“Find the green on the map and go.”
That’s tried and true advice for Central Ohio’s would-be hikers, and it comes from the lips of local hiking expert Ryan Hamler, a shopkeeper at The Outdoor Source and a veteran of some of America’s legendary trails.
Don’t over-think Hamler’s simple, commonsense encouragement for hiking in and around the Columbus area. Your hometown and the surrounding areas provide miles of beautiful hiking trails that exist in many Columbus Metro Parks, nearby state parks, the Hocking Hills region and even a 1,400-mile loop that is easily accessible to this region.
And, of course, the fitness benefits are numerous.
If you’re trying to get fit on a budget, there’s minimal overhead expense for new hikers. Beginners need only rely on items you probably have around your house, Hamler said.
“Obviously, a decent pair of shoes, the book bag you use to go to class, a couple water bottles, some sun block, some bug spray, lunch and a rain jacket,” he said of the required tools. “If you’re going out for the day, you already have what you need.”
Hamler, who successfully completed (or “thru-hiked”) the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails end to end, suggested considering an investment in hiking poles. These collapsible, ski pole-esque devices provide two additional points of contact with the ground and simultaneously alleviate stress on your knees and other joints. Hamler emphasized that this is an optional purchase, though.
As for where to begin your hiking adventure, many of the Columbus Metro Parks should serve you well — a whopping 58 of them offer some kind of hiking trail, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website. Hamler highlighted Highbanks, Clear Creek and Glacier Ridge Metro Parks as his favorite destinations in the system.
“One thing we do lack [in Ohio] is big mountains, but there are plenty of opportunities to hike around town,” Hamler said. “Highbanks offers several miles of hiking … Clear Creek has some real solid trails, too.”
For those in search of a hiking experience farther from urban areas, a 30-minute drive from the city to A.W. Marion State Park could be the answer. A.W. Marion packs plenty into the 309-acre site, including scenic views and the 145-acre Hargus Lake. Best of all, it’s the six-mile loop around the lake.
Advanced hikers can get their fill in-state, as well. Zaleski State Forest in Vinton and Athens counties has 10-mile and 23.5-mile (overnight) trail options, and Wildcat Hollow in Wayne National Forest offers 15-mile and five-mile loops, too.
One in-state hike – the Buckeye Trail – surpasses the rest literally and figuratively. The Buckeye Trail features more than 1,400 miles of hiking and takes adventurers on a loop around the entire state. The nearest point of entry for the Buckeye Trail is in the hiking hotbed of Hocking Hills State Park. In the event that you don’t feel adequately prepared for the Buckeye Trail, Hocking Hills’ six hiking areas and multiple trails are worthy destinations. It is also one of Hamler’s personal favorite spots (he noted some of the hidden hollows can provide temperatures 15-20 degrees cooler than other locations in the area).
If all the talk of mileage and acreage sounds daunting, keep in mind that there are myriad health and fitness benefits to joining the growing community of hikers in the region.
“Hiking is simple. It’s easy and it’s not high-impact, so it’s a great way to get into shape,” Hamler said. “It’s not high-aerobic either, and you probably don’t need to consult your doctor if you don’t have a lot of activity in your life.
“All these places are right in our backyard, so get out there. You don’t have an excuse.”