Best Places to hike in Columbus, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio is the destination for all sports fans, history buffs, animal lovers, and — of course — nature enthusiasts. The city is home to a booming tech industry, an innovative art scene, and some of the largest colleges in the country. As the state capital of Ohio, Columbus is a hip hotspot that seamlessly blends history, nature, and modernity.
So, although you’ll be surrounded by skyscrapers and modern architecture when you visit the city, you’ll also be able to experience the natural wonders hidden within. Immerse your senses in lush landscapes with rolling hills, colorful foliage, and breathtaking ravines by hiking in Columbus.
Hiking Trails in Columbus
If you want a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, driving to nearby trails and city parks is a great way to do so. Check out the must-see trails in and around the area in the list below.
Hocking Hills State Park
Located just an hour away from Columbus, the Hocking Hills State Park is arguably one of the most popular hiking trails and wilderness escapes in central Ohio. It’s filled with striking waterfalls, vast greenery, jaw-dropping caves, gorgeous rock formations, and exotic wildlife that you and your family will enjoy exploring all day long.
Because of its distance to the city and its 12.3-mile trail length, you can opt for a simple day trip. But if you want to immerse yourself in nature for longer, you can also try camping overnight. There are so many activities you can try besides hiking and biking, making it one of the most fun-filled places to visit in Ohio.
It’s perfect for new and seasoned hikers alike. Some of the more extreme activities you can try here include ziplining, kayaking, and cave exploring. That said, if you’re looking to challenge yourself and get your blood pumping, Hocking Hills State Park is the place to be.
Then, when you come across some of the picturesque stops like the Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, and Old Man’s Cave, be sure to take some lovely photos to commemorate the overall experience. This is one for the books.
Sharon Woods Metro Park
Sharon Woods Metro Park is another option to consider if you’re looking for a quick getaway from the city. It spans over 761 acres and is centered on the 11-acre Schrock Lake. If you want to experience a mixture of fields and forests with towering hickory, oak, and beech trees, this destination should be a part of your itinerary.
Due to its impressive scenery, the park has become a popular spot for outdoor exercise. Many people enjoy visiting this trail for its rich history, family-friendly environment, and many recreational opportunities. To make your outdoor adventure more epic and diverse, the park also features hiking-only and multi-purpose trails. Meaning, if you want to dabble in other activities outside of trekking, you can.
Some visitors go fishing, boating, or golfing during the summertime. Then, come winter, many of the kids and kids-at-heart can go sledding on the hill. If you want to take a break from all the adrenaline-inducing activities, you can also check out the visitor center, gift shop, or indoor play area for children to enjoy themselves in a more controlled environment. There’s no shortage of things to enjoy in Sharon Woods Metro Park. So, be sure to drop by with the whole family on your visit to Columbus.
Situated only 11 miles (around 20 minutes) away from Columbus, Ohio is this majestic nature preserve known as Gahanna Woods. With a total length of just 2.3 miles and minimal elevation gain, Gahanna Woods is the ideal trail for everyone, even beginners. More than the easy hike, what makes this trail stand out is its scenic boardwalks where you can get impeccable views of wildflowers and other beautiful plants. The giant trees in the forest also offer tranquility and that much-needed shade to protect you from the harsh sun rays during your walk.
Along the path, you may encounter wildlife photographers waiting to get the perfect shots of nature in action. Or perhaps, you’ll bump into families going on a leisurely hike. Because of its beauty and serenity, the Gahanna Woods is often considered a hidden gem in Ohio.
While you may bump into some people, it’s never too crowded. As such, you can enjoy your solitude in this destination any time of day you want. Just make sure not to go here during the rainy season as the trail can get muddy and slippery. If you want the ultimate experience, schedule your trip to the outskirts of Columbus during the dry and sunny seasons.
Battelle Darby Creek
Found on the west side of the city, Battelle Darby Creek is a natural oasis that offers over 20 trails, spanning across 7,000 acres of forests, wetlands, and prairies. Moreover, it stretches over the impressive 13 miles of the Big and Little Darby creeks, which are considered state and national rivers.
If you take the time to visit this paradise, make it one of your goals to seek out the birds and the vast wildlife. If you look hard enough, you may even spot some bison roaming around their spacious pastures.
Depending on where you want to go and what you want to see, you can choose a track you want to follow. The various trails range from easy to difficult. For instance, if you want a simple walk in the park, you can do the Ancient Trail, which is only 1.9 miles long. It follows grass and gravel pathways, making it easy for you to traverse on foot or bike. When you choose this trail, you’ll run along Darby Creek and pass through fields, woods, and the reconstructed Fort Ancient mound.
However, if you want something more challenging, you can opt for the Dyer Mill Trail. This spans 3.2 miles and requires ample hiking or cross-country skiing skills. With this trail, expect to pass through loops of tall grass meadows, secluded woodlands, and a steep decline to Little Darby Creek. Although this track can be difficult, it’s also incredibly fulfilling. Explore the wide trail options and find one that truly excites you. With so many choices to choose from, you’re bound to find something that you’ll enjoy.
If you don’t have the time to get out of the city for a day hike, you can check out the Scioto Greenway located in the heart of Columbus. Scioto Greenway is home to the well-known “Scioto Mile,” which is considered an urban oasis that consists of over 175 acres of lavish parklands and views of the vibrant Arena District waterfront. When you visit this natural beauty, you can enjoy several greenway trails that boast breathtaking Scioto River Valley views. Not only that, but you can also take part in some of the park’s engaging events, including festivals and outdoor concerts.
Apart from these, you can also take part in some of its exciting activities like walking, hiking, and cycling. If you or your family enjoy watersports, you can also try out guided canoeing, kayaking, or paddle boarding. What’s more, you can bring your kids to the giant interactive fountain, spanning approximately 15,000 square feet, for some splashing water fun!
Once you tire yourself out and need a quick break, you can visit the Cultural Arts Center or grab a bite at the different restaurants. There are so many things you can do in the Scioto Greenway that will make every minute worthwhile. Whether you’re an avid hiking enthusiast or just a simple nature lover, Scioto Greenway is one of the best places to go when you visit Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus Hiking Tips for the Best Experience
When you decide to go hiking near Columbus, there are several things you must consider to make your experience safe, comfortable, and memorable. That said, here’s a quick checklist you need to remember.
Snacks and Water
Going on an outdoor adventure can be tiring. So, you need to pack lots and lots of snacks to keep you energized. Additionally, you need to pack enough water to keep you hydrated throughout the day.
While many of the parks listed above have recreational activities outside of hiking, it’s recommended to pack or wear hiking shoes to keep your feet comfortable. If you don’t plan on participating in more extreme activities, a reliable pair of bouncy and breathable sports shoes will suffice. But, if you want to take on moderate to difficult trails, you may need to invest in good hiking shoes.
There are different types of hiking shoes to choose from, depending on the intensity level. For a simple day hike, a low-cut model with flexible midsoles is an excellent option. For overnight camping, backpacking boots that are designed to withstand diverse terrains and carry heavy loads are ideal. They’re durable, supportive, and suitable for both on and off-trail travel.
Bug Repellent and Sunscreen
Being in the great outdoors means being surrounded by insects and wildlife. So, you need to pack protection like bug repellent to keep mosquitoes and pesky pests away. This is an incredibly crucial item during the damp and rainy seasons when bugs and mosquitos tend to thrive.
However, if you plan on visiting these trails during the hot summer months, it’s important to consider packing heavy-duty sunscreen. Since you’ll be in the open air and under the harsh rays of the sun, your sunscreen can protect your skin from sun damage and UV radiation. That said, you don’t have to worry about uneven tan lines or red, flaky skin once you get home.
One of the perks of immersing yourself in nature is that you get to be away from city life. This means no gadgets, no car honks, and no distractions. But more often than not, you would want to capture these moments with your loved ones to reminisce about in the future. As such, a camera is an essential item on this list.
Although the latest phone models can double as cameras, other people — in particular, wildlife enthusiasts and professional photographers — would like to snap a high-quality photo that a regular phone camera can’t accomplish. In this case, packing a camera with several lens options is a good idea.
Besides hiking, nature is a great place for sightseeing. In many of the parks listed in this article, there are multiple opportunities for you to encounter wildlife, from birds to forest creatures, and even tiny insects. So, if you want to get up close and personal, you should pack binoculars in your backpack. This tool will allow you to get a closer look at certain species without disturbing them. In doing so, you can better appreciate their natural behavior and admire them even from afar.
Suppose you don’t have binoculars with you, what do you do? Well, you can use your cameras to zoom in on all the action. It works just as well. Plus, you can snap a photo in real-time, which is a great perk.
Hiking in Columbus is an incredible way to get out of your daily routine and try something new. If you’re not an avid hiker, this list is a good place to start. You can find some of the best trails to explore located in or around the city.
More than the breathtaking views, these parks offer versatility. This means that there’s bound to be a trail for everyone, whether you are an amateur or a pro. Moreover, there are plenty of activities for the whole family to participate in and enjoy. With this guide, you can get out of your comfort zone and discover new places to immerse yourself in the natural wonders of Columbus, Ohio. Happy hiking!