Caldwell Nature Preserve – Cincinnati, OH

This was a rain date hike. We were supposed to hike the previous day, Veterans’ Day, with our eldest daughter who is an educator and would be off. Unfortunately, November 11th offered day long steady rain and even I did not want to venture out into that. On a positive note, the day delay allowed two other families members to join in on the “fun”.

Flurries were forecasted for that morning and snow started falling just as we left home. By the time we arrived at Caldwell Nature Preserve, an 121 acre urban nature oasis located amidst an older light industrial area, a light dusting was already on the ground. The previous day’s rain, the wet leaf litter, and the snow would prove to make for some challenging footing.

The original plan was to traverse the park utilizing the trails that worked the perimeter of the preserve. This would ensure that we would hike on the Creek Trail that ran along the western bank of Mill Creek.

Mill Creek is a paradox; in its southern stretch, it is a concrete lined culvert that carries water “efficiently” through Cincinnati’s commercial west end, while in the more northern reaches of Cincinnati’s Hamilton County it is a picturesque stream that is a haven for wildlife as it meanders through a number of green spaces . The contrast in some way saddens me. Historically it was heavily polluted and considered a “dead stream”, due to sewer and agriculture runoff in its northern stretch, and industrial discharges in its southern portion. But with effective environmental regulation it has begun a recovery.

The poor footing negated the plan to visit Mill Creek, as a I met a hiker coming up from the Creek Trail, literally on all fours, climbing the steepest part of the sloping path.

At Caldwell the trails closest to the parking lot and the nature center are relatively uninspiring due to the large numbers of invasive plants that border the trail, including Bush Honeysuckle and Euonymus Wintercreeper. But that is not to say the Park District has given up the fight. On this day we came upon a large group of teen volunteers from Cincinnati’s Saint Xavier High School, led by Cincinnati Park District Land Manager Garrett Dienno, aggressively extricating these invaders.

Garrett told me that this group does volunteer work there one day every month. Huzzah!

As one gets a little further away from the nature center the understory begins to open up and you get peaceful views as noted in the title photo and below.

In addition, large Red Oaks, White Oaks, Tulip-poplar, and Beeches, became more numerous. Below are a couple of large Red Oaks.

For the most part, other than the trails leading down to the Mill Creek, the paths ran the ridge lines, offering up some nice valley views that were made prettier by the snow.

To get from one parallel ridge to other however does require traversing some valleys. Well constructed bridges were in place to lessen that challenge and provided a nice view up the creek bed that laid in the valley.

The further we ventured from the parking area, the more engrossing the hike became, with the loss of traffic noise and the stillness of the woods.

On the furthest ridge, massive American Beeches provided much of the canopy. You can tell that they have grown in a forest, as competition has raised their crowns, and therefore they have minimal lateral branches for 40 feet or more.

These oaks had similar barren trunks.

A focal point of this trail segment is the overlook that allows for a view of the Mill Creek down in the valley below, but the large wet snowflakes obstructed that view.

Over the course of the hike one continually sees evidence of the outstanding trail maintenance that the staff performs to keep these paths walkable and safe.

In an earlier article I wrote on the ecology of persistent leaves; those trees that hang onto some leaves over the course of the winter. This is seen with American Beeches, Oaks, and Maples, and here we saw them encrusted with snow.

What is uncommon however, is seeing Pawpaw leaves on a tree this late into the fall, and covered in snow.

Our article on “Persistent Leaves” can be read at this link.

Hiking in the snow provides some intimate images of the marriage of snow with what might otherwise be routine things seen on a hike:

A spider web almost entirely obscured by the snow.

A Christmas Fern peaking through the snow.

Seed balls on a branch of a large Sycamore felled in a recent storm.

And this isolated American Holly.

Some may have considered this hike mundane. If one focused on the invasive plants and the traffic noise early in the hike, it was less than ideal. And it was wet and cold. But there was so much to be excited about: The large group of student volunteers giving back to their community. The snow that put a freshness on the somewhat drab late fall landscape. And the time laughing with the “kids”, who are now in their thirties. I think Caroline’s video, which brings to mind one of my favorite TV shows, the Wonder Years, sums up the joy we felt together.

In summary, Caldwell Nature Preserve is the archetype of the outstanding green spaces that many of us have in our communities. The key is finding them and, if possible, enjoying them with the ones you love. I have been hiking in the Cincinnati region my entire life and have never ventured here. I was rewarded by finding an exceptional collection of large trees of numerous species. I’m looking forward to a return visit to get a chance to meander along the Mill Creek and to relish in its ecologic rebirth. 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. Video by Caroline Grizzle.


Location – 430 W North Bend Rd, Cincinnati, OH.

Parking – Large asphalt lot.

Facilities – In the Nature Center.

Trail Conditions – Bare dirt.

Print Map Link –

Benches – Yes

Picnic Tables – Yes

Kids – Kids 4 and over should do well here.

Dogs – Welcomed on a leash.

Suggested Paired Hikes – The preserve trail system totals 3.5 miles.

Craft Beer – The excellent Weidemann’s Fine Beer, Brewery & Pub is only 3.5 miles away on your way back into town.


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