We had talked about it before, but on the morning of August 18, 2020, my 11-year-old son, James, and I finally set out to cycle the Great Miami Recreational Trail from Tipp City to Middletown, and then back. This would be a distance of almost exactly 100 miles and a two-day adventure that took us through cityscapes, parks, small towns, historical areas and natural landscapes.
Although it was challenging at times, the amount of interesting things to see, do and eat along the way made the entire effort worthwhile, and it was a fun experience that both of us won’t soon forget.
The Great Miami Recreational Trail spans 57 miles and connects Piqua to the north with Franklin to the south. All but a half-mile of the trail is located on designated, off-street bike path. A brief section in Dayton shares the trail with vehicles, but that’s it. Additional sections of the trail exist in Middletown and Hamilton, but they do not yet connect to Franklin.
For most of its course, the trail hugs the Great Miami River and passes through long stretches of quiet countryside and deep patches of shaded woods. However, at other times, riders find themselves amongst skyscrapers, in neighborhoods and in industrial areas, or passing an abandoned golf course, a power plant, an airport and even running parallel with Interstate 75. This mix of scenery keeps things interesting, as does the abundant wildlife seen along the river, including geese, blue herons, eagles (we saw three), ducks, turtles, deer and more.
Since there are more hotels to choose from in Middletown than in Franklin, my son and I made Middletown our final destination on the first day of our trip. We would cycle 50 miles there, stay the night at a hotel, and then return home the next day. We carried a change of clothes, water and a few snacks in our backpacks and tried our best to time up lunch and dinner with restaurants and food stands located along the trail, which turned out to be numerous.
As the trail becomes more popular, towns along the route are catering more to cyclists, especially Dayton and Miamisburg. In fact, Miamisburg makes an excellent half-way stopping point for lunch. It’s about 25 miles from Tipp City, or about 4 hours away by bicycle.
The wonderful historic district in Miamisburg is located directly next to the trail. This allows cyclists to park and dine at such places as the Hamburger Wagon, Bullwinkle’s Top Hat Bistro, TJ Chumps and more, or grab coffee at the Star City Brewing Company or ice cream at the Dairy Queen. Most restaurants offer outdoor seating, or cyclists can get their order to go and eat at a nearby park. All of this can help provide enough energy to make it the next 25 miles to the hotel.
Likewise, a stop at the Shake Shack on the way home the next day can provide the last-minute fuel needed to make it the final 10 miles to Tipp City.
The Shake Shack offers soft serve ice cream and shakes, as well as quick snacks like hot dogs and nachos. It’s located right across the street from the bike trail and close to another interesting attraction—Hope Bridge.
Hope Bridge is an abandoned steel bridge that is closed to traffic and covered with positive graffiti, such as “I Love You” and “You Matter!” It also contains a rope swing in the middle of the bridge that invites guests to relax and be carefree.
The Shake Shack and Hope Bridge are just two of the many interesting and surprising attractions found along the Great Miami Recreational Trail. Other highlights include important locations in Aviation history, an Adena Indian Mound, Carillon Historical Park, the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery and many public works of art, including outdoor murals, painted walls, sculptures, statues and more.
At a brisk pace, with stops along the way to eat and sightsee, the 50 miles took James and me about 8 hours to complete. The next day was slightly shorter, since we didn’t stop as much.
If you get the chance, this amazing bike ride really showcases southwest Ohio like nothing else probably can. At ground-level, the smells, sounds and sights of each town and place allows cyclists to experience the true essence of the Miami Valley and to see parts of the region that, unless on the bike path, will never be seen.
As a parent, it was also a great way to bond with my son. James and I had to push each other through a number of challenging situations on the trail, often working as a team to keep each other safe. This included navigating our way through several tricky sections of the bike trail and then cutting through Middletown during rush hour traffic to reach our hotel. But the best times came during our breaks along the trail. We’d find a quiet place next to the river, stretch out our legs and use our helmets as pillows and just talk about something and nothing. It was great.
Highlights of the Trail
Tipp City to Rip Rap Road
This 10-mile stretch of the Great Miami Recreational Trail passes through Taylorsville MetroPark (and a very long stretch of wilderness) before reaching Rip Rap Road, where the Shake Shack and Hope Bridge are located. Along the way, cyclists pass the abandoned village of Tadmor, cross over the Taylorsville Dam and beneath Interstate 70, and then come to an area of the bike trail impacted by the 2019 tornados in Dayton (see below). In fact, the path of the tornado crossed the trail.
The Shake Shack is open during warm weather at 1 p.m. on weekdays and noon on the weekends. Hope Bridge is located just south of the Shake Shack.
NOTE: A fun bike ride from Tipp City would be to ride to the Rip Rap Roadhouse on Wednesday and Friday evenings in the summer and fall. On Wednesday nights, the bar and restaurant hosts an outdoor Bike Night that features live music, grill-outs and amazing motorcycles. Also, from 5-10 p.m. on Fridays, a Cruise-In is held. The Rip Rap Roadhouse also does brunch from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
After Hope Bridge, the Great Miami Recreational Trail enters North Dayton. It passes Hollywood Gaming and then follows the fence line of the vacant Kittyhawk Golf Course, which is now home to a large number of geese! The trail then hugs the river before entering Triangle Park in Dayton, which is the place where the Stillwater River meets the Great Miami River. Triangle Park is also where the Stillwater River Recreational Trail branches off from the Great Miami Recreational Trail and travels 5 miles north through the beautiful Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark and past the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. The Great Miami Recreational Trail continues south and enters Island MetroPark before passing McCook Field, known as the “Cradle of Aviation Innovation.” It then reaches Deeds Point, home to the Riverscape Fountain of Lights. Among the world’s largest fountains, it is located at the confluence of the Great Miami and Mad rivers and, with the Dayton cityscape in the background, is a visual highlight of this ride.
NOTE: The trail passes beneath Interstate 75 for the first of four times during this part of the trip.
Downtown Dayton & the Hydroplane Base
After crossing the Mad River, the Great Miami Recreational Trail passes through the heart of downtown Dayton, including through RiverScape MetroPark and RiversEdge Park and then along Veteran’s Parkway, which is the half-mile of trail that shares the path with cars. The trail then passes Carillon Historical Park, goes through an industrial area and then runs parallel with Interstate 75 before reaching Moraine and then West Carrollton. Upon entering West Carrollton, look for an historical marker commemorating the Wright Seaplane Base, which is where the Wright Brothers tested their “hydroplanes” in the Great Miami River.
Miamisburg and Back Into the Wilderness
After dining, shopping and sightseeing in downtown Miamisburg (and seeing the awesome murals), the Great Miami Recreational Trail follows a long stretch of secluded countryside before reaching Franklin. Both Miamisburg and Franklin have a number of historical sites, museums, statues and points of interest and a lot of time could be spent in both communities. On the south end of Miamisburg look to your east to see the Adena Mound and the Mound Cold War Discovery Center on the tall ridges in that direction. Also, before reaching Franklin, look for a railroad bridge that contains a number of Biblical passages that have been carefully written on each side of the trestle, as well as interesting graffiti on the walls below.