By Brooke Albrecht
Photography by Eric Albrecht
I have always loved the outdoors. As a young girl, I would spend hours in the creek making creatures out of clay, hunting fossils, drawing flowers or climbing trees. Ohio is the nation’s heartland. It’s approachable, honest and so diverse. You don’t need to venture out of our state for a true escape into Mother Nature.
Here are a few of my favorite places to hike and enjoy nature, and hopefully yours, too, once you visit them this summer.
Within an easy drive from Columbus are Battelle Darby Creek, Slate Run Living Historical Farm and Ohio Caverns. Battelle Darby and Slate Run are two of Franklin County’s metro parks. Ohio Caverns is located on privately owned land outside of West Liberty.
Battelle Darby Creek Metro is the largest in the Columbus Metro Parks system with about 7,000 acres. For years while our dog, George, was hiking-fit, we would take him to Wagtail trail, which goes through fields and woods to the Big Darby Creek at the bottom. Close to creek side is a big sycamore so large, with a teardrop entrance you can fit yourself and your dreams inside it. When you visit, watch all the bison before touring the Nature Center. I love their 53-foot-long living stream with fish, reptiles, mussels and amphibians—all naturally found in the Darby Creek watershed. When hiking one the many trails near Darby Creek, I am enchanted with purple mussel shells.
Pickaway County is home to Slate Run Living Historical Farm, a working re-creation of an 1880s farm.
You can learn about plowing the fields with a draft horse, canning and preserving crops from the heirloom garden and enjoy watching the farm animals. I especially like the barn where I’ve seen new calves and a mother hen sitting on her nest in a quiet corner. Sometimes, weather permitting, you’ll see simple cotton shirts and striped socks pegged to the clothesline out back. Try the Bobolink Grassland trail where we’ve been known to taste wild blackberries in the summer. This trail has the oldest Osage orange tree, which is more than 100 years old.
Ohio Caverns is billed as America’s most colorful caverns, and I agree! It’s a timeless place, in Champaign County outside of West Liberty. Pack a picnic, dress in vintage clothing and pretend you’re in the 1950s. Incredible views of rolling hills and a cave tour make a great day. Crystal stalactites and stalagmites offer a fairyland underground. The cave tour ends with an organ recording of the song, “Beautiful Ohio.” The guides might tire of it, but we like the tradition.
For rock formations and views minus the crowds of Hocking Hills, try Christmas Rock Nature Preserve in Fairfield County, or Clear Creek Metro Park bordering both Fairfield and Hocking. Christmas Rock includes a trail called Jacob’s Ladder, a shear wall of sandstone rock formations that invite you to keep climbing up to an unforgettable view.
Don’t be afraid as you drive your car under Leaning Lena to reach the Fern trailhead at Clear Creek. This hike takes you through countless pines and hemlock. Enjoy looking at the creek, which is clear.
For a longer day trips or an overnight, try Adams County in southeast Ohio. Serpent Mound is the largest surviving example of a prehistoric effigy mound in the world. I like to imagine what the view from the serpent head must have been like when the ancients built it thousands of years ago. The head of the serpent is aligned to the summer solstice sunset.
Nearby to Serpent Mound is Buzzardroost Rock trail, owned by the Nature Conservatory and part of their Edge of Appalachia Preserve System. I love this hike for the workout and the view. Hike through the woods that take you to a top of a giant limestone cliff. You’ll be close to many high-flying buzzards. The panoramic scene from the cliff is a treasured place to admire the fall colors. You can enjoy Amish stands nearby at Miller’s, or Keim Family Market.
These are just a few of my favorite haunts. I hope this summer you’ll enjoy some of them and also discover some paths of your own.
For more information, check out TrekOhio, trekohio.com, and Ohio Department of Natural Resources, ohiodnr.gov.