Shawnee Lookout: A Great Park in the Cincinnati Metro Area

It’s summer 2021! That means it’s time for cicadas, long evenings, dinner on the deck, and of course, plenty of daylight for hiking. A couple of weeks ago, my mom and I decided to kick off our summer hiking season when we both had a day off on Friday, June 4.

While trying to decide where to go, we realized that we’d been to every hiking area we could think of in Northern Kentucky. We decided we want to go somewhere different. I did a quick search of hiking trails in the Greater Cincinnati area on my phone, and one of the results that turned up was a park in Hamilton County called Shawnee Lookout.

Neither of us had ever heard of it before, so we thought it would be a good option. As it turned out, we were absolutely right.

Mom enjoying the view of the Ohio River on the Little Turtle Trail at Shawnee Lookout.

About the Park

Shawnee Lookout is one of the parks under the umbrella of the Great Parks of Hamilton County. It is located on Lawrenceburg Road in North Bend, right on the border of Indiana and between the Great Miami and Ohio rivers. It was almost a straight shot west on I-275 from our house, and it took about half an hour to get there.

There are three main trails at the park: Miami Fort Trail, Blue Jacket Trail, and Little Turtle Trail. They don’t connect to each other, but they’re not very far apart. It’s easy to do one or two of the trails for a shorter day, or to combine them into a satisfying day hike. We hiked all three, which was a total of about five miles.

In addition to the trails, there are several picnic areas, playgrounds, water fountains, and restrooms. There is also a restored log cabin that was built in the 1700s, as well as another preserved building that served as both a schoolhouse and a springhouse.

A map of Shawnee Lookout, including trails, picnic shelters, parking, and restrooms.

Hike 1: Miami Fort Trail

We started our hike at the Miami Fort Trail. This trail is an out-and-back with a loop, and it measures 1.4 miles. It enters an earthen structure built by the Adena and Hopewell people. Although it is called a “fort,” it was likely not actually used for military activity but rather for ceremonial or burial purposes, as is the case with Fort Ancient.

The start of the Miami Fort Trail

There is supposed to be a good view of the confluence of the Ohio and Great Miami rivers from this trail, but it was so overgrown that we were not able to see this particular view. However, the trail ends in a picturesque vista south to the Ohio River, which was clearly visible on this lovely day.

As we began our hike, we took in the volume of the cicadas in the trees. They’ve been loud in our yard, but the noise at Shawnee Lookout was unbelievable. Apart from the cicadas, we also saw a toad, numerous butterflies, and a massive black rat snake that I very nearly stepped on.

A cicada on the railing along the Miami Fort Trail

This was a pleasant, if slightly overgrown, trail to start the day. After we completed this first walk, we drove back to the parking lot by the Springhouse School and Log Cabin.

Springhouse School and Log Cabin

Shawnee Lookout is possibly the most well known for the two restored buildings that are housed on its grounds.

One is a log cabin that dates back to about 1795 and is thought to have been constructed by an early settler for his wife and nine children. The house was apparently occupied continuously until the 1950s. After this, it was abandoned and donated to Great Parks of Hamilton County.

The log cabin. This structure dates back to 1795 and was built without nails.

The other building is the Springhouse School. This building served many purposes. Its lower level was built near a spring, and was used as a “watering room for both man and beast,” according to the sign at the park. The upper floor was used as a school house until the mid-1800s.

Apparently, in 1870, a farmer built a barn over the top of the building, which inadvertently preserved it until 1975, when the barn was moved and restored by the Park District.

The Springhouse School is also where the 1786 Treaty of Fort Finney was signed, according to the Great Parks website.

The Springhouse School

I especially enjoyed walking around the outside of the log cabin and admiring its construction. It was built without nails; instead, the wood was notched to fit together, with wooden pins inserted to secure the joints when needed. I tried and failed to imagine what it would be like to live in that little cabin with such a large family.

Behind the cabin, there is a native wildflower restoration area flanked by trees. The cicadas in these trees were deafening. I stood transfixed, staring at the swarms of cicadas around the branches. It feels so special to be here and to witness this once-in-17-years event, and I really enjoyed the sound on this hike.

The cicada songs at Shawnee Lookout were the loudest I’ve heard so far in the 2021 emergence.

Once we had checked out both of these buildings, we headed down the road to the parking lot for the Blue Jacket and Little Turtle trails.

Hike 2: Blue Jacket and Little Turtle Trails

Our second hike of the day combined the Blue Jacket and Little Turtle trails. Each trail is a P-shaped loop.

We started with Blue Jacket. This 1.3-mile trail is named for Chief Blue Jacket of the Shawnee people. The trail is wide at first, descending slowly through thick woods into several clearings under electrical wires. There is another overgrown lookout followed by a sharp downhill, and then a mild climb back up towards the trailhead.

This hike was not particularly noteworthy, although we did find some interesting mushrooms growing out of a log.

Funky fungi on the Blue Jacket Trail

Once we arrived back at the trailhead, we walked down the road to refill our bottles at the water fountain. It was a very hot and humid day, and neither of us anticipated how much water we would need! After this, we went back to the trailhead and crossed the road to start the Little Turtle Trail.

This trail was my favorite of the three. It is also the longest at 2 miles. The path starts out flat, walking through the woods and next to a meadow, before descending into a valley with a lovely creek. In addition to the cicadas singing, we also heard a pair of barred owls hooting their telltale call: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?”

The creek on the Little Turtle Trail

From the creek, the trail takes an unexpectedly sharp uphill. The incline is quite sustained, and it took us a bit off guard. Once back on top of the ridge, though, our efforts were rewarded with a fantastic view of the Ohio River and the hills of Northern Kentucky beyond it. We sat on the bench by the vista for a few moments, appreciating the lovely day and catching our breath from the climb.

The rest of the trail is more or less flat, and follows the ridge back to the start of the loop. The trees seem larger on this ridge, and as I walked, I found myself reminded of parts of Virginia along the Appalachian Trail.

The lovely ridge on the last mile of the Little Turtle Trail

Stopping by Carriage House Farm Market

After completing all three trails at Shawnee Lookout, we felt pretty accomplished. We were ready to call it a day. We headed back to the car, changed our shoes, and left the park.

On the way home, we happened to pass by a building with a large red A-frame roof and signs out front advertising various delicious-sounding food products like local produce and handmade chips. Curious and hungry, we decided to stop.

Carriage House Farm Market

What we stumbled upon was Carriage House Farm Market. Carriage House is a family-owned farm that has been in operation since 1855. At the market, they sell products made on the farm, such as honey and fresh vegetables, as well as other locally-produced products from across the tri-state. I was particularly interested in the delicious-looking bread and large variety of cheeses.

There is a large outdoor porch on the side of the market, along with a food truck. We decided to have a little snack while sitting on the patio before we made the trip home. There were a good number of people there, all laughing, eating, and drinking in the perfect summer evening. I made a mental note to come back here sometime. Between the good food, the golden light on the green hills, and the smell of summertime, it was the perfect way to end a great day outside.

Me (left) and Mom (right), after our stop at Carriage House Farm

Explore Your Local Parks!

Sometimes I feel like I know my hometown pretty well. But then, I will discover a place that I’ve never even heard of, like Shawnee Lookout. Finding this park has inspired me to check out other places that I’ve never explored. It’s easy to get into a routine and to go to the same parks over and over. But now that it’s summer and restrictions are beginning to loosen up, it’s the perfect time to get out there and find a new favorite place close to home.

So seize the day! Find a new trail! Listen to the cicadas! Learn something! There is adventure tucked into every little corner of the world, wherever you are.

Mom on the Miami Fort Trail

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