14 Beautiful Hikes near Columbus, Ohio for All Levels - Urban Outdoors
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Home to The Ohio State University and all things Buckeye, Columbus is Ohio’s vibrant capital city and is full of things to do. While it’s not surrounded by stark mountains or vast bodies of water, Columbus does have a surprising number of scenic and picturesque places to take a hike or walk nearby. Hiking near Columbus is just one of the many wonderful ways to get some fresh air and explore the outdoors during the warmer months of the year. (For the colder months, try skiing or snowboarding near Columbus!) With the help of a few savvy locals, we created this guide to some of the best hikes near Columbus so you can plan your next outdoor adventure!

View of downtown Columbus Ohio skyline in USA

Easy Hiking Near Columbus

Scioto Greenway

  • Distance from Columbus: Located in the city
  • Trail Length: 12 miles total
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal

Home to the popular “Scioto Mile,” the Scioto Greenway actually extends 12 miles through many parts of Columbus. While mostly an urban trail, the Scioto Greenway is a fantastic place to hike, walk, run, or bike. This mostly paved trail is accessible to everyone, and offers stunning views of Columbus’ skyline, the Scioto River, and many of the surrounding forests and nature areas in the city. Note that this trail can get quite crowded in the urban sections, so go early or plan accordingly if you’re going during peak times of day.

Camp Chase Trail

  • Distance from Columbus: Located in the city and surrounding counties
  • Trail Length: 15.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Varies

Not far from the Scioto Greenway is another one of the great urban trails for hiking in Columbus: the Camp Chase Trail. Taking the name of the railroad it runs close to, this trail is a shared recreation path with bikers, runners, and walkers and extends nearly 16 miles one-way to the rural outskirts of central Ohio. Notable sights along this trail include forested boardwalks and bridges, old industrial buildings, and lots of rolling farmland. However, if you’re seeking a trail that’s a little less crowded than the more popular Scioto Greenway, this one is a fantastic option.

Buckeye Trail

  • Distance from Columbus: Varies
  • Trail Length: Varies
  • Elevation Gain: Varies

The Buckeye Trail is a 1,440-mile recreational path that extends all throughout the state of Ohio. Once section runs through many areas near Columbus, including Hocking Hills State Park, and is perfect for getting that nature feel without straying too far from home. Marked by blue blazes and toting the slogan “follow the blue blazes,” it’s a pretty easy trail to follow and you can make your hike through green spaces and lush forests as long or as short as you want. Many people even take several days to complete longer stretches of the trail, stopping over in Ohio’s small towns along the way.

Gahanna Woods

  • Distance from Columbus: 11 miles (20 minutes)
  • Trail Length: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal

Gahanna Woods is a nature preserve on the outskirts of the Columbus area. Filled with scenic forest boardwalks, tons of pretty wildflowers and plants, and lush forests that offer shade and tranquility, it’s an easy and accessible escape from the city if you’re on a time crunch or simply want to do an easy, leisurely hike. Many locals say that this is one of the hikes near Columbus that’s a real hidden gem. Note that the area often floods and the trails get muddy when it rains, so we’d recommend going to Gahanna Woods when it’s sunny and dry for the best hiking experience.

Conkles Hollow Nature Preserve

  • Distance from Columbus: 56 miles (1 hour)
  • Trail Length: 1.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal

Located near Hocking Hills State Park, the Conkles Hollow Nature Preserve trail is local favorite and is one of the most beautiful easy hikes near Columbus. Featuring peaceful forest surroundings, beautiful rock formations, and a waterfall, this partly paved trail is accessible to hikers of all levels, and is extremely family-friendly. Many locals cite this trail as one of their favorites in the Columbus area for its natural beauty and easy terrain. We’d highly recommend this to any hiker of any level if you’re looking for a nice day trip out of the city!

Dripping Rock & Overlook Trail

  • Distance from Columbus: Located in the city
  • Trail Length: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 354 feet

With a little bit more elevation gain and variety than many of the other easy hikes in Columbus, the Dripping Rock & Overlook Trail is a great example of a nature path that’s located right in the heart of the city. Hopping on this trail, which is located in Highbanks Metro Park, will transport you from traffic and buildings to beautiful forests, meadows, and creeks. It’s a beautiful, picturesque escape that you can explore even if you don’t want to go too far.

Along these dirt and gravel trails, you’ll find beautiful historic bridges, jagged cliff faces, and plenty of tree-lined shady spots to relax or wander in. You also have the chance to see plenty of local wildlife here, including a bald eagle observation deck.

Photo Credit: See1, Do1, Teach1 (Flickr CC)

Moderate & Difficult Hikes Near Columbus

Rock House

  • Distance from Columbus: 58 miles (1 hour)
  • Trail Length: 1 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 203 feet

Possibly one of the coolest hikes near Columbus, Rock House brings hikers up a 1-mile trail to a beautiful, unique cave system in the middle of Hocking Hills State Park. Hikers not only climb up a steep (but short) incline to get to the aptly-named “Rock House,” but can also hike through the rocks and view their curves, edges, and striations. A fantastic spot for photography, this unique spot in Hocking Hills is certainly worth the drive up alone, or as a stop along multiple trails in this scenic state park. Plus, it’s only an hour drive from Columbus!

Cantwell Cliffs Loop

  • Distance from Columbus: 58 miles (1 hour)
  • Trail Length: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 291 feet

Another amazing hike in Hocking Hills State Park is the Cantwell Cliffs trail. On this hike, you’ll scale stone stairs and steep gravel trails to enjoy some of the park’s most jaw-dropping cliffs and rock formations. Many of the most famous and well-known photography spots in Hocking Hills are located on or near this trail, so it’s a perfect place to go to enjoy some of the finest views in the park. This is one of the more difficult hikes in Hocking Hills, so be prepared for steep hills and rocky terrain as you embark on this adventure.

Cedar Falls is a beautiful cascading waterfall in Ohio’s Hocking Hills State Park.

Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, & Ash Cave

  • Distance from Columbus: 58 miles (1 hour)
  • Trail Length: 12.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,243 feet

As one of the longer and harder hikes near Columbus, the Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave hike brings together some of Hocking Hills’ best landscapes and challenges into one day-long hike. Known as one of the best hikes in Ohio, even among experienced hikers, this trail passes by the epic Cedar Falls, gorgeous rock formations and creeks, spooky tunnels, and more.

This trail is a real treat for the senses, and is a less popular hike than some of the shorter ones in Hocking Hills because of its length and difficulty. If you’re looking for a good challenge that will get your blood pumping and bring you to some of the most outstanding natural areas in the state of Ohio, the Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave hike is a must-do.

Photo Credit: Dan Keck (Flickr CC)

Natural Bridge at Rockbridge State Nature Preserve

  • Distance from Columbus: 45 miles (45 minutes)
  • Trail Length: 2.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 544 feet

One of the most beautiful hikes near Columbus is the Natural Bridge trail at Rockbridge State Nature Preserve. This trail takes hikers nearly 3 miles to one of Ohio’s natural spectacles: a bridge-like rock formation with a waterfall that is lovingly called the “natural bridge.” The trail does have a bit of gradual elevation gain and is mostly rock and gravel, giving hikers of all levels a bit of challenge as they make their way to the main attraction.

The trail is well marked and quite popular on weekends, so it’s easy to navigate. If you want to avoid the crowds, we’d recommend going on a weekday or early in the morning, as the trail can get very crowded during weekends in the warmer months.

Jacobs Ladder and Christmas Rocks Trail

  • Distance from Columbus: 35 miles (45 minutes)
  • Trail Length: 4.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 718 feet

If you’re looking for hikes near Columbus with a little bit more challenge and elevation gain, the Jacob’s Ladder and Christmas Rocks Trail is a fantastic option. Located in the Christmas Rocks Nature Preserve, this trail takes you atop rocky peaks and through magnificent forests, with plenty of nice shade and beautiful views, too. Like many of the places for hiking near Columbus, there are several striking rock formations scattered around the preserve that you can admire along the trail. This hiking trail has a little bit of everything in its 4 miles, and we’d recommend it if you’re looking for an escape from the concrete of the city.

Photo Credit: J. Todd Poling (Flickr CC)

Glen Helen, Little Miami & Clifton Gorge

  • Distance from Columbus: 56 miles (55 minutes)
  • Trail Length: 13.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,190 feet

Known as one of the most beloved nature reserves in the Columbus area, Clifton Gorge is home to many wonderful trails and landmarks. The challenging and thrilling Glen Helen, Little Miami, and Clifton Gorge trail gives experienced hikers access to these hidden gems. The trail largely follows the gorges surrounding the Little Miami River, bringing hikers to some of the most amazing and beautiful rock formations in the state. Because of the variety in terrain and the difficulty of the hike, sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are always recommended.

Hemlock Gorge to Covered Bridge

  • Distance from Columbus: 76 miles (1.5 hours)
  • Trail Length: 7.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 118 feet

The Hemlock Gorge to Covered Bridge is a fun, hilly trail in Mohican State Park that gives hikers a little bit of everything. Scenic rivers and knobby trees intersect with picturesque historic bridges and waterfalls on this varied and moderately difficult trail. With mostly shaded dirt paths and wooded boardwalks, this forested trail is a wonderful escape as a day trip from Columbus and an introduction to the quiet, scenic lands of Mohican State Park.

Photo Credit: Dan Keck (Flickr CC)

Hemlock to Creekside Meadows Trail

  • Distance from Columbus: 41 miles (45 minutes)
  • Trail Length: 5.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 823 feet

For history lovers and hikers alike, the Hemlock to Creekside Meadows trail is a really wonderful spot for hiking near Columbus that’s less than an hour from the city. Large boulders and rock cliffs line the roads and trails of Clear Creek Metro Park, where this trail is located. On the trail, you’ll find waterfalls, mossy rock formations, and an old barn that’s cool for photographs. To lengthen your adventure even more, you can add a detour on the nearby Cemetery Ridge trail as well.

Additional Resources

What to Bring

  • Hiking boots – You can’t hike without appropriate footwear, period. For most trails, we recommend an all-purpose waterproof boot with ankle support. We recommend Salomon hiking boots or Keen hiking boots for a comfortable hike.
  • Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these PrAna hiking pants for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers, an insulated puffer jacket, and a waterproof outer shell. And don’t forget a pair of the best hiking socks in the world!
  • Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we recommend throwing them in your car anyway just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond foldable trekking poles, which are lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To spare disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask bottles because they keep water cold for hours, but a good old Nalgene works very well too.
  • Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects.
  • A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
  • Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
  • Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend Osprey day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes.

Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.

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Kay Rodriguez is the Chicago-based travel writer and photographer behind Jetfarer and Skyline Adventurer. When she's not blogging furiously on her laptop or editing photos, you can find Kay running, hiking, or paddling in a new city.

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