The Best Hiking Trails in Yellow Springs, Ohio
April 12, 2023
Yellow Springs is a small town in Ohio known for its stunning waterfalls, a colorful downtown and an artistic vibe. It’s nicknamed “Ohio’s hippie town” because the town is full of progressive and open-minded residents. Everyone is welcome here! The town was founded in 1825 with the intention of creating a Utopian community. The Utopia didn’t pan out, but Yellow Springs still feels idyllic in more ways than one.
One of the best parts about Yellow Springs is the outdoor recreation and hiking trails nearby. Most notably, you can visit Glen Helen Nature Preserve, which is known for a natural spring with waters rich in iron, causing the surrounding rocks to be a yellow-orange color.
This guide includes the best hiking trails near Yellow Springs along with the best restaurants to visit after a day of hiking! Plus, I share general advice about visiting Yellow Springs at the end.
This blog is based on my experience visiting Yellow Springs multiple times in 2022.
Fun Fact: Comedian Dave Chappelle lives in Yellow Springs! His family moved to a farm in the area in the early 2000s and he can often be spotted around the town.
Please make it a priority to Leave No Trace when exploring the outdoors. This includes leaving nothing behind, respecting wildlife, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting those around you, planning ahead and traveling on durable surfaces. For more details, read about the seven principles at lnt.org.
Where to Stay in Yellow Springs
The Best Hiking in Yellow Springs, Ohio
There are 3 beautiful parks directly adjacent to Yellow Springs. They offer great hiking trails; you’re sure to find river views, waterfalls, marshland, caves and more. You can visit them separately, or combine them all (the trails connect!). Read on for a description of the best places parks in Yellow Springs and then I’ll share my recommendation for combining them all into one day hike.
Glen Helen Nature Preserve
If you go hiking in one area of Yellow Springs, visit Glen Helen Nature Preserve! This park gives Yellow Springs its name. On the trails, you’ll pass a large marshland area, multiple waterfalls and the famous “Yellow Spring.”
This is a privately owned, non-profit park with the mission to protect the preserve. It’s the most visited private nature preserve in Miami Valley and often thought as the most scenic place in Southwest Ohio. To park at the preserve, it is a $5 fee.
Glen Helen has over 20 miles of trails and they often intersect, so you can pick your own adventure. The trails can often be muddy, so be sure to wear proper footwear.
If you’re short on time, hike the Inman Trail. It’s a 1.2 mile loop that includes the most famous waterfalls that the park is known for. The hike is moderate, has a little over 100 feet of elevation gain and includes steps.
The most famous area of the park is ‘The Grotto,’ where you’ll see a waterfall cascading down in front of a cave. The water comes from The Yellow Spring of which the town gets its name. The waterfall is only about 7 feet tall but still quite unique and beautiful.
Just up the trail a little further, you’ll find ‘The Yellow Spring.’ This picturesque spot features another small waterfall seeping out of a rock face. The rocks are discolored and you’ll see the orange-yellow color from the dissolved iron. It’s an interesting contrast next to green moss.
Another neat waterfall inside the park is the Cascades. There is a bridge over this waterfall and you can also see it from under a rock shelter.
The park also includes a neat marshland area (that you’ll pass on a boardwalk trail at the beginning of the Inman Trail), a Hopewell Indian Mound and lots of forested area. I even saw a beaver dam in the marsh, make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife!
Another unique aspect of Glen Helen is the Raptor Center. The center rehabilitates injured raptors and you can learn about the birds on a visit.
Whether you make a quick stop to see The Grotto and the Yellow Spring, or spend a whole day hiking and exploring, Glen Helen Nature Preserve is definitely worth a visit while you’re in Yellow Springs.
Recommended Trails (Check out the trails using All Trails to save the maps and read recent reviews):
John Bryan State Park
John Bryan State Park is right outside of Yellow Springs and features a limestone gorge. The park offers all sorts of adventure in addition to hiking - including mountain bike trails, an area for rock climbing and rappelling, a disc golf course and more.
The park is free to enter and has 10 different hiking trails to explore. Many of them are forested and have plenty of shade.
One of the best trails in John Bryan is the Pittsburg - Cincinnati Stage Coach and South Gorge Trail Loop. You’ll spend much of the trail hiking along the Little Miami river and enjoy some great views. The loop is just under 3 miles with about 150 feet of elevation gain.
I found this park to be not quite as scenic as either Clifton Gorge or Glen Helen Nature Preserve, but it is great to be able to connect through this park. And if you’re looking for adventures besides hiking, such as mountain biking, this is a wonderful place to visit.
Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve
Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve protects a 268-acre area that features a limestone gorge, a waterfall and part of the Little Miami River. Out of the 3 parks on this list, I thought that Clifton Gorge was the most scenic and beautiful.
Note that while pets are allowed in the other two parks and the trails connect, pets are not allowed in Clifton Gorge.
Clifton Gorge has 3 miles of trails, so you visit them all pretty easily. I thought that the Gorge Trail was the best - it leads you past caves, an impressive waterfall and huge boulders along the river. One feature to look for is Steamboat Rock - this giant rock in the river has a shape reminiscent of a Steamboat.
I also enjoyed The Narrows trail, which offers a great view looking down at the Gorge. This glacier-carved area is full of fascinating rock formations and is a must-visit if you come to Yellow Springs.
The Perfect Day Hike in Yellow Springs
The best part about hiking in Yellow Springs? The trails between Glen Helen Nature Preserve, John Bryan State Park and Clifton Gorge all connect!
This means you can combine all 3 parks into one epic day hike. And if you have access to two cars, I recommend parking one at each end of the trail and making it a point to point trek.
Start in Glen Helen and be sure to visit the Grotto, Yellow Spring and the Cascades. Then, connect through John Bryan where you’ll be hiking along the river. Finally, enter Clifton Gorge, hike along the gorge and exit on the Narrows Trail. The total mileage for hiking point to point should be about 6 miles.
You can park at the Clifton Gorge Parking Lot, or along the street near Clifton Mill. The Clifton Mill is a great place to end your hike; take in the views of the covered bridge and the water mill, check out the gift shop or enjoy a home cooked meal from their gift shop.
See the route combining trails in all 3 parks on All Trails.
The Best Restaurants in Yellow Springs
Enter into a homey setting with colorful painted walls and a menu that is sure to delight the pickiest eater. Sunrise Cafe is a cute cafe in downtown Yellow Springs that prides itself in a menu full of local ingredients with everything made from scratch. The menu is full of delicious vegetarian and vegan options, plus breakfast items, burgers, salads and more.
Inside of Trail Town Brewing, a counter serves delicious tacos, tasty guacamole, tostados and more. Come for the tacos, but stay for the variety of beers on tap at the brewery and the lively atmosphere. On a nice day, you can sit outside in their patio area, where there are colorful murals adorning the fence.
This quaint coffee shop serves up a variety of espresso drinks, iced drinks and pastries. For something unique, try their ‘iced chocolate buddha’ (chai and chocolate) or the ‘caramel snow storm’ (caramel, white chocolate, espresso and milk served frozen).
For a higher end dinner in Yellow Springs, look no further than Winds Cafe. With walls adorned in local art and a seasonally rotating menu, this gem always has a new, creative dish. The restaurant also has a great wine list to pair with your meal.
Yellow Springs Brewery
Yellow Springs Brewery is a great place to relax and hang out after a day of hiking. The taproom is in the same facility as their brewhouse and you’ll often find something new on tap. You’re also likely to find a food truck parked outside if you get hungry. Located right along the Little Miami Bike Path, this is a great place to stop in.
Young’s Jersey Dairy
Just about 5 minutes outside of downtown Yellow Springs, Young’s Dairy is a great option if you’re visiting with kids. The dairy farm is most known for their ice cream but you can also watch the goats be milked, play mini golf, take a barrel ride around the farm, try the batting cages and more. There are many seasonal events, such as a corn maze in the fall. Expect crowds at this popular destination.
How To Get To Yellow Springs
Yellow Springs is located 15 minutes from Springfield, 30 minutes from Dayton, one hour from Columbus and one hour and 15 minutes from Cincinnati. The closest large airport is the Dayton International Airport.
Downtown Yellow Springs is very walkable, but you’ll want to arrive and leave by car.
When To Visit Yellow Springs
Yellow Springs is worth visiting year round, but you’ll have the best weather in the Spring or the Fall.
In the winter months, you may get to see a frozen waterfall or the parks covered in snow. It’s also worth seeing Clifton Mill at Christmas Time - they illuminate the building with almost 4 million lights each year.
In the Spring, you may get to see wildflowers and the waterfalls should be flowing well due to rainfall.
In the summer, temperatures can be hot and humid, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from exploring. Get an early start on the trails and end the day with an ice cream cone or a refreshing drink.
In the fall, you’ll get to see foliage and enjoy perfect weather.
Where to Stay in Yellow Springs
For a unique place to stay within walking distance of downtown, check out the Jailhouse Suites. The building was built in 1878 and used as the town jail until 1929. Today, it is divided between four different private apartments available for short term rental.
For a larger hotel (but still not a chain!), check out the Mills Park Hotel. The building is modeled after a house that housed the Antioch School from 1921 to 1951. The elegant hotel features a nice restaurant and is just a few minutes away from Glen Helen Nature Preserve.
From waterfalls to murals to historic mills, Yellow Springs is truly a gem in Ohio and the midwest! Whether you visit Yellow Springs as a day trip from Cincinnati or stay there for a weekend getaway, I hope you enjoy your time in this quirky and colorful town.
For more Ohio guides, check these out:
- A Guide to Exploring Hocking Hills
- Top 10 things To Do in Cincinnati
- 100+ Date Ideas in Cincinnati, Ohio
- The Best Things To Do in Cuyahoga Valley
Thanks for Reading!
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