of Kentucky’s Bluegrass.

Directions to the trailhead: Take the Mountain Parkway to SR 15 (exit 16).  Exit and go west on SR 15.  Take SR 15 west 3.5 miles to Brush Creek Road in the town of Westbend.  Turn right on paved Brush Creek Road.  In 1.5 miles, Brush Creek Road ends at a gate and a cul de sac.  Park in this cul de sac, taking care not to block the gate.

The hike: The land today comprising Pilot Knob State Nature Preserve is of significance for a couple of reasons.  First, Pilot Knob, a 450-foot knob at the center of the preserve, is one in a line of knobs that form the boundary between the flat Bluegrass to the west and the rugged mountains to the east.  As you travel east on the Mountain Parkway from Lexington, these knobs appear as giant cone-shaped mountains in the distance providing you a first indication that the mountains are approaching.  In fact, these knobs are small compared to the mountains further east, but they loom large over the flat Bluegrass
If an opportunity to explore one of these interesting knobs were not enough, Pilot’s Knob in particular possesses some unique interest.  Daniel Boone’s explorations included a trip across Kentucky, entering at Cumberland Gap in the southeast and proceeding northwest at first through the mountains and later into the Bluegrass.  Many historians believe that Daniel Boone first saw the Bluegrass region of Kentucky from the top of this knob as he stood atop the rock outcrop that lies at the end of this trail. 
The preserve itself is fairly young and has been in state hands only since 1985.  The preserve contains no facilities and is accessed by only two trails.  The seldom-used Minestone Quarry Trail offers a short hike along the base of the knob, but the main attraction is the Oscar Geralds, Jr. Trail that ascends to the summit of the historical knob.  Despite the fact this trail is only 2.4 miles total (up and back down), it took me nearly 2 hours to complete this hike, as the trail is quite steep, making progress very slow for long periods of time.  On the bright side, even though this preserve is located only 30 miles southeast of Lexington and near the interstate standard Mountain Parkway, you will likely have this trail largely to yourself.  Take your time ascending the knob and enjoying the view at the top.
Trailhead (in the rain)
             The trail begins at the rear of the cul de sac past the gate where the road turns to gravel.  The road continues for a short distance as a narrow, rutted road overhung by low branches.  The road ends at Brush Creek, which was dry during our late summer visit but might contain water at other times of the year.  There is no bridge, so this creek must be forded.  Bring water shoes to keep your feet as dry as possible, and if the creek looks too high, turn back and wait for a drier day. 
            Once across the creek, pick up the single track dirt trail and pass through a row of white posts which signal the boundary of the preserve.  In rather quick succession, the trail passes a registration box, a wooden gate, and then an information box where a map of the preserve may be found.  
Climbing toward Pilot Knob
            A few feet past the information box, the poorly maintained Minestone Quarry Trail goes off to the right while the well-worn Oscar Geralds, Jr. Trail goes straight ahead.  Continue straight to ascend the knob.  Just past this junction, the trail starts to climb steeply for the first time, using some logs as erosion controls.  The young open forest at this point consists mostly of poplar and maple trees with very little underbrush.  At the top of this first steep section, Brush Creek lies in a ravine to the left and the side of Pilot Knob rises on the right.  After flattening out for a very short distance, the trail begins climbing again, this time up the steepest climb of the hike.  This climb climaxes with a ladder-like staircase and a switchback.  This switchback marks about the halfway point for the trip up the knob. 
            For the next 0.2 miles the trail becomes level and begins traveling around the south face of the knob from the west to the east.  The trail gently curves to the left around the knob.  A nice view of the Cumberland Plateau is to the right, in addition to a steep cliff.  Do not waste too much time looking at this view, as the summit offers a much better one.  To the left is the sandstone cliff that you will be standing atop at the end of this hike and the one Daniel Boone stood upon many centuries ago. 
Spring beside trail
            The trail passes a small spring on the left, where you must be careful of tree roots in the trail, then reaches the east side of the knob.  The trail now begins climbing again, this time up the east side of the knob for the last steep section of the hike.  The forest has changed significantly now.  Gone are the large maples and poplars.  They have been replaced by some smaller oak and Virginia pine that thrive in areas where the sandstone bedrock is close to the surface.  The top of this climb affords nice views to the east and north especially during the leafless months. 
            The trail makes two last turns to the left, passes some exposed sandstone to the left, then comes out at the summit of the knob.  Be careful here, as there is no railing to lean on, there are several roots that could easily trip you, and the drop is about 50-75 feet straight down the sandstone cliff.  The view is impressive.  Some more knobs lay straight ahead, the Cumberland Plateau rises to the left, and the Bluegrass opens up to the right.  When you have taken in the view, turn around and retrace your steps down the knob; there is only one way down, and it is the same way you came up.
View west into Kentucky's Bluegrass

Summit overlook
            If you are as fortunate as I was, you may get an unusual guided tour of the preserve.  A medium-sized black dog met me shortly after I left the gravel parking area.  I am not particularly fond of dogs, so I tried to ignore it as I started along the trail.  The dog followed me at first, then passed me and walked only a few feet ahead along the trail for several minutes.  When I hit the first major climb, the dog disappeared ahead out of sight, and I figured that I had lost it.  To my surprise, after climbing the ladder staircase and the switchback, I found the dog sitting on the trail as if it were waiting for me to catch up.  Sure enough, when I caught up to it, the dog got up and continued to lead me up the trail. 
Dog at summit of Pilot Knob
            When I reached the top, the dog sat down a few feet from the edge of the cliff and waited for me to take in the view.  When I turned around and began walking back down the knob, the dog got up and began walking behind me again.  It eventually walked right up beside my legs, and I reached down to pet its head, which it gladly received.  Shortly thereafter, the dog ran ahead of me, and I never saw it again for the rest of the hike.  Rarely does a solo hiker experience such companionship on the trail as I did that day.  If you find a new hiking companion when hiking this trail, do not be afraid of it.  Let it lead you and it will be your friend as it was mine.

Caesar Creek State Park: Perimeter Trail, Day Lodge to Dam (Blog Hike #25)

Trails: Perimeter and Interpretive Loop Trails
Hike Location: Caesar Creek State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of WaynesvilleOH (39.50587,-84.05198)
Length: 4.4 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: 1998, pics taken June 2013 and August 2016
Overview: A rolling hike along the west shore of Caesar Creek Lake.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

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 Rd. 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 the Caesar Creek Lake hike.  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 2.2 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.
Perimeter and Buckeye Trail blazes near Day Lodge
            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 by descending through a young forest, then dips through a couple of shallow ravines. The trail 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. 
Hiking on an old road
            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.            
Upland portion of Perimeter Trail
            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.  This bench is about half way to the visitor's center.
            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.            
Perimeter Trail near 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 mulch trail, the Adena Trace Loop Trail.  Turn left and dip through a small ravine to head for the Visitor Center.  After a gradual climb, the trail comes out at the rear of a small pond, where you should angle left to pass a fishing area reserved for children.
Fishing pond near Visitor Center

Caesar Creek Lake, as seen from overlook
            On the other side of the pond, intersect the mulch Interpretive Loop Trail, an 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 could also cut off some distance by walking up Clarksville Road to the Day Lodge instead of using the trail if you are willing to sacrifice the scenery.

Miami University Natural Areas: Bachelor Reserve Pine and East Loops (Blog Hike #24)

Trails: Bachelor Reserve, Pine and East Loops
Hike Location: Miami University Natural Areas Trail System (MUNATS)
Geographic Location: east side of OxfordOH (39.50826,-84.71607)
Length: 3.2 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2001; pics taken June 2015 and October 2015
Overview: A well-marked course through a wide variety of forest environments.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

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 bridge.

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.
Bachelor Reserve 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 official 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.
Hiking along Harker's Run
            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 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 expecting it.
Hiking through the pines
            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 any direction. 
            Upon reaching the other side of the forest, the trail uses a single switchback to descend steeply to the level of Harker's Run and 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.
Long Pond
            At the top of the hill, the trail comes out at an earthen dyke creating a large pond called Long 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.
Hiking the East Loop
            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.

Rocky Fork State Park: Deer Loop Trail (Blog Hike #23)

Trail: Deer Loop Trail
Hike Location: Rocky Fork State Park
Geographic Location: east of HillsboroOH (39.18905,-83.52278)
Length: 1.1 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: Fall 1998, pics taken June 2013
Overview: A loop hike through young forest atop a bluff overlooking the backwaters of Rocky Fork Lake.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Hillsboro, take SR 124 east out of the city.  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 Dr.  Take North Shore Dr. past the airport and the campground.  Just past the campground, look for a small sign that says "Deer Trail" with a gravel road on the left.  Turn left on this gravel road and park in a cul de sac 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 Rd. 
            With the huge lake, campground, and two beaches serving as the park’s big draws, this short trail is often overlooked.  Thus, in the midst of this development, the Deer Loop Trail offers a bit of serenity.  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.
Road sign for trailhead parking           
Trail leaving far end of parking area
            The trail begins and ends at the gravel cul de sac. 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 grass on either side, so long pants are recommended in the warmer months.  Along those same lines, this trail goes mostly through deep woods, so insects can also be a nuisance in the summer. 
            The trail passes through a ravine, then winds its way through the woods, soon crossing two small streams on wooden bridges.  Each of these streams will be crossed again later for a total of four bridges.  Shortly after this second bridge, the scenery changes quite noticeably.  The large trees of a mature forest are left behind, and ahead are smaller trees in larger numbers, indicative of younger forest.  A field is visible through the trees on the right.  A few hundred feet later, the trail makes a sweeping left turn, marking the farthest point on the hike.     
Hiking through the forest
            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 few hundred feet, 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 also hiking the Audubon Bird Trail, which goes off of North Shore Drive immediately opposite the campground.  It is a short trail (0.37 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 for even the most casual nature-lover.

7 Caves (Blog Hike #22)

Trails: Cave CanyonPalisades, and Indian Trails
Hike Location: 7 Caves
Geographic Location: east of HillsboroOH (39.21995,-83.36597)
Length: 2 miles (but see my update comment at the end of the hike)
Difficulty: 7/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: Fall 1998
Overview: An unusual, but difficult hike passing through all seven caves in the park.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Hillsboro, take US 50 east to Cave Road, which goes off to the right just before reaching 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 hikers, this hike at Seven Caves would not be considered a nature hike, and in the strictest sense of the word they would be right.  Nevertheless, the scenery seen on this hike is so unique that I felt compelled to include this hike in my blog.  Seven Caves is a combination nature preserve and tourist attraction (but not nearly as touristy as some areas) located just off US 50 at the Ross-Highland County line.  As such, many of the walkways are improved with extensive concrete steps, and there is only one pathway through each area (there are three areas, thus the three trails).  Moreover, 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 the natural environment.  In spite of all of these drawbacks, 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 in each area and the trails are 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 underground trails are well lit, and lights activated by pushing a button point out cave formations of interest. 
Entrance to Witch's Cave
Calcite in cave
            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. 
Small waterfall at head of gorge
            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, and begin the Palisades Trail, which leaves the road on the right. This area features mature forest, as does most of the undeveloped 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 while passing behind the concession shack on the left. 
Overlook of Rocky Fork Creek
            After crossing a tributary on a high bridge, the trail first turns left, then turns 180-degrees 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 got a peak 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 greenery.
            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 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 creek overlooks and crossing two tributaries.  The trail then takes a sharp right and descends the concrete stairway to the floor of the gorge, again coming out by the Rocky Fork Creek. 
Battleship Rock in Rocky Fork Gorge
            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 few hundred feet, 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.