Five of the best places to camp in nearby states (and within a seven-hour drive of Columbus)
Ohiopyle State Park
Drive from Columbus: 3.5 hours
Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands is a camping park, a paddling park, a bicycling park and a hiking park all in one. You can paddle the rapids of the Youghiogheny River or pedal the Great Allegheny Passage, a rail-trail that stretches 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. There are also 80 miles of hiking trails, as well as 226 camping sites.
About 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, the 20,500-acre park in Fayette County is best known for the Youghiogheny (pronounced yawki-gay-nee), one of the most popular whitewater runs in the East. The 7-mile paddle from the hamlet of Ohiopyle includes a dozen bouncy and splashy rapids. For those looking for a different kind of ride, swimmers can, at certain water levels, bob through two natural water slides on Meadow Run, a side stream.
The region includes both natural and manmade beauty. Youghiogheny Falls is one of the park’s biggest attractions—a 25-foot drop on the river. Nearby are also Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, two iconic homes designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Advance reservations are a must. dcnr.pa.gov/stateparks
Blackwater Falls State Park
Davis, West Virginia
Drive from Columbus: 4.5 hours
The big attraction at West Virginia’s Blackwater Falls State Park is the 57-foot-high namesake waterfall. Outside the town of Davis at the edge of the Canaan Valley, the falls on the amber-colored Blackwater River are one of the most photographed spots in West Virginia.
The 2,358-acre state park features a 65-unit campground, along with cabins and a 54-room lodge. It’s open from late April through Oct. 31, and you can make reservations from Memorial Day through Labor Day. If those campsites are filled, look about 10 miles south to Canaan Valley Resort State Park, which has 34 campsites, 23 cabins and a 160-room lodge. Mountain biking also is popular in Canaan (pronounced kah-NAYNE) Valley, and it has its own downhill ski area. Nearby Dolly Sods is a stellar federal wilderness area for hiking and backpacking. wvstateparks.com
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Drive from Columbus: 5 hours
The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area remains a hidden gem. The federal park covers 125,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau in southeast Kentucky and northeast Tennessee along the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.
Remote and rugged with impressive rocky gorges, stone arches and sandstone cliffs, the park also features whitewater rafting in the spring, 150 miles of hiking trails and 150 miles of equestrian trails. You can ride the Big South Fork Scenic Railway and visit Blue Heron, an old mining community. There are five campgrounds in the park, the two biggest of which are Bandy Creek, with 181 sites in Tennessee, and Blue Heron, with 45 sites in Kentucky. nps.gov/biso
Indiana Dunes National Park
Drive from Columbus: 5 hours
Indiana Dunes National Park is the 61st and newest national park. Elevated from a national lakeshore in February, the park is known for its dunes and beaches along the south end of Lake Michigan in the shadow of the sprawling Greater Chicago region.
Mount Tom, at 192 feet, is the tallest sand dune in the 15,067-acre federal park that stretches along 15 miles of shoreline east of Gary, Indiana. The park offers 54 drive-in and 12 walk-in campsites at the Dunewood Campground in Beverly Shores. Indiana Dunes State Park, which is surrounded by the federal park, also offers 140 campsites. www.nps.gov/indu
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Drive from Columbus: 7 hours
Further north, sand is also the big attraction at Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near Traverse City, Michigan’s No. 1 beach town, known for its white sands, aquamarine waters, golf courses and celebrated wine trails (it’s surrounded by 35 wineries that offer tastings on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas). Traverse City also is a growing foodie town and a winter sports mecca.
Sleeping Bear Dunes has two campgrounds: D.H. Day and Platte River. The Day campground near Glen Haven includes 81 sites at the edge of a Lake Michigan beach. It is one of the most popular camping sites in northern Michigan. It is open from late April to late November, and you can reserve spots from May 1 to Oct. 15. The Platte River Campground with 179 sites near Empire is open year-round. You can reserve spots from May 1 to Oct. 15. You can tube and paddle the river, too.
The park covers 71,200 acres in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Its top attraction is the Dune Climb, a hike up a 110-foot wall of white sand. You also can camp 15 miles from Traverse City at Interlochen State Park, with its 490 campsites. It’s close to the Interlochen Center for the Arts, which hosts the summerlong Interlochen Arts Festival with big-name musicians and a Shakespeare festival. For information, go to interlochen.org, nps.gov/slbe
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