Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 1.9 miles
Scenery: Woods and streams
Trail Surface: Soil, exposed rocks and roots
Hiking Time: 45 minutes - 1 hour
Driving Distance: 10 minutes from downtown Cincinnati
Access: 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Maps: USGS Cincinnati West; Mt. Airy Forest map
Wheelchair Accessible: No
For More Information: (513) 352-4080 or www.cincinnati-oh.gov/parks
Special Comments: This is just one of many trails at Mt. Airy Forest, which also included an exceptional arboretum. Mount Airy Forest is in an urban setting. Make sure you complete this hike before daylight ends; it's not a good idea to hang out in this neighborhood after dark.
Mount Airy Forest began in 1911 when the Cincinnati Park Board purchased 168 acres of land near Colerain Hill. This was the beginning of the first municipal reforestation project in the United States.
The property that was originally forested had been cleared for agricultural use. But years of poor grazing and agricultural practices resulted in the land succumbing to severe erosion and poor soil composition.
After the 1911 purchase, rehabilitation of the farmland began immediately. More than 1,000 acres were acquired over the next ten years, and over time more acreage has been added. Today, Mount Airy Forest encompasses more than 1,469 acres. The once-barren land now includes 700 acres of reforested hardwoods, 200 acres of forested evergreens, 269 acres of wetlands, 170 acres of meadows, and a 120-acre arboretum.
Mount Airy Forest is Cincinnati’s largest park, boasting a multitude of picnic areas, playgrounds, pavilions, and bridle trails. The arboretum displays more than 5,000 plants. The park’s lush wooded ridges and valleys make it hard to believe that downtown Cincinnati is only 10 minutes away.
Mount Airy Forest’s trails are designated as a National Recreational Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior and are also a nationally designated trail by the Boy Scouts of America.
After parking in the small lot, walk along the edge of the woods nearest the road and toward the bridge
Although the beginning of this trail earns a solid 10 in the ugly duckling category of trails, the rest of the trail earns a solid 10 in beauty and tranquility. (Stay with me: once we get past the graffiti and honeysuckle, I promise this is an enjoyable hike.)
The trailhead is on the edge of the forest near the bridge. This narrow path heads uphill and into the forest, where it suffers from a bush honeysuckle invasion so dense that in most places the forest floor is not visible. Watch your step over several large rocks as the trail leads uphill before flattening out.
At 0.2 miles, you’ll climb several steps, and within 0.1 mile the honeysuckle’s density lessens and the roadway is visible to the right. Within a few hundred feet the honeysuckle transitions to an understory of aromatic spicebush and pawpaw trees along the hillside. (Spicebush leaves smell like lemon furniture polish, while pawpaw leaves smell like lemon-scented diesel fuel.)
At 0.36 miles, the sloping hillside, narrow trail, ghostly white sycamores, aromatic spicebush, and insulation from the roadway noise begin to show a glimpse of the swan that the ugly-duckling trail blossoms into.
Use the flat stones to cross the ravine at 0.4 miles. In springtime, or when there has been abundant rain, this trail will most likely be muddy, and some portions of it might not be passable due to moving water.
The roadway and waterway are visible in the ravine below the trail at 0.55 miles. Another invasive plant, garlic mustard, grows along the edges.
At 0.6 miles, a waterfall flows over what appears to be an old dam down in the ravine where West Fork Mill Creek flows. The white noise from this waterfall helps to cancel out the urban noise.
At 0.7 miles, the trail leads down a steep, rocky hill. Cross the creek bed using the limestone rocks. If you are grace-challenged, use a long stick as a cane to balance while crossing the stream. The trail leads up the hill straight ahead.
The trail makes a sharp U-turn and heads uphill at 0.8 miles. At 0.87 miles, you’ll encounter a series of steps meant to decrease erosion along the steep portion of the trail. Cross the stream at 0.9 miles. Take a right and travel up the streambed for 10 to 15 feet. The trail continues on the other side of the streambed, where it turns left and proceeds uphill.
White blazes 10 feet up on the tree trunks mark the trail. At 1.1 miles, the trail is mostly flat. Continue following the path marked by the white blazes.
Along the hillside near 1.2 miles are red and white oaks, a nice spot to stop and enjoy the beauty of the woods and the serenity of the trail and ravine.
After a large hill at 1.4 miles, the trail flattens into open woods with red oak, sugar maple, and hackberry trees. Continue following the trail until it exits just to the right of the picnic tables at 1.9 miles. The parking area is straight ahead.
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
Downtown Cincinnati, Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, and Newport Aquarium are just minutes away from this enormous park. Additional hiking opportunities include Caldwell Park and Winton Woods.