Hike to Spruce Hill – Ancient Native American Earthworks

Saturday, April 28, 2018 – 10am – Mid-Afternoon

Co-Sponsored with Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Led by Bret Ruby and Dave Minney

Registration is limited to 16 registrants and has been filled. If you would like to be on the waitlist to replace someone who cancels, please continue by clicking the registration button below. If someone cancels you will be notified.


Prepare before you come: 

Participants should pack a lunch, and bring a full, large water bottle. Hike will go on rain or shine.


Enigmatic Spruce Hill is one of the few remaining of only roughly a dozen hilltop enclosures built 2,000 years ago by Native Americans associated with the Hopewell Culture era.

Normally accessible by permit only, this guided hike is a rare educational opportunity to see this compelling architecture from an earlier era. Built primarily of stone, the low walls enclose a 140-acre gathering space on top of the mesa-like ridge top. At intervals along the walls is evidence of mysterious burning that produced heat higher than an open fire can generate. Spruce Hill proper is a prominent feature in Paint Creek Valley, once affording grand vistas of the surrounding floodplain below that included the geometric ceremonial complex of nearby Baum Earthworks, as well as easy walking access to the grand Seip Earthworks – all built by people associated with the Hopewell Culture.

Spruce Hill is also a destination for naturalists. The Arc’s Wildflower Pilgrimage visits the site each April to see its magnificent display of ephemeral spring wildflowers on the floor of the extensive forest. It is an excellent breeding habitat for colorful forest birds, whose melodious voices will be heard and identified during the climb to the enclosure. Once on top, the great enclosure’s meadow is full of wildflowers and nesting birds, including the rare Henslow’s Sparrow, which is unusually common here.

The Arc of Appalachia was instrumental in raising the funds to purchase Spruce Hill at a public auction in 2008, in partnership with The Archaeological Conservancy. In 2009, an additional adjacent tract was purchased by the Arc, increasing the preserve to 270 acres in size. Today Spruce Hill Preserve is co-owned by the Arc of Appalachia and Ross County Park District, and co-managed with Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, whose staff is leading this trek.

Hike Description 

The hike will follow an old farm lane from the base of the hill to the ridge top. Hikers will enter the large enclosure through the remains of the original gateway, and then cross the entire length of the enclosure through an open meadow. On the far end we will inspect the most apparent section of the ancient stone wall at “The Isthmus”. Numerous stops will be made along the way to discuss the earthworks and artistic brilliance of the Hopewell Culture, as well as the ecology of their home in America’s Great Eastern Forest.


The entire hike from beginning to end is three and a half miles long. The trail climbs 350 feet from the parking lot at the base of the hill to the top of the Spruce Hill, and then back down. Participants need sufficient stamina for the trek’s length and the trail’s long steady ascent during the first third of the hike.


Bret J. Ruby is an archaeologist with the U.S. National Park Service, stationed at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. Dr. Ruby has a keen interest in the ancient and modern histories of American Indian peoples. He has directed archaeological fieldwork in the North American Midwest, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest for nearly 30 years. His primary research interests focus on Hopewell archaeology—the archaeology of an American Indian religious movement that swept over the Eastern Woodlands nearly 2000 years ago. He has published widely on Hopewellian community organization, earthwork construction, and inter-regional interaction. Dr. Ruby holds a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from Kent State University and a PhD in anthropology from Indiana University. His professional career began at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park; continued through 12 years working as archaeologist and American Indian tribal liaison with the United States Army at Fort Bliss, Texas and Fort Lewis, Washington; and returned full circle to Hopewell Culture NHP in 2011. He has directed archaeological fieldwork in the North American Midwest, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest for nearly 30 years, including excavations at Spruce Hill


Dave Minney holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Wildlife Biology from West Virginia University.  He worked for The Nature Conservancy’s Ohio Chapter for 23 years and was responsible for botanical inventories, breeding bird and plant community monitoring as well as oversight for the land stewardship of five preserves in southern Ohio.  He is also a prescribed burn boss (RxB2) and served as the Chapter’s Fire Program Manager for 20 of those years.  He is currently working on a study of the prehistoric vegetation patterns and potential fire regimes of the Western Allegheny Plateau in Ohio and West Virginia.