John Bryan is the most scenic state park in western
Ohio. The park contains a remarkable limestone gorge cut by the Little
Miami River which is designated as a state and national scenic river. A
portion of the gorge itself is designated as a national natural landmark.
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Nature of the Area
Much of the history of John Bryan State Park is
"written in the rocks" of the Little Miami River gorge. Entering
the area at Clifton, at 980 feet above sea level, the Little Miami drops
130 feet through layer upon layer of bedrock. Each layer has a story to
tell of times when the area was covered by warm, shallow seas or was a
part of a muddy river delta or was scoured by tons of slow-moving glacial
ice. Each layer has its own characteristics as well. Some of the shale
layers are easily worn away by the forces of erosion, causing undercutting
in the cliff face. The more erosion-resistant dolomite or limestone rocks
above are weakened by this undercutting and large "slump blocks"
fall away, creating unusual rock formations including Steamboat Rock.
Springs feeding small waterfalls and cascades are common.
The glaciers did not only affect the land forms, they also had an effect
on the vegetation found here. As the last glacier retreated and the
climate warmed, the cool shaded recesses of the gorge valley provided a
suitable habitat for several Canadian plant species: Canada yew, redberry
elder, mountain maple, arborvitae and even a few hemlocks.
More than 100 different trees and shrubs have been identified in the park.
More than 340 species of wildflowers grow wild here. Snow trillium,
Virginia bluebells, bellworts, wild ginger, Dutchman's breeches,
Jack-in-the-pulpit and wild columbines are only a few to be seen in the
park. The dominating trees are oaks and maples, but large numbers of
sycamores and cottonwoods can be found along the river. Wildlife is also
abundant in the park. For instance, more than 90 different varieties of
birds live in or visit the park area during the year. To fully appreciate
the beauty of John Bryan, one needs to experience it during all four
History of the Area
Some of the first people to experience the area's
beauty were the Moundbuilders, and later, the Shawnee Indians. Just five
miles south of Yellow Springs, approximately where the town of Oldtown is
now, was the site of Old Chillicothe, one of the leading Shawnee
settlements in Ohio. The great Shawnee warrior, Tecumseh, was a frequent
visitor here and to the nearby James Galloway House, which has been kept
intact by the Greene County Historical Society.
This portion of the Little Miami River was a vital, economical source of
power for the early settlers in the 1800s. The Cincinnati-Pittsburgh
stagecoach road served the area and several enterprising settlers began
establishing water-powered industries in the gorge. The town of Clifton
prospered from the textile mill, grist mills and sawmills located there.
By the late 1800s, most of the industrial activity in the area ceased.
Water was no longer an economical source of power and many mills were
abandoned. However, one of the grist mills built in 1869 is still in
operation. Located in the village of Clifton, the Clifton Mill is open to
The park takes its name from an ambitious businessman who was responsible
for the preservation of much of the area as a state preserve. In 1896,
Bryan purchased 335 acres along the gorge and called these acres,
John Bryan had a great respect for the natural world. In 1918, he
bequeathed Riverside Farm to the state of Ohio, "...to be cultivated
by the state as a forestry, botanic and wildlife reserve park and
experiment station," which would bear his name. In May of 1925, John
Bryan's land became one of the state's first forest parks. In 1949, John
Bryan State Park was transferred to the newly created ODNR Division of
Parks and Recreation. John Bryan State Park and the adjoining Clifton
Gorge State Nature Preserve overlook the beautiful Little Miami River
gorge that has been designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S.
Department of the Interior.
The family camp area at John Bryan has 100 non-electric
partially shaded sites equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, latrines,
drinking water and a dump station. Campers with pets are permitted on any
site. A 100-person group camp area is available for organized groups on a
The day-use lodge is available for rentals throughout
the year. The lodge is equipped with two fireplaces, restroom facilities,
large screened-in porch and kitchen with stove, refrigerator and a 50-cup
Fishing and Hunting
The Little Miami River provides excellent stream
fishing opportunities for anglers. Smallmouth bass, rock bass and panfish
are in abundance. Several area are designated for bow hunting only. A
valid Ohio fishing and/or license is required. Fishing is prohibited in
the state nature preserve.
The park has four different picnic areas: upper, lower,
Wingo and Orton. The lower area and Orton area each have a shelterhouse
available on a first come, first-served basis. All areas have tables,
grills and latrines. Some areas also have drinking water.
The Little Miami River is excellent for canoeing. A
launch area near the park on Jacoby Road provides access to this scenic
river. As the river twists and bends, visitors will discover steep rock
cliffs, towering sycamores and many historic sites along the way.
Nature lovers can enjoy any of the ten different trails
found in the park. Trails follow the scenic river gorge and meander
through majestic woodlands. A portion of the Buckeye Trail travels through
the park. Caution should be exercised along the rim of the gorge.
Rock Climbing and Rappelling
A rock climbing and rappelling area has been established within the park.
Please stop at the park office to register for an available site.
Organized groups may reserve the rappelling site by calling the park
office at (513) 767-1274.
Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve is located adjacent
to the park. The preserve contains many outstanding geological and
botanical features for visitors to enjoy.
Within a short distance are the Blue Jacket Outdoor Drama, Clifton Mill,
the Air Force Museum and the Galloway Cabin in Xenia. Glen Helen Nature
Preserve, Buck Creek State Park and Caesar Creek State Park are also
nearby. There is a 10-mile bikeway from Xenia to Yellow Springs. The
Little Miami State Park is a narrow corridor along the Little Miami River.
Spring Valley Wildlife Area operated by the ODNR Division of Wildlife
offers hunting and fishing opportunities for sportsmen and is also known
as one of the best birdwatching areas in southwestern Ohio.