Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 4.77 miles
Configuration: Loop and figure 8
Scenery: Cliffs, sinkholes, waterways, wood, and Ordovician fossils
Trail Surface: Soil and loose stone
Hiking Time: 3 hours
Driving Distance: 1 hour from Cincinnati
Access: 7 a.m.-11 p.m.
Maps: USGS Johnson; Versailles State Park map
Wheelchair Accessible: No
Facilities: Restrooms, drinking water, and picnic areas
For More Information: Versailles State Park, (812) 689-6424
Special Comments: If you like bryozoans, brachiopods, horn corals, and crinoids, you are in for a treat. But you're not permitted to collect fossils in the park.
Enter the park off US 50 and follow the signs to Oak Grove Shelter. The road to Oak Grove Shelter ends at a large parking lot. After parking, turn south and look at the open grassy area. The trailhead is near the edge of the fence posts that bar vehicle access to the Oak Grove Shelter. A signpost labeled Trail 1 marks the entrance to the hike. The trail is a single-person-wide, loose stone–covered path through the woods. After entering the woods, the trail proceeds downhill and over the top of large stones.
Continue following this trail to the left when it meets with a trail intersection about 250 feet into the woods. Many spring wildflowers line this portion of the hike. Be careful of your footing over the slippery stones and loose-rock debris.
On this portion of the hike, the sounds of cascading water and songbirds will drown out most modern noise. You’ll come upon several small waterfalls around 470 feet into the hike.
Be careful crossing the road at 0.18 miles. After crossing the road, look to the right to see where the trail continues.
The path enters the woodland under the high canopies of white oaks and sugar maples. The bark of larger white oak trees has platy patches intermingled with distinctive shallow fissures.
You can readily see the forest here because the woodland’s understory is free of invasive honeysuckle. In spring a multitude of neotropical migrants flit from tree to tree. Scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, and Kirtland’s warblers migrate to the tropics during the winter months and return here in the spring to nest and raise their young.
Near 0.3 miles into the hike are several sinkholes that formed when the underlying limestone eroded, creating a collapse in the forest floor. These are just a few of the many sinkholes located through this park. If you’re hiking with children, be sure to keep them safely away from the holes.
Throughout the park, many natural springs percolate through the forest floor.
The combination of sinkholes and springs in the same location is thought to be evidence of a complex underground watercourse.
This portion of the hike looks like a sculpture garden because of the fallen trees and gnarled twists of thick grapevines. In the fall, deer actively seek out the small grapes. Wild ginger lines both sides of the trail as it heads downhill at 0.44 miles. In spring a variety of wildflowers, including wild geraniums, decorate the hillsides.
Cross a small stream at 0.57 miles and be careful to stay out of the poison ivy along both sides of the trail. Poison ivy is a beautiful, deep-green-colored plant with clusters of three leaves—hence the old warning “leaves of three leave them be.” Poison ivy might be a pain for humans, but several species of wildlife, including rabbits and deer, rely on it as a food source.
The forest structure changes near 0.68 miles, as the younger understory trees compete for sunlight. The forest is a place of quiet contemplation amid a battle for resources such as sunlight and water.
Trail 1 runs parallel to the Old Fire Road at 0.94 miles before returning into the woods. Several spur trails radiate from this trail. Just keep to the right and stay on the main trail.
At around 1.27 miles, you’ll see several waterfalls. At the trail intersection at 1.47 miles, stay to the right and cross the footbridge.
Enjoy a break on the bench at 1.57 miles before crossing a series of footbridges for the next half mile. Look for the bright red blooms of cardinal flowers along this portion of the hike.
The Oak Grove Shelter comes into view at 2.28 miles. Continue on the trail to the left, and when the trail intersects with Trail 2, take the trail to the right and pass behind the playground area.
Trail 2 crosses itself at 2.87 miles near another sinkhole. Continue on Trail 2 to the right. This forest is sugar maple, hackberry, and black cherry trees.
At 3.08 miles you’ll pass a campground area on the left. The trail, which narrows to a single-person-wide deer path through the woods, sees more foot traffic because of its proximity to the campground. During rainy weather, the next 0.2 miles will be very muddy.
Take Trail 3 when it connects with Trail 2 at 3.24 miles. This wide path leads down to the Fallen Timber Creek crossing. Watch the soil beneath your feet as you walk down the loose-stone path, because odds are there will be exposed bryozoans, brachiopods, corals, and crinoids. You can ogle the fossils, but collecting them at this state park is prohibited.
At the edge of Fallen Timber Creek, take a few moments to closely look at the rock debris. I have seen horn coral fossils that are 4 to 5 inches in length as well as perfect specimens of brachiopods. When you’re done exploring the past, retrace your steps back up the hill on Trail 3 to the turnoff to Trail 2.
Cross the footbridge and continue on Trail 2, enjoying the view of the valley below. Cross another boardwalk at 3.89 miles before the trail begins to head downhill. Walk quietly along this portion of the path and you might be fortunate enough to see a wild turkey.
You’ll see a closed-off area at 4.12 miles. Continue on the trail to the left, and in 0.1 mile, take the trail to the right. When the trail splits, take Trail 2 on the right side.
The trail passes near the campground at 4.2 miles. Carefully cross multiple small footbridges. Due to moist conditions, a thin layer of algae covers these footbridges, creating a slick surface. (Unfortunately, I discovered this the hard way.)
The trail exits into the campground and returns to the woods near the utility pole at 4.58 miles. For 0.1 mile, the trail heads down a steep hill over a series of railroad-tie steps and exposed bedrock. Be extremely careful on the steps and the bedrock, because if it is wet out everything is exceedingly slick due to the algae and the mud. Plus the exposed roots and loose rocks make perfect toe catchers.
At the bottom of the hill, take the trail to the left. The small creek in this bottomland area provides the calming sounds of flowing water. Continue on Trail 2, and when it reconnects, take the trail to the right and return to the Oak Grove Shelter and parking area where you left your car.
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
UTM Zone (WGS84) 16S
Latitude: N 39 degrees 04' 33.55"
Longitude: W 85 degrees 13' 44.72"
Haven’t worn you out yet? Head over to Muscatatuck Park, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, or Clifty Falls State Park to explore the excellent hiking trails. The town of Versailles has a pumpkin show the last weekend in September and a bluegrass festival during the first weekend of October.