Guide to Ohio State Parks: Hike, Camp, Kayak, Climb, Learn and More on State Public Lands

Plan an upcoming adventure in Ohio’s vast and diverse state parks and nature preserves

Columbus Monthly
Clear Fork Mohican River

The pandemic reminded us of nature’s healing power. With a worldwide health crisis raging, many in Columbus and elsewhere sought sanctuary in parks—literal safe spaces during a time of uncertainty and upheaval.

Today, even with COVID-19 case numbers low, our desire to connect with the natural world remains—and perhaps Ohio’s greatest resource for doing so is its vast and diverse collection of state parks and nature preserves. This network, overseen by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, includes 75 parks, 140 nature preserves, about 9,000 campsites, nine lodges, 30 nature centers and more than 500 cabins. While Ohio doesn’t have mountains, oceans, glaciers or other eye-catching natural amenities found in other states, it does offer a varied landscape that stretches from the shores of Lake Erie to the Appalachian foothills of Southeast Ohio. All of this you can experience in Ohio’s state park system. And it’s free: Ohio is one of just seven state park networks that doesn’t charge an admission fee.

While the pandemic has brought more attention to Ohio’s state parks, it also has challenged them. Heavy use has resulted in wear and tear, especially at popular destinations such as Hocking Hills State Park. “When people couldn’t go anywhere else, they could go to the parks,” says ODNR director Mary Mertz. “Unfortunately, in some places, they got sort of overrun and loved to death. But our job is to manage that as well as we can, to come up with new alternatives, to promote parks that people have never heard of.” The park system is also addressing a longstanding maintenance and upkeep backlog at park facilities, many of which were built during the 1960s and 1970s. ODNR is upgrading lodges and cabins, renovating nature centers, building a new lodge at Hocking Hills State Park (to debut this fall) and a marina at Alum Creek State Park (to open in late May this year), and planning to launch its 76th park near Xenia in 2023, among other things.

Indeed, you can find a wealth of opportunities for recreation, contemplation, education and more in Ohio’s state parklands. Enjoy Columbus Monthly's guide to Ohio's state parks.

Two kayakers paddle near South Bass Island State Park

14 Adventures at Ohio's State Parks and Nature Preserves

Find new ways to connect with nature, from hunting for Bigfoot to spotting a piping plover. read more

Get Comfortable at Ohio's Nine State Park Lodges

These resorts provide pools, marinas, golf courses and more in an unbeatable natural setting. read more

Shawnee State Park naturalist Jenny Richards watches as Portsmouth fourth graders examine bluets with their binoculars turned backwards and a hand lens.

How to Hike Like a Naturalist

Six ways to make sure you don't miss the trees for the forest. read more

Get Wild in Shawnee State Park, Ohio's Little Smokies

Experience a blend of adventure and comfort in one of the largest stretches of protected forest in Ohio. read more

Discover Mohican State Park and Malabar Farm

Waterfalls, caves, a historic farm and lots of river fun can be found in this beloved natural area. read more

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's Improbable Malabar Farm Wedding

How one of Hollywood's most famous couples ended up marrying at Louis Bromfield's innovative Ohio farm. read more

Park visitors crowd Hocking Hills State Park on Saturday, April 23, 2022, during the first 80-plus degree day of the year.

Are the Hocking Hills Too Popular for Their Own Good?

A pandemic boom threatens one of the state's most beloved natural areas. read more

Don't Kid Yourself. There's No Such Thing as a Free Park

The public­—and politicians­—love that Ohio's state parks don't charge admission fees. But that policy comes with a cost. read more

Avoid the Crowds at These Five Ohio Campgrounds

Can't find a site at Ohio's most popular campgrounds? Here are alternatives with similar amenities. read more

This story is from the June 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.