UPDATED NOV 25, 2019
Looking for a break from Columbus city life? From the thickly-wooded southeast to the lakes and meadows farther north, you're just a short drive away from a long-needed nature getaway.
Casually known as the “Canoe capital of Ohio,” Mohican State Park is worth the drive (about 80 minutes), and gas money is about all you’ll spend. The state park and 4,000-plus-acre Mohican-Memorial State Forest both have free entry and plenty of activities for the naturalist in you. Canoe or kayak the Clear For River, or get crazy in a rented speedboat on nearby Pleasant Hill Lake where there's no horsepower limit. Ready to settle down for the night? All registered campers get access to the pool and the stash of board games available for loan at the campground store.
If you have any friends who are OU alums, you’ve certainly heard about Hocking Hills and its most popular destination: Old Man’s Cave. More of a large rock recess than a true cave, the combination of gorge, waterfalls and scenic trails make for a stunning experience year-round. While you’re in the area, check out the view from above with a canopy zip-line tour. While tent camping is available throughout Hocking Hills, the area is famous for its cabins — and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one without a hot tub. So, bring the bathing suits and soak those tired hiking toes!
Go west and hit up Indian Lake State Park in Lakeview where you’ll find a 5,800-acre lake. Bring the jet skis for this expedition northwest on Highway 33, just past Bellefontaine. There are two public beaches on the lake, and water skiing is permitted. Head back in the winter for ice skating and fishing, as well as cross-country skiing on trails that offer a spectacular view of the lake. Public camping and cabins are available, but you can also check out the privately-owned homes and campgrounds for rent, as this is a popular residential area.
Wayne National Forest, parts of which are just an hour’s drive from Columbus, is home to over 300 miles of forest trails for hiking, cycling, and off-road motoring. Parts of the forest were strip-mined in the late 1960s and '70s, and while the area is now protected and in better hands, the mining left behind some challenging courses — so bring the fat tires! Camping is available throughout the forest, but some popular spots are near Lake Vesuvius, Stone Church Horse Camp, and Burr Oak Cove. Bonus: since it’s a national forest, you can camp for free on select days each year!
Ohio’s oldest state park is still one of its best. We invite you to take an easy trip on I-70 East to Buckeye Lake State Park. While the state park itself does not rent campsites, you can find cabin and tent camping spaces through Buckeye Lake/Columbus East KOA in Thornville. Also, many of the area’s residents are seasonal, so check out Airbnb for a weekend lakeside getaway that may be more “glamping” than camping. Bring your fishing poles and swimming gear for daytime fun. Then at night, trade your deck shoes for dancing shoes, and join the locals at Papa Boo’s for live waterfront music and good eats.
Just 40 minutes north of the city you'll find the beautiful Delaware State Park. Inside the park is a 1,300-acre reservoir full of fisherman’s delights: largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, and muskellunge. Hike the trails, picnic by the lake, and grab a campsite year-round.
A quick 14-mile jog over to Canal Winchester will put you at Jackson Lake Campground and its brand new—wait for it—Aqua Park! Relive your summer camp days with inflatable obstacles (like the blob) and rafts on the lake. Camping options run from primitive (bring your own tent) to glamping (a yurt plus a real bed and climate control) to cabins. Scheduled activities throughout the year include wine and painting nights and a Halloween party weekend.
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