Explore hiking, fishing, golf and other options around Central Ohio.

Blaze Trails Less Traveled

With weather improving and gyms still closed, local paths and hiking trails saw a spike in traffic this spring as Central Ohioans searched for new ways to get their daily dose of exercise and sunshine. Avoid the crowds and find ways to socially distance yourself in Mother Nature with some of the area’s lesser-known options.

You can still find solitude in the Robert “Tad” Jeffrey Off-Trail Reserve at Three Creeks Metro Park in Groveport. Its namesake, a philanthropist and former commissioner of the Metro Parks board, enjoyed bushwhacking off the beaten path, according to a 2016 blog post about the reserve. The area encompasses the park’s Confluence and Bluebell trails, but off-trail exploration is encouraged here. Take a small footpath off the main trails or make your own as you explore the convergence of Blacklick, Big Walnut and Alum creeks.

The T.J. Evans Trail stretches from Newark to Johnstown and is perfect for cyclists, runners or hikers who prefer a paved path. The 14-mile route winds through Granville, Alexandria and Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve, offering a variety of scenic views along the way.

If you prefer to stay in the city, Clintonville has a secluded network of trails along the east bank of the Olentangy River. Access the well-maintained dirt paths from Kenney Park (formally Delawanda Park) from the parking lot west of the Kroger Marketplace at Graceland Shopping Center, or from Delawanda Avenue between Leland and Rathbone avenues. It can get quite muddy after a hard rain, so make sure you have proper footwear.

Looking for More Ideas? Check out the rest of our Columbus DIY Summer Guide.

Hook a Whopper

With nearly 50,000 licenses sold here annually, there’s no promise of isolation while fishing Central Ohio waters. But with so many places to fish, odds are good you can stay distant and have great fun. State fisheries biologist Nick Radabaugh has a boat, so he fishes Hoover, Alum Creek and other reservoirs for white or striped bass or saugeye, a popular hybrid. Want to know his secrets? The state’s interactive lake map (available via this Ohio Department of Natural Resources web page) pinpoints “fishing hot spots,” including the waters above sunken artificial habitats that most fish love.

No boat? No problem: Central Ohio’s most exciting fishing may be found in rivers. For example, the Scioto River has the highest concentrations of smallmouth bass in the state. Public access can be found in the many parks that line the Scioto and Olentangy rivers and Big Walnut and Alum creeks. Downtown, visit the boat ramp at the Scioto Audubon Metro Park. Arrive before sunrise or stay until dusk, especially in the heat of summer, to find the fish hungry. Look for fallen trees or other underwater structures, or aim for the quiet pools below rocky riffles.

How about restless kids? Use every possible advantage to increase their chances of catching a fish. That means simple and reliable tackle: “Invest” in a cheap cane pole. Add hook, line, sinker and bobber. Buy some worms and head to a well-stocked pond, like those at Goodale, Whetstone and Westgate parks, which are supplied with panfish, catfish and bass. For a good beginner’s primer, go to wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/fishing/fishing-basics.

Even before the days of social distancing, kids often were taught to create a safe space for themselves and others by turning in a circle with their fishing pole extended. “If you touch someone, you’re too close,” Radabaugh says. Today, this practice remains the best way to protect every angler.

Pedal with Purpose

Early summer is prime Pelotonia training season, and though this year’s event may look different or be put on hold, the cycling community is out in force. Luckily for hopeful riders, or anyone who wants to enjoy the great outdoors, Central Ohio is filled with multiuse paths, quiet suburban streets and scenic loops through the countryside.

The Olentangy Commuter Route: Worthington’s Julie Stephens commutes to Ohio State most days on the Olentangy Trail, about 8 miles. Sometimes her husband, Jeff, will meet her for the ride home. “He gets in a quick 16, and I get in 8 in the morning and 8 in the evening,” Julie says. Often, the couple will take the trail farther north into Worthington Hills, where they can train on slopes during 20- to 30-mile rides.

New Albany Nature Tour: New Albany is a cycling hub, with group rides starting from the Philip Heit Center. “We avoid the busy streets and pick routes through the country, and enjoy nature, farm animals and corn fields,” says Linda Martens, a member of the Girls with Gears Pelotonia team. A New Albany to Granville loop, with a stop in picturesque Granville for coffee, is popular and can range from 35 to 50 miles. 

Twin Trails: One of Dick Bartz’s favorite loops starts at his Clintonville home. He heads north on the Olentangy Trail, exits onto Broad Meadows Boulevard, heads east to the Alum Creek Trail, then takes that through Downtown Columbus and back onto the Olentangy. It’s a nice 30-mile route, says the Westerville Bicycle Club leader. “I like seeing all the wonderfully restored houses around Franklin Park Conservatory.” 

The Reservoir Loop: Hoover Reservoir Park is another popular starting point for group rides. “There’s a 63-mile route I really like that follows quiet roads and has as many hills as you can find,” says Jeff Pierron, director of the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure. This route goes east to New Albany and Granville, then north and west to Johnstown before circling back to Hoover. 

Tee It Up

While other sports all but disappeared, golf remains available thanks to its built-in distancing. Fanatics never left the courses, but now is a great time for novices and lapsed golfers to hit the links, too. Even golf courses have adapted, though, so check websites for hours and restrictions.

Blacklick Woods in Reynoldsburg is a good starting point, with a three-hole practice course and a Learning Course with two par-4s and seven par-3s. The city of Columbus, which runs six courses, has a similar nine-hole track at Wilson Road Golf Course. The city also operates an 18-hole option great for beginners. “The Airport Golf Course can play shorter and is relatively open, making finding a ball after a stray shot a little easier,” says Mike Musser, city golf course administrator, via email.

Oakhaven Golf Club in Delaware provides nine- and 18-hole options, with an approachable, wide-open design for the front nine but a tougher back half. For golfers looking for an even stiffer test, return to Blacklick’s Championship Course—18 holes that provide plenty of challenges.