Central Ohio Parks: Worth the drive

Emily Thompson
Rising Park in Lancaster

Though Columbus has a wealth of parks, a short drive outside the city offers even more outdoor destinations worthy of a day trip.

Rising Park, Lancaster

Located 30 miles southeast of Downtown Columbus, Lancaster's Rising Park draws a variety of visitors. The park provides a well-maintained playground for kids, a baseball and softball diamond, tennis courts for both teams and casual players, a fishing pond, picnic tables for groups and two shelters that are popular spots for weddings. But the park's crown jewel is Mount Pleasant, a sandstone bluff that stretches 250 feet high. The hike to the top is appropriate for the novice hiker or the serious trailblazer, with sandstone benches available for pit stops along the way. Follow the marked trail (areas where people have fallen in the past are now restricted) to a breathtaking view of Fairfield County fairgrounds, the city, woods and farmland. ci.lancaster.oh.us

Flint Ridge State Nature Park, Glenford

You may already know that Central Ohio has been home to several ancient burial mounds (hence Downtown's Mound Street). But did you know the region also boasts a Native American flint quarry that's just a 40-minute drive east from Downtown? Flint Ridge is a deposit of flint that, 10,000 years ago, Native Americans used to make tools and weapons, including knives, spears and arrowheads. Now, the historic site's pits are home to more than 10 species of salamanders. Be sure to hike the hardwood forest, keeping your eyes peeled for artifacts and animals, and visit the museum, where you can learn more about how ancient cultures used the flint. flintridgeohio.org

The Dawes Arboretum,Newark

What was once the country home of Beman and Bertie Dawes is now a nonprofit arboretum that houses more than 30,000 plants of more than 5,000 different types. Beman, whose father owned a lumber company, wanted to inspire others to plant trees. So he started with 50 sugar maples in 1917 and, in 1929, Dawes founded the arboretum. Start at the visitors center, where you can pick up a map, register for upcoming programs, buy tickets for a Daweswood House Museum tour, pick the brain of a horticulturalist and more. From there, you can explore the seasonally changing grounds by foot, bike or car. Be sure to check out the flowering schedule online before you go so you can head straight to the trees in season. dawesarb.org

Rock Mill Park, Lancaster

Architecture enthusiasts and history buffs: This one's for you. While Rock Mill Park has plenty of natural wonders to explore and enjoy-a 14-foot waterfall on the Hocking River, blackhand sandstone cliffs, a lily-pad-covered lake-the highlights are the historic grist mill and covered bridge. The six-level mill was built on the edge of the cliffs (the two bottom levels are subterranean) in 1824, followed by the adjacent covered bridge in 1901. The mill was vacant for nearly a century, deteriorating into near disrepair, until the Fairfield County Historical Parks Commission restored the landmark in the early 2000s. Bonus: It's just down the road from Rockmill Brewery, so don't forget to stop by the tasting room while you're there. historicalparks.org

Shale Hollow Park,Lewis Center

One of the area's younger parks, Shale Hollow Preserve has only been open since late 2013. But the site's story began hundreds of millions of yearsago, with the formation of 40-foot-tall shale cliffs and concretions, compact masses of mineral embedded in the soil. These spherical concretions range in size from bowling balls to cars, and they're scattered throughout the preserve. The 188-acre Lewis Center park also features a 1.1-mile trail, a creek, an off-trail exploration area and prime spots for picnicking and birding (look for woodpeckers, owls and more). preservationparks.com

Pro Tip:

Tim Daniel, Ohio Department of Natural Resources photographer

"Scioto Audubon is one hidden gem. People don't associate habitat with cityscape. You can see the Downtown skyscrapers plain as day, but it's a migratory corridor. You get tons of songbirds and waterfowl on the river. It's a Metro Park and probably one of the best."-Emily Thompson