Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 5.84 miles
Configuration: Series of loops and out-and-back
Scenery: Woods, old-growth forest, and lake
Trail Surface: Soil and exposed rocks
Hiking Time: 2.5-3 hours
Driving Distance: 1 hour from Cincinnati
Access: Half hour before sunrise to half-hour after sunset
Maps: USGS College Corner; Hueston Woods State Park map
Wheelchair Accessible: No
Facilities: Restrooms and water at main office near nature center and at the lodge
For More Information: Hueston Woods State Park office, (513) 523-6347
Special Comments: The American Discovery portion of this trail will be impassable if there has been rainfall or flooding.
To get to the starting point of this hike, turn right onto Loop Road from Butler-Israel Road. Stay on Loop Road until you reach the fifth turn on the left. Turn left and into a small parking area at Hueston Woods State Nature Preserve. Once you’re in the parking area, look to the south to find the kiosk and trailhead for Big Woods Trail.
Hueston Woods State Nature Preserve is designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The path is a one-person-wide trail through the forest. In spring this old-growth and nearly virgin forest is filled with a multitude of spring wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn, trilliums, mayapples, and bloodroot.
In addition to the bevy of spring wildflowers, this 200-acre nature preserve is also home to old-growth woods with beech, sugar maple, white ash, and red and white oak trees. A forest like this is extremely rare in western Ohio because this area was once heavily farmed.
Expect a fair amount of traffic on the trail, but all of it will be bipedal, as bicycles and pets are not permitted on state nature preserve trails. Cross a trestle-style bridge over the small creek 197 feet into the hike. After the bridge, the trail descends a decent grade. It’s slippery in wet weather because of the leaflitter covering.
Cross another bridge over a creek bed at 0.1 mile. After this bridge the trail goes back uphill. Watch your step over exposed roots. Several steps lead up the hill. The edges of the trail are covered with a blanket of wildflowers in the spring, and the rolling hills are especially beautiful during the spring bloom.
Cross the creek at 0.25 miles. This creek is a good example of how water flows and creates oxbows. At 0.46 miles, watch out for the tall step down before you reach a bridge at 0.49 miles that crosses the dry creek bed.
This part of the trail is also a portion of the American Discovery Trail, and you’ll notice icon medallions on structures and trees. Cross the bridge and enter the bottom woodland area with the stream to the left. Rainfall makes this area wet and muddy.
Remember, if you sink into the mud, pull your foot out while pushing your toes up and into the top of your boot. If you just yank your foot out of the mud, that is exactly what will happen. Your foot will come out, but your boot will stay buried.
Continue on the trail, crossing the creek along the stepping-stones at 0.6 miles. Take a deep breath and stop to enjoy the scenery of this beautiful forest. An enormous beech tree to the right of the trail at 0.72 miles is a wonderful specimen with its smooth, gray bark and excellent branching structure.
Cross another waterway at 0.76 miles, and the trail heads uphill before entering an open, flat area. Turn left on the road and walk to the turnaround and parking area. On the left side of the parking area is a kiosk. Directly across the lane, the trail continues on American Discovery Trail and connects to Sugar Bush Trail.
The entrance to Sugar Bush Trail is to the right at 0.92 miles. This trail has a nice, wide path through a forest composed primarily of dogwood, redbud, beech, and sugar maple trees.
At the marker for Sugar Bush and Blue Heron trails, stay on Sugar Bush Trail straight ahead. This forest is very well maintained, as evidenced by the lack of invasive species such as garlic mustard and honeysuckle.
The forest is changing from an older stand of trees to younger trees and more saplings, especially near the lake 1.13 miles into the hike. Continue on the trail to the left until you reach the Sugar House at 1.28 miles.
You’ll find outhouse-style restrooms here. Close to the shoreline are several picnic benches. Cross the parking lot and walk along the lake’s edge to the woods. Reenter the woods on Sugar Bush and West Shore trails 1.35 miles into the hike. If it has rained, this part of the trail is very muddy as it borders the edge of the lake.
At 1.5 miles the trail switchbacks near a small backwater area. The trail crosses a service road at 1.58 miles and continues up the stairs to the left. Look for the large sycamore tree to find the base of the stairs.
At the trail junction near the top of the steps, take Sugar Bush Trail to the right. It’ll cross the road again. Retrace the short portion of the trail where Sugar Bush and Blue Heron trails overlap. However, this time at the split take Blue Heron trail to the right. Blue Heron Trail exits into another turnaround and parking lot. A seasonal drinking fountain is at this location.
Cross the cul-de-sac area and reenter the woods at 1.9 miles. Use the stepping-stones at 2.07 miles to cross the stream. Sugar Bush Trail parallels Blue Heron Trail. At the junction at 2.22 miles, use the footbridge and stay on Blue Heron Trail.
Over the next 0.1 mile, you’ll cross two more streams. At the trail junction near the lake, turn right onto West Shore and American Discovery trails. This trail meanders along the edge of the lake. Watch your step in several spots—one wrong step and you’ll be going for an unexpected swim.
If there has been a significant amount of rain, odds are that parts of West Shore and American Discovery trails will not be passable due to high water. Cross the streambed at 2.71 miles. The stepping-stones across this have several fossils embedded in them.
Here, the trail enters an open area with an access road and a power station at the edge of the lake. The trail enters into a red pine stand at 2.9 miles. Follow the orange-tape (on trees) trail along the edge of the lake. West Shore Trail exits at the Archery Range.
Take a few moments to enjoy a break and one of the many benches before retracing your steps and following West Shore and American Discovery trails back to the access road turnaround. Turn left and follow the road to the entrance to Big Woods Trail and retrace your steps to your vehicle.
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
Mounds State Recreation Area and Whitewater Memorial State Park in Indiana, as well as Miami University and Governor Bebb Preserve in Ohio, offer additional hiking opportunities. You’ll find plenty of shopping and dining opportunities in Oxford, Ohio.