Being smack in the middle of the state gives Columbus residents easy access to a variety of natural resources in our own backyard. From the thickly-wooded southeastern side of the state to the lakes and meadows farther north, you are a short drive from a long-needed primitive getaway. Even if your idea of primitive is a bathroom outside the comforts of home, you can find a camping spot near Columbus that suits your style.
Mohican State Park
You’ve probably never heard of Loudonville, but maybe that’s the point if you’re trying to get away for a weekend. 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 and get in a speedboat on nearby Pleasant Hill Lake — there is 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.
Deer Creek State Park
Trust us on this one — drive to Deer Creek and the park will take care of the rest. Not into the whole some-assembly-required shelter? Check out Deer Creek State Park Lodge, complete with hotel-style guest rooms, pool, and full bar and restaurant. There are also pet-friendly cabins for those who can’t camp without the fur babies. Bring your clubs to hit the par-72 championship golf course. Or for those of you who actually like outdoorsy camping, get out on one of the hiking trails around Deer Creek Lake in the summer, and come back in the winter for snowmobiling and sledding.
Old Man’s Cave
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. Seriously, profile-pic worthy. 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!
Lazy River at Granville
Does the idea of just relaxing and “escaping it all” bore you to tears? You can still get primitive close to home while keeping yourself occupied. Head 25 miles east to a charming Granville getaway that includes zip-lining, a two-story challenge course, and laser tag. There’s even a pinewood derby competition held several times a year for all ages. Bring out the inner kid in you (who probably doesn’t take much coaxing) while getting a much-needed escape from adulting. Stay overnight and bring the dog — pets are welcome, with dog park included! There is also Wi-Fi available for a small fee if you simply can’t disconnect.
Indian Lake State Park
Go west and hit up Indian Lake State Park in Lakeview where you’ll find (unsurprisingly) 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 also check out privately-owned homes and campgrounds for rent, as this is a popular residential area.
Wayne National Forest
Calling all ATV enthusiasts! 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 yes, off-road motoring. Parts of the forest were strip-mined in the late 1960s and 1970s, and while the area is now protected and in better hands, the mining left behind some challenging courses — so bring the fat tires! Once you’re out of gas (both you and the ATV), know that camping is available throughout the forest, but some choice spots would be 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 (didn’t know that, did you?) 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 (or go barefoot — we don’t judge) and join the locals at Papa Boo’s for live waterfront music and good eats.
Delaware State Park
You get a line, we’ll get a pole and we’ll head 40 minutes north of the city to beautiful Delaware State Park, where a 1,300-acre reservoir is full of fisherman’s delights: largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, and muskellunge. Duck and other game hunting are also permitted in the wildlife area. Just here for the live animals? Grab a campsite year-round and have a picnic by the lake.
Malabar Farm State Park
You may not remember who Louis Bromfield was (Pulitzer Prize-winning author, if you’re curious), but you can still enjoy his beautiful farm that has been preserved in its 1930s-era condition. Take a walk through Bromfield’s mansion or a wagon ride around the farm if you’re visiting May through October. Got a sweet tooth? The farm hosts a Maple Syrup Festival every March. If you’re there any other time of the year, you can still find delicious eats at the Malabar Farm Restaurant, which uses food and meat grown right on the farm. Camping spots are available, as well as a youth hostel.
Ohio Expo Center
No, not a typo. There are 350 campsites available at the Ohio Expo Center year-round. Important: there is NO tent camping — this is for RV-style camping only. However, this could pay off in the event you can borrow Uncle Tommy’s Winnebago so you can squat for standing-room-only concert tickets.
Jackson Lake Campground
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.