Venture: John Bryan State Park
Ohio has no volcanoes or mountains, no archipelagos or canyons. Our geology is a different kind - simpler, smaller, beautiful in its own way. If we prove anything, it's that when a little water rushes through rock, good things happen over time.
So it works at John Bryan State Park, a sliver of green space wrapped around a stretch of the Little Miami River, which has for millennia carved gorges through limestone and slate between Clark County and the Ohio River. Since 1925, less than a decade after businessman John Bryan bequeathed his lovely tract to the state, leisurely folk have sought solace near its banks.
Known as the most scenic park in Western Ohio, John Bryan is an emerald feather in the cap of Yellow Springs, a charming progressive hamlet. It's also a perfect place for hikers, bikers, picnickers and rock climbers to witness spring unfold.
Most of the action happens on several long, straight trails: elevated paths with prime overlooks and riverside romps perfect for getting close to babbling water. Rock climbers have carved a few paths beneath the cliffs, but it's best to stick to routes that are marked.
For a great day hike, park at the Lower Picnic Area and loop the river on the South Gorge and Pittsburgh-Cincinnati Stage Coach trails. The going is wide and, for the most part, very smooth. There are a couple of steep climbs, but nothing as rugged as an average day in the Hocking Hills.
Once at the eastern footbridge - a lovely midpoint for a rustic lunch - you can enter the Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve, a secluded enclave with short trails and numerous scenic overlooks. Be careful, though: Access to some areas of Clifton requires written permission.
In both the park and the preserve, diverse plant life abounds. More than 100 different trees and shrubs have been found. The park is also home to 340 species of wildflowers, including trillium, Virginia bluebells, bellworts, Dutchman's breeches and Jack-in-the-pulpit. (More on Ohio's wild blooms in next week's Venture column.)
The park also caters to those craving adrenaline.
Numerous rappelling anchors have been set into the stone along the North Rim Trail, a two-mile stretch along a decent cliff. Individual and group climbers should contact the park office to grab an available site. A 6.5-mile mountain-biking trail system offers creek crossings, small climbs and some technical elements.
Day Tripper: John Bryan State Park
Location: Yellow Springs
Size: 752 acres
Distance from Columbus: 60 miles
Camping: 50 non-electric and 10 electric sites available by reservation
Hiking: 18.6 miles
Fishing: Smallmouth bass, rock bass and panfish
Biking: 9.7 miles
Rock climbing: Permanent rappelling anchors along North Rim Trail
What I liked: The riverside trails provide a great bird's-eye view of underwater structure - a fisherman's dream. The trails are perfect for anyone who wants to experience beautiful gorges without tough climbs.
What I didn't: It'd be nice to have a few connector trails that would allow hikers an easier way to get from the overlooks to the river. A sink in the bathrooms would be nice, too.
While you're there: After a day outside, head to Yellow Springs, about 10 minutes from the park entrance. Grab a quick, cheap bite at the rustic Ye Olde Trail Tavern and a drink at a divey local favorite known as The Gulch. On your way back to I-70, delicious ice cream awaits at Young's Dairy. For info click to yellowsprings.com.
To see a slideshow of photos from John Bryan State Park, click to The Riot Act blog at ColumbusAlive.com.