Discover Ohio's Garden of Eden in the Oak Openings

Ohio's northwest hides a treasure trove of rare plants and animals. See it on this overnight trip.
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I savor spring’s temperatures as I stroll over a prehistoric lakeshore, spotting rare plants along the trailside as hawks glide overhead. The raptors are on their way to their summer hunting grounds, leaving this woodland to the squirrels. But the nightly chorus of barred owls seems to suggest they know something the hawks don’t: There’s no reason to leave when you’re already in the best place. As I press further into these ancient trees, basking in the sun as it filters down through the budding oak leaves, I can’t help but agree. 

Turn by Turn From the Horse Rider’s Center

1) Head north on the Bridle Trail, then Intersect with the Oak Openings Hiking Trail (OOHT) at .2 mile and turn right (east), following the yellow OOHT blazes.

2) Pass along the Lou Campbell Tall Grass Prairie at mile 1.6, where showy orchids and ironweeds (blooming from late April to July) attract a riot of native pollinators.

3) Link up with the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) at mile 1.8.

4) At mile 5.5, the OOHT leaves the NCT and heads to the preserve’s northern border through sand dunes covered by oak savannahs. Keep an eye out for lupine, blooming from April to July.

5) Reach the northern edge of the preserve at mile 9.8 and turn south along Ai Creek, a slender ribbon of slow-moving water.

6) Merge onto the Beach Ridge Riding Trail’s serpentine boardwalk at mile 11.2. Cross over Swan Creek .4 mile later and set up camp in Springbrook Campground, 1.2 miles farther.

7) Next day, close the loop at the parking lot (mile 15.3).

Campsite: Springbrook Camground

Tackle most of the distance in the first day and make camp here (reservations required; see Do It below). Aim for sites G3 to G5, which are the most secluded and sit on a bluff over Swan Creek. There is a picnic shelter in the common area and a hand pump for water, and each site has a table and a fire ring. Even during the height of hiking season, you could have this campground all to yourself.

Flora and Fauna

12,000 years ago, glaciers ground Northwest Ohio flat. A large lake formed as they melted and left behind rolling sandy hills. These dunes are now covered by wild lupine, prickly pear cactus, and native orchids. In fact, this corner of Ohio is home to 180 rare species of plants and animals, including almost a third of Ohio’s endangered plant species.

Do It

Trailhead 41.5538, -83.8531 Park at the Horse Rider’s Center. Permit Required for campground ($20 per night) Season Year-round, but expect snow in winter.