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Glen Helen Nature Preserve, Ohio

Favorite Places: Glen Helen Nature Preserve, OHIOLocation
Situated in the village of Yellow Springs about 20 miles east of Dayton in southwestern Ohio, Glen Helen Nature Preserve is an uncommonly beautiful and pristine parcel of land that’s safeguarded as a laboratory for the observation, study and enjoyment of natural ecological processes. Within it, all wildlife, vegetation and rock formations are protected.

The preserve consists of approximately 1,000 acres—more than 20 miles of often challenging hiking trails through hills and valleys, two scenic creeks, an attractive waterfall known as the Cascades, several springs (including Yellow Spring, after which the village is named), an enchanting pine forest, and many limestone rock formations and ledges. This spectacular landscape was created by glacial meltwaters around 10,000 years ago.

Adjacent to and owned by Antioch College, Glen Helen is one of the oldest nature preserves in the area. It was donated to Antioch in 1929 by alumnus Hugh Taylor Birch in memory of his daughter, Helen. A 250-acre parcel within Glen Helen (containing Yellow Spring) has been designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. A trailside museum and visitor center offer information on the geology of the area and the ecology of the preserve.

Temperatures fluctuate greatly with the seasons in southwestern Ohio. Summer highs are usually in the mid-80s to mid-90s F with high humidity. Winter highs often range in the teens and 20s F, but occasionally drop to single digits with overnight lows of zero to minus-10º F. Autumn and spring can be very pleasant, with moderate temperatures and humidity. Precipitation is always a possibility. Come prepared with sunscreen, rain gear, footwear that’s rugged and comfortable, and outerwear suitable to the season.

Photo Experience

A good, lightweight tripod is a must for the varied terrain and conditions. For landscapes, a wide-angle to telephoto zoom lens is useful, as is a polarizing filter. For photographers who enjoy shooting wildflowers, fungi and all sorts of flora on the forest floor, a good-quality macro lens should be included in their bags.

Many of the best photo locations are along the trails that wind through Glen Helen. Birch Creek (along which are found the Cascades, as well as other smaller falls and rapids) and Yellow Springs Creek are especially noteworthy for landscape photography. Photogenic plants are abundant throughout the preserve. Interesting limestone rock formations can be found in many spots. Foggy or overcast conditions are usually preferable for many of the most scenic spots, yielding beautifully quiet, intimate shots. On a clear day, early-morning light is best, but the preserve is heavily wooded, so except in wintertime, many spots don’t get much direct sunlight. The best advice is to hit the trails and explore. Trail maps can be obtained at the visitor center.

Best Times
Winter is a great time for scenic shots in Glen Helen. The creeks sometimes freeze over and many trails can become treacherous, but a fresh coating of snow can greatly enhance almost any scene. Spectacular fall color from the sugar maple, oak, ash, dogwood and other trees usually peaks around mid-October. A great variety of wildflowers lights up the whole preserve from mid-April to late May.

Contact: The Glen Helen Ecology Institute, (937) 769-1902,


Essential Gear…
Today’s cameras depend on battery power, so it’s a good idea to make sure yours are fully charged before venturing out into the field, and to carry spares. Spare batteries let you keep shooting when the first set wears down, and in cold conditions, you can keep the spare set(s) in a warm pocket so they’ll be ready to go when needed. If you use rechargeable batteries, be sure to take your charger with you, so you can recharge your batteries in the motel at the end of each day’s shoot. A car-charger allows you to recharge in the car when in the field.