Firefighter on a bridge watching river
©2021 Loveland Local News. Photo by Joe Wessels/LLN. A Miami Township (Clermont County) firefighter stands on Bridge Street bridge over the Little Miami River in the Branch Hills section of the township on June 19, 2021, keeping an eye out for a reported distressed kayaker. The boater was never found, and officials believe it may have been reported erroneously.

Thinking about going out on the Little Miami River around Loveland, Ohio? Great! Whether you’re in a canoe, kayak, innertube, or just you and your life jacket floating along, it’s a beautiful way to enjoy (and beat!) those hot and humid summer months in southwestern Ohio. And a great way to cool off after a brisk ride on the Loveland bike trail (also known as the Little Miami Scenic Trail)!

But the river can be dangerous, though, and the best way to ruin an expected and otherwise pleasant day on the water is a fast-moving – and therefore deceptively dangerous – water level. It’s also not a lot of fun to go out on a river with a low-water level, either. Canoes and kayaks “bottom out,” causing boats to need to be portaged or carried across land or over rocks and shallow river portions. While this latter scenario isn’t necessarily dangerous, it can make an otherwise thrilling river trek into a bit of a nightmare. When the water levels are at a desirable level, it makes for easier access to the water and, therefore, safer.

Blue heron bird in Little Miami River south of the U.S. 22 Bridge
©2021 Loveland Local News. Photo by Joe Wessels/LLN. Blue heron bird stands in rapids on the Little Miami River south of the U.S. 22 bridge during its summer 2021 closure and rehabilitation. Above and behind the bird, crews work on repairs to the structure.

Weather gauges can also help determine if the Little Miami is near flood stage because of new rainfall amounts anywhere in the Little Miami Valley – or because the Army Corp of Engineers, who control lake levels at Caesar Creek Lake, decide to draw down lake levels, directly affecting downstream river levels. Remember that new precipitation amounts north of places like Loveland and Milford, OH, can affect river levels quickly south – even when there is no chance of showers or major flooding where your adventure is planned to start. Any chance for significant flooding – like flood warnings – can quickly spell disaster out on the river. Be sure to check the southwest Ohio weather forecast before heading out.

According to “A Paddler’s Guide to the Little Miami River” by Dan and Alex Kaufman, the United States Geological Survey, or USGS, and the National Weather Service together have four river gauges along the Little Miami, all located in pooled-water areas which provide more stable readings. Check these gauges out before going out to verify river levels – especially if it has rained recently or if there is a chance of precipitation – or if you want to ensure you won’t be dragging your boat most of the way to the take-out.

In their book, the Kaufmans recommend checking the river gauge directly north of where you intend to start your river paddling journey. Good luck – and stay safe!

More about the Little Miami River

Southwestern Ohio’s Little Miami River, an Ohio River tributary, headwaters form from its own tributary – the North Fork – and several confluent creeks and streams in Greene County, Ohio, near the town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. The river formed the Clifton Gorge and runs through John Bryan State Park, a popular gathering spot loaded with hiking trails and opportunities to explore and wade in the river.

The Little Miami continues south near (or through) towns like Xenia, Bellbrook, Spring Valley, and Waynesville – very close to Warren County’s Caesar Creek State Park. The park’s lake was formed when Ceasar Creek, itself a Little Miami tributary, was dammed in 1978 under the Flood Control Act of 1938 to help prevent flooding downstream during potentially heavy spring rainfall. Dam releases after heavy rainfall or when the lake’s pool is too high can cause unsafe boating conditions downstream – and seem to happen with little or no warning.

Two children along the banks of the Little Miami River inside John Bryan State Park near ¥ellow Springs, Ohio. Taken in October, fallen leaves dot the waterway, and a pedestrian bridge is in the view as a part of hiking trails in the park.
Joe Wessels | Loveland Local News The banks of the Little Miami River inside John Bryan State Park near Yellow Springs, Ohio. Taken in October, fallen leaves dot the waterway, and a pedestrian bridge is in the view as a part of hiking trails in the park.

The river continues its southerly flow past the hills of Fort Ancient, the towns of Morrow, South Lebanon, Kings Mills (the home of Kings Island amusement park), Foster, and Loveland, Ohio. Continuing on, it passes the Kelley Preserve (part of the Clermont County Park District and home to a canoe launch point), Hamilton County Park District’s Lake Isabella (with a canoe access point), and historical Camp Dennison (a Civil War military hospital, recruitment and training facility).

Past the Civil War outpost, the Little Miami passes next to the Village of Indian Hill on one side and the city of Milford, Ohio, on the other. Milford is a mid-sized town, home to Jim Terrell Park and its own canoe take-out spot, and replete with several dining options, an excellent brewery (with river access), and other shops – including the superb Roads, Rivers and Trails outdoor outfitter. Floating further south, the Little Miami passes by Mariemont, Fairfax, Otto Armleder Park (another canoe put-in or take-out access point), the Cincinnati city-owned Lunken Airport (where American Airlines was founded, among other aviation firsts), before spilling out into the Ohio River at California, Cincinnati’s easternmost neighborhood (and home to an excellent nature preserve). Next stop: The mighty Mississippi!

The Little Miami River is a national and state scenic river, and it got that designation through hard work and efforts, mainly through one organization, the Little Miami River Conservancy. Check them out for excellent river history, maps, and other area information – or make a donation to this worthy organization.

The Little Miami River and the Great Miami River are not the same

Remember that the Little Miami River – starting near Yellow Springs, Ohio, and draining into the Ohio River at the Cincinnati and Anderson Township border in eastern Hamilton County – is different from the Great Miami River.

Much like the Little Miami River, the Great Miami River is an Ohio River tributary. However, the Great Miami starts in Logan County (at man-made Indian Lake, about a mile southeast of the Village of Russels Point) in northeastern Central Ohio and flows south through Logan, Shelby, Miami, Montgomery (Dayton, Ohio), Warren, Butler (including near and through Middletown and Hamilton) counties and, finally, through western Hamilton County – very close to the Ohio-Indiana state line. It’s easy to get confused! Even people who have lived in this area their entire lives still can have difficulty confirming which river is which.