Go Outside and Play: Ohio’s 23 Best Parks
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is Ohio’s only national park, but you couldn’t ask for a better example of Ohio’s natural splendor. Just a short drive south of downtown Cleveland, Cuyahoga Valley has plenty to offer any visitor. A few highlights of the park are the 65-foot high Brandywine Falls, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, and the historic village of Peninsula.
Ohio’s National Park covers 33,000 acres of parkland, leaving you and your family many weekends of exploration.
Just outside of Twinsburg is one of the hidden gems of Northeast Ohio. Liberty Park has a diverse offering of natural spaces for a suburban park. Visitors will delight in the natural beauty of the Tinkers Creek Nature Preserve and the towering Twinsburg Ledges area, both located in the park. You can explore both and more on the numerous trails within the park.
Holden Arboretum is just a short drive from historic downtown Chardon in Geauga County. The arboretum will be a unique experience for many visitors, including Ohioans. Some of the many offerings of the Holden Arboretum include a butterfly garden, several rhododendron gardens, a hedge collection, and the famous Canopy Walk.
It may be hard to believe, but Mill Creek Park in Youngstown rivals other large metropolitan parks like Central Park in terms of absolute beauty and depth. The sprawling park covers 4,400 acres and has diverse areas and topography. Highlights of the park for new visitors include Lanterman’s Mill, several historic bridges, the Wall Garden, and many archaeological sites from Youngstown’s steel-making history.
Located in downtown Kent, Franklin Mills Riveredge Park is small compared with other parks on this list, but will surprise you with its design and features. The main focus of the park in the Cuyahoga River with an arched stone dam. You can explore the river along a boardwalk that follows the river. There are plenty of observation areas, as well as benches and tables to enjoy your day in downtown Kent.
Bonus: Killbuck Marsh
Located between Millersburg and Wooster, Killbuck Marsh is a hidden gem just south of Route 30. The area has an extensive natural history, and several Ice Age animals such as mastodon have been unearthed. Some of these animals can be seen at the Killbuck Valley Museum, just down the road.
Hocking Hills is quite possibly the most famous of all the Ohio State Parks. Within minutes of arriving, you will certainly see why. The park is divided into five sections, but really they are parks within parks and all worth a visit. Absolute must-see features include the falls at Old Man’s Cave, the Cantwell Cliffs, and the nearby Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve.
Beyond the parks, there are rustic cabins to stay in the area and lots of unique small towns to explore.
Just south of Hocking Hills State Park is Lake Hope. The park is encapsulated by Zaleski State Forest, making for some beautiful scenery. The beach is a great place to relax and go for a swim. The area has numerous hiking trails and connectors, including a trek up to the famous Moonville Tunnel. You can also visit the restored Hope Furnace, a blast furnace that sits near one end of the lake.
Just a few miles from historic Cambridge, is Salt Fork State Park, Ohio’s largest state park. The Park surrounds much of Salt Fork Lake and offers a variety of activities, such as hiking, boating, horseback riding, and golf.
The Salt Fork Lodge is a great place to stay with the family, as well as host a conference.
Named for a famed, and lost, Native American petroglyph that was found in the gorge, Blackhand Gorge is one of the most beautiful areas in Central Ohio. The preserve has many hiking trails to explore, as well as remnants of its past, including a section of the Ohio & Erie Canal locks and an interurban tunnel. Visitors can also explore the area via canoe or kayak on the Licking River.
Renowned in Central Ohio for boating, Buckeye Lake State Park is a water lover’s paradise. The lake is surrounded by quaint communities, and has plenty of activities for non-boaters as well. You can even visit Cranberry Bog, which is a natural marvel. Tours of the bog usually occur in June.
Located between the historic communities of Wooster, Millersburg, Mount Vernon, and Ashland, Mohican is a forested oasis and perfect for a weekend getaway. The park has several hiking trails, campgrounds, and even a covered bridge. For a unique place to stay during your visit, check out the treehouses at The Mohicans.
Just east of Columbus, you will find a true gem of a park, Dawes Arboretum. The Arboretum seems to have it all: historic Daweswood Farm, numerous trails, a nature center, formal Japanese garden, and even a driving tour. It’s a definite stop for any nature lover, and best of all, it’s free to visit!
Located just south of Lancaster, Rhododendron Cove Preserve sits on an unassuming hill, but offers a bounty of beauty once you make it to the summit. Atop the hill are dozens of Rhododendrons nestled amongst rocky outcroppings, making for great photography. After visiting Rhododendron Cove, travel down the road and visit two additional parks: Wahkeena Nature Preserve and Clear Creek Metro Park.
Bonus: Topiary Park
On the eastside of downtown Columbus, The Topiary Park is a living art installation on the grounds of the former Ohio Deaf School campus. Visitors can either take docent-led tours or explore the park on their own. In addition to the numerous plant sculptures, there is also a “tree walk” visitors can take to see the many types of trees within the park.
Located near the historic Village of Clifton, John Bryan State Park is defined by the Little Miami River and the Clifton Gorge area it carved out. The striking features of the gorge and the forested landscape surrounding it make for some beautiful hiking scenery year-round. The next time you visit Clifton Mill, make sure to stop by John Bryan State Park.
Nestled between Waynesville and Harveysburg, Caesar Creek State Park is a fossil hunter’s playground. You will need to apply for a fossil collecting permit to hunt fossils at the park, but it is well worth the effort. Some common finds include trilobites, brachiopods, and corals. In addition to fossil hunting, the park also offers camping, swimming, and boating. Other attractions in the area include historic downtown Lebanon and Caesar’s Creek Pioneer Village.
Like the name suggests, the prominent feature of the Fallsville Wildlife Area is a large, serene waterfall. The small park packs in the beauty and is perfect for a relaxing afternoon stroll to the eye-pleasing waterfall and old mill site.
While in the area, check out the historic downtown of nearby Wilmington. There are a lot of great shops and the inside of the Clinton County Courthouse is stunning.
When you look at “must-see” lists of Cincinnati, you will undoubtedly come across Ault Park. A visit to the park will certainly show you why. As you arrive, you will immediately notice the large and picturesque Renaissance-style pavilion, popular with wedding parties. Beyond the pavilion, you will find several walking trails, a beautiful botanical garden, and plenty of relaxing space.
Side Cut Metropark is steeped in history. The park occupied land that was once part of a side cut of the Miami & Erie Canals. You can still visit 3 of the 6 locks from the canals, having been restored by WPA workers in the 1930s. Beyond the historic locks, the park offers picturesque scenery, an extensive network of trails, and plenty of wildlife.
Wildwood Preserve was once the home of Champion Spark Plug founder, Robert Stranahan. The park has an amazing wooded trail network and the property still has the Georgian Colonial Manor House Stranahan built. It is a must visit park in the heart of Toledo.
Every spring, thousands of migratory birds visit Magee Marsh on their way to their summer nesting spots. Located on the shore of Lake Erie, the marsh is not only a destination for birders, but the extensive trail network of the wildlife area and nature center make for a great afternoon out with the family.
Unlike other parks on this list, getting to North Bass Island is a bit challenging to get to, but worth the hassle. Currently, the only means to get to the island are boat and airplane. Once you get to the island, you’ll be able to take in the gorgeous, untouched wilderness. Fishing is permitted on the island, as well as hiking and camping via permit.
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