Snakeroot Trail, Johnson Ridge Nature Preserve, West Union, Ohio

The covered bridge along the lane on our way to Johnson Ridge was an added bonus, setting the tone for a relaxing family outing. We were joined on this outing by two of our three adult daughters, which was the first bonus.

Adams County Ohio has become a hiking Mecca for me. I only have a superficial understanding of what led to its becoming a focus of critical habitat preservation but I applaud the efforts of those who provided the vision and made it happen. I know that Dr. Lucy Braun, the acclaimed pioneering female botanist, set the foundation in the early 20th century, but others have followed in her footsteps. For all involved, I shout “hurrah”. Please see the link at the end of this article to the “Hike Adams County” pamphlet that I think is outstanding.

As we headed to Johnson Ridge, I anticipated another Adams County encounter with some prairie islands within the 208 acre preserve. They were mentioned in on-line descriptions of the property. We were hiking the Snakeroot Trail, the sole formal path in the facility.

Unfortunately, this lollipop trail – an “in and out trail” that leads to a loop – did not deliver us to a prairie ecosystem, but rather became a good walk in a mid-aged, moist deciduous wood.

So we went from the expectation of a mixed woodland with dry prairie encounters to one of moisture and leaf mold. But as is said, “All is good”.

What was noted on the macroscopic scale were the large trees, especially the mature Tulip-poplars, that had 40 to 50 feet of trunk before their first branching.

Our daughters enjoyed seeing countless sassafras trees with their “mitten” leaves, recalling some of the tree tutorial hikes of their youths.

In the moist shade of the towering canopy were many ferns.

Rattlesnake Fern

Christmas Fern

What became immediately obvious to us, and especially to the photographer, was the great variety of mosses that were trail side.

On first glance the moss groupings looked the same, but on closer study it becomes apparent that there were many different species.

We will do a series of distant and magnified photos to demonstrate the various textures. I do not have the skill set to identify the mosses at this time in my amateur naturalist career.

Moss Number 1:

Moss Number 2:

Moss Number 3:

Moss Number 4:

And what appears to be “just a moss” is, on closer inspection, actually a grouping of mosses. Basically an ecosystem amongst themselves.

Where there are mosses thriving, there will be other moisture loving organisms, including fungi.

These are all Turkey Tail fungi.

But there are others, and they can be beautiful.

Gel fungus – while yellow and orange are the most common, they do occur in a spectrum of colors, depending on the species.

Elf Caps – which are no bigger than a coin, but a delight along the trail.

One does not expect to see woodland wildflowers in late June and, with few exceptions, that was certainly the case here.

Glade Bluets – interestingly, typically found in the area of dry glades and outcroppings. Perhaps a microecosystem that I overlooked as we made our way along the trail.

Plant of the Day – This was an incidental. We were within a few hundred yards of the end of the trail when the photographer beckoned us to come to see a finding. She had found these somewhat primitive structures arising in dappled sunlight amongst the leaf litter on the forest floor. It was almost a stage spotlight presentation.

These are seed heads for Bear Corn that would have been flowering in May. It is parasitic plant that does not have chlorophyll, but rather pirates its nutrition from the roots of members of the red oak family and beech trees. The oaks defend themselves by producing toxic tannins that they pumped into the parasite, causing a relatively short lifespan for the Bear Corn. The seed heads are a favorite food of bears and are also eaten by deer and mice.

And one last photo. Have you ever been hiking and gotten that creepy feeling that someone is watching you?

In summary, Johnson Ridge Nature Preserve is another nice ramble in Adams County, Ohio. On the macroscopic view it is an ordinary deciduous wood, featuring a rolling terrain with limited understory, allowing for nice vistas through the wood. But perhaps its defining features are the mosses, ferns and fungi that provide textures, colors, and microecosystems that are fun to study.

Since the time of this hike, further reading has given me a better understanding of the location of the prairie pockets. There are apparently some within the bulk of the preserve and we believe that we saw a couple of them from the trail, but the path did not go to these openings. Being rule followers we do not leave the trails of nature preserves. Additional prairie barren openings are located along Unity Road, one of the country roads that you take to the trailhead. I do recall seeing these but was not aware that they were part of the preserve, and do not know if there is safe parking in those areas. 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.


Location – 68 miles from downtown Cincinnati in Adams County, Ohio.

Parking – Gravel lot for about 6 cars.

Facilities – None.

Trail Conditions – Bare dirt trail with some challenging creek crossings due to muddy slopes. It is a rolling terrain that is moderately physically challenging, and we feel that its distance may be longer than the 1.2 miles listed as our GPS pedometer had us at 0.6 miles on the out and back section before we got to the loop. Unfortunately we lost signal and could not get a full reading, but it is certainly not over 2 miles total.

Print Map Link – none found but you can copy and paste this map that I copied from the Adams County Hiking Booklet noted in the Links section below.

Benches – None

Kids – Given the challenge of some of the slopes into and out of small creek beds I think young kids will struggle here. I would suggest 8 and up.

Dogs – Prohibited.

Suggested Paired Hikes – There is an outstanding trail system with a diverse prairie ecosystem at the nearby Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve.



  1. I was raised practically on the other side of that property on a road called Devils Hill. That general area was paradise for someone like me. Amish goodies, scenery, and nature galore. Love it!

Leave a Reply