Although Columbus Ohio is not a large city — covering an area of 213 square miles — it’s packed full of distinctions. First off, it’s the state capital and home to the largest campus of Ohio State University’s six locations.
Also, Columbus is the most populated city in the state, which accounts for its nickname — The Biggest Small Town in America. Far from being a city of all work and no play, Columbus has over 400 parks within its city limits and is surrounded by dense forests and reminders that it was once buried under a glacier.
For hikers, this means a dizzying choice of trails varying in length, terrain, and level of skill needed. This concentration of places for hikes near Columbus Ohio is why new hikers and those who have hiked on trails all over the world visit its scenic parks and forests, and even a cave or two.
Hiking Your Way Around Columbus Ohio
Taking the Scioto Trail kills two birds with one stone. Also known as the Scioto Mile, this paved trail offers a brisk urban stroll while introducing you to other parks, like Batelle Riverfront Park and North Bank Park, both of which you might want to return to on another day.
And once you have your hiking shoes warmed up, it’s time to sample more challenging trails because the Scioto Trail is part of the Central Ohio Greenways, a maze of hiking routes of varying lengths and inclines that wind outward from Columbus to parks in neighboring cities. Here are two of our favorites.
Alum Creek Trail
Three Creeks Metro Park in Groveport is part of the Columbus Metro Parks System thanks to a lease signed by city fathers in 1998. It gets its name from Big Walnut Creek, Blacklick Creek, and Alum Creek flowing through it.
The 1,000-acre park is home to Alum Creek Trail, which meanders through woods and wildlife. The trail connects to other parks to the north as well.
Blacklick Creek Trail
From Three Creeks Metro Park, you can hike along the Blacklick Creek Trail to reach Blacklick Woods Metro Park. This 643 acres of green space, swamp ponds, beech and maple tree forests, and a small prairie is interesting to explore.
Depending on your energy reserve, you can continue following Blacklick Creek Trail to John F. Kennedy Park too. Or, you can call it a day and plan your next hike near Columbus Ohio.
Quarry Trails Metro Park
Visiting Quarry Trails Metro Park, the 20th park to join the Columbus Metro Park System, is like walking into a treasure trove of short easy hiking trails — from the shortest 0.09-mile, ADA-accessible Boardwalk trail to the longest 0.75-mile Millikin Falls Lower Trail and 0.75-mile Tall Wall Trail.
The three other trails are the Millikin Falls Upper Trail, the Observation Trail, and the Flat Rocks Trail, and none of them exceed 0.3 miles. If you choose, you can take the 0.35-mile Connector Trails to visit them all. And if you have a pet along, you can take it with you because all of the Quarry Trails are pet friendly.
Traveling to the City Outskirts for Hikes Near Columbus Ohio
Now that you have a taste of the many hikes near Columbus Ohio, you might want to venture a bit further out. And good news! You have a bounty of choices.
Camp Chase Trail
The good thing about choosing the Camp Chase Trail for your next hike is that it’s part of the Ohio to Erie Trail, which runs from Columbus to London Ohio, and its trailhead is located in Columbus. And since it’s popular with both bikers and hikers, there’s plenty of parking.
But don’t plan to hike the Ohio to Erie Trail in one day because it’s 321 miles long. If you’re looking to hike its entire length, you’ll want to plan a section a day, and there’s no better place to start than the about 15-mile Camp Chase Trail.
This scenic trail follows an active railroad track and passes through farming areas and cow pastures, so you’ll have so much to look at that you may not even notice there’s a 321-foot change in elevation.
Plus, if you’re a history buff, you might be interested in the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery on the Columbus portion of the trail.
Overlook Loop & Dripping Rock Trail
When it comes to conjuring up images, how great are the names Overlook Loop and Dripping Rock Trail? And they don’t hold empty promises. In fact, they’re the most popular hikes in the Columbus Metro Parks system.
The combined 5.8-mile trail forms a loop, so you can start and end at the visitor’s center parking lot in Highbanks Metro Park. What you can look forward to in between is a moderate hike along a rolling terrain.
While in the park, you’ll see steep ravines and shale bluffs along the Olentangy River. As you continue through the tranquility of the nature preserve, you’ll enjoy the earthy smells of the forest that borders the Dripping Rock Trail.
Gahanna Woods State Nature Preserve Trail
Getting to Gahanna Woods State Nature Preserve requires a less than 20-minute drive from downtown Columbus, but the wildflowers, abundant native plants, and thick forests that greet you on the way are reminiscent of the rural interior.
That’s why many locals will tell you that this tranquil, fertile nature preserve in Gahanna Ohio is one of their favorite places for hikes near Columbus Ohio. The 99-acre park has 1 mile of hiking trails through open meadows.
The scenery can change several times. One minute, you’ll find yourself in awe of brightly colored wildflowers, but walk along a bit more, and you’re in the midst of a pin-oak silver maple swamp forest growing around a woodland pool.
It’s worth noting that since many areas of Gahanna Woods are subject to flooding and muddy paths, it’s best to visit on sunny days when the ground is dry or to limit your hiking to the areas serviced by forest boardwalks.
Rock House Trail
About a one-hour drive from downtown Columbus will take you to one of the most delightful hiking trails in the area. Rock House trail is located in Laurelville within Hocking Hills State Park.
This amazing trail requires negotiating a steep but short incline, but once you get to the unique warren of caves at its end, you’ll grab your cell phone and snap a shot or two. And while there are six more hiking trails in the park, you might find yourself lingering here to explore the caves.
The trail takes its name from the House of Rock, the only true cave in the park. With its 25-foot ceiling and a 200-foot-long and 30-foot-wide corridor, it qualifies as more of a cavern than a cave.
Years of water leaking through the cavern walls hollowed out a corridor under the sandstone before Mother Nature carved horizontal columns. The result is what appears to be seven gothic arched windows.
More Things to Experience in Columbus Ohio
Although Columbus Ohio doesn’t have dramatic mountains or sparkling bodies of water, it offers picturesque trails in every direction.
And while exploring these vastly different hiking trails is a wonderful way to get fresh air and exercise during spring, winter, and autumn, many are also open in the winter for winter hikes near Columbus Ohio, as well as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Should cold winds blow as they tend to do in the Midwest, Columbus doesn’t lack indoor activities:
- Art aficionados can take in the European and American paintings in the Columbus Museum of Art and admire the sculptures in its sculpture garden.
- Young budding scientists can participate in the hands-on activities in the COSI Science Center and explore the heavens in its planetarium.
- Fans of architectural history can visit the German Village where the streets are lined with restored brick houses built by European settlers in the 1800s.
- If you have kids on board, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Legoland Discovery Center or the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
Ohio State Campus
And, don’t forget the elephant in the room — the Ohio State Campus. Not only are there Buckeye football games to attend, but if you find yourself hankering for a hike, you can take a self-guided walking tour around the campus and get a lay of the land.
The 3-mile walk meanders along paved paths, taking you past the Thompson Library and Mirror Lake, through Buckeye Grove, onto the campus oval, and finally around St John Arena before dropping you off at the Olentangy River.
Explore More of Columbus Ohio
No matter when you decide to experience Columbus Ohio, you’ll find tons of things to do — from spring to winter. After you see why Columbus Ohio is known as the Biggest Small Town in America, tell us what you think in the comments.