Lewis and Clark met at the Falls of the Ohio in 1803. And Audubon collected birds here during his time in Louisville from 1807 to 1809. Twelve of his paintings were made from specimens collected at the Falls.
The once free-flowing cataracts of the river have been dammed, but its unique fossil beds have been preserved. They are the largest accessible Devonian fossil beds in North America, and are 390 million years old.
I enjoy driving to the Falls after work in late August and September to watch shorebirds come in for the evening. In spring and fall, Killdeer are joined by peeps, both yellowlegs, Pectoral, Baird’s, Stilt, White-rumped, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and Caspian Terns.
In winter, gulls migrate from the Great Lakes. Common Loon, Lesser Scaup, and Ring-necked Duck are occasionally joined by all three species of scoters above the dam. In late March and April, shorebirds return, followed by migrant songbirds. Peregrine Falcons nest on an abandoned rail bridge upriver from the dam and regularly visit the Falls in search of shorebirds. — Win Ahrens
Limestone fossil beds along river, riparian woods, gravel bar, rocky ledges, and pocket prairies.
Uneven, rocky, and sometimes wet and slippery fossil beds, and woodland trails. Fossil beds by the river may flood, but trails are always accessible.
More than 265 species. Lesser Scaup, Surf, White-winged, and Black Scoters, Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black- and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Lesser Yellowlegs, peeps, Buff-breasted, Stilt, and Pectoral Sandpipers, Bonaparte’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos, Gray Catbird, Yellow, Blue-winged, and Yellow-throated Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Baltimore Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, and Indigo Bunting.
When to go
March to May for shorebirds and passerine migrants. August and September for shorebirds. Winter for scaup, loons, sea ducks, and gulls.
Interpretive center, overlook, observation deck, restrooms.
State park. Open dawn to dusk every day. Parking $2. Interpretive center open Monday through Saturday 9-5, Sunday 1-5. Admission Monday through Thursday $4 for adults, $1 for children. Friday through Sunday and holidays $5 for adults, $2 for children. Student rate is $2.
Bring a spotting scope for shorebirds on the fossil beds. Waterproof knee-high boots helpful for wading across the dam spillway to access the outer fossil beds.