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California Woods Hike

By Tamara York · October 14th, 2009 · 60 Hikes

Key At-A-Glance Information

Length: 3.37 miles
Configuration: Series of loops
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Scenery: Woods, ravines and meadow
Exposure: Shade and sun
Traffic: Moderate-heavy
Trail Surface: Soil
Hiking Time: 3 hours
Driving Distance: 20 minutes from downtown Cincinnati
Access: 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Maps: USGS Newport: Cincinnati Parks California Woods
Wheelchair Accessible: No
Facilities: Restrooms and water when nature center is open
For More Information: Cincinnati Parks visitor center, (513) 352-4080 or www.cincinnati-oh.gov/parks
Special Comments: Hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and trail runners all use the trail, so please be courteous.


The California Woods Nature Preserve, with 113 acres of forest and one acre of prairie, provides the perfect spot to quickly get away from it all. A variety of trails crisscross the property. The ones I have chosen for this hike will take you through a significant portion of the property, giving you a chance to see some of the delightful flora and fauna this preserve hides within its boundaries.

When you turn into the nature preserve property, follow the road until you reach the nature center. Park in the open lot and secure your vehicle. This open lot with the open-grid paving stones once was a pool. The nature center used to be the pool house, but over the years both its purpose and appearance have evolved.

In front of the California Woods Nature Center is a hummingbird-butterfly garden. You can get ideas here for landscaping your own backyard. Near this area are rock-garden plants growing along the flat-stone
borders. Most helpfully, all the garden plants on display are clearly identified.

The nature center’s restroom, water, and facilities are available when it is open. Inside the nature center, you can comfortably let your kids explore the many artifacts on display, including antlers, turtle shells, fossils, and much more. This is one of my favorite nature centers because it is designed specifically for children and allows them to fully interact with the displays without fear of breaking something.

Exit the nature center and walk left to the stream with a low-flow dam and a bridge. Cross the bridge and follow the paved access road slightly uphill. On the left side of the trail at 0.1 mile is a small log cabin.

The trails are well maintained. This is a popular destination for hikers, bird-watchers, and wildflower enthusiasts, so odds are you’ll meet plenty of interesting people while you’re out hiking.

After the log cabin, continue following the path uphill. Take the turnoff on the right at 0.18 miles. This area of the forest is dominated by sugar maples, but also has Ohio buckeye, black cherry, sycamore, and white oak trees as well as many spring wildflowers.

The trail leads uphill over several railroad-tie steps, which gives you an excuse to slow down and enjoy the woods.

At another intersection at 0.34 miles, the trail forks. Stay to the right, on Ridge Loop Trail, which meanders through a forest with tulip trees. When you return to the intersection where you first turned off, retrace your steps to the asphalt road and then follow it to the right.

At 0.57 miles, you’ll see the trailhead marker for Meadow Trail. The first part of this trail is sandy, allowing a perfect opportunity to look for animal tracks. As you continue, the trail will open into a meadow. A beehive is located at 0.76 miles, behind a hedge of brambles. In the middle of the meadow, 200 feet from the beehive, is a concrete bench beautifully decorated with tiled dragonflies. Here you can sit peacefully and watch hummingbirds and butterflies in the meadow.

Along the edge of the woods is the trail marker sign for the Orange Trail. Follow the one-person-wide footpath of the Orange Trail into the woods.

The majestic black cherry tree at 0.85 miles denotes the junction with Ridge Trail, which you passed earlier when you were on Ridge Loop Trail. Stay on the Orange Trail to the left and follow it downhill.

At 0.96 miles, multiple steps lead downhill and into an open field. A bridge crosses over Lick Run Creek. When you reach the road, turn right and walk back to the nature center.

On the far side of the nature center building nearest the waterway with the low-flow dam, look for the trailhead along the edge of the plantings. This trail meanders uphill and next to the creek. At 1.1 miles is the junction with White Oak Trail. Take the trail to the right.

A set of steps leads uphill to a footbridge at 1.2 miles. Brambles and invasive honeysuckle are thick through this section of the hike. Listen for downy and pileated woodpeckers.

At the trail junction at 1.4 miles, remain on the trail to the right and pass by enormous red oak trees. Cross several footbridges. Stay on the trail to the right at the junction 230 feet from the last junction. (The trail to the left heads back to the nature center.)

Stop and rest on the bench at 1.5 miles near a large sycamore tree. Most of this hike is serene, with only birds and a few butterflies for company. But this nature preserve is close to Lunken Airport, so you’ll hear the occasional airplane.

When you reach the next trail intersection at 1.6 miles, continue on the trail to the right. (The trail to the left takes you back to the nature center.) In the springtime the wildflowers are abundant throughout this area, especially trilliums and spring beauties.

The trail intersects again at 1.7 miles; take the trail to the right. Cross the small footbridge 100 feet from the last trail intersection and enjoy the overlook of the valley below.

A bench at 1.8 miles offers a pleasant view of the forest. A deer exclusion area is located 245 feet from the bench. This valley is used to measure the effects of deer damage on the nature preserve’s vegetation. You can readily see the damage deer have done to the wildflower population outside the exclusion area.

Cross the footbridge 210 feet from the exclusion area. The trail continues downhill and crosses a bridge at 2 miles. Take the trail to the road and turn right. The California Junction National Recreation Trail trailhead sign is on the right side of the road 230 feet away.

Follow this trail up a fairly steep hillside. At the top of the hill, enjoy a peaceful moment on the bench at 2.1 miles. Take the trail to the right and continue hiking through the open wooded area.

At 2.4 miles, both sides of this trail are lined with wild ginger. Here, Kellogg Avenue becomes visible. Continue on this trail until you reach the bench again.

At the bench, take the trail to the right and retrace your steps downhill to the road. Follow the road to the left until you reach your vehicle.

GPS Trailhead Coordinates

Nearby Activities

Additional hiking opportunities include Hamilton County Parks’ Woodland Mound and Withrow Nature Preserve, as well as Ault Park. Coney Island Park, River Downs, Riverfront Coliseum, and Eastgate Mall are nearby.

Elevation Map

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