Seth Walsh and Erin Hinson have been asking people, “What’s your favorite thing to do in Cincinnati?” Whatever the answer is, they do. This is one of their adventures.
If you enjoy being outdoors, you’ll love Mt. Airy Forest. From hiking to geocaching to fossil finding, to hosting family reunions, this historic 1,459-acre park has room for all to #UnlockCincinnati.
Seth: You may remember our friends Henry and Jaclyn, who recommended Putz’s Creamy Whip. Putz’s was actually the second part of their recommendation. The first? Hike the Stone Steps in Mt. Airy Forest. They even provided a map for our walk in advance!
Erin: Pull out your favorite GPS app. If you have already put in Mt. Airy Forest, delete it, unless you want to see, “Park your car. You will now have to get out and walk from here” -- with the “here” being a cul de sac on a side street nowhere close to the forest. Instead, put in Putz’s Creamy Whip. You’ll likely return here afterward anyway if you’re anything like me -- human.
Drive past Putz’s and turn right at the first stop sign. It’ll be a little ways off, so don’t worry. Then turn right again at the first opportunity. Keep driving and you’ll be in the park. You can park by the shelter and play Frisbee golf, or continue until you hit a fork in the road. Keep right to get to the tree house and the start of the hiking trails. There is plenty of parking around those spots.
Seth: Make no mistake: You’re going hiking. Mt. Airy Forest is a beautiful forest located in the city limits with miles of hiking trails. This was my first time hiking, so I was expecting something super strenuous, but it was really enjoyable. Dress and pack appropriately. If it’s a hot day, pack an extra bottle of water. And if it rained the night before, like it had when we went, wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.
Hiking trails are denoted by different colors and letters based on posts throughout the trail. It’s fairly easy to find your way around. Be warned, though: Once you reach the Stone Steps, you will be walking up a steep, tall hill. It is intense.
Erin: Becoming the largest park in Cincinnati was not by chance. George Kessler designed Mt. Airy Forest in 1907 as the first urban reforestation project. Work began in 1911, but it was largely built by the New Deal during the Great Depression as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program.
The steps begin at the historic oval shelter. The hike will take you through a ravine, down into the valley before the steps themselves. The steps are made of limestone and are hand placed to help hikers climb the natural ridge. It may well be the longest 0.3 miles of your life. There are lots of fossils on the steps, so if you need to catch your breath and are with a large group, just say, “I’m checking out the fossils. Don’t wait up!”
Seth: Henry and Jaclyn are superheroes. They brought their three kids along with them for the hike. Each had one of the kids on their back with their young son running ahead of us. By the time we got to the Stone Steps, I was tired. So was their son, which meant that Jaclyn carried two kids up those steep steps. I barely made it to the top, but when you’ve got super-parents behind you carrying three kids between them, you find a little extra energy to keep going.
As we crossed a dry riverbed at the end, Henry also pointed out that you can easily find fossils in stones that are comparable to stones at the Smithsonian. We spent a good amount of time in the mud digging through the stones, finding these fossils and imagining the history that had transpired in the forest.
Why go: Despite being surrounded by I-74, Mt. Airy Forest is a quiet nature preserve that allows you to escape the hustle and bustle of city living. Enjoy a hike for a day or explore the history left behind. We stepped off the trail several times to accommodate the many runners and hikers passing by. It’s a popular destination, but it’s large enough to give you space to be alone, and it offers some of the best hiking trails in the city.
Thanks to @CincyHank for the invite! It was a blast #UnlockCincinnati pic.twitter.com/MqMtdgorhk
— Seth T. Walsh (@SethTWalsh) June 28, 2015
Hike the Stone Steps
Address: Mt. Airy Forest, Cincinnati, OH 45211
Parking: Lots and side street parking available
Time commitment: Two hours
Pair it with: Putz’s Creamy Whip
We invite you to follow this journey in real time online at www.unlockcincinnati.org, on Twitter (@UnlockThe513, @SethTWalsh and @erinhinson2), Instagram (@sethtwalsh and @erinhinson2) and Facebook, or by following #UnlockCincinnati. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.