Here are some of the best hiking trails to visit across Ohio this fall

Visitors explore Rock House in Hocking Hills State Park.
Visitors explore Rock House in Hocking Hills State Park.

From the rocky ledges of Hocking Hills State Park, cavernous cliffs of Clifton Gorge and wild ecosystems near Toledo to the rushing waterfalls of Cuyahoga Valley National Park and vast lakes of the southwest part of the state, Ohio has dozens of pretty incredible hiking opportunities.

The lodging is great too. There's the wild: in treehouses or in a tent in the backcountry. And the comfortable: a cozy cabin or luxurious lodge.

Hiking isn't the only activity, either. Ziplining, mountain biking and other adventures can be had near many of Ohio's hiking destinations.

We compiled seven great hikes in the Buckeye state, some of which are familiar, others of which you may have never heard, and many of which might have you thinking "I can't believe this is in Ohio."

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Gorgeous, towering waterfalls, ledges and deep forest treks can be found in Ohio's only national park, nestled between Cleveland and Akron.

About 100 waterfalls lie within the park's borders, and they've been ranked among the best in the US. That's a daunting number to see in just one visit, so here are some of the most spectacular falls in the park:

Brandywine Falls is not only the tallest in the park at 65 feet, it's the tallest in Northeast Ohio. This spectacular site is also one of the most popular in the park, so beginning the 1.5 mile trek early in the morning or late in the day is advised to avoid the crowds.

You can also avoid the busy Brandywine Falls parking lot, which is closed until Sept. 30, 2022, and enjoy a longer walk of 3.3 to 5.7 miles, miles roundtrip, depending on the trailhead you choose. Here's how to do it.

Avoid the bigger crowds and closures, and check out the much smaller but just as picturesque Blue Hen Falls, a hilly (580-foot change in elevation- a lot for Ohio!) 3-mile round trip walk that can be started at Boston Mill Visitor Center on the rugged Buckeye Trail. Plenty of info can be found here. See two waterfalls in one via the Buttermilk Falls via Blue Hen trail, a 3.9 out and back trail. The trailhead is at the Boston Mill Visitor Center via the Buckeye Trail Trailhead.

Or, skip the waterfalls altogether and hike the Ledges Trail, a path which meanders through towering rock formations. More than 125 miles of hiking trails lie within the park.

What to know if you visit:

  • Entrance to Cuyahoga Valley National park is free.

  • Backcountry camping is prohibited.

  • Overnight RV parking is not available in the park.

  • There are several campgrounds nearby. Here's a list.

  • Here's a park map.

East Fork Lake State Park

I'm possibly giving away my own secret when I share this little slice of paradise, which lies just 35 minutes outside of downtown Cincinnati. It's possibly the most gorgeous place to hike in the Cincinnati area, with rivers slowly slicing into the forest floor, the vast Harsha Lake, which looks like something out of a postcard from Maine, the beach (possibly the only area of the park that sees crowds), the vast 360-degree views from the top of the dams. I've seen three bald eagles in the park in the past three months alone.

There's plenty of hiking trails, each with its own personality, and none of them crowded. There's a 5-mile trek which descends into a burbling creek, crosses the water and meanders through the forest and along hills overlooking the lakeshore before wandering through the forest for the rest of the trek. There's quick flat 2-milers, and then there's Tailwater, a 2-mile leg-burner that cuts through steep forest grades and across hilltops.

In the mood for a longer trek? Try the 16-mile backpack trail. How about a weekender? Check out the 33-mile Steven Newman Worldwalker Perimeter Trail.

Or simply park and walk on the road across the top of the park's two dams. The views are spectacular, and you just might see a bald eagle soaring above the lake, especially in the evening as they hunt seagulls who have begun to raft together on the water for the evening. Walk this route at your own risk - while traffic isn't super heavy, you will be sharing this trek with vehicles.

You might want to take along a kayak or a mountain bike when you visit. There are plenty of great mountain biking trails for a range of skill levels, and the lake is the perfect size for a day of exploring by way of paddling.

What to know if you visit: 

John Bryan State Park and Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve

This hardly seems like the same Little Miami River that flows in the Greater Cincinnati area rather peacefully, with a mildly exciting rapid here and there, easily navigable, and often overflowing with amateur kayakers and canoers.

Here, just on the outskirts of colorful Yellow Springs, Ohio, that same river thunders, tumbles, cascades through narrow canyons and around huge islands made of boulders. Through the years, it has cut a sharp gorge through the otherwise flat, cornfield-heavy landscape, which seems to exist sleepily, unsuspecting of the nearby torrent of water cutting a deep gash into the area's rather flat geology.

And there is a small network of trails that make a big loop around it all. The hike can be started at either John Bryan State Park or Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, which neighbor each other, and make for a fantastic day of hiking.

I like to park in John Bryan State Park at the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati Stagecoach trailhead, and take the upper trail to the end of the trail at Clifton Gorge. Then I descend into the river canyon and follow the river until the trail meets a bridge to the other side, and to the South Gorge Trail, which eventually crosses again and leads back to the parking lot. The whole thing is approximately 5.5 miles.

What to know if you visit:

Glen Helen Nature Preserve

Right on the outskirts of Yellow Springs lies an unassuming entrance to Glen Helen Nature Preserve with its 20-plus miles of trails tucked into the forest, and much of which follows Yellow Springs Creek, Birch Creek and other springs that feed them. Waterfalls abound, and the forest is lovely to walk through.

Combine this trip with John Bryan and Clifton Gorge, and pay a visit to Yellow Springs to shop, people watch, grab coffee and dine. Nearby Young's Dairy and Historic Clifton Mill are worth a visit, too.

What to know if you visit:

  • Parking is $5, $2 per person for group visits.

  • Here's a trail map.

  • Picnics, hammocks and camping are not permitted.

Hocking Hills State Park

I know I'm not alone in wishing I could take a day trip from Ohio to the western United States. There are not many places in Ohio to hike where it feels like you're in another state. But parts of Hocking Hills State Park feel like you're on another planet. With its otherworldly rock formations, it's hard to beat the scenery of this park in the Buckeye State. It reminds me a bit of Utah with lots of trees.

The most popular hike in the park is arguably Old Man's Cave, and it attracts crowds for good reason. The trail winds through towering cliffs and imposing boulders of the gorge carved out by Old Man's Creek. Hikers can spend their time exploring the magnificent one-half-mile gorge, and who could blame them for soaking it all in here.

But there's so much more to see: the one-mile Hemlock Bridge trail connects from here to the .2 mile Whispering Cave Trail, and for a longer adventure, the Grandma Gatewood Trail, a six mile trek that connects to Cedar Falls and Ash Cave, a massive recessed cave from which tumbles a towering waterfall. The trail is part of the Buckeye Trail, which encircles Ohio, and is part of two national systems, the North Country Scenic Trail and America's Discovery Trail.

While the Old Man's Cave area and its connecting trails alone are well worth the trip to Hocking Hills, there are so many other trails worthy of exploration. Rock House is just a 1/4-mile trek, and it's tunnels carved in a 150-foot cliff are awe-inspiring.

For a quieter hike, check out Cantwell Cliffs. Its more remote location attracts few crowds. There's a couple ways to conquer this short hike, which clocks in at less than 2 miles. My favorite takes you through "Fat Woman's Squeeze," a staircase cut into the rocks to the valley floor.

Just outside of the Hocking Hills is the state's largest natural bridge, located in Rockbridge Nature Preserve. The preserve has just under 3 miles of trails to explore, including one that leads to the bridge, as well as hikes past other rock formations and an overhang cave

What to know if you visit:

  • Admission is free.

  • Many of the ledges, rocks and cliffs are precarious and slippery. Stay on the trail and use caution.

  • There are plenty of Airbnbs, cabin rentals and campgrounds in the area. You can even stay in a treehouse.

  • Weekends during the warmer months do see crowds in Hocking Hills.

  • Here's a map of the trails.

  • If you're into ziplining, there are a few companies in the area.

Oak Openings Preserve Metro Park

A rare ecosystem where oak savanna and wetlands are neighbors to sand dunes and prickly pear cactus lies 30 minutes southwest of Toledo. Who knew?

Oak Openings Preserve Metropark boasts 70-plus miles of trails to explore what the Nature Conservancy has called one of the "200 “Last Great Places on Earth.” More than 100 rare plants call the park home, more than anywhere in the state, thanks to the diverse landscape.

Walk through wetlands and sand dunes left from ancient glacial beaches all in a 1.6-mile walk on the Sand Dunes Trail.

If you really want to stretch your legs, the 15.3 mile look Oak Openings Hiking Trail, and maybe even make it a 2-day adventure by staying in the White Oak or Springbrook campgrounds. Or trek to three lakes on the Fern and Lakes trail in just under 3 miles.

Further elevating the unique factor of this park is the Cannaley Treehouse Village - the only public treehouse village in the US. Here, you can rent a six, four, or two-person treehouse. Tent or hammock camping is also available on one of three raised platforms. There's also a common treehouse, an group campfire area, and a canopy walk. Here's how to book.

What to know if you visit:

  • Admission is free

  • The park has two campgrounds, two cabins and a treehouse village. Here's more information.

  • Mountain bikers might want to bring bikes for the Beach Ridge Singletrack Trail.

A sign welcomes guests to Cincinnati's Eden Park on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.
A sign welcomes guests to Cincinnati's Eden Park on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.

Buckeye Trail

The West Coast has the Pacific Rim Trail. The East Coast has the Appalachian Trail. Ohio has the Buckeye trail, a 1,400 trail circling Ohio, and intersecting the region's best scenery.

Sure, you could tackle this thing all at once, but it is hike-able in sections, and in fact, if you've hiked anywhere in Ohio (and you've seen blue blazes painted on the trail), chances are you already have. In fact, the Buckeye Trail is already mentioned in this list. Old Man's Cave contains a section - the Grandma Gatewood Trail. And Cuyahoga Valley National Park's eight-mile Red Lock-Boston Loop is part of the Buckeye Trail.

The overlook in Cincinnati's Eden Park, Headlands Beach State Park on Lake Erie, the Miami and Erie Canal - all on the Buckeye Trail.

The trail's website has all the information you need for this trek, including the trail divided into sections.

What should I bring on a fall hike?

First of all, dress in layers. Avoid cotton, as it holds in moisture and sweat. If the temperature drops, that moisture can cause your body to lose heat, or worse − hypothermia. I like to like with a lightweight tank top as my base layer. I'll layer a lightweight thermal over that, and bring a lightweight and/or heavyweight fleece, depending on the weather forecast. Wool socks like ones from Smartwool are wonderful and temperature-regulating in all temps. Bring an extra pair in case your feet get soggy. And don't forget a good, packable rain jacket in case the weather calls for rain. A packable sunhat or ball cap and bandana are great for sun protection. Last but not least, water. Hydration is just as important in chilly weather as it is on warm days.

If you invest in any gear please, consider investing in a small backpack, proper shoes, a water bottle or bladder and first aid kit.

I've seen so many people on treacherous trails in slippery converse or worse, flip flops struggling to avoid a fall. Affordable, gently used shoes with nice grippy soles that ensure you stay sure-footed can be found at places such as Re/Supply or for a fraction of the price.

Equally important is a good first aid kit, which comes in handy for everything from blisters and bee stings to heavy bleeding.

I'm a sucker for fun hiking gear. From shoes to packs, hiking packs and rain jackets, I have amassed a nice little collection of goods for my outdoor adventures. And I'm always looking for top-quality, expertly-tested gear at the best possible price.

One of my favorite ways to do that is to read up on tried and tested gear on websites like Outdoor Gear Lab and Gear Junkie. Websites like this are dedicated to testing the gear for days and picking out the best of the best.

To save money, I don't just stick to the current year's reviews. I'll look up the past couple years' top gear (most of which is equal in quality as the current year) before scouring sources such as Poshmark, eBay and Google for markdowns (just be wary of fakes, especially with more popular brands like North Face). I've always been quite happy with the gear I've found: a fabulous windbreaker which kept me quite comfy on a boat in the San Francisco Bay; a rain jacket that kept me bone dry in Scotland's heavy rain. Several breathable yet toasty fleece jackets that have kept me warm and comfortable on many hikes through crazy sleet-one-minute-sunshine-the next weather in the Colorado mountains and late winter runs through my local park. The toastiest socks for skiing for my popsicle-prone toes.

REI is also an excellent source for gear, and their $20 for life membership is well worth the price. It literally pays dividends from the past year's purchases, and includes a one year return policy. Their house brand is top-notch too.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Hiking in Ohio: the best in the state to visit this fall