When you think of central Ohio and the Columbus area, you might not consider it a destination for the outdoorsy type; however, the outdoor scene in Columbus has grown considerably in recent years. With developments adding green space before building, they have created eco-friendly and conscientious growth giving central Ohio and the surrounding areas some pretty stellar places to explore. With Ohio offering four seasons to enjoy, you can explore at any time of the year.
Pro-tip: Columbus is a drivable destination located in the heart of the Buckeye State and also has the John Glenn International Airport for guests arriving by air.
1. Explore Columbus Metro Parks
With 19 outstanding parks surrounding the city, you can be outdoors every day for days on end! Columbus Metro Parks are diverse in topography and activities. For example: Grab a fishing pole and head to Sharon Woods; lace up your hiking shoes and hit Highbanks Metro Parks Dripping Rock Trail, jump on your mountain bike for the terrain at Chestnut Ridge, or pick up your binoculars to see the bison at Battelle Darby. Go off-trail adventuring in any of the parks that are not considered nature preserves. Check out the online program guide and pick one of the naturalist-led programs for a well-rounded trip into the woods because the options are limitless.
Pro Tip: Most of the parks have ADA-accessible paved trails, where you can use motor scooters and walkers on level, smooth paths.
2. Walk Into History At Olentangy Indian Caverns
Adventure into Olentangy Indian Caverns, one of central Ohio’s only caves, and encounter what it might have been like to use this underworld expanse like the Wyandot tribe. Fifty-eight stairs take you down, and you have to return up those 58 stairs when you are ready to exit the cavern. What you will find inside are seven audio stations that will tell you the ancient history of the people who lived in this area and what the cavern may have been used for. After your trip back in time, spend some time enjoying the outside area. One is never too old to appreciate a good petting zoo, a little “gem mining,” a short hike on the new trail, or a friendly round of mini-golf.
Pro Tip: Relax your body and mind and connect to nature inside the cave with a cave yoga experience, it takes yoga to a whole other level.
3. Fly Through The Sky
Located just inside the 270 loop, hidden among the woods right in suburbia, is an adventure park that will stretch you to your limits. Zip Zone, Columbus’ premier outdoor zipline experience, will have you walking and soaring through the treetops. Strap on the safety gear, listen closely to the highly trained instructor, practice a bit, and then you are headed out onto your trip through the trees. I won’t lie, it was challenging. It took strength, a mind over matter determination, plus the adventure lover in me looking for a high energy thrill kept me going. Once I finished the course, I was exhausted but high on adrenaline.
Pro Tip: Grab a pint to refresh afterward at one of Columbus’ breweries or take a different kind of trail that is not outdoors, imbibe on the Columbus Ale Trail.
4. Chase Some Waterfalls
It always takes people by surprise that there is a stunning cascading waterfall right in the heart of Columbus. Hayden Falls Park Nature Preserve contains central Ohio’s best-known waterfall. Tucked in off a busy street secluded in lush woods, you’ll find this 35-foot fall at the end of a short wooden boardwalk, where it culminates at a large viewing platform. Pause, close your eyes, and listen as the water rushes over the edge into the deep pools below. I recommend coming here after a good rain; if you come in the heat of summer, it can be barely a trickle.
Pro Tip: Some steps lead down to the boardwalk from the parking lot. The wooden walkway can be slippery when it is wet, so wear good sturdy shoes when coming.
5. Stop And Smell The Roses At Franklin Park Conservatory And Botanical Gardens
Come experience a place that is alive as you are! Since 1895, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has been a Columbus staple and has welcomed lovers of everything colorful and green. Prior to becoming the conservatory, it was the first location of the Franklin County Fair and Ohio State Fair. The Palm House and Showhouse have been open to the public for over three centuries. Its vision states, “A world that celebrates nature as essential to the human experience,” embodies everything it does on its surrounding acreage and at the conservatory.
During the four seasons, the conservatory and gardens will change with the weather, bringing to life everything that the current season embodies. In spring, the flowers begin to bloom and you’ll find the Columbus Blooms event. Summer welcomes pollinator palooza celebrating our loved and needed pollinators. Fall in Ohio is a colorful time, and the conservatory does not miss this opportunity to highlight the vibrant reds, burnt oranges, and stunning yellows that grace the coniferous trees. Harvest blooms create a space to say goodbye to summer and hello to all things pumpkin spice. At this time, the campus is decorated to the hilt with orange pumpkins, multi-colored gourds, and flowering mums. As fall fades into winter, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens begins the celebration of Christmas. Old Saint Nick smiles at all the celebratory beauty it rolls out at the holiday with Conservatory Aglow. The heart of the display is stacked poinsettias and Christmas trees decorated to the hilt. The entire conservatory is open during Conservatory Aglow, so you can enjoy the warm and beautiful indoor experience in addition to venturing out into the winter chill and enjoy the light displays in the outdoor botanical gardens.
6. Bike The Scioto Trail
The Scioto Trail was the first greenway built in Columbus, and this well-maintained paved trail travels along the gorgeous downtown riverfront for 12 miles. You can spend the day on a rented bike from CoGo Bike Share, located throughout downtown. Using the rented bikes makes exploring all of central Ohio’s big draws easily accessible. Enjoy stops along the route in Upper Arlington, Scioto Mile, Grandview, and Columbus. Don’t miss the First Bicentennial Park and then a quick visit to Battelle Riverfront Park to enjoy the views of the Scioto River. Take a bike break at the Scioto Audubon Metro Park, spend some time in the nature center, and use its modern restrooms, and refill your water at the drinking fountains.
Pro Tip: CoGo Bike Share bikes are laid out around the city. Download the app to your smartphone to find the nearest available bikes.
7. Pack A Picnic For The Park Of Roses
Columbus is a foodie’s dream, and many of the downtown restaurants offer picnic packs or easy carry-out options for a splendid picnic in the park. My favorite place to spread out a blanket and have a quiet picnic is at the Columbus Park of Roses. You are surrounded by one of the largest public rose gardens in the U.S., with over 12,000 varieties of roses. After your lunch stroll through the five areas of the gardens. The formal garden is the original green space that started in 1953 and is Italianate in design. Heritage garden showcases roses that were cultivated and grown before 1867. In late spring, the smell that comes from these heritage roses is absolutely fantastic. Perennial and herb gardens combine the best of the best in blooms that will bring color from spring until late fall. Enjoy the backyard garden showcasing the trees, shrubs, and plants that can survive in Ohio’s changing seasons.
Pro Tip: Come when the dogwoods are blooming! These magnificent trees color central Ohio from late winter into early summer. This walk among the dogwoods is one of my favorite walks in Columbus.
8. Catch A Flick Under the Stars
South Drive-in Theater continues to bring nostalgia to life with its double features on the weekends! Cruise in and come early to grab a spot by one of the old-style speakers that clip onto your window, then walk up to the concession stand to get some old-fashioned buttered theater-style popcorn, giant soda, and some of those boxed candies that you love.
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