The birthplace of aviation is also the hub of the nation’s largest paved trail network. At first glance, the map of the Miami Valley Trail system looks like a highway grid across Southwest Ohio. Quite the contrary, these long, colored lines represent bikeways between cities like Cincinnati, Dayton, Xenia and even Columbus. The paved, multi-use trails allow for unprecedented opportunities to explore.
Fifteen interconnected trails account for 295 miles, with another 35 miles of trail that are not yet connected. The Great Miami River Trail, which centers in Dayton, and the Little Miami Scenic Trail, which goes through Xenia, function as twin spines that give the network its shape, running north and south.
“The Miami Valley network appears to be the longest off-road, paved, connected route in the U.S.,” said Kevin Belanger, manager of trail planning for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C.
The next longest network, according to Belanger, is likely Utah’s Golden Spoke, which has over 100 miles of paved, connected, off-road trails. The single longest fully paved, connected and off-road trail is Minnesota’s Paul Bunyan State Trail at 115 miles.
For many readers, the idea of Ohio having such a trail system may come as a surprise. For certain trail advocates, however, the state’s achievements have been clear for a long time. Eric Oberg, Midwest regional director of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, has been a growing fan of Ohio ever since moving to Yellow Springs from Alaska.
“The Midwest has a lot of things that other places don’t. I hear so many people talk about the Mountain West, or the coasts as places that have amazing natural assets. In the Midwest you don’t hear it enough. When it comes to our multi-use trail networks in Ohio, these amenities don’t exist out West. Whether you’re 1-years-old or 100-years-old, you can take advantage of this trail network. The Midwest does not take a back seat to anywhere in the country when it comes to this experience and opportunity.”
Flood protection land was key for trail development
The very first mile of the Great Miami River Trail was constructed in 1972 on a levee owned by the Miami Conservancy District in Troy, Ohio.
The early visionary behind the Miami Valley Trail network was Horace Huffman, Jr., former CEO of Huffy Corporation in Dayton. Huffman caught the vision on a visit to Sacramento, where a trail project had stalled due to lack of contiguous land for development. He saw the potential in Dayton for a bikeway because the Miami Conservancy District already owned so much land along the Great Miami River.
He formed the Greater Dayton Bikeway Committee in 1965 and drafted one of the nation’s first regional bikeway plans.
Angela Manuszak, project coordinator for the Miami Conservancy District, explains that “Miami Conservancy District’s flood protection land has been key for land availability for trail development. In 1976, 30,000 people came to the river to celebrate the completion of the first significant length of trail, an 8-mile loop on both banks of the Great Miami River in downtown Dayton.”
Today, 330 miles of total trail span Southwest Ohio, and the network will continue to grow. As a regional asset, the trails not only serve as a public health benefit for residents but also as a driver for tourism.
“Trail tourism is a burgeoning industry and communities benefit when they build trails that connect to amenities like restaurants, lodging, cafes, and more. The public health and economic benefits are even stronger when trails are connected in local and regional networks,” says Belanger.
Amy Dingle, director of outdoor connections at Five Rivers MetroParks, sees people from all over the country using the Great Miami River Trail and its connecting bikeways.
“People who know trails have this on their radar,” Dingle said, adding that Dayton hosted the International Trail Symposium in 2017.
Her experience in the Miami Valley Region has led her to brand Dayton as the outdoor adventure capital of the Midwest, a topic which deserves its own article.
In addition to the many overnight options in towns and cities along the network, Five Rivers MetroParks has three trailside campsites available for cyclists.
What’s next for Miami Valley Trails?
Matt Lindsay, manager of environmental planning for Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, says filling gaps in the trail system is a priority, particularly the Wolf Creek Trail, Stillwater River Trail and the Great Miami River Trail.
“Longer term, we look at getting more rungs in the ladder,” Lindsay said. “If you think of the Great Miami and the Little Miami trails as the sides of a north-south ladder, right now there is one completed trail rung: The Creekside Trail. We would like to see planning for more ‘rungs’ in Warren County, in southern Montgomery County and between Piqua and Urbana in the north of our region.”
Below is a list of each trail in the Miami Valley Network along with a GPS map. More information and trail alerts can be found at Miami Valley Trails website.
Little Miami Scenic Trail
This Southwest Ohio gem is part of the larger Ohio to Erie Trail. The scenery changes drastically over the course of the journey. Some of the trail hugs the Little Miami River through quiet wooded areas. There are a number of small towns along the route, including the beautiful Yellow Springs. Xenia and Springfield are more populated with a lot to see. The southern terminus is on the outskirts of Cincinnati. The northern quarter of the trail uses historic rail corridors to travel over farmland. 50 miles of the trail is maintained by ODNR as Little Miami State Park directly along Little Miami River mileage which is designated a National and State Scenic River. Highlights include John Bryan State Park, Fort Ancient, Hartman’s Rock Garden, Young’s Jersey Dairy and the tallest bridge in Ohio.
Great Miami River Trail
Mileage: 93 total, 77 contiguous
This huge trail takes riders through heavily wooded parks and follows the Great Miami River. There are towns along the river like Piqua, Troy and Tipp City, which boast great places to eat and drink. Other towns like Franklin and Miamisburg make for interesting stops. The biggest city along the trail is Dayton, with so much to explore that cyclists often stay the night.
This is a growing trail. There are two additional sections that are not yet connected, totaling another 16 miles. This could very well become another 100-mile trail in Ohio.
The possible connections from this trail are impressive. On its east end in Dayton, the Creekside Trail connects to the Mad River Recreational Trail which leads to the Great Miami River Trail. On the west end of Creekside Trail is the city of Xenia, a bike trail hub with access to the Ohio to Erie Trail and the Xenia-Jamestown Connector.
Mad River Trail
This urban trail is flat and relatively easy to bike. It passes the entrance to National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and also interacts with Eastwood MetroPark and Huffman MetroPark. At the eastern terminus, there are three switchbacks that take riders up the Huffman Dam for a great view.
Connecting Trails: Great Miami River Trail, Creekside Trail, Wright Brothers Huffman Prairie Trail
Ohio to Erie Trail
Mileage: 326 total
The Ohio-to-Erie Trail extends 326 miles from Cincinnati to Cleveland across a host of smaller trails and some roads. More than 80% of the route is on separated, off-road trails. In the Miami Valley Region, the trail extends from Cincinnati north along the Little Miami Scenic Trail to Xenia. Heading northeast from Xenia Station, OTET continues along the Prairie Grass Trail and others toward Columbus.
Simon Kenton Trail
The Simon Kenton Trail picks up in Springfield where the Little Miami Scenic Trail ends. It continues north through Urbana and over some rolling farmland. There is a steady incline moving to the highest point in Ohio, Bellefontaine. Besides the cities of Springfield, Urbana and Bellefontaine, highlights include Cedar Bog, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Westcott House and Marie’s Candies.
Xenia Jamestown Connector
If you’re interested in bike adventures, the city of Xenia should be on your radar. Xenia Station is a bike hub for the Creekside Trail, Little Miami Scenic Trail and the Ohio to Erie Trail. One block away, the Xenia Jamestown Connector extends 15+ miles touring rural scenery and a small town.
Iron Horse Trail
The Iron Horse Trail travels over an abandoned rail corridor and also includes some riding on wide sidewalk and roadway. Following the 7-mile route will connect riders from Dayton to Kettering and Centerville.
Wright Brothers – Huffman Prairie Trail
This 5-mile trail begins in Fairborn and connects to Wright Brothers Memorial Park, Wright State University and Huffman Reserve MetroPark. The bikeway connects to the Mad River Trail and the Huffman Dam.
Stillwater River Trail
The trail offers an escape along a scenic river with numerous connections to local parks and attractions. It also connects to the southern section of the Great Miami River Trail.
About two miles of this 7-mile route is paved trail, with the rest being bike lanes and shared road. It is a popular commuter route between Dayton and some of its southern suburbs. While the route connects to both the Great Miami River Trail and the Iron Horse Trail, the off-road trail section of Dayton-Kettering does not connect to the network yet.
Great Little Trail
The vision for this growing trail is to connect the Great Miami River Trail with the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Currently, 7 miles have been completed in Montgomery County. Scenic sections of the trail wind through metro parks and natural reserves before following Austin Boulevard through Miamisburg and Washington Township.
Connecting trails: Great Miami River Trail
Wolf Creek Trail
A nearly 20-mile route, the Wolf Creek Trail connects Dayton with Verona. Currently, there is a gap in the trail in Trotwood that requires roughly four miles of challenging road riding. The northwest section of trail gives riders a view of prairie land and open fields at Sycamore State Park before ending in a rural area of Montgomery County. The southern section of trail interacts with Wolf Creek and provides access to neighborhoods, businesses and parks.
Buck Creek Scenic Trail
Connecting with the Simon Kenton Trail and the visitor-friendly City of Springfield, the 6-mile Buck Creek Trail is described as a hidden gem by Miami Valley Trail enthusiasts. This creekside path offers a scenic escape and takes riders past several kayaking facilities and parks before arriving at Buck Creek State Park.
The Ohio-to-Indiana path is both a trail and a route. The off-road trail section is six miles through the city of Piqua. This trail intersects the Great Miami River Trail and features a bridge over the river. The overall route involves a ride from Urbana to Greenville on the border of Indiana, a distance of over 45 miles.