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Chaparral Prairie Hike

By Tamara York · July 23rd, 2010 · 60 Hikes

Key At-A-Glance Information

Length: 1 mile plus firebreaks
Configuration: Loop
Difficulty: Very easy
Scenery: Buffalo beat, prairie, forest, and old field
Exposure: Open except in older wooded areas
Traffic: Light
Trail Surface: Dirt
Hiking Time: 1 hour
Driving Distance: Less than 10 minutes from West Union
Access: Open from half hour before sunrise to half hour after sunset
Maps: USGS West Union; on-site at kiosk or by calling Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, (614) 265-6453
Wheelchair Accessible: No
Facilities: None
Special Comments: A botanist's paradise. Follow the rules and regulations of the preserve, which include no pets.


Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve is a playground for any botanist or geology nut. When planning your visit, pack tree, wildflower, prairie, and bird identification books, as well as a camera and binoculars.

The 67-acre nature preserve includes prairie, forest, and old-field habitats and is seated on Crab Orchard shale. This area was once covered by the Illinoian Glaciation 200,000 years ago. As the glacier receded, till—the gravel and clay debris from the glacier-covered the area. The area was then covered with loess, a windblown soil.

The loess soil was very susceptible to erosion, and early farming practices hastened the exposure of the Crab Orchard shale. Common to this region of Adams County are bald spots, or buffalo beats—conical mounds of exposed Crab Orchard shale on which only hardy, drought-resistant prairie plants are able
to grow.

One-third of the Chaparral State Nature Preserve is covered in prairie plants that scientists think migrated to Ohio after the glaciers retreated and the climate was dry and warm. Today the Chaparral is home to diverse plant life, including 15 species of plants rare to Ohio.

Oak species include blackjack and post. Prairie plants such as little bluestem, rattlesnake master, prairie dock, spiked blazing star, and sunflowers flourish in this amazing prairie. It’s also home to 11 state-listed species, including spider milkweed, prairie false indigo, pink milkwort, and Carolina buckthorn. Several varieties of butterflies, moths, and songbirds are active in this area during the summer months.

In 1985, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) bought Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve using funds raised through the voluntary State Tax Check-off program.

The trailhead is directly behind the large kiosk near the left side of the maintenance building.

Take the time to read the interpretive signs scattered throughout the trail. Enter the trail and begin walking into the past. After 100 yards, the entrance trail meets with the Hawk Hill Loop.

Follow the Hawk Hill Loop to the right and up a slight grade. The prairie can survive the constant threat of invasive species thanks to the work of ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves land managers. By using several different eradication methods, including prescribed burns and hand removal, they can keep this moment in time intact for the enjoyment and education of many people. In fact, the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves perfectly describes this area as a “living museum.”

Numerous species of oaks border the hiking path. Starting about 400 yards into the Hawk Hill Loop, the diversity of oaks begins to show, including blackjack and post oaks. You’ll need patience and a good identification book that uses twig and bud characteristics to determine one oak from another, especially because several of the oaks are not species found in many places in Ohio.

At 0.2 miles, a trail marker notes where the trail joins with a maintenance path. Continue straight ahead on the main trail and enter a stand of red cedar trees. The ground cover is a primitive club moss called ground pine. Please keep in mind that this is a nature preserve; therefore everything is protected. Collecting or removing anything is strictly prohibited. About 100 yards after the trail marker, the ground cover changes to reindeer lichen. As you walk along the trail, blazing stars and other prairie plants show their spectacular blooms during the heat of summer. Cross a series of footbridges near 0.3 miles, under the right-of-way for the power lines, and then the habitat changes to a wooded area with shagbark hickories, red and white oaks, and elms.

The prairie plant rattlesnake master is found over the next 130 yards. According to ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, this entire prairie area “supports one of the most extensive populations of rattlesnake master in the state.”

The trail follows along the right-of-way and heads uphill toward the right at the trail marker. About 70 yards past the marker post is another junction. Remain on the marked trail toward the left.

At 150 yards from the trail junction, five steps lead into a beautiful woodland area. Remain on the trail to the left to return to the open prairie area. Upon exiting the woods, a man-made pond becomes visible. The pond is used by whitetailed deer, as well as a variety of frogs, during the spring and summer months.

Stay on the trail until the junction with the entrance trail, and turn right to return to the parking lot. The firebreak lanes in the old field are also open to exploration. Small prairie openings such as Chaparral Prairie are found throughout the forests in this edge of the Appalachia region, and they are a delightful gateway into Ohio’s botanical past. The trails of Adams Lake State Park and Adams Lake State Nature Preserve and the Edge of Appalachia Preserve’s Lynx Prairie and Wilderness Trail offer additional opportunities to explore southern Ohio’s unique prairies.

GPS Trailhead Coordinates

Nearby Activities

Located on the edge of the Appalachia Region, West Union offers several Amish and specialty shops, quilt barns, and numerous historic sites, plus additional hikes at Buzzardroost Rock, Adams Lake State Park and Nature Preserve, The Edge of Appalachia Preserve, and Johnson Ridge State Nature Preserve.

Elevation Map

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