Central Ohio Hiking Guide for Families

John Ross, Columbus Alive

Normal routine bringing whines and sighs? Board games turning into bored games? Television no longer doing the trick?

Cabin fever should be in full effect after a long winter and rainy spring - but Central Ohio has plenty of places to cure it. Hundreds of public parks and preserves lie within an hour's drive of Columbus, and many have trails perfect for first-time hikers.

Families itching to stretch their legs will find some of the best ones below:

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park (pictured above)

1775 Darby Creek Dr., Galloway



Length: Two miles

Highlight: Small herd of bison

Start at: Cedar Ridge Picnic Area

Six female bison were brought to a 30-acre pasture in February, and guests can see them from the flat, smooth Darby Creek Greenway Trail. From the Cedar Ridge area, you'll walk 0.6 miles north before the animals pop into view. On your way back, circle the nearby Hawthorn Loop Trail to round out your afternoon.

Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve

Toboso Road SE at County Highway 278, Toboso



Length: Up to nine miles

Highlight: Ability to bike or hike

Start at: Main parking lot

This gorge will win you over with its good looks and the paved 4.26-mile Blackhand Trail that's suitable for walking, biking or even a sturdy stroller. Several loop trails spur from the main path to give you plenty of options and more of a challenge during your afternoon along the Licking River.

Hogback Ridge Preserve

2656 Hogback Rd., Sunbury



Length: About one mile

Highlight: Picturesque ravine crossing

Start at: Mary Barber McCoy Nature Center

Hidden within the Preservation Parks of Delaware County is this green gem with forests, meadows, ridges and ravines. It should take you less than an hour to do the Woodland Ridge and Pinegrove trails (0.4 miles each), which saves plenty of time to explore the 40-foot-long bridge that spans a steep ravine.

Sharon Woods Metro Park

6911 Cleveland Ave., Westerville



Length: 2.4 miles

Highlight: Lush, flower-packed prairie

Start at: Apple Ridge Picnic Area

From the parking lot, follow the Spring Creek Trail counter-clockwise. After walking through woods and over lovely bridges, you'll emerge into a truly marvelous meadow. Before completing your loop, explore the short connector that meanders through. Seeing this landscape awash with wildflowers, insects and lush summer greenery, you'll want to rename the park Sharon Prairies.

Slate Run Metro Park

1375 State Rte. 674 N., Canal Winchester



Length: About five miles

Highlight: Expansive prairies and wetlands

Start at: Buzzard's Roost Picnic Area

Take the western edge of the wooded Sugar Maple Trail to the Bobolink Grassland Trail, which meanders through wide, lovely fields. The northern spur eventually leads to the Kokomo Wetland Trail and a series of lakes and marshes beloved by local birds. Explore here for a bit, then return the way you came.

Rockbridge State Nature Preserve

11475 Dalton Rd., Rockbridge



Length: About three miles

Highlight: Ohio's largest natural bridge

Start at: Dalton Road parking lot

The foot trail leading from the parking lot into the Hocking Hills forest isn't that interesting. Be patient. About a mile in, you'll run into a rock arch that measures 100 feet long and parallels a gorgeous waterfall. You can walk across and beneath the arch - just be cautious if it's wet. Return the way you came.

A.W. Marion State Park

7317 Warner Huffer Rd., Circleville



Length: Five miles

Highlight: Quiet lake lined with trees

Start at: West parking lot

Rimming the small, quaint resort lake is the Hargus Lake Trail, a five-mile loop that traverses a good cross-section of Central Ohio terrain. You'll see dense woodlands, open meadows and secret backwoods lagoons. Boats use only electric motors, so you don't need to worry about being disturbed in summer.

Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve

2331 State Rte. 343, Yellow Springs



Length: Two miles

Highlight: Whitewater and wildflowers

Start at: Bear's Den parking lot

Western Ohio's best nature preserve is gorgeous in more ways than one, boasting rock formations carved over millennia by the Little Miami River. From Bear's Den, take the stairs down to the Gorge Trail. Walk west, stop at four observation points and find the Rim Trail, which will take you back atop a ridge. Terrain can be steep, and it's often slippery and rocky. You'll also need to watch little ones near the edges.

Trail Tip

When you carry less, you hike more. That's one reason to skip fancy outdoor gear and pack the essentials. On hikes shorter than five miles, those hitting the trail with kids should bring a map, a watch, plenty of water, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and high-energy snacks. Skip the trail mix for fruit strips, Clif Bars and PB&J sandwiches. Ditch pop for sports drinks like Powerade.

Trail Tip

The outdoor world can be the most exciting classroom, and hands-on learning will make younger hikers more comfortable and confident in natural settings. Grab a field guide on birds, wildflowers or trees from your local library and try to identify a few things along the way.