Float, paddle, fish and enjoy the newly popular waterways.

Rivers were the original trails for the earliest Ohioans, but they later suffered decades of neglect and disuse. Now, after the removal of dangerous low-head dams and the addition of access points for kayaks and canoes, Central Ohioans are showing renewed interest in local waterways. Whether you prefer a peaceful float or a more rigorous river run, here are some of the best paddling spots in the area.

Natural River Paddle: Big Darby Creek from Alkire Road to Darbydale

Protected land borders both sides of Big Darby Creek between the boat launch at Alkire Road and the Osprey Lake area in Darbydale. This sheltered stretch allows for close encounters with wildlife, including beavers, birds and deer. You don't need your own boat for this trip; Trapper John's Canoe Livery in Darbydale features this section of river among its rental trip options.

Urban Wildlife Float: Scioto River through Dublin

First-timers on this stretch of river frequently express surprise that a float through one of Central Ohio's most groomed suburbs can feel so wild. While the Bridge Street District has encroached a bit, the run from Amberleigh Community Park (where the city has provided a slide and stairs to help boaters navigate a steep bank) to Dublin Springs Park is a remarkably quiet wildlife corridor frequented by bald eagles, cormorants and wood ducks.

Birding Paddle: Hoover Reservoir

The waters, wetlands and woodlands at Hoover rank among the top birding properties around, especially for waterfowl during migrations and for shorebirds in the fall, when low water levels create mudflats at the upper reaches of the reservoir. The 10-horsepower limit on motors is a gift to hand-powered boaters who dodge ski boats and joy riders on other Central Ohio reservoirs.

Paddle-Pedal: Olentangy River from Broad Meadows Boulevard to Northmoor Park

“Let's go boating,” you say. “I want to take a bike ride,” your friend counters. Avoid a standoff and do both. Olentangy Paddle offers a float-and-ride through north Columbus, providing boats, bikes and hauling for a fee. Ignore the buzz of traffic from state Route 315 and enjoy chasing kingfishers down the Olentangy, splashing through riffles just challenging enough to be fun and drifting across still pools.

Skyline View Float: Scioto River Downtown

The 20-year investment in the Scioto River Downtown has created a waterfront corridor of parks, fountains, entertainment and, with the removal of the Main Street dam, a paddling adventure with a grand view of the city's skyline. Put in at Lower Scioto Park on West Whittier Street for an easy upstream paddle (under most conditions there is little current) past parks, COSI and the Scioto Mile to the confluence with the Olentangy 2 miles upstream. Then drift lazily back to the put-in, enjoying the scenery a second time as the gentle current carries you along.

Dog Paddle: Big Walnut Creek in Gahanna

Yes, they do make lifejackets for dogs. And your dog's floating coat will impress other canine companions when you arrive at Pizzurro Park, a popular dog park in Gahanna and a good take-out spot after a paddle from Creekside Park. Or let the dog burn off energy at the park, then put in at Pizzurro and continue down the river to Big Walnut Park in Columbus.

Fishing Float: Scioto River from Griggs Dam to Confluence Park

This trip is an urban experience, to be sure, passing by McKinley Avenue junkyards surrounded by the hum of passing cars. But recent surveys by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources found more smallmouth bass per river mile here than in any stretch of the Scioto. Others hook into saugeye, crappies, sunfish, carp and, in recent years, a hybrid of white and striped bass known as “whipers.” When you reach the stairstep dam near the city water treatment intake, portage river right.

* * *

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Columbus Monthly magazine, as well as our weekly newsletter so that you keep abreast of the most exciting and interesting events and destinations to explore, as well as the most talked-about newsmakers shaping life in Columbus.