Junction Trail, California Woods Nature Preserve – Cincinnati, OH

When I think about California Woods Nature Preserve in Cincinnati, I visualize the large sycamores that line the narrow entryway back to the trailheads. We hike it somewhat frequently as it is only 10 miles from home, but had never been on the Junction Trail. Perhaps we found the names of the other trails in the preserve more alluring: Trillium, Moon Ridge, Twin Oaks, and Meadow.

The trailheads for all the trails are within a couple hundred yards of each other along the entry drive. The setting is a mature riparian valley with a stream that always has running water. The valley features large oaks and tulip-poplars in addition to the sycamores.

The Junction Trail starts with a manageable climb up some well placed stairs through the deciduous hillside wood.

From there it weaves for a short distance through a fairly mature wood. The larger Tulip-poplar trees are 2 foot in diameter.

Knowing the nature of the property, we did have expectations of seeing a fairly large number of woodpeckers and the like. We found them clustered together along a 100 yard section of the trail, up above the entry driveway. Unfortunately the winter sun, low on the horizon, did not make the best light for photography.

Eventually the trail arcs around a hill that fronts on the nearby thoroughfare, Kellog Avenue. Despite the ambient traffic noise, the woods remained alive with bird activity. To the left of the trail, which descends to the roadway, is invasive bush honeysuckle. To the right is a mix of Tulip trees and big Sycamores. The Flickers and Red Bellied Woodpeckers are out and about.

As my photographer pointed out, the bark of sycamore was made for paint by number art work.

As we headed north along the western border of the preserve, we had the same dyad; bush honeysuckle to our left, but impressive mature wood to our right. Maybe that is where the trail gets its name – the “Junction” of invasion and tranquility.

Interestingly, here the trail became a little more challenging as we came upon a couple of very large downed trees that had not been addressed.

These appeared to be more the sequelae of a wind sheer than Emerald Ash Borer, as they were both red oaks, appeared to have come down about the same time, and were laying in exactly the same direction, about 75 yards apart.

After a veer to the right, the trail takes a steady grade up and over the hill through the same mixed wood. Scattered across the forest floor are cast offs of sycamore bark and numerous Tulip-Poplar seeds.

An interesting thing about Tulip-poplar seeds is their abysmal germination rate – about one in a 100,000. They do, however, feed much of the fauna on the forest floor.

One of the native plants making up the understory at California Woods Preserve is Burning Bush, Euonymus alta – in my world, the welcomed Euonymus. Most folks are more familiar with it as a trimmed landscape plant with outstanding fall color, but it is one in the same.

Not to be confused with its invasive cousin that you have read me ranting on previously, Wintercreeper, Euonymus fortunei coloratus, which is evergreen but will develop a red hue in the winter.

After a small detour due to a mudslide, we descend from the hill back to the trailhead on this loop trail. Here we get the opportunity to study our plant of the day.

Scouring Rush:

It is a reed like plant, but not really a rush. It is more related to the fern family, and in fact, discussed in the fern field guides. It is common throughout most of the US and found in Europe and Northern Asia as well. It prefers moist, gravelly, and sandy soils and occurs in broad swathes. It is invasive through underground runners and therefore not a good garden plant.

In the above photo on the right, you can see the dark bands of the reed. These are actually rudimentary leaves that do not function. These areas of the plant contain silica which provides the abrasiveness that led to its historic use for scouring or as a primitive sandpaper. The structure at the top of the reed is the spore bearing cone. It is the spore reproduction that makes it part of the fern family. It does not produce seeds. Because of the silica in the plant, a few larval insects are the only animals that will eat it.

Note: This hike took place in the latter part of November but the publishing of the review got pre-empted by posts on other hikes that had seasonal timeliness (Forest Giants, Mistletoe, Oxbow).

Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.


Location – East side of Cincinnati.

Parking – Gravel lots just off the asphalt driveway.

Facilities – In the associated nature center (may be seasonal).

Trail Conditions – Overall condition is good with the exception of the recently downed tress. Trail signage is good. The Junction trail is 1. 05 miles long. This hike would be rated moderate due to terrain change.

Benches – One noted at the top of the initial climb.

Kids – Kids will do well on this trail.

Dogs – Prohibited.

Suggested Paired Hikes – There are 5 other hikes within California Woods, ranging from 0.16 mile to 0.6 miles, all that I would consider moderate in difficulty due to terrain. Many could be strung together to give a full outing. The map on their website is excellent.

Craft Beer – If it is a late afternoon or weekend hike I would recommend refueling at Dead Low Brewery and Restaurant about a mile and a half east of California Woods on Kellog Avenue.




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