Fort Ancient is a bit different from the mounds in Licking County and Chillicothe. This site is two large plateaus surrounded by earthen “walls”. The walls are mounds of varying heights that seem to follow the contour of the flat hill top. Two sections were joined together by a “causeway” to form a continuous space. Inside the walls you’ll find several ditches as well as other mounds and earth works.
The use of the site is unknown. But with 67 gateway openings in the wall, no evidence of other fortifications, and evidence that suggests only a small number of people lived there; it is unlikely that this site was actually a fort.
The Ancient Ohio Trail page has a nice PDF detailing this site, as well as several others, if you’d like more detail than I provided.
Ever drive Interstate 71 between Columbus & Cincinnati? You know that long, very high, super scary bridge you go over? Fort Ancient is down at the bottom of that. IMPORTANT: If you are traveling with a large vehicle or a trailer (i.e. a camper of some sort), you need to plan your route carefully. Don’t just rely on your GPS. State Route 350 just west of Fort Ancient has a hairpin turn that is IMPASSIBLE to large vehicles. Even in a small car it is a bit harrowing. PAY ATTENTION through there.
Now that you’ve been warned, you can use Google to go here. The site is pretty well marked from I71.
Fort Ancient’s hours feel a bit random, so check their site before you go. They are only open weekends from November – March and closed on Tuesdays year round. Admission is $7 for adults/$6 for kids/6 and under is free. If you are an OHC member, it’s free.
The first half of the museum is about the mound building cultures of Ohio. There are a number of dioramas of ancient Ohio life as well as displays of artifacts and other information. If you’ve not been to any of the mound sites yet, take some time to read here. We have been to a number of sites now, so the information is a bit repetitive. You can even watch the guy knap flint from the Flint Ridge site.
To the left of the front desk, there is an education/exploration area. If you have smaller kids they may enjoy this section. There are a couple of doors that lead you outside to a display of various dwellings and gardens. When you go outside, come back in the door you went out or you’ll end up in a whole different area of the museum and have to go back through the maze.
Exploring & Hiking
After leaving the museum, take some time to explore the mounds and hiking trails outside. We stayed south of the museum, but there are a few mounds on the north side of SR 350.
When you walk out of the museum, go to your right and follow the sidewalk around the building. You will see a small, stone covered mound and a sign for the Stone Circle Trail. This short trail takes you through the woods and past several stone circles (as the name would imply).
The stone covered mound is labeled “Calendar Marking Mound”. There are 4 similar mounds that make a large perfect square. There is evidence that large fires were burned on top of these mounds. The alignment of the mounds and openings in the wall also line up with various astronomical events (Solstices, moon risings).
Source: http://ancientohiotrail.org/sites/fort-ancient see the “Four Square” section
Following the Stone Circle Trail, you will come across the Mills Mound (a reconstructed mound) and several stone circles. This short hike (about 1/4 mile) will then bring you out to the paved drive. It is about a half mile down to the next parking area in the south section.
As you walk along the roadway, you will have nice views of the walls and openings as they come closer together along the connecting section. About half way through you will walk between two crescent mounds and then you will see the larger mounds of the Great Gateway ahead of you. Coming through the Great Gateway there is a sign that explains what this area may have looked like when the site was in use.
Just past the Great Gateway is a marker for the Earthworks Trail. This mile loop follows the perimeter of the site and offers access t
o two overlooks. We decided to take this route so that we could see more of the wall area.
About 1/3 of a mile or so along the trail, follow the opening to the right to the north overlook. This wooded platform gives you a nice view of the valley and the big scary bridge on 71. From here you can follow the connector trail down to the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail. This section is quite steep and has a lot of stairs.
Coming back out of the opening, the continuation of the Earthworks Trail was difficult to find. Hug the tree line and you’ll come to it. Following the trail some more, you’ll come to the trail head for the Eagles Trail which doubles back and goes below the North Overlook to the connector trail. Stay to the left and follow the sign for the Earthworks Trail. Eventually you’ll come to the South Overlook and then back out into the south parking lot.
We decided we’d had enough fun and were getting hungry, so we called it a day. There are several other features which we did not explore. We will save those for the next time.
Just down from Fort Ancient is Morgan’s Canoe Livery. I’ve heard good things about this company and their camping. We have it on our list to check out.
The Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail has access to the site if you want to come in that way.
We went into Lebanon, about 15 minutes from Fort Ancient, to find some food and then head on home. There were several options for food here. We decided on a Acapulco Mexican Restaurant and enjoyed a late lunch with a couple of beers (apparently they do not sell liquor on Sundays in Lebanon, otherwise we’d have enjoyed a couple of margaritas). The salsa was amazing!
Until the next adventure…