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Exploring the Great Outdoors: Outdoor Activities in Ohio

Travel | By Cullen Fischel | Updated April 19, 2024

Cullen Fischel of Cleveland's guide to Ohio outdoor activities

You might not think of Ohio as an outdoor paradise, but trust me, this state packs a punch when it comes to getting your adrenaline pumping or finding a peaceful escape in nature. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or a curious first-timer, there's something for everyone in the Buckeye State.

Key Takeaways

  • Hike breathtaking trails, from the iconic Hocking Hills to the remote beauty of Wayne National Forest.

  • Cycle the scenic byways of Ohio or conquer challenging single-track mountain bike trails.

  • Kayak or canoe on tranquil waterways like the Mohican State Park's Clear Fork Reservoir or embark on multi-day adventures on the Maumee River.

  • Hit the slopes at Mad River Mountain or embrace the winter wonderland with cross-country skiing and ice fishing.

Hiking and Backpacking Adventures

Hocking Hills: A Hiking Wonderland

Hocking Hills State Park is a must-visit for any hiker in Ohio. This region boasts countless trails with unique features, making it a true hiker's paradise. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Old Man's Cave: This iconic trail features narrow passageways, towering cliffs, and a cascading waterfall. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, as some sections can be wet and slippery.

  • Lower Falls and Upper Falls: Feel the spray of the mist at Lower Falls or challenge yourself with the climb to the top of Upper Falls for stunning panoramic views.

Tips: The Hocking Hills area can get crowded, especially during peak season (fall weekends). If you're looking for a more secluded experience, try visiting during the week or shoulder seasons (spring and fall).

Wayne National Forest: Backpacking for the Adventurous Soul

Wayne National Forest offers a completely different hiking experience compared to Hocking Hills. Here, miles of backcountry trails lead you through dense forests, providing a chance to unplug and connect with nature. Backpacking is a great way to explore the remote areas of the forest.

Tips: Backcountry camping requires a permit. Be sure to check the park website for designated camping areas and obtain your permit before you go. Also, make sure you are prepared for primitive camping conditions and have the necessary gear and supplies for your trip.

John Bryan State Park: Challenging Hikes with Scenic Rewards

John Bryan State Park, located near Yellow Springs, is another fantastic destination for hikers. This park offers challenging hikes with stunning views from atop its cliffs. If you're looking for a good workout and panoramic vistas, this park is a great option.

Kelleys Island State Park: A Unique Geological Gem

For a unique hiking experience, head to Kelleys Island State Park in Lake Erie. This island was glaciated during the last ice age, resulting in a distinctive landscape with glacial grooves, ridges, and other geological features. The park also offers beautiful views of Lake Erie.

Biking Through Ohio's Diverse Landscapes

Road Cycling Routes

Ohio's scenic byways are perfect for a leisurely cycle through the countryside. Here are two of my favorites:

  • Amish Country Byway: This route winds through the heart of Ohio's Amish Country, where you can bike past horse-drawn carriages and traditional Amish farms. It's a great way to experience a unique way of life and enjoy the beautiful rolling hills of the region. Tip: Be sure to be respectful of the Amish community and their way of life. Yield to buggies on the road and avoid stopping to take photos directly of people.

  • Lake Erie Coastal Greenway: This route stretches for miles along the shores of Lake Erie, offering stunning lake views and a variety of terrain. It's a great option for a longer ride, and you can break it up into sections if you're not looking for a challenge.

Mountain Biking Trails

Ohio has a surprisingly good mountain biking scene, with trails catering to all skill levels. Here are a couple of recommendations:

  • Royalview Singletrack: This trail system near Cleveland is a mecca for thrill-seekers. It features challenging climbs, heart-pounding descents, and flowy trails that will get your adrenaline pumping.

  • Innisfree Metro Park: Located in Millbury Township, this park offers single-track trails that are perfect for beginner and intermediate riders. The trails wind through beautiful forested scenery, making it a great place to enjoy a ride surrounded by nature.

Hitting the Water: Kayaking, Canoeing, and More

Ohio's beautiful rivers and lakes offer endless opportunities for paddling adventures.

Kayaking Adventures

  • Mohican State Park's Clear Fork Reservoir: This tranquil reservoir offers kayaking for all levels. Enjoy scenic views as you leisurely paddle, or find secluded coves for a relaxing break. Kayak rentals are available in the park, making it a great choice even if you don't own your own gear.

  • Big Darby Creek: This river near Columbus offers a more intimate and nature-focused paddling experience. As you kayak through forested areas, keep an eye out for deer, turtles, and various bird species.

  • Lake Erie Islands: Discover the beauty of the Lake Erie Islands from your kayak. Explore coves, cliffs, and beaches that are only accessible from the water.

Canoeing Getaways

  • Maumee River: Experience Ohio's natural beauty on this multi-day canoe trip. Camp along the riverbanks and immerse yourself in the wilderness. Watch for bald eagles soaring overhead and a glimpse of the river's diverse wildlife.

  • Little Miami River: This scenic river is perfect for paddlers of all skill levels. The Little Miami River is great for a relaxing day trip with opportunities to stop at charming towns along the way.

Winter Adventures: Skiing, Snowboarding, and Beyond

Don't let the cold deter you from enjoying the outdoors! Here are some ideas for a winter escape:

  • Mad River Mountain: Located near Columbus, Mad River is Ohio's go-to ski resort with a variety of slopes and terrain that cater to all levels.

  • Snowshoe Valley: This resort offers skiing and snowboarding, but also activities like snow tubing for those who want a more relaxed winter experience.

Exploring Beyond Skiing

  • Cross-Country Skiing in Mohican State Park: When the snow falls, take advantage of the park's hiking trails, which transform into a winter wonderland perfect for cross-country skiing.

  • Ice Fishing on Lake Erie: If you're up for a truly unique experience, try ice fishing on Lake Erie. Bundle up and venture onto the frozen lake in search of walleye, perch, and other fish.

Cullen Fischel's Tips for the Best Experience

  • Choose the right season: Ohio offers something for all seasons, so consider what activities you enjoy most when choosing the time of your visit.

  • Respect the environment: Practice Leave No Trace principles to ensure we can all enjoy Ohio's natural beauty for years to come.

  • Be prepared: Research your activity and location in advance. Check weather conditions and pack the necessary gear and supplies.

  • Embrace the unexpected: Adventures come with surprises. Maintain a flexible attitude and be open to new experiences.

The Ohio Traveler Explains

What is the best time of year for outdoor adventures in Ohio?

Every season offers something special:

  • Spring: Witness blooming wildflowers and trees, and waterfalls are at peak flow.

  • Summer: Ideal for water activities and warmer weather.

  • Fall: Breathtaking fall foliage and comfortable hiking temperatures.

  • Winter: Enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, and unique activities like ice fishing.

Are there any safety precautions I should take before venturing outdoors in Ohio?

  • Do your research: Know potential hazards, like changing weather conditions or wildlife.

  • Tell someone where you're going and when you expect to be back. Leave a trip plan with a friend or family member before heading out.

  • Pack the essentials: Includes water, snacks, first aid kit, flashlight, map, compass, etc.

What kind of wildlife might I encounter while exploring Ohio's natural areas?

Ohio is home to a variety of species, including:

  • Mammals: White-tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons, and occasionally black bears in some areas.

  • Birds: Hawks, eagles, owls, songbirds, and waterfowl.

  • Reptiles: Turtles, snakes (very few venomous), and lizards.

Always keep a safe distance from wildlife. Be prepared to encounter insects, like ticks and mosquitos, especially during warmer weather.

I hope this guide fuels your passion for exploring Ohio's outdoor spaces. Remember, adventure awaits, so go out and experience it!

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