Lots of room to roam at The West Woods

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Ansel's Cave Trail
Ansel's Cave Trail at The West Woods features a series of cliffs in an outcropping of Sharon conglomerate sandstone. (Julie Geiss photo)

When a cold or the flu hits a large family, it’s like a ticking bomb. Eventually, it’s going to bring everyone down. It’s just a matter of time.

My youngest son was the first one down and then the first to rebound as well. I had to get him out of the house and go somewhere with lots of room to roam.

We headed to a park we had not been to before in the Geauga Park District. The West Woods in Russell Township is 902 acres of golden autumn beauty with many miles of trails to explore.

Ansel's Cave Trail
Hiking within the rocks along Ansel’s Cave Trail at The West Woods is prohibited except during special events led by park naturalists. (Julie Geiss photo)

Nature center

We started our visit at the beautiful stone nature center. Before we could even make it in the door, we were distracted by the wildlife feeding area behind the building. Birds and squirrels were living a carefree life in the forest feasting on the feeders.

Inside the nature center, children can learn more about three distinct habitats found in the park: meadows, forests and wetlands. From floor to ceiling, the indoor space is transformed to match the natural beauty found in the park. Young explorers are completely immersed in the three different habitats.

Leaving the nature center, we took the closest trail, Trout Lily Trail, which led us to the wetlands. As we walked along the wooden planks, we spotted a pair of mallard ducks bobbing their heads up and down, as they ate plant material from the edge of the water. My son spotted two lazy turtles sunning themselves on a log without a care in the world.

The trail transitioned from wooden planks to gravel. We were heading towards the sunset overlook wildlife viewing deck. In the distance, we noticed a young boy standing next to a bird feeder. After closer inspection, we realized the small boy was actually a mannequin used to feed birds out of his outstretched hand. Visitors to the park can try to entice birds to eat out of their hands by holding birdseed in the air.

At the top of the wildlife viewing deck, the black and blue plumage of a blue jay could be seen above a small stream. Blue Jays are somewhat mysterious birds. I admire their striking colors, but I also despise the fact that they take and eat the eggs of other birds. They are sporadic with migration, without rhyme or reason choosing to spend some winters in the north and some in the south.

Ansel's Cave Trail
The numerous hickory trees along Ansel’s Cave Trail at The West Woods were in the middle of dropping their bright yellow leaves. (Julie Geiss photo)

Ansel’s Cave Trail

The highest-rated trail is Ansel’s Cave Trail. I had to see for myself what sets this trail apart from the rest. We reached the trail by going across the road from the nature center. The trail can also be reached from the parking lot south of the visitors center.

The numerous hickory trees in the park were in the middle of dropping their bright yellow leaves. The resulting effect was a golden carpet of leaves in the forest. At some points, it was hard to see the trail under all the leaves.

Ansel’s Cave Trail makes a complete loop in the distance of 1.50 miles. We saw a few other hikers, but we pretty much had the forest to ourselves. Ansel’s Trail Link is an additional .20 mile.

I had seen a few photographs but did not fully realize what we would see when we reached the cave. The word cave is a little bit of a misnomer. The cave is a series of cliffs in an outcropping of Sharon conglomerate sandstone.

Similar Sharon conglomerate rock formations are also found at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park. We saw a large cliff in the distance before realizing the trail curves, and we would eventually hike over the top of it. As we continued, several boulders could be seen near the trail before we crossed the stream on a wooden bridge.

Ansel’s Cave was most definitely the pinnacle of the trail. We looked at it from a platform, amazed by the narrow gorge created by giant boulders.

Hiking within the rocks is prohibited except during special events led by park naturalists. We couldn’t see it, but a 20-foot triple-tier waterfall is located within the cliffs. I could see why the cave is the subject of local myths and legends.

If only rocks could talk we would know for sure if escaped slaves hid under the cliff shelves or if bootleggers hid their “booty” within the notches.

Imagining the history is almost as much fun as exploring the area. We chose to head out the way we came in and made a plan to return soon.

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