We were looking for a woodland hike close to home as our schedule was tight, and with an upcoming road trip the following week, we did not want to spend a lot of time on the road.
California Nature Preserve, of the Cincinnati Park System, and Trillium Valley Trail in particular, was our target as we knew that it laid in a pocket of greenspace that hosted an old growth wood, and therefore would undoubtedly have Trilliums and other spring woodland wildflowers. The preserve is 113 acres, has over 4 miles of trails, and hosts 53 species of trees. That is amazing arboreal species diversity for a relatively small property.
What I was not aware of was its recognition in the National Recreation Trail System, a network of over 1,300 trails nationwide that are considered the highest caliper of trails. Their mission is to identify trails that provide “outstanding healthy and recreational access to urban and rural communities”.
One enters the preserve by turning off Kellogg Avenue, a busy thoroughfare on the east side of Cincinnati, and it is almost like you passed through a time portal. Quickly the driveway narrows down to a single lane, a necessity to allow it to weave through the extremely large Sycamores and Tulip trees that line the drive. To your right is Lick Run Creek, with a relic foundation of some structure.
Trillium Trail starts in a valley just across the road from the stream and heads north and uphill.
The slopes are steep, often near 45 degrees and the trail climbs them on a tangent to lessen work. I suspect that it was this terrain that prohibited practical development of the acreage and allowed it to remain old growth forest.
The trail is well maintained, and it has to be given the number of stairs needed to get up to the ridge.
All along the route we were mesmerized by the profusion of wildflowers as well as the number of trophy size trees. Benches are placed with great views, to encourage the visitor to rest and take in the peace and beauty of the valleys.
California Woods is home to some of the largest trees in Ohio and hosts the tallest specimens of three species (Bur Oak, Basswood, and Yellow Buckeye) . This Tulip-poplar, found right along the trail, was certainly remarkable.
What was unique here was that as the trails wove their way through the landscape, you had the experience that you were entering different garden “rooms”, with different lighting and focal points. It left you with a sense of awe.
This was an outing to search for wildflowers and it was a tremendous success. On this April 7th hike we were seeing what I would term the second wave of spring ephemerals, and it was peak season. This time I have decided to present them like the field guides do, by color.
Marsh Blue Violet – identified by the flower petals being darker towards the center, with the eye of the flower white. Also, it has very long hairs at its center.
Woodland Phlox – should flower well into May.
Wild Geranium – we saw this as a single specimen with a single open flower as we were exiting the trail. Undoubtedly there are others that we missed as they were not flowering. Its season is just starting.
Larkspur – a member of the Delphinium family, it contains a chemical that is poisonous to cattle.
Dutchman’s Breeches – are pollinated by the bumblebee, as the proboscus (tubular mouthpart used for feeding) of the honey bee is too short to reach the nectar.
Squirrel Corn – this is a Dutchman’s Breeches look alike, and belongs to the same family. The leaves are very similar. The flowers on Squirrel Corn are more heart shaped, where the Dutchman’s Breeches’ flower looks more like an extracted tooth.
White Trout Lily – this was the second week in a row that we saw the rarer of the two varieties of Trout Lily. It was not as abundant here as it was at Boone Cliffs.
Giant Trillium – the trail’s namesake. These were remarkably abundant alongside the early part of the trail. The first photo shows the 16 inch stem that holds the leaves and flowers well above the forest floor. We saw several stems devoid of their leaves and flowers where a deer had dined on them.
Nodding Trillium – we only saw one specimen of this. Note how the flower bud is held below or at the level of the leaves, as compared to the Giant Trillium above. It had not quite bloomed at the time of our visit. The flower can range from white to maroon, but in guide books is generally placed with the whites.
Rue Anemone – the white “petals” are actually sepals, the protective coating for the developing flower bud. The sepals can also be a light pink in the earliest flowers.
Canada Violet – there are two white violets that have flowers that share stems with the leaves (most violets have separate flower stems). The Canada Violet has a yellow eye while the Smooth Violet does not.
Sessile Trillium – also known as Toadshade Trillium. The red in this case is a maroon.
Yellow Trout Lily – the flowers close at night. Each flower only lasts a few days.
Ragwort – characterized by the near leafless stem and the cluster of large leaves at the base.
Woodland Poppy – This was our first sighting of the poppy this year. They look outstanding when paired with the purples of Woodland Phlox or Violets, as seen in the third photo.
We also saw some plants that will be flowering very soon:
Solomon’s Seal – which will have bell shaped white flowers hanging from its distal stem.
Mayapple – here demonstrating their tendency to occur in large colonies. It will flower beneath its leaf later this month and form a large grape size fruit in May.
One of the exciting sightings of the hike was our second Footpaths exposure to Bear Corn. It is a parasitic plant that steals nutrition and fluids from the superficial roots of oak and beech trees. Last year we saw it in June with its dark berries, but this year we caught it just emerging from the soil and early into its flowering. We saw numerous specimens in a 20 by 20 foot area. Native Americans used it extensively for medical conditions including wound care and to induce labor when pregnancy was past term. That use led to its other historical name, “Squaw Root”.
We also enjoyed watching this rather large bumble bee collect nectar from this squirrel corn. He was so large that the flower stalk bent significantly.
These couple of photos demonstrate the leaf variability of Waterleaf. The variegated leaves on the forest floor overwintered, but the new seasonal leaves are maple shaped and uniformly green. One can also see the developing flower bud that will open in May.
As the deciduous ferns remake their appearance you get the fairyland like feeling as the new fronds unfurl. Because the leaves have not opened yet we can not identify them to species. We know that they are deciduous because there were no leaves remaining from last years plant at the base.
One of the other deciduous ferns that we saw on this hike was Fragile Fern. It generally is the first fern to make an appearance. It is also one of the first to go dormant in the fall.
In summary, the forty acres old growth forest component of California Woods makes it an ideal location to find spring ephemeral wildflowers. The iconic trees add to the ambiance and give a cathedral feel to the canopy. Research on The National Recreational Trail designation has led me to realize that the organization could help me select outstanding trails to hike on our future travels (see link below).
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.
Location – 5400 Kellogg Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45230
Parking – several gravel pool offs along the entry drive.
Facilities – Seasonal in nature center
Trail Conditions – generally bare dirt trail with good footing. Quite a few stairs on the trails we took on this hike. The two trails we hiked were approximately 1 mile in total distance.
Print Map Link –
Benches –several noted, especially at the top of the climbs.
Picnic Tables – none noted.
Kids – The grade could be a challenge for kids under 4.
Dogs – Prohibited.
Suggested Paired Hikes – There are 5 more trails available at California Woods ranging from 0.3 to 1.05 miles.