Updated: Feb 17
If you're anything like me, Ohio isn't the first state that pops into mind when thinking about bucketlist hiking. I'm a sucker for a trek through the desert of Joshua Tree in California or in the red rocks of Utah, and it's safe to say- nothing like that can be found here. Nevertheless, Ohio is my home state and when the itch to hike comes knocking, I've found a few spots over the years that do the trick. Today I'm sharing those spots with you in hopes that if you're just passing through or call Ohio home, I can get you excited about getting outside and hiking through some of our great parks!
This blog post will list out my selections from biggest to smallest, with note of driving distance from Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio (since that's usually the two cities I reference when someone asks me what area of the state I live). Not only are my choices based off experience, but also driving distance. While I'm always down for a road trip, sometimes my schedule doesn't allow it. I'm from Northeast Ohio and all 3 of my top picks are within a few hour's drive.
I'll be sharing images I've taken as well as facts about some of the popular hikes I've done at each park. Let's get started!
Number One: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
It would be dumb to not include Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) on my list. It is a national park, after all. With over 33,000 acres to explore, this park is a must-visit! CVNP is home to lush forest, mossy cliffs, multiple waterfalls, and of course, the Cuyahoga River. With so much diverse acreage, each trail is different from the last, leaving visitors always coming back for more!
Distance from Cleveland, OH: About 20 miles southeast / 27 minute drive
Distance from Columbus, OH: About 128 miles northeast / 1 hour and 55 minute drive
Unlike some of the more popular national parks, there is no entrance fee (though donation is accepted). While hiking from trail to trail is totally an option, there are multiple parking lots and restrooms near most trailheads.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park: My Recommended Hikes
Brandywine Falls Trail
Distance: 1.5 miles / out & back
The trail route is made up of a well maintained boardwalk. There are a few areas of declining steps to reach a viewing point of this 60 foot layered waterfall. This is one of my favorite spots to check out each time I visit; the waterfall's beauty can be appreciated no matter the season!
There is a parking lot at the trailhead of this hike. This is one of the park's most popular spots, so the parking lot is often full throughout the year. If you cannot find a spot, it is common to hike a from The Standford House. This is a 3.8 mile loop, rated as moderate.
Distance: 2.6 miles / loop
This trailhead is located near a parking lot as well. You will start on a paved road and then turn right at the fork. From there, you will hike until a dead end- follow signs for Ledges Overlook (right turn again). From this point, the trail will become fully surrounded by forest with lots of large, moss covered rock.
Continuing on, you will reach a more open area. Once you see the restrooms and picnic areas, the overlook is just a few steps away. This is another of the park's more popular destinations. Standing at Ledge Overlook, you can look out over the tree tops and see for miles.
From here, you'll easily be able to spot the parking lot by the trailhead you started from. If you choose not to continue the loop, you can return to the parking lot simply by crossing the small, grassy field.
Blue Hen Falls (via Buckeye Trail)
Distance: 3 miles / out & back
There is a parking lot at the trailhead for Blue Hen Falls, but at the time of our visit, it was closed. If you're able to park here, the hike to Blue Hen Falls is a mere 0.5 mile and rated as easy.
For our visit, we parked at the Boston Mills Visitor Center. Buckeye Trail begins with a short, upward climb until evening out as you hike closer to Boston Mill Road. This is a curvy and hilly road, so be careful when hiking next to it. A half mile later on the trail you will encounter a steep set of stairs to descend. Once arrived back at Boston Mill Road, a short cross will lead you to the trailhead for Blue Hen Falls.
While I did say I prefer hiking in western states, I love Ohio waterfalls! Blue Hen Falls is especially neat because you can walk right up next to the cascading water- from the top of the falls or the bottom. It made for a really cool picture of my husband, Colton!
Number Two: Hocking Hills State Park
This was a no-brainer choice for me to add to the list. While I've only been to the park once, the area is breathtaking and a frequently talked-about area to visit in the state. I went in the summer of 2019 during a short trip with my best friend, Mady (pictured above). Hocking Hills is home to many towering cliffs, waterfalls, caves, and gorges. With over 2,000 acres in the park and 25 miles dedicated to hiking trails, there is definitely enough land to explore in this park!
Distance from Cleveland, OH: About 180 miles southwest / 3 hour drive
Distance from Columbus, OH: About 57 miles southeast / 1 hour drive
Mady (left) and I wasted no time during our visit. We hiked the majority of our 2 days there and still weren't able to get to all of the popular destinations recommended in the park. I believe this is true for most visitors. Thankfully, there are many campgrounds, lodges, and cabins available to reserve in the area.
For more information on booking, click here: https://www.hockinghills.com/availability.html
Hocking Hills State Park: My Recommended Hikes
There are various trails that can connect to one another allowing hikers the capability to visit a combination of Hocking Hills' infamous vistas. For the ease of writing, I am going to separate trails out individually as I can. If you choose to combine some of the gorges, cliffs, waterfalls, and caves you may be in for a tiring day! This was how Mady and I chose to hike! I recommend (as always) using a map/talking to a ranger before starting your journey to find out a trail best suited for you!
Old Man's Cave Trail
Distance: 0.6 mile / out & back
This is commonly a busy trail. Access to this trail can be found at the Hocking Hills Visitor Center. While this trail can be a short stop, hikers can also choose to continue onward to see other Hocking Hills treasures such as Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, and Devil's Bathtub (pictured below).
Distance: 0.5 mile / out & back
Ash Cave has a parking lot near the trailhead. There are two separate, 0.5 mile trails to reach the cave. The lower trail is handicap-accessible. We came in the trail from the lower path and used the upper one to leave the area. I recommend using both paths (if you can) as they offer different vantage points of the impressive cave. Ash Cave is the largest recess cave in the state measuring 700 feet wide, 90 feet high, and 100 feet deep.
Depending on the fullness of Old Man's Creek, hikers may be able to hear Devil's Bathtub prior to ever laying eyes on it. Devil's Bathtub is nothing short of unique. This tiered waterfall is continually shaping and expanding the sandstone "bathtub" beneath it with a whirlpool motion. While the tub itself is only a few feet deep, Devil's Bathtub got it's name from legends rumoring it reached Hades.
Number 3: Mohican State Park
This is my third and final choice for Ohio hiking destinations, and potentially the most likely to be unfamiliar to some. Don't let that keep you from visiting! It's the closest park to me in this list and I venture there at least 3 times a year. There are 1,110 acres to this park, surrounded by 4,545 acres of Mohican Memorial State Forest. Located near the city of Loudonville, this park attracts visitors for more than just hiking. There are multiple bridle trails and others dedicated to mountain biking. Driving into the park, you'll pass multiple canoe liveries- Mohican Adventures even offers an aerial adventure park!
If you own your own kayaks, you can launch from anywhere in the Clear Fork Mohican River. If you're renting, there is a designated area of the river for rafts, canoes, and kayaks. This is an absolute blast and how Colton and I spent our wedding anniversary last summer!
For more information about Mohican Adventures, click here: https://www.mohicanadventures.com/
Distance from Cleveland, OH: About 84 miles southwest / 1 hour 29 min drive
Distance from Columbus, OH: About 70 miles northeast / 1 hour 30 min drive
Driving into the woods to get to hiking trails, you'll likely pass the firetower. This 125 foot tower is not for the faint of heart! Climb up nearly 100 steps to marvel at a bird's eye view of the forest. Colton and I have done this multiple times and it always gets my heart pounding!
Mohican State Park: My Recommended Hike
Lyon Falls Trail
Distance: 1.6 miles / out & back
There is a row of parking at a covered bridge near the trailhead. Once you start the trail, you'll hike alongside of the river (see yellow trail below). The trail is maintained well and some areas offer short boardwalks or wooden steps. You can continue on the trail against the river until you reach the dam. Follow the steep stairs up the hill to see the 850 acre, Pleasant Hill Lake.
Lyon Falls Trail (yellow)
A half mile into the trail you will reach a small wooden sign for Big Lyon Falls. From here, the trail veers to the left (noted as "K," above) and it is a short walk to reach the falls. This is a neat area because visitors are able to walk right up to/under the flowing water.
Hikers will have to scale a steep incline and continue hiking a short walk to reach Little Lyon Falls
Little Lyon Falls is a picturesque stop. Break for a quick lunch or continue onward, back toward the river. There's so much fun to be had at this park and I hold so many personal memories here, I couldn't make my list of recommendations without including Mohican!
Finding Your Own Favorite Trails
Hiking in Ohio doesn't stop there! For more ideas, I could not recommend AllTrails more. This is an app you can download for free which can help find the perfect hike, no matter where you are! All you have to do is type your location in the search engine and it comes up with hikes nearest you. You can also type in specific park or trail names for researching prior to arrival. It categorizes trails by difficulty level, length, elevation gain, and route type. The app supplies a hike map and shows your location on it while you're hiking. It even has a category for trails that are dog friendly. You can use it to track all of the trails you've accomplished. You can then upload pictures from your experience as well as giving the trail a rating and review for other hikers to view in the future.
Try out AllTrails by clicking here: https://www.alltrails.com/
Let me know if you have any trails in Ohio for me to try out, I'm always looking for new adventures!
"Travel far enough to meet yourself" -David Mitchell