Little Miami River – Beginning to End

If you read about my Thru-Hike of the Colorado Trail (and I hope you have) you might have picked up that I was having some foot pain during the trip. After not getting any relief from a couple of Podiatrists, I thought I’d see a surgeon. Surprisingly enough, his answer to my pain was surgery. Anyhow, I went through with having nerves removed and bone shortened and for the last couple of months have been unable to attempt any adventures worth sharing on these pages. At best I was able to get out for a little spelunking; in the beer cave down the street.

Rather than continuing to leave these pages blank though, I decided to share some past adventures that fit more within the parameters of this website. I hope you enjoy them.

Some 2,000 years ago, when the prehistoric Hopewell Indian of the Midwest constructed 3 ½ miles of earthworks to use for their religious ceremonies, they picked a bluff overlooking a small river in southwestern Ohio. Eighteen hundred years later, when a young Shawnee Indian by the name of Tecumseh was to start on the path to manhood, he dove to the bottom of a deep pool on the same stream and picked up a stone that was to become his Pawawka token. That rock was carried by the Shawnee’s most famous war chief for the rest of his life and was used to help communicate with both Moneto (ruler of the universe) and the Great Spirit (ruler of destinies). For centuries, this small river was both a physical and spiritual cornerstone of life in the area. Today, when you need the serenity that only a quiet paddle in beautiful surroundings can provide; the same water is still available; The Little Miami River.

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Flowing nearly 105 miles from Clifton Gorge, near Xenia, Ohio, to its confluence with the Ohio River east of downtown Cincinnati, the Little Miami is a great example of an urban stream which has been saved from the fate of most rivers flowing near populated areas. A local non-profit, Little Miami Inc., has been in existence nearly 40 years working to clean the water and protect the scenic beauty of the stream. In 1969, the Little Miami was the first river named to Ohio’s fledgling Scenic Rivers Program. In 1973 it became the first in Ohio and one of the first rivers in the country to be named a National Scenic River. Despite the proximity to a large urban center, the Little Miami is considered “Exceptional Warmwater Habitat” supporting 83 species of fish. Wildlife is abundant along the shore as well. Because nearly 60 miles of railroad bed running through the valley have been paved as a multipurpose trail and linear state park, the area receives strong support as a local treasure from not only canoeists, anglers and nature lovers, but also hikers, bikers and rollerbladers.

While my brother Bob and I had paddled portions of the river countless times, neither of us had seen the entire length. So when our schedules matched up for a few days, we decided to take the opportunity despite a forecast for some rain. Dropped off and camping at John Bryan State Park, we spent much of the night listening to a tremendous “toad choking” thunderstorm as it moved through. The downpour didn’t let up until first light as we slogged the short distance from the campsite down into a steep valley and to the swollen creek. The rain eased to a mist as gear and food were arranged into our two homemade cedar strip solo canoes. We pushed off just below the outflow of Clifton Gorge, a state scenic nature preserve. Visibility was minimal as we started downstream and both craft were soon swallowed by the fog.

The first five miles were a collection of strainers, log jams and old mill dams that had to be portaged. The going was slow and I was beginning to think that perhaps, we had begun the trip a bit too far upstream. When I rolled my boat while attempting to maneuver under a driveway, I became convinced of the error. The dry bags did their job however and the only damage was to my ego. By late morning, things were looking up. The fog had lifted and we had reached the U.S. 68 bridge, considered by many to be the beginning of navigable water.

With the sun breaking out and the currant much stronger than usual, we started making good time downriver. The class I rapids were more exciting than normal, but the morning’s misadventure was not repeated. Throughout the day, tributaries joined in, keeping the flow fast while the river grew. The normal array of waterfowl typically on the water was absent, apparently in hiding from the current. Two deer tempted fate however, successfully swimming across the stream in front of us. At 6 PM we stpped at the Fort Ancient canoe ramp and walked the short distance to Morgan’s Canoe Livery to arrange for a campsite for the evening. Total distance traveled was about 50 miles. Gary Morgan, operator of the oldest and largest canoe rental on the river asked, “Where did you start this morning, U.S. 35?”

When Bob mentioned John Bryan State Park he replied, “Oh, U.S. 68?”

When I assured him that we had indeed begun at the park, his reply was, “Wow, you guys really ran the gauntlet!”

There was no argument with that statement. After dinner at the riverside camp, the soothing, ancient sounds of the nearby current and tired muscles conspired to make it an early night.

Morning seemed to arrive about ten minutes later. There had barely been enough time to dream of traveling the river with Daniel Boone, who had spent substantial time in the Little Miami area. The river, though still flowing well, was down somewhat from the day before. The day promised to be a good one. Once again there was fog in the air, but it quickly lifted to reveal a solid blue sky and beautiful, forested shorelines. The wildlife put into hiding by the high water upstream began to reemerge. Mallard and wood ducks were spotted along the shore. On a stretch of shallow water, a great blue heron had resumed fishing. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, painted and snapping turtles began to climb onto logs and  bask away the day.

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By noon, we were inside Cincinnati’s I-275 beltway and lunch was at Lake Isabella Park. One of many parks along the stream, the facility is a great stop with restrooms, picnic tables, and of course, canoe access.

While the river flowed ever closer and eventually through the metropolitan area, it was hard to tell from the seat of a canoe as much of the shoreline is in public hands and protected. The lack of current was the best clue that we were near the finish and by mid-afternoon we paddled into the Ohio River, over 100 miles from our start.

Paddling during the week, we saw only one other pair of canoes during the entire trip. The solitude and natural surroundings made it easy to forget we were in a digital age, in a major urban area. Other than an occasional bridge, very little of the surroundings disputed my persistent daydream that we were traveling in an earlier time, in a much more remote place. It was easy to feel a kinship with those who traveled and lived along the river long ago. And it felt good.

More information about canoeing or kayaking on the river can be found on the websites of the rivers outfitters including, morganscanoe.com, littlemiamicanoe.com, scenicrivercanoe.com and lovelandcanoe.com