Spend a Weekend Exploring Hueston Woods State Park
It’s been a goal of mine to eventually visit all of Ohio’s 75 state parks, and I was recently able to check one more off the list. I love state parks as a weekend destination, as there is typically something for everyone in the family to enjoy, plus all of Ohio’s state parks are FREE to visit.
Hueston Woods State Park is officially ranked in my top five as of now, this is a destination you do not want to miss out on. Tucked closely to the Ohio/Indiana border and about an hour away from Dayton and Cincinnati, this little slice of paradise offers hiking trails, mountain biking trails, fossil collecting and much more! I’m going to share everything my husband and I did on our recent trip to this area.
Thank you to Ohio.Find It Here. and Ohio Department of Natural Resources Trails for putting together a great weekend for us.
Day 1 – Visiting the New Nature Center, Mountain Biking and Hiking
We had two days to explore the area and tried to take advantage of every moment. Our first morning we headed into the town of Oxford (home of Miami University) and grabbed bagels at Bagel & Deli. We then walked up the street to Kofenya Coffee. It was homecoming weekend, and the town was really bustling with people! After we finished up breakfast, we stopped right next door at BikeWise to pick up our mountain bike rentals for the day.
Before our group ride started, we went to check out the brand new nature center. We met with the park manager and a naturalist, who walked us through the new center and shared more about the “Big Woods” themed exhibits. Part of Hueston Woods State Park is a nature preserve, where the trees have never been cut down, hence the name! Right outside the new nature center is an exhibit of owls, eagles, vultures and foxes who are all a part of their rehabilitation program. These are animals that for some reason or another (usually a pet or some type of injury) cannot be released back into the wild. So, they now reside at the center.
We spent several hours with the CORA (Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance) group, who led group bike rides through the trails. We broke off into beginner, intermediate and advanced groups. Chris and I stuck with the beginner group! Our guide, Sherman Butler, led us through the trails and gave us some really helpful tips such as when and how to change gears and the importance of keeping your head/shoulders close to the bike when going up bigger hills. We biked about 12 miles in total – we strung together a few of the “easy” trails. The trails led us mostly through wooded areas and it was so pretty with the changing leaves all around us.
You can check the level of difficulty of all the trails before planning you trip by visiting the MTB Project website. It was SUCH a fun adventure, and I can’t wait to try it again sometime. The trails were absolutely beautiful and so well maintained. As someone who had never been mountain biking before, I felt very comfortable on the beginner trails here.
If you’re nervous about going on your own, check their Facebook page as they often assemble group rides – you can also find the trail conditions here. They also occasionally offer women’s beginner mountain biking clinics, to help you get more comfortable with riding.
Once we finished up biking, we traded in our bikes for hiking shoes and explore a few trails near the lodge. The trails were all relatively flat and easy, but very pretty! We hiked the Big Woods trail and the Mud Lick Trail. We also briefly stopped down at the beach area to admire a different view of the lake.
We enjoyed a much-deserved dinner at the Lodge before heading up to the room for the night. We were completely exhausted!
Day 2 – Fossil Hunting and Hiking
We checked out of the lodge and hit the road to explore one more state park before heading home. We made our way to Caesar Creek State Park, about an hour east of Hueston Woods. We started the day walking around Pioneer Village. The village showcases a collection of relocated and restored log buildings, including a schoolhouse, general store and a blacksmith shop. We were able to start our hike from here, as well.
We hiked to Horseshoe Falls where the unique suspension bridge is. With the lack of rain, the waterfall was dried up, but it was a beautiful hike nonetheless with views of a wooded ravine and the creek. We also hiked part of the perimeter trail to enjoy views of the lake. All of the trails in this area are considered moderate and are under 3 miles (with the exception of the perimeter trail, which is 13 miles and takes you around the entire lake!).
We also spent a little time fossil hunting, which was really fun and something unique to do while in the area. The vast majority of the fossils found at the park are organisms which do not have a backbone. Most commonly found fossils include sponges, corals and jellyfish. We found a few Bivalvia (they look like sea shells). If you want to collect fossils and take them home, be sure to obtain your collecting permit from the Corps of Engineers Visitor Center for free. If you want to fossil collect at Hueston Woods State Park, you do not need a permit!
We stayed in the heart of the park at the Hueston Woods Lodge, which overlooks Acton Lake and is surrounded by woods and hiking trails. Our room was cozy and included a balcony overlooking the lake. Both mornings we made ourselves a cup of coffee and sat on the deck watching the fog slowly roll over the lake as the sun hit the changing leaves. It was an incredibly peaceful way to start each day. The lodge offers onsite breakfast (complimentary) and dinner, has an indoor and outdoor pool and a fun arcade room as well. We enjoyed dinner there one night and the food was delicious! My husband had the brisket and I had the salmon.
Additional Activities While in the Area:
- Visit the Hueston Woods Covered Bridge
- Kayaking at Cowan Lake State Park
- Walking Miami University campus
- Explore Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve
The trip to Hueston Woods State Park and its surrounding areas should definitely be added to your Ohio bucket list. We had such a fun weekend here, we’ve already talked about coming back with our kids!