Expect the UnexpectedBy Matt Mitchell
Greene County, the “Bicycle Capital of the Midwest,” is home to over 8,000 acres of nature preserves, parks, and rivers. Since the early 1990s, millions of cyclists from all over America have taken their bikes across the land where Native Americans once fashioned earth mounds and ridden alongside what remains of the Little Miami Railroad, a railway that was part of Abraham Lincoln’s train route on his way to the 1861 Presidential Inauguration in Washington. The passion for cycling lives in Southwestern Ohio, and at the heart of this legendary region is Xenia Station, a former railroad hub converted into a cyclist’s dream. Before peddling away, visit Xenia Station’s 19th-century brick railroad station replica and reconstructed telegraph building.
Meet up with your friends at the center of Xenia Station and experience history by riding along its five interconnected bike trails — including the Ohio to Erie Trail, a part of the longest paved trail network in America, which clocks in at over a roaring 350 miles. Spanning 78 miles from Cincinnati to Springfield, the Little Miami Scenic Trail is home to many pieces of historical preservation from Xenia Station all the way to Yellow Springs. The trail provides options for cyclists of all experience levels — whether you are interested in biking city to city, or just taking it slow across Greene County’s scenic countryside and forests. The Little Miami Trail offers a week’s worth of destinations and there is an abundance of charming towns, villages, and landmarks to pull off to.
At Cedarville’s Indian Mound Reserve country park, you can visit the Williamson Mound and Pollock Works, two earthworks hedged around Massie Creek, a Little Miami River tributary named after surveyor Nathaniel Massie. Near Old Town Reserve, you’ll find the Birthplace of Tecumseh marker, a spot honoring the Shawnee chief who founded a confederation of indigenous Americans in the Great Lakes.
Itching to make your exploration of Greene County’s dazzling scenery adventurous? Rent a canoe with friends or family from RiversEdge Outfitters in Waynesville and enjoy a relaxing float down the scenic Little Miami River. There’s no shortage of activities to quench your thrill-seeking thirst. For climbing aficionados, take a break from the trails and explore the landscape of John Bryan State Park from the towering limestone cliffs hugging the brim of the Little Miami River Gorge. Offering six designated climbing sites and one rappelling site, John Bryan State Park is one of the top outdoor climbing destinations in Southwestern Ohio. Ranging from easy to hard, these sites are the perfect place to polish your climbing skills and drink in some of Greene County’s most jaw-dropping scenery — including some of the native trees flourishing in the area, like Canadian Hemlock and American Hophornbeam. Stay until dusk and watch the sunset dip beneath the Clifton Gorge before putting away your clips and ropes for the night.
Along with its climbing walls, hikers will love exploring John Bryan State Park. Named after a businessman who played a large role in the area’s preservation, John Bryan State Park is a cultivation of over 300 species of wildflowers, including Virginia bluebells, and a diverse ecosystem of over 100 tree species. With 10 short and moderate trails to offer, the entire family can come here for their hiking fix.
At the Glen Helen Nature Preserve, a 20-mile network of hiking paths leads past wildflowers, 400-year-old trees, limestone cliffs, and waterfalls. Hike the short, but challenging trails in Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve and be rewarded with gorgeous views of the dolomite and limestone gorges. Follow the wooden walkways and stop to rest at lookouts that beckon you to return every season.
Narrows Reserve offers trails stretching six miles beside the banks of the Little Miami River. A hotspot for kayaking and fishing, the Narrows Reserve is a calm, meandering getaway for river lovers and summer hikers looking for a gorgeous place to relax away an afternoon. Enjoy more natural beauty in Sugarcreek MetroPark, home to a sycamore ridge and natural prairies. It is also the home of the “Three Sisters,” 500-year-old white oak trees just off the park’s Orange Trail, and the Osage Orange Tunnel, a living tunnel crafted out of a canopy of old osage orange tree branches.
Listen to the ripple of the Little Miami River as you follow the trails past elderberry bushes at
Glenn Thompson Reserve. The Russ Nature Preserve features two short trail loops that run through meadows, woods, and a beekeeping apiary, and the Lovely Nature Playscape, a wooded playground built from cut branches and natural climbing structures.
Go for an early morning of birding at Pearl’s Fen, a rare wetlands area that produces organic peat soil and contains a rich diversity of plant and animal life. Just north of Xenia is yet another prime spot for bird-watching. At the 42-acre wetland ecosystem of the Sara Lee Arnovitz Nature Preserve, you can spy eastern phoebes and gray catbirds, or hike along the boardwalk path cutting through a marsh of cattails, rushes, and thimbleweed.
Whether you just finished canoeing across the Little Miami River or hiking through one of Greene County’s beautiful nature preserves, stop in for a bite to eat at one of Yellow Springs’ delicious downtown eateries. At Miguel’s Tacos, munch on one of their delectable potato taquitos or dip a chip into their savory, three-cheese and chorizo queso fundido. On Xenia Avenue, make a lunch stop at Sunrise Café. Order their sweet potato latkes with remoulade as a starter, and finish your meal with The Vick Burger, a chef’s choice loaded with every topping imaginable.
In the mood for some dessert? Stop by Young’s Jersey Dairy, a family-owned dairy farm that sells homemade ice cream. Each of the 60+ rotating flavors has a smooth, creamy texture and is prepared with batch freezers. Try one of their unique flavors, like Farm Sunrise, cake batter-flavored ice cream with festive red and blue cookie dough pieces. After you finish your treat, indulge in some of their on-farm activities. Play miniature golf, take some swings at the batting cages, pet their goats and embark on Moovers & Shakers, a barrel ride around the farm. If you’re there around 5 p.m. or so, you can even watch the farmers milk the cows.
Modeled after the 19th-century home of William Mills and sitting a few hundred yards away from the original Yellow Springs railroad, the Mills Park Hotel is a perfect spot to settle down at the end of your day. Located in the heart of downtown, the hotel pairs classic design with modern influence. Standing three stories high, with 28 rooms to offer, Mills Park Hotel was built with the intention of becoming the finest resort destination in Ohio, and it doesn’t disappoint. When you wake up, venture down to the first floor for a Southern-style breakfast at Ellie’s Restaurant and Bakery.
Built by Revolutionary War soldier Owen Davis in 1802, the Historic Clifton Mill remains one of the largest water-powered grist mills in the world. Visit the mill’s restaurant for a home-cooked meal of pancakes, omelets, fried potatoes, and cornmeal mush while enjoying a marvelous view of the Clifton Gorge and Little Miami River. Stick around and visit the Country Store, where you can buy your own bag of Clifton Mill’s legendary pancake mix.
Not tired from your day of cycling and hiking? Head to downtown Xenia and visit the handful of gorgeous brick façade antique stores and mom-and-pop shops lining Detroit Street. Stop into Nick’s Restaurant for a Big Nick Burger or chow down on a delicious margherita pizza from One Bistro. Have a nightcap of Miami Trail Pale Ale on the patio at Devil Wind Brewing to bookend the outdoor adventures that started your trip.