Badlands Trail – Miami Whitewater Forest, Harrison, OH

Miami Whitewater Forest is one of the premier parks within the Hamilton County Ohio Park System. It is in a somewhat more rural area than its other parks and is the largest at 4,345 acres, which results in a more secluded and natural setting.

The Badlands Trail is named for the presence of unique geological formations in the area of the park that the trail weaves through. There are underground caves, sink holes, and streams where the water just disappears below the surface.

The terrain is rolling, which results in a good work out over the full 1.6 mile trek, and the ecosystem is a mature maple, walnut, oak, and hickory wood. At the time of this early March hike the absence of leaves on the understory allowed for expansive views.

The trail is well maintained and there are bridges to get one across the numerous small streams and ravines.

Initially there is a quick descent as noted in the first photo, but almost immediately you are working your way up a similar grade on the next hill.

One of the trees that always stands out in a setting such as this are the appropriately named Shagbark Hickories. It was interesting to take in the view of the squirrels and woodpeckers on this one that was just aside the trail.

The roughness of the bark is important to the ecosystem because everything from insects to bats can overwinter in the sanctuary provided beneath these plates of raised bark. But what is the evolutionary advantage for the hickories themselves? Everything happens for a reason. My search of the literature gave no explanation, but one thought is that, for trees in general, bark fissuring allows for more rapid growth.

Mature deciduous forests are a haven for woodpeckers and they were in abundance on the Badlands Trail. Here we have a male Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, as noted by the red feathers on his throat, and the yellow extending up toward his shoulder.

The other frequent flyer, excuse the birding pun, was the Red-Bellied Woodpecker shown here.

Just past the half way point, the woods changed somewhat with Tulip-poplar and Wild Cherry becoming more abundant. There we ran into this guy, who also took advantage of a mild winter day, to take the stage and enjoy some fresh air.

As the trail headed back out of the wood the terrain began to feature these moguls. One has to wonder what geologic forces led to their development? To my knowledge they are not Indian mounds.

The quality of the trail maintenance is depicted in this photograph which displays the smooth transition from trail, to bridge, to trail.

And the last “oh ah” moment of the hike was meeting up with this stately sugar maple, which measured about 24 inches in diameter, and sat at the edge of the trail near the end. The prominent surface roots are why maples do not make good sidewalk trees as they will heft any and all pavement.

The final photo of the outing brings to mind one of the best tree books that I have read, “The Nature of Oaks”, by Douglas Tallamy. The holes in this Scarlet Oak leaf remind me of the hundreds of insect species that rely on oaks as part of their life cycle. Please see the link at the end of the post of when Doug Tallamy was featured on the podcast, “The Nature Guys”, which was my first exposure to his work.

In summary, the Badlands Trail at Miami Whitewater Forest is an excellent ramble through a mature deciduous wood. Its rolling terrain brings a nice fitness benefit and, at this time of year, the lack of obstructive understory allows for some broad vistas. Another pleasant surprise was the near total absence of invasive species like bush honeysuckle and the euonymus Wintergreen. It should be an excellent site for spring ephemeral wildflowers in April.

Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.


Location – In Harrison, Ohio, about 24 miles west of Cincinnati.

Parking – Large paved lot that is the trailhead for several trails.

Facilities – Brick restroom but currently a seasonal port-o-let.

Trail Conditions – Moderate due to terrain. The trails are smooth and well maintained. There was one slightly muddy area.

Print Map Link –

Benches – One at about the halfway point.

Kids – Kids 4 and over should do well here with minimal assistance.

Dogs – Welcomed while on a leash.

Paired – Hikes – There are 5 other trails at Miami Whitewater of variable lengths.


One comment

  1. Pat this sounds like the first trail I will hike when I am back on my feet. Thanks for scouting the way for us.

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