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Five ways to spend more time in Ohio’s great outdoors in 2024

A man walks his small dog through a forest of yellow leaves.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
A man hikes along a trail at the Cincinnati Nature Center during peak fall color. Jason Fallon from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and stay healthy at the same time.

Spending time outside has a lot of benefits for both physical and mental wellness.

Research shows being outside encourages physical activity, social interaction and decreases stress.

But making time to get outside isn’t always easy, especially during a cold, dreary Ohio winter.

Jason Fallon, a public information officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, says it’s still worthwhile.

He’s been hiking, camping, paddling and wildlife watching all over the country, and says Ohio has a lot to offer.

“Ohio's outdoors are underrated, in my opinion,” Fallon said. “[Around] the country, most people think we're just farm fields with dust bunnies rolling down the streets, and it's not even close to that. From Lake Erie down to the Ohio River and Hocking Hills, it's incredible the amount of diversity that our outdoors has in Ohio.”

Water cascades down a waterfall at a park in Ohio.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
Water cascades down Brandywine Falls, a 60-foot waterfall at Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland.

Here’s how he recommends enjoying more of the state’s great outdoors:

1. Find a park near you.

You don’t have to travel to the Grand Canyon to enjoy Mother Nature. In fact, Fallon said, there are plenty of spectacular sites right here in Ohio.

Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park, southeast of Cleveland, for example, offers a series of trails that traverse rocky cliffs and fissures.

“It's almost like you're in Narnia or Lord of the Rings with the rock formations,” Fallon said.

On the other side of the state, visitors to John Bryan State Park east of Dayton can walk for miles along the Little Miami River.

State parks like these are located all over Ohio, and they’re free to enter. But don’t hesitate to look for something even closer.

“I tell people, get online, check out something near to them,” Fallon said. “Maybe it's not one of our state parks or nature preserves. Maybe it's one of their closer metro parks. Or maybe it's a park right down the street from their place.”

2. Try something new, like stargazing.

Jason Fallon is a big fan of hiking.

“My absolute favorite thing to do is hike,” he said, “because not only is it a great way to get outdoors and see the outdoors, it's also a great way to stay healthy.”

But he recognizes that not everybody shares this joy.

That’s okay, he said, because there are so many other ways to enjoy nature.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ event calendar is full of activities like orienteering, archery class, raptor feeding, nature journaling and stargazing.

And this year, an extra special natural event will take place in Ohio: the solar eclipse on April 8.

That’s a great opportunity to get outside, Fallon said.

3. Engage all of your senses.

Once you get outside, Fallon recommends finding ways to engage each of your senses.

A huge white and yellow flower blooms on a lake surrounded by lily pads.
Cowan Lake State Park Facebook
American lotus flowers bloom each summer at Cowan Lake State Park. Visitors can paddle through the blooms, which smell like vanilla.

Breathe in the scent of a pine forest. Feel the dirt on your toes. Listen to the chirping birds.

“Getting all the different senses really activated when you're outdoors is the best way to enjoy it,” he said.

For a full sensory experience, he suggests checking out Cowan Lake State Park in July or August, when the American lotus flowers bloom.

“You can actually paddle [through] them,” Fallon said, “and they smell like vanilla if you get up really close.”

4. Dress for the weather.

Engaging all of your senses is less fun if the predominant sense is a feeling of cold or hunger.

So bundle up and bring snacks, Fallon said.

“Safety is number one,” he said. “Make sure you dress for the weather and have the right shoes.”

But don’t let cold weather turn you away from the outdoors altogether.

“To me, winter is one of my favorite times to get outdoors because there's not a lot of people outside,” Fallon said.

Plus, snow covered vistas and frozen waterfalls are truly a sight to behold.

5. Find a friend or take the family.

Spending time outside can offer an opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and appreciate some quality alone time.

But if that’s not your cup of tea, Fallon suggests bringing a friend or taking the whole family along for the adventure.

The sun sets over Lake Erie. A boat sits in the middle of the lake.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
A boat sails into the sunset on Lake Erie, where families can enjoy a wide range of recreational activities.

That’s partly why he enjoys hiking so much.

“I can do it in a group. I can do it by myself,” he said. “It's just as enjoyable either way.”

For family fun, Fallon suggests staying at a cabin in Hocking Hills, wildlife watching by the Mohican State Scenic River or exploring the pioneer village at Caesar Creek State Park.

No matter how you choose to adventure, Fallon says put down your cell phone, immerse yourself in beauty and “just let go.”

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.