Dinsmore Woods Nature Preserve – Burlington, KY

Nothing gives a green space credibility like a relationship with The Nature Conservancy. Such is the case with Dinsmore Woods Nature Preserve in Boone County, Kentucky.

Dinsmore Woods was originally protected in 1985 when Martha Breasted donated 107 acres of land to The Nature Conservancy. At that time the site was known for the presence of the federally endangered Running Buffalo Clover, in addition to its mature hardwood forest.

In 2010, Boone County used proceeds from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund to purchase Dinsmore Woods and the site was incorporated into the county’s park system. In addition, the site was placed under the guidance of the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves, which assists the county with management decisions and ensures the property remains in permanent conservation management. The Nature Conservancy received funds that they could utilize for additional projects and the site was protected for perpetuity. Truly a “win, win” for conservation and nature.

Dinsmore Woods has been on my “to hike list” for decades but was always preempted by its more dynamic sibling, Boone Cliffs, also a Nature Conservancy project, located just 2 miles away. The attraction of the endangered Running Buffalo Clover (RBC) was always top of my mind, especially after my youngest daughter and her friend accompanied me on a RBC reintroduction planting about 12 years ago, in the central Bluegrass region of Kentucky.

At Dinsmore I was able to identify a small colony of it early in the hike.

The plant was common when settlers first arrived in Kentucky, being part of the savanna ecosystem common in the Bluegrass. It was dependent upon the bison who grazed on it, and dispersed the seeds with their stool upon the exposed and disrupted soil of the buffalo trails. With the loss of the nomadic bison and their grazing, the plant lost its competitive advantage and populations dwindled. Luckily, with increased public awareness and dedicated projects like the one I worked on with my daughter, the species is recovering.

The classic findings of Running Buffalo Clover are extended “runners” that can reach 12 inches in length, and relatively large clover leaves, as displayed in the photo below. Also as compared to other clovers, the flower heads are large, frequently up to an inch in diameter.

When we hiked in early May we were a few weeks too early for the clover to be flowering.

So three hundred yards into the hike I had accomplished a bucket list item, seeing Running Buffalo Clover in the wild! But the venue still had much more to offer.

Almost immediately we were greeted by an array of wildflowers, many of which were adorned in white. The first was a large swathe of Corn Salad near the trailhead.

And then Star Chickweed was abundant bordering the trail.

The path was wide and had a steady grade up a wooded incline. As with much of the midwest, evidence of the casualties from Emerald Ash Borer was obvious

Our woods have been irrevocably changed by the loss of the mature white and green ashes.

Still there was much to embrace and study, like these two ferns:

Sensitive Fern

Rattlesnake Fern

Early May in Northern Kentucky usually marks the end of the ephemeral wildflower season, but Dinsmore was still putting on a show, including these species that we had written about earlier this Spring. (Cream Violet, Rue Anemone, Wood Poppy, Larkspur, Toadshade Trillium).

And we saw evidence of an earlier outstanding ephemeral display including leaves of Bloodroot and Dutchman’s Breeches as noted below.

The new performers included the unique Mayapple, with its tropical appearing leaf, and the flower hiding beneath the umbrella of shade.

Another interesting sighting was a Jack in the Pulpit, named for the body-like flower structure inside the pulpit like cylinder.

The females of the species are carnivorous, trapping the gnats that serve as pollinators.

Violet Wood Sorrel, with its shamrock-like leaves, was in abundance.

Several things make this hike unique, but in a large way it is the venue’s ties to the past. Shortly after you enter the property and ascend a small hill, you come upon the Dinsmore family graveyard.

It is well maintained and tranquil, with many historic grave markers.

In addition, there is horticultural evidence of the previous homesteads of the area. (Periwinkle, Star of Bethlehem, and a hillside of Daffodils).

When we successfully ascended the next grade we found ourselves at the top of the ridge, with carcasses of Ash everywhere; Hackberry and Sugar Maple becoming the main players. There were also some Buckeye trees actively flowering.

When I look at my phone notes from the day I see: Wide trails, Tulip Trees, Pawpaw thickets, Red Oaks, a succession woods at the top of the ridge, Sugar Maple, a few iconic White Oaks, and large Walnuts. But what really impressed the photographer and I were the extensive Pawpaw thickets. With their large oblong leaves, Paw Paws are easy to identify in the summer, but I had never seen their understated spring florescence before. The photographer called to me about the non-descript flowers noted on some understory trees that were just starting to leaf out – one inch brownish-maroon bell shaped flowers as noted in the title photo and below.

These were Pawpaw flowers. How I spent decades in the woods and had not slowed down enough to notice them before, I have no idea … but I give credit to the photographer who energetically called them to my attention. The fruit, a temperate “banana” for lack of a better description, will be ripe for consumption in late September or early October. Starting with a light green color, it matures to a yellow brown. It is described as sweet and custard-like with the tropical flavors of banana, mango, and pineapple. They ripen quickly in the fall and have virtually no shelf life. With lengths of 2 to 6 inches and widths of 1 to 3 inches, it is the largest edible fruit indigenous to the United States.

Pawpaws spread locally by root-like rhizomes in the rich woodland soil, leading to the thickets. They spread distally by the black seeds that get consumed with the fruit and later deposited in the stool of the raccoons, foxes, black bears, and opossums that eat them. I have recently seen both demonstrated in my small woodland garden, where one seed transported by wildlife, germinated into a small tree, that then over a couple years has developed into a small thicket of 4 trees. At Dinsmore we saw thickets that may have numbered a hundred trees.

Historically the fruit was eaten by many Native American cultures, who also used the fibrous bark to make rope, fishing nets, and mats. Later settlers and rural people also ate the fruit. A chilled Pawpaw was said to be a favorite dessert of George Washington.

This outing made obvious to us the marathon like endurance of one of our favorite spring flowers, the Spring Beauty. We first saw it on our hike at St. Anne Woods and Wetlands on March 17th, and here we were seeing it still flowering approximately 30 miles west on May 2nd. Six weeks is a long flowering season for a spring ephemeral.

One of the plants that was broadly displayed at Dinsmore was Larkspur. It graced the border of the trail in large numbers…

And finally Miami Mist, believed to be named for the native-American Miami Indian Tribe, and the mist like appearance when the plant occurs in a large grouping. The flowers can range from violet to light pink.

But at times the beauty of the fauna (animal life) out showed the flora (plant life):

Scarlet Tanager

Indigo Bunting

Ruphus Sided Towhee

In summary, Dinsmore Woods is a venue that has a “sense of place” with ties to the historic Boone County Dinsmore family as well as the Running Buffalo Clover. It brings to mind the bison who roamed these ridges for millennia prior to white men’s arrival, seeking out salt licks and pasture. In addition, it is definitely a hike to keep in mind in April when one is in search of spring ephemeral wildflowers.

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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.


Parking – Excellent large gravel lot at Middle Creek Park which is just across Route 18 from the trailhead.

Facilities – Portolet at parking lot.

Trail Conditions – Trail was generally wide and well marked. The surface is frequently bare dirt and I suspect the slopes could be a challenge for footing on a wet day. There are significant grades over the course of the 2 mile hike and that makes this one somewhat physically more demanding.

Benches – None but there are some large logs that you can sit on, especially at the top of the steepest grade.

Kids – The grade could be a challenge for kids under 7.

Dogs – While there was no sign stating such, Kentucky Nature Preserves generally prohibit dogs.

Suggested Paired Hikes – There is an extensive trail system at Middle Creek Park where the parking for Dinsmore is located.





  1. Patrick,
    It was wonderful running into you today. Your hiking (and writing) passion are surely felt here and you’ve opened my eyes to more local natural foot outings than I was previously aware of. Your wife’s images are captivating and add greatly to the intimacy of the blog. Thank you for sharing. Cheers, Robert.

    • Glad you enjoyed the blog articles and indeed it was great seeing you today. Best of luck with your exciting entrepreneurial endeavors. I like your idea of some Footpaths sponsored group hikes and have been giving it more thought.

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