I don’t know how many times we’ve driven up/down I-71 heading to/from Columbus and beyond but it’s been a lot. Every time we get close to the large bridge that overlooks the Little Miami River gorge, I always see signs for Fort Ancient and every time I say, “we should go there”. Thankfully we finally did it. It was a crisp sunny day and we decided to head out on a FOD (Family Outing Day) and Fort Ancient was our destination. Located off of Exit 36 (about 25 minutes North of Mason, Ohio), it was an easy drive.
The I-71 Bridge is in the distance (I took this picture on the North Overlook)
I’ve read about Fort Ancient before and knew that the American Indians built earthen mounds on the land and that there was a museum there but that’s about it. I also checked out their website to make sure it was open since their winter hours differ slightly from the rest of the year. When this posts, they’ll be back to regular hours: April through November – open 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, Noon-5 p.m. on Sunday and closed on Mondays.
Pulling up to the Museum at Fort Ancient, my girls started getting excited. We decided to head to the museum first. The museum is managed by the Ohio Historical Society and is part of the Dayton Society of Natural History. Here we were greeted by two of the nicest women. They had so much knowledge to share that I would have been happy chatting with them more but since my girls were excited to start our tour we were on the move. I did learn one interesting tidbit (hoping I’m remembering it accurately) – the greeter told us that if you put all the dirt that the American Indians moved that it would fill a continuous line of dump trucks full of dirt from Cincinnati to Cleveland. Wow, now that’s a lot of dirt to move for a people that had no modern day tools, or motorized plows and trucks.
We really enjoyed the museum. Admission is $6/adults, $5/senior (60+), $4/6-12 years and free/under 6. If you visit the museum then outdoor admission to see the grounds is included. If you just want to hike and see the outdoor part then it’s $8.50/carload (payable inside the museum). The museum has some great artifacts and life size re-enactment displays. There is so much history about Ohio, the American Indians, early settlers and more that I wasn’t able to grasp it all in one visit. My husband even remarked that he wished he had more time to read about more of the displays but having two energetic girls with us sometimes hinders our wish for a more leisurely pace. Maybe our FOD will have to turn into a SOD (Spouse Outing Day) one day soon.
After the museum it was time for our outdoor journey to begin. Even though the name Fort Ancient conjures up images of a war encampment, the site was actually an “embankment of ceremonial space”. With over 2.5 miles of hiking trails and two scenic overlooks to see, you could spend an entire day outdoors. They even have a picnic area if you want to enjoy more quality time with the family. Since we ate before our trip, I just made sure that we had water and a few snacks with us. Just behind the museum there is a nice hiking trail that is easy for little ones. The terrain is mostly flat and the path takes you through some scenic sites and a few bridges just perfect for getting a good outdoor picture. This hike isn’t too long either. I’d still wear shoes appropriate for outside since you may run into some muddy or slippery areas especially if it just rained.
We then got in our car to head further into the park. We saw the earth mounds as we drove in and our greeter recommended we go to the North overlook that can take you down to the Little Miami River. So, we headed there. Once we got to the top of the overlook, straight ahead in the distance was the I-71 bridge we’ve traveled over many a times. I only had a moment to enjoy the view as my girls were already on their way down the steep hiking path with my husband in tow and me yelling, “Be careful, don’t fall”. This path can take you all the way down to the Little Miami River. We got half way down and then I reminded the girls that we would have to go all the way back up and that stopped them in their tracks. This hike is a bit more difficult so if you have small children, you may want to bypass this part and just visit the overlook. Since we visited before the trees had their leaves, I know we missed out on some of nature’s beauty but after being cooped up for most of the winter, enjoying the outdoors was a welcome change.
I hope you’ll get a chance to visit Fort Ancient one day and learn more about the Hopewell and Fort Ancient people.
6123 St. Rt. 350
Oregonia, Ohio 45054