You could spend a lifetime hiking in Ohio—in all four seasons—and still have many miles of trail left to see.
The Buckeye State is home to 75 state parks, one national park, plus a national historic trail and a national scenic trail. Dayton, one of Ohio’s largest cities, was recognized by National Geographic as one of the top 10 cities in the country for recreational green spaces. Hikes in the Buckeye State range from short and sweet to ultra-challenging; there’s truly something for everyone.
The fun doesn’t stop when the snow starts to fly. Ohio’s relatively temperate climate means you’ll still get plenty of reasonably warm hiking days during the coldest months of the year. Even in January, average lows are in the twenties—you’ll want to bundle up, but you typically won’t have to contend with below-zero temps.
Once you’re geared up with the cold-weather equipment you need (including, hopefully, a thermos of tea or hot cocoa), it’s time to get out and enjoy the wintry weather. Here are six of the best hikes in the Buckeye State to check out when the snow starts to fly.
HORSESHOE FALLS TRAIL
It’s always fun to hike to a waterfall, but winter adds a bonus: Frozen waterfalls are somehow even more spectacular. Caesar Creek State Park, less than 40 minutes south of Dayton, delivers on that front. From the park’s Nature Center it’s just under two miles round trip to Horseshoe Falls and back. The low falls are shaped like a tiny Niagara, and when they freeze over, it’s a winter wonderland.
BRANDYWINE GORGE AND FALLS TRAILS
Brandywine Gorge and its namesake waterfall are both the crown jewels of beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park all times of the year, and they’re even more spectacular when the park is blanketed in snow. At just under a mile and a half, the loop is fairly moderate with very little elevation gain or loss. There’s a bridge across the creek crossing, so there’s no need to be worried about falling through the ice.
NELSON-KENNEDY LEDGES STATE PARK
Less than an hour east of Cleveland, Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park is open year-round and boasts four hiking trails. Its stunning sandstone cliffs and beech-maple forest make for spectacular winter views as you hike through the jumbled rocks. The White Trail makes for an easy one-mile loop, and you can combine it with the moderate Blue and Yellow Trails (each clocking in at a half-mile) to add mileage.
OLD MAN’S CAVE LOOP
Hocking Hills State Park is chock-full of trails to explore all year, but winter visits offer a bonus: a better chance of seeing the park’s owls. An hour southeast of Columbus, Hocking Hills is made up of bridges, waterfalls, and fascinating rock formations—particularly Old Man’s Cave. This loop hike is about a mile long and takes hikers past a number of other features, including the Devil’s Bathtub. Park naturalists also offer interpretive programs to some of Hocking Hills’ best spots throughout the winter.
For a nice long winter hike, look no further than the Towpath Trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The mostly-flat 19.5-mile trail follows the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal. It’s made of crushed limestone, so even when it’s been snowy or rainy, the trail is much less icy than its rocky neighbors—and when there’s lots of snow on the ground, you can cross-country ski it. There are 10 access points throughout the park, so you can choose your own adventure.
Ohio’s Metro Park system is a shining example of urban green spaces, and 643-acre Blacklick Woods is one of its best specimens. The 16-mile Blacklick Creek Greenway connects three local Metro Parks, as well as several other smaller parks. The park’s other trails are named, aptly, Beech, Maple, and Buttonbush; hikers can combine them for a snowy walk in the woods ranging from two to four miles. Blacklick Woods also offers interpretive programs for hikers and families throughout the winter months.
The beauty of winter with its frozen waterfalls, snow-covered forests, and icicles can completely alter a hike’s landscape and add a level of peaceful quiet not found in the summer. The accessibility of trails across Ohio makes it easy to get out and enjoy the snow and fresh air. Layer up, grab your pack, and hit the snowy forest trails.
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