Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 2.4 miles
Scenery: Wetlands, ponds, marshes, and meadows
Exposure: Sun and shade
Trail Surface: Soil, access road, mowed path, and decking
Hiking Time: 2 hours (includes time at the observation blind and decks)
Driving Distance: 30 minutes northwest of Cincinnati
Season: Year-round, though spring rains may flood portions of the trails
Maps: USGS Greenhills; Butler County Parks Gilmore Ponds map
Wheelchair Accessible: No
For More Information: MetroParks of Butler County, (513) 867-5835
Special Comments: Gilmore Ponds is an apt description, as this low-lying wetland complex accumulates water from the surrounding parking lots and roadways. As a result, the trails might be flooded - after all it is a wetland.
It’s hard to believe that in the middle of suburbia flourishes a 200-acre park composed primarily of wetlands. The complex provides important habitat for waterfowl, songbirds, and shorebirds. Other species such as frogs, salamanders, turtles, white-tailed deer, and raccoons also thrive here.
Gilmore Ponds has a unique history. In the early 1800s, this area was part of a large wetland complex dubbed the Big Pond. The Miami-Erie Canal flowed through Mill Creek Valley to the Gilmore Ponds and on to the Great Miami River Valley. The Miami-Erie Canal system was abandoned in 1929 due to the growing popularity of the railroad system.
Park in the lot and walk north to the wet woods. The trailhead for the Conservancy Loop is also the start of the floating dock. Step onto the dock—well, it will be floating if there’s water, and if not it will be on the ground. If it’s floating don’t step too quickly across the dock, as the up-and-down motions of your footfalls cause water to squirt out of the small holes in the dock boards and right up the inside of your pant leg.
Keep moving along the dock; if you don’t, the section you’re standing on will begin to sink. Red, silver, and sugar maples and cottonwoods provide ample shade. If you enter quietly and move slowly along the dock, you may glimpse some of the waterfowl that utilize this area.
Continue on the dock to the slight hill leading to the access road at 300 feet, and turn right. This trail follows along the old Miami-Erie Canal on the left. It’s also an access road that receives traffic from heavy utility vehicles, and as a result, portions of the trail have deep ruts. In the spring and summer, look for tadpoles here.
You’ll have a minimal amount of shade along this portion of the trail. Keep watch in the wet woods to the right for waterfowl species, including pintails and grebes. Also, listen for the distinctive calls of the great blue heron and the kingfisher.
On the right at 0.26 miles, you’ll pass a large body of water with several snags (dead trees). Continue on the Conservancy Loop Trail until you see the hiker medallion that leads to the right at 0.38 miles. Take this trail up a small hill and into the wetland area. The trail proceeds straight ahead, but I have yet to hike this portion due to flooding.
To the left of the trail is a two-story blind that looks over the marsh and provides a spot to quietly view the wildlife activity. To the right is a bench that overlooks Kingfisher Pond. Approach the bench slowly because turtles often sun themselves in this open area.
When you return to the access road turn right. This trail is Gilmore Wetland Loop. At 1 mile the trail takes a right and passes Old Ice Pond to the left and Smartweed Flats to the right. Old Ice Pond provided ice to the Cincinnati area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Pass a footbridge (don’t cross it) to the left of the trail at 1.07 miles. At the trail junction at 1.12 miles is a bench. Follow Gilmore Wetland Loop to the right. At 1.22 miles you’ll reach an observation deck over the South Pond. The deck offers a pleasant spot to sit and look out over the wetlands dominated by smartweed, willows, cottonwoods, and silver maples.
The trail passes through a tunnel of bush honeysuckle so dense that you can’t see the wetlands to either side of the trail. At the intersection at 1.39 miles, take a right, staying on Gilmore Wetlands Loop. Follow the trail down the railroad-tie steps to the boardwalk and through the open prairie and marsh.
The trail borders the marsh. A 1.46 miles take the side trail to the edge of the marsh and then return to Gilmore Wetlands Loop. At 1.5 miles at the intersection with Highlands Trace Trail, turn left and follow it through the prairie. At 1.6 miles turn right, staying on Highlands Trace as it winds through prairie plants and briefly through a woodland area. Follow it until it reconnects with Gilmore Wetlands Loop at 2 miles.
Another observation platform at 2.2 miles looks out over Cattail Marsh. Sit down, get comfortable, and watch for waterfowl species, especially during the early morning and late afternoon hours.
Continue on Gilmore Wetlands Loop. Pass the spur trail (a user-made unofficial trail) and look for the bluebird nesting boxes throughout this area. Red-winged blackbirds are common throughout this portion of the hike.
Pass the Conservancy Loop connector trail to the observation tower blind at 2.33 miles. Continue on the left side of the Conservancy Loop trail. Pass another spur trail that leads to the left. The Conservancy Loop passes through a prairie busy with songbirds and butterflies and then a small pond at 2.45 miles before opening into the manicured lawn area.
Continue to the outdoor classroom platform and onto the boardwalk on the other side. The boardwalk leads back to the parking lot and your vehicle.
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
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UTM Zone (WGS84) 16S
Latitude: N 39 degrees 21' 22.90"
Longitude: W 84 degrees 31' 8.24"
Winton Woods, Caldwell Park, and Spring Grove Cemetery offer additional hiking trails. Stop by Jungle Jim’s for pretty much any kind of food or beverage you can imagine and Bass ProShops for outdoor supplies.