Slicing through the farmlands of southwestern Ohio, Clifton Gorge is a scenic wonderland for naturalists. Though its rugged walls of Silurian dolomite were deposited 400 million years ago, the gorge itself was carved by a torrent of glacial meltwater near the end of the Pleistocene, some 12,000 years ago. Documenting this history, the shaded walls of the chasm harbor relict, periglacial vegetation, including hemlock, Canadian yew, arborvitae and mountain maple.
Stands of chinquapin oak cover south-facing hillsides and over 340 species of wildflower have been found in the gorge. Numerous springs and seeps produce ideal conditions for the sixteen species of fern that grace the rocky walls and provide ideal habitat for salamanders (8 species live here). Red squirrels are common in the hemlock areas and, as one might expect, a large variety of songbirds are drawn to this chasm, which offers protection in winter and a cool retreat in summer.
Hikers will find an excellent trail network at Clifton Gorge; these footpaths skirt the rim, snake down the rugged walls and run along the canyon floor, following and crossing the Little Miami River, where slump blocks of dolomite rest along and within the stream. Dedicated in 1973, Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve merges with John Bryan State Park, which encompasses the western portion of the gorge. Access to both areas is off State Route 343, between Yellow Springs and Clifton; a parking lot off Jackson Street, on the west edge of Clifton, is closest to the scenic "Narrows" of Clifton Gorge.