8 best outdoor activities near Columbus
When you think of central Ohio and the Columbus area, you might not think of it as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts; however, the outdoor scene in Columbus has grown considerably in recent years. With developments adding green space before construction, they’ve created environmentally conscious 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 anytime of the year.
Pro tip: Columbus is a walkable destination located in the heart of Buckeye State and also has John Glenn International Airport for guests arriving by air.
1. Explore the Columbus Metropolitan Parks
With 19 exceptional parks surrounding the city, you can be outdoors every day for days! Columbus Metropolitan Parks are diverse in topography and activities. For example: grab a fishing rod and head to Sharon Woods; Put on your hiking boots and hike the Highbanks Metro Parks Dripping Rock Trail, hop on your mountain bike for the terrain at Chestnut Ridge, or grab your binoculars to see the bison at Battelle Darby. Go on an adventure off the beaten track in one of the parks that are not considered nature reserves. Check out the online program guide and choose one of the naturalist-led programs for a comprehensive trip to the woods, as the options are limitless.
Pro tip: Most parks have paved trails accessible to the ADA, where you can use scooters and walkers on flat, smooth paths.
2. Enter history in the Indian caves of Olentangy
Adventure in Olentangy Indian Caves, one of the only caves in central Ohio, and find out what it could have been like to use this subterranean expanse as the Wyandot Tribe. Fifty-eight steps take you down and you have to go up those 58 steps when you are ready to exit the cave. Inside you will find seven audio stations that will tell you the ancient history of the inhabitants of this region and what the cave may have been used for. After your time travel, spend some time enjoying the outdoor space. You’re never too old to enjoy a good petting zoo, a little “gemstone mine”, a short hike on the new trail, or a friendly round of mini-golf.
Pro tip: Relax your body and mind and connect with nature inside the cave with cave yoga experience, it takes yoga to a whole new level.
3. Fly in the sky
Located just inside Loop 270, hidden among the woods in the suburbs, is an adventure park that will push you to your limits. Zip Zone, Columbus’ first outdoor zipline experience, will have you hike and soar through the treetops. Put on safety gear, listen intently to the highly trained instructor, practice a bit, and then set off on your journey through the trees. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult. It took strength, a mind on determining matter, and the adventure lover in me looking for a high energy thrill kept me going. By the time the class was over, I was exhausted but full of adrenaline.
Pro tip: Grab a pint to cool off afterwards at one of Columbus’ breweries or take a different kind of trail that isn’t outside, soak up the Columbus Beer Trail.
4. Chase stunts
It always takes people by surprise that there is a magnificent waterfall right in the heart of Columbus. Hayden Falls Park Nature Reserve contains the most famous waterfall in central Ohio. Tucked away on a busy secluded street in lush woods, you’ll find this 35-foot waterfall at the end of a short boardwalk, where it culminates at a large viewing platform. Take a break, close your eyes, and listen to the water rush 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 barely be a trickle.
Pro tip: A few steps lead down to the promenade from the parking lot. The wooden walkway can be slippery when wet, so wear good, sturdy shoes when you come.
5. Stop and smell the roses at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Come and discover a place that is as lively as you are! Since 1895, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has been a Columbus staple and welcomed lovers of all things colorful and green. Before it became the conservatory, it was the first location of the Franklin County Fair and the Ohio State Fair. The Palm House and Showhouse have been open to the public for over three centuries. Her vision states: “A world that celebrates nature as essential to the human experience”, embodies everything she does on her surrounding lands and at the conservatory.
Over the course of the four seasons, the conservatory and gardens will change over time, bringing to life all that the current season embodies. In the spring the flowers start to bloom and you will find the Columbus Blooms event. Summer welcomes the palooza pollinators celebrating our beloved and needed pollinators. Fall in Ohio is a colorful time, and the conservatory doesn’t miss this opportunity to showcase the vibrant reds, burnt oranges, and gorgeous yellows that adorn the evergreens. Harvest blossoms create a space to say goodbye to summer and hello pumpkin spice. At this time, the campus is decorated to the hilt with orange pumpkins, multi-colored squash and blooming mums. As fall gives way to winter, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens begins the celebration of Christmas. Old Saint Nick smiles at all the festive beauty he rolls out over the holidays with Aglow Conservatory. The heart of the exhibit are stacked poinsettias and Christmas trees decorated to the hilt. The entire conservatory is open for Aglow Conservatory, so that you can enjoy the warm and beautiful indoor experience in addition to venturing into the winter cold and enjoying the play of light in the outdoor botanical gardens.
6. Cycling the Scioto Trail
The Scioto Trail was the first greenway built in Columbus, and this well-maintained paved trail runs along the beautiful downtown riverside for 12 miles. You can spend the day on a rental bike from CoGo bike sharing, located throughout the city center. Use of the rented bikes makes exploring all of central Ohio’s major draws easily accessible. Take advantage of stops along the route at Upper Arlington, Scioto Mile, Grandview, and Columbus. Don’t miss the First Bicentennial Park, then a quick visit to Battelle Riverfront Park to take in the views of the Scioto River. Take a cycling break in Scioto Audubon Metropolitan Park, spend time in the nature center, use its modern toilets and fill up with water at the fountains.
Pro tip: CoGo Bike Share bikes are available throughout the city. Download the app on your smartphone to find the nearest available bikes.
7. Prepare a picnic for the rose park
Columbus is a foodie’s dream, and many downtown restaurants offer picnic baskets or easy-to-pack options for a splendid picnic in the park. My favorite place to spread a blanket and have a quiet picnic is at Columbus Park of Roses. You are surrounded by one of the largest public rose gardens in the United States, with over 12,000 varieties of roses. After your lunch, take a stroll through the five areas of the gardens. The formal garden is the original green space which began in 1953 and is Italian in design. The Heritage Garden features roses that were grown and cultivated before 1867. In late spring, the smell that emanates from these heritage roses is absolutely fantastic. Perennial and herb gardens combine the best of the best in bloom that will bring color from spring until late fall. Enjoy the backyard garden showcasing the trees, shrubs, and plants that can survive Ohio’s changing seasons.
Pro tip: Come when the dogwoods are in bloom! These magnificent trees color central Ohio from late winter to early summer. This dogwood walk is one of my favorite walks in Columbus.
8. Watch a movie under the stars
South drive-in continues to bring nostalgia to life with its dual functionality on weekends! Navigate and come early to grab a seat by one of the old-fashioned speakers that clip onto your window, then head to the concession stand to get some old-fashioned buttered popcorn from theater style, giant soda and some of those boxed candies you love.
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