Hawk Loop Trail, Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve – West Union, OH

We were in the West Union, Ohio area hiking another nature preserve, when over lunch I came up with a stellar idea. “Let’s run over to Chaparral Prairie and see the Prairie Dock. I would like to do a focused blog post on it and it should be at the height of its season”!

Swing and a miss.

As can be seen in the above photo, their large leaves tell us that there is a healthy population of Prairie Dock here, but I was about 4 weeks too early for the bloom.

Prairie Dock is one of the preeminent plants of the Midwestern prairie ecosystem, and when flowering, is one of the tallest. For prairie plants it also has the unique quality of very large leaves, more typically seen with tropical plants.

I also thought that Dock was one of the first prairie flowers to bloom, but its showy companion plants told me I was wrong there as well.

So what was supposed to be a drive by visit for a few photos for a focused article about Prairie Dock, immediately turned into a full fledged prairie hike as the Butterfly Weed, Milkweed, Sunflowers and Daisies lured our group onto the trail.

From the van in the parking lot we could see large clumps of the fluorescent orange Butterfly Weed.

But it is on more intimate observation that you see the value it has for the pollinators in the ecosystem.

Spicebush Swallowtail and Bumble Bee on Butterfly Weed

The trail at Chaparral is well designed and allows you to weave from one beautiful flower grouping to another, permitting close up study of the specimens.

To be honest, it is a real test for someone like myself who has WADD (Wildflower Attention Deficit Disorder). Truly over stimulation.

We coast from the bright orange of Butterfly Weed to the bold yellow of Black-eyed Susan, of the Rudbeckia genus and Sunflower family.

And from there it was literally a rainbow of colors dancing in the breeze before us. From the pinks of Prairie Rose….

to the pastel purple of American Bluehearts, which is considered a threatened wildflower.

However, it is not just about the colors. There are also the flower structures that are fascinating. The Milkweeds are perfect examples.

Common Milkweed – with its orange size flower heads, has roles as both a nectar source for pollinators and larval plant for Monarchs.

On closer observation the detail and symmetry of the flower structure is even more fascinating.

Indian Hemp – a cousin of the Milkweeds, is one of the best nectar plants for butterflies, and has green bean shaped seed pods. The maroon red stems and milkweed like leaves are the identifying characteristics.

One of the surprises on this outing was sighting Early Goldenrod (Solidago juncea). I generally think of goldenrods flowering in late summer and fall (Mid-August through October). This early presentation is unusual for goldenrods . The species name juncea refers to its flowering in June.

What seems different at Chaparral than my basic image of prairies, is how the grasses and forbs (non-woody plants) are interwoven at times with small trees or woodlands. Post Oak is the most common tree to do so and can be seen in the title photo. Tree growth is stunted here by the dry conditions and poor soil and therefore the trees are older than their size would suggest. These wood thickets provide habitat for other species, such as the somewhat rare, and very interesting, Ground Pine. The vertical structures seen in the photo below are the spore forming bodies, which resemble clubs, and give the common name to their plant family, Club Mosses.

Being evergreen, historically it was used for Christmas decoration, which when paired with its slow growth and reproduction, threatened its existence.

Of course no field walk would be complete without embracing the Daisy.

At this point just imagine that you are on a prairie hike and appreciating the diversity of flowering plants that nature is offering:

Rattlesnake Master – it has a somewhat succulent character with barbed leaves, and the flowers are uniform frosted green to white. It is also considered uncommon in general, but quite plentiful on this trail.

Yellow Crownbeard – characterized by its winged stem seen in the second photo.

Annual Fleabane – used by pioneers to repel fleas.

Prairie False Indigo – another threatened wildflower but located in several areas within Chaparral. They have grayish-green leaves resembling larger versions of pea leaves.

Birdsfoot Trefoil – a native to north Africa and Eurasia it is considered an invasive species. It was not abundant at Chaparral. It was taller here, approaching 20 inches, as compared to the compact plants that I have seen on roadsides.

Pale-Spiked Lobelia – the flowers can vary from purplish-blue to white.

Culver’s Root – a member of the snapdragon family. The classic feature is the whirled toothed leaves noted on close up in the second photo.

As seen in several of the photos above, the prairie experience is not all botanical, but also includes the pollinators and other insects.

Pipevine Swallow tail on Butterfly Weed

One of hundreds or thousands of Bumble Bees that we saw on this hike.

And hidden beneath the foilage, was this Spur-throated Grasshopper. He appears to be studying us as much as we were studying him.

Gray Hairstreak and Bumblebee on Butterfly Weed

Honey Bee on Butterfly Weed

Big Dipper Firefly Beetles on Mountain Mint

How about this guy? Are Dragonflies pollinators? The answer is no. They are present to feast on other insects such as mosquitoes and flies. Identifying dragonflies to species is challenging as there is a lot of color variation. Body and wing shape are most helpful for identification. The arched back and black coloration suggests that this is a Widow Skimmer Dragonfly. I suspect the name Widow comes from being dressed in black.

Lastly 2 videos which brings more animation to the interplay of some pollinators with the flowers.

In summary, with our two visits to Chaparral it has quickly become one of our favorite regional hikes. Its prairie and woodland ecosystem is unique and its trails are well placed. On this date we actually only hiked about one fourth of its trails but still felt very fulfilled. I would encourage everyone to consider a trip there in late July or early August. By then the Liatris (Blazing Star) and Prairie Dock will be on full display and I would expect the current peak performers to still be flowering. But don’t overlook the beauty of the insects!

Footpathsblog.com posts are released every Sunday morning and some bonus content is added periodically. Please click on a social media icon above to follow for future posts and to make sure that you catch all our reflections on, and adventures with, the great outdoors.

Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns. Videos by Caroline Burns.


Location – 65 miles from downtown Cincinnati in Adams County, Ohio.

Parking – Paved lot for 8 cars.

Facilities – None.

Trail Conditions – Rolling terrain with well marked trails. Take a photo of the trail map at the trail head.

Print Map Link –https://ohiodnr.gov/static/documents/natural-areas/maps/Chaparral%20Trails%208_5x11.pdf

Benches – Some noted midway through the hike when we hiked the entire trail system last fall. None were noted on the Hawk’s Ridge Trail that we did this visit.

Kids – Kids 4 and older should do well here but you may need to adjust the distance of your hike based on age and experience. There is a lot to see at eye level that should keep kids interested.

Dogs – Prohibited.

Suggested Paired Hikes – The hike on the woodland Snakeroot trail at Johnson Ridge State Nature Preserve is entirely different and only about 10 miles away.




    • Thanks for the comment and feel free to use the term. My wife, the photographer, just shook her head when I came up with that. I just visited your site as well and it is excellent. We had some outstanding hikes in Maine when we visited several years ago, pre-Footpaths. I just bookmarked your site and will continue to follow your adventures.

Leave a Reply