Get out and enjoy some fresh air at scenic hiking trails in Columbus and Central Ohio! Whether you are novice or expert – or somewhere in between – it’s always nice to explore different parks or trails. Check them out at different times throughout the year to see how the scenery changes with the season.
You don’t need fancy hiking gear to explore these hiking trails in Columbus. You’ll want comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting wet, muddy, or dirty, depending on the trail. Sunscreen and bug spray are always good idea in Ohio. You should also take water and a snack (unless you’re opting for one of the quick 1 mile trails). Take out what you take in – no littering!
Nature walks and scenic hiking trails in Columbus
Guest contributor and avid hiker, Dave K, has put together a list of nature walks and scenic hiking trails in Columbus that range from as short as 1 mile, and up to nearly 5 miles if you combine trails. Whether you have 20 minutes or 2 hours, you’ll find a trail that will suit your day. Read below to find out about the views you’ll take in, trail conditions, restroom availability, and other tips, along with photos and a cool animated feature showing an overview of the hike described.
Shale Hollow Park – Lewis Center
Hours: 8 AM – 9 PM
Location: 6320 Artesian Run, Lewis Center, OH 43035
Restrooms: Indoor (may be closed), Two Porta-John style facilities
If I were to ask you to name a park in the Lewis Center area, I am willing to bet you would say Highbanks Metro Park. And with good reason, it is the Gold Standard of Columbus parks. But there is another little gem just a few miles north.
Shale Hollow Park opened just a few years ago. I finally had an opportunity to hike the two trails in the park – the Great Horned Owl Trail, and the Overlook Trail.
Great Horned Owl Trail is an approximately 1.1 mile loop trail. You can access this trail at two locations within the park at either of the two parking lots. The trail has a nice canopy cover for about ½ of its length with the middle of the trail being out in the open. Be warned, this could be a very hot walk if you do this on a hot sunny summer day. The wooded area has a variety of deciduous trees, including; American Beech, American Hazelnut, Sassafras, Serviceberry and Spicebush in the understory. Sycamore, Cottonwood and Ohio Buckeye down near the floodplain of Big Run creek.
The other trail in the park is Overlook Trail. Just slightly shorter at an even 1 mile in length, this one was more scenic, in my opinion. Starting at the last parking lot in the park, this trail starts when you cross a wooden bridge that spans the Big Run Creek. To the left is the Off-Trail Exploration Area (Natural Play Area). This is an area where kids and adults alike can wade in the creek and observe the layers of shale that compose the cliffs rising from the creek.
To the right the trail continues up a short but steep hill that overlooks the Natural Play Area and Bigrun below. This portion of the trail (southern half) is unimproved and would definitely be muddy and slippery after a rain. The trail to this point is under a full canopy of both deciduous and conifers and extends north in two loops: the first – an unimproved trail – was just described.
The second, northern loop is mowed and connects to a walking path along Hyatts Road. Pets are allowed on the northern loop, with access only from Hyatts Road. Pets are not allowed on the southern half of this trail. You can also access the park on foot from Hyatt road. There is a bike rack at the start of the trail so you can ride to the park and lock your bike up safely. This northern loop wends through a grassy meadow.
Note: Although the official mileage for both trails should be 2.1 miles, my GPS tracker app said I did 3.5 miles. This mileage does include a few off-trail jaunts as well as a walk around the Natural Play Area.
To view an animated tracking of a hike on these two trails, go here: https://www.relive.cc/view/vZqNNQEoj3q
Highbanks Metro Park River Bluff Area
Hours: 7 AM – 7:30 PM
Location: 8400 Olentangy River Rd, Columbus, OH 43235
The River Bluff Area is a new addition to Highbanks Park. And completely separated from the main grounds by the Olentangy River. The only access to this portion of the park other than by boat or swimming the river, is the entrance on route 315. There is really only one loop trail here but it’s been divided into two by names only.
The Eagle View Trail starts at the gravel parking and leads you down the hill to the floodplain level of the river. This trail is neatly groomed crushed limestone and is .4 miles in length. On the way down the hill you see a stand of trees that are obviously all the same species. When I first saw this I was reminded of the many stands of Aspen trees I saw when hiking in Colorado.
The second trail is aptly named Sycamore Trail. It changes from the crushed limestone to a mixture of nicely cut grass to areas of mud. So be prepared if it’s rained in the days before you visit. I was surprised to see so many young Sycamore trees in one area. As much as I’ve hiked in the past decade, I don’t recall seeing this anywhere else.
The stand of trees are on one side of the trail, the other side has the river and some huge Sycamores, with a view of the bluffs as well.
Many short side trails are accessible that will take you close to the river and in some spots you can get a great view of the river, the mature trees, and the bluffs. Not a long hike but a very relaxing place to be. Many signs of deer were visible and you have a great chance of seeing a Bald Eagle or two.
To view an animated tracking of a hike on these two trails, go here: https://www.relive.cc/view/v7O9wm2p5Lq
Antrim Park Lake Trail
Hours: 7 AM – 11 PM
Location: 5800 Olentangy River Rd, Columbus, OH 43085
Restrooms: Porta-John style near the parking lots
Antrim Park is just off Route 315. The park portion is mostly open fields used for soccer, softball and ultimate frisbee games as well as tennis courts. But if you are in the mood for a nice walk, I’d suggest taking the 1.2 mile trail that circles the lake.
To get to the lake, park in the parking lot furthest from the entrance. Then follow the paved path under Route 315 to the trail. The lake trail is a crushed limestone. It is as wide as a one lane road so lots of room for everyone. Recent flooding has caused some damage in the form of limestone washed away, leaving some large (in diameter) potholes. But this is in only a few spots. A view of the lake is visible all the way around the trail and there are many benches placed for those that want to rest and take in the view. These are also a good spot for people watching as this park attracts runners and walkers alike in large numbers.
This is a great spot for dog owners to let their dogs go for a swim and you will see many dogs playing in the water. The Olentangy Bike Trail passes by the lake on the west side. This trail is also very busy with runners, cyclists and dog walkers.
Although trees surround the outside perimeter of this trail, on sunny days you will be exposed to the sun on approximately half the trail, so wear sunblock and bring some water.
To view an animated tracking of a hike on this trail, go here: https://www.relive.cc/view/v8qV1mJXE76
M.L. “Red” Trabue Nature Preserve
Hours: 8 AM – 8 PM
Location: 6500 Post Rd, Dublin, OH 43016
I only found out about this park because a runner friend of mine posted some photos of her run here. It is a nice little park for a walk, run or bike ride. And due to the fact that the majority of the trails in the preserve are designated as “Multi-use”, you will see all of those activities. Although the majority of the trails are paved, I still enjoyed my time here. (I’m an “unimproved trail” type of guy).
There is a log cabin here with information kiosks detailing its history. Visit several small ponds where you can sit on a dock and fish or just enjoy the ducks and other waterfowl swimming. On the other side of the park there is an arboretum. All the trees are identified with their common name and scientific name. Did you know there are more than just one type of Buckeye tree? I didn’t. This park has at least four different types.
One good thing about paved trails, they rarely get muddy. And you can walk on them with whatever shoes you happen to be wearing. This is a good place for a walk after it has rained. Or while it’s raining if you enjoy that. If you use all the trails, you could get about 3 miles or more in distance.
To view an animated tracking of a hike on these trails, go here: https://www.relive.cc/view/vrqDmjP8rwv
Chestnut Ridge Metro Park
Hours: 6:30 AM – 7 PM
Location: 8445 Winchester Rd NW, Carroll, OH 43112
Restrooms: Permanent recycling toilets near parking lots
There aren’t a lot of trails at this metro park compared to some others. But I enjoy going here when I want to get in a good workout and enjoy nature. There are some nice elevation changes on the three main trails, all of which connect to make a loop of approximately 2 miles. Trails are mostly crushed gravel and dirt.
The Meadows Trail takes you through mostly grass meadows and I almost always see some type of wildlife here. I have seen deer, pheasant, and turkeys grazing in the fields. When this trail merges into the Ridge Trail, you will be under a full canopy of trees. This makes it a very pleasant reprieve from the summer sun.
Once you are on the Ridge Trail take a good look at the contour of the land. You are on a pretty high ridge. But don’t worry, You are not close to any drop off if you stay on the trail.
On the Ridge Trail there are a couple of overlooks via wood decks. On one of them you used to be able to see the Columbus City skyline. However, due to the growth of the trees, I don’t believe this is possible any longer. But the view of the forest is pretty. You will get to walk along a fairly long boardwalk before you start your descent down a pretty steep hill. I forgot to mention that there are several park benches along the trail so that you can rest or just take in nature for a bit.
To view an animated tracking of a hike on these trails, go here: https://www.relive.cc/view/vDqgJonLEV6
Prairie Oaks Metro Park
Hours: 6:30 AM – 9 PM
Location: 3225 NE Plain City-Georgesville Rd, West Jefferson, OH 43162
Restrooms: Recycling toilets and Porta-John style facilities near parking lots
Prairie Oaks Metro Parks has over 2,200 acres of prairies (mostly prairie), woods, and ponds.
This park west of Columbus is a great place for viewing sunsets as the view isn’t obstructed by trees, buildings, or power lines. But there is so much to do here including kayaking, fishing and hiking.
My favorite hike starts in the Sycamore Plains entrance to the park (accessed on Amity Rd.). The mixture of trails I most recently hiked for this review were the Sycamore Plains, Alder, Lakeview, and Coneflower Trails. That route gave me a very enjoyable, nearly 5 mile hike.
The Sycamore Trail is mostly a cut grass trail through the prairie. Many flowers bloom seasonally in this area. One drawback with hiking in fields, if the sun is high, it gets hot. But I hiked in the early evening when it was just right.
When the trail goes down into the woods be wary that you will encounter muddy areas as it is an unimproved one. This portion of the trail has the only real elevation change in the park. It also is quite active with mosquitos. So bring bug spray and apply before you start your hike. Other than the potential for bugs, the wooded portion of the trail is my favorite part as there is the river on one side, the woods on all sides, and a lake on the other side. This opens up again when you come to the Lakeview Trail and Coneflower Trail.
You may see kayakers in any of the many lakes along the Lakeview trail. You are just as likely to see deer as you walk the Coneflower Trail. These last two trails are mostly crushed gravel and rather flat, as is most of the park.
To view an animated tracking of a hike on these trails, go here: https://www.relive.cc/view/vE6JdoK4Yxv
We hope you found some hikes to check out this summer and fall!
As always, plan to complete your hike during daylight hours if you are visiting a new trail. Walk with a buddy when possible, or tell someone where you’ll be, and when you should be back. Carry a charged cell phone and/or whistle or other noise-making device if you are by yourself (both for personal safety, and in case of injury or being lost).
About the author
Hello everyone. I’m Dave. I love to hike, bike, kayak, and just about any outdoor adventure that won’t kill me. In my spare time, I lead groups of fellow outdoor enthusiasts on adventures in Columbus, around Ohio, and surrounding states. Contact me at: Davek_@63wowway.com
Other articles of interest
- Columbus Zoo Reopening Plan
- Zoombezi Bay Reopening Plan
- Cedar Point Reopening Plan
- Franklin Park Conservatory Reopening Plan
- Free or cheap events this weekend in Columbus
- What’s open in Ohio: Reopening phases and what you need to know
- Drive in Theatres in Ohio
- Fun and Tasty Adventure Trails in Ohio
- Ultimate guide to Columbus restaurants with pickup and delivery
- Food freebies, delivery, and cheap eats in Columbus
- Farmers Markets in Columbus (and the changes for 2020)
- Farm delivery and CSA’s in Columbus for local produce, meat, and dairy
- Freebies for healthcare workers and frontline employees
- Senior shopping hours in Columbus stores
- Skip the stores: Grocery pickup and delivery in Columbus
- The most beautiful public gardens in Columbus
- Planetariums and Astronomy: Best places to see the stars in Ohio
- Walking labyrinths in Columbus and Central Ohio
- Caverns, animals, and more at Olentangy Indian Caverns
- Easton Drive-in Movies Sunset Series
- Explore the Magical Fairy Trail in Granville
- Details about Splash Pads in Columbus for 2020