Yellow Springs is a charming small town in rural Ohio. It feels almost like a different world from the rest of the area and state, as there’s a pretty strong hippie/progressive/liberal vibe. This makes a lot of sense if you take a peek into the town’s history: it was founded in 1825 by 100 families who wanted to create a socialist utopian society.
The utopian society didn’t pan out unfortunately, but today, Yellow Springs is a colorful town full of cute shops, nearby nature preserves, and delicious food.
Despite growing up in Ohio, I’d never visited Yellow Springs until last fall, and I definitely was missing out. Here’s a travel guide to this small town, which can be easily visited in a day.
Quick Facts About Yellow Springs
- Population: 3,872 (it’s basically a village lol)
- Location: 30 minutes from Dayton; 1 hour from Columbus and Cincinnati. It’s my favorite day trip from Columbus.
- Prominent people: standup comedian Dave Chappelle (he sometimes has pop-up shows in the area) and actor John Lithgow
Things to Do in Yellow Springs
1. See the actual yellow spring
Yellow Springs is named after an actual yellow spring (well, it’s more orange-y to me). The Glen Helen Nature Preserve is about half a mile outside the town, and you can easily walk there along the bike path. You can also drive and park there, but know that parking costs $5 for the day, and that the lot gets super busy on the weekends.
At Glen Helen, there are many interconnected trails that take you through the woods and along streams. The park itself is rather small, and if you walked along every trail, it would probably still be only a couple miles. The trails are relatively even, but you should wear good tennis shoes.
The yellow spring itself is quite small, but it’s fun to see the namesake of the town. The high iron content of the water is what causes that yellow/orange color.
2. Hike in the Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve.
If you’re looking for more outdoor adventures, Clifton Gorge is another popular park, but it’s in Clifton, a nearby charming town. I actually prefer Clifton Gorge since the landscapes are more dramatic.
If you park at the Nature Center near Bear’s Den Trail, you can take the John L. Rich Trail and loop back on the North Rim Trail for a walk of around 1.2 miles. There are a couple inclines, and parts of the path can be rocky, but it’s generally an easy hike.
For a slightly longer walk, start at the Jackson St. lot, where you’ll also be a short walk away from the historic Clifton Mill. As you walk along this path, you’ll hear the rush of water through the gorge and see the layers of worn-away rock. The water calms down significantly as you walk towards the nature center.
For the most avid hikers, you can even walk all the way to the Glen Helen Nature Reserve. The trail is around 5 miles end-to-end, and you can also do a 10-mile loop.
3. Visit the Clifton Mill
This historic 19th-century mill is another popular spot. You can see how a water-powered grist mill works, have a meal in the on-site restaurant, or buy freshly-ground flour. There’s also a classic red covered bridge, which is perfect for photos.
In the winter, there’s also a Christmas light display that attracts many tourists. People rave about the riverbank light show, the festive miniature village, and the room full of vintage Santas. Tickets cost $10 per person and are said to be well worth the price.
4. Eat at a local restaurant or food truck
Yellow Springs is full of restaurants offering a variety of cuisines. You’ll find American, Indian, Chinese, Mexican and many others. My family got takeout from Greene Canteen, a vegan restaurant, and while I’d love to recommend it, the food really wasn’t great. Portions were quite small, and the food itself was salty and not very flavorful.
I’ve also eaten at Ye Old Trail Tavern, which has a lovely outdoor patio, and has vegan and vegetarian options. There’s also a historic indoor bar area. Unfortunately, portions weren’t very large, and it took a really long time to get our food. It seems that Yellow Springs food is not the best for plant-based options, but if you’re not plant-based, you’ll have more choices.
Otherwise, some popular spots are Sunrise Cafe and Winds Cafe. There was also a food truck that had fresh cut fries and other comfort food, and the fries were delicious.
5. Browse the cute shops
I fell in love with this vintage and consignment store called Rose & Sal. The shop is so aesthetic and features furniture, a small selection of clothing, and other housewares. It’s definitely worth a visit just to drool over the cute items. I don’t remember pricing, but vintage does tend to be pricier.
I also really liked browsing Urban Handmade, where you can find handmade items from local artists. There are really unique and funny t-shirts, personal care items, license plate art, and much more.
6. Pick apples or buy produce at a local farm
Since Yellow Springs is in the center of farmland, it only makes sense to stop by a farm if you have the time. In the fall, you can pick apples at Peifer Orchards, and from June through December, you can buy locally-grown produce at their market.
This is just a random photo, but I loved seeing this community table of free food for those who need it!
Places to Stay in Yellow Springs
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If you want to extend your day trip, there are a lot of cute apartment rentals in the area.
This three-bed apartment is 1.5 miles from the town and has a fully-equipped kitchen and partial gym. The place has street parking and has plenty of entertainment. If you’re coming in a large group or family, this would be an ideal stay.
For old town vibes, stay in this two-story cabin in the historic town of Clifton. You’ll be able to walk to the nearby Clifton Mill and Gorge, and Yellow Springs is only a short drive away.
This chalet is also located in Clifton and sleeps up to 6 people. The space features unique angular ceilings, charming wooden walls, and a balcony.
Despite growing up in Ohio, this is my first time writing about it haha. I’ll update this section with related posts when I have them, but in the meantime, here are some other posts to feed your wanderlust.