The pandemic has prompted many families to go looking for outdoor activities to do with their children that can be done in a socially distanced way. For me, this search has led to exploring many new parks in and around the Columbus area. There are SO MANY beautiful parks to enjoy with your family that are only a short drive away. I’m just sad it took a pandemic for me to realize it!

Nothing is better for your mental health than getting outside and away from the four walls of your home that seem to be constantly surrounding you as of late. This list of the BEST state parks and nature preserves in the Columbus area for families is sure to inspire you to beat the mental drudgery of 2020 and explore the natural world that is just around the corner.

So, let’s get down to it. Where are the BEST spots to take your kids to burn some energy and immerse yourselves in nature?!

Slate Run Living Historical Farm

This amazing place is entrancing and beautiful. The farm takes you back in time with volunteers in period dress who tend the farm and the animals that live there. We saw horses, chickens, cows, turkeys, and sheep during our visit. We also saw an old plow that was hitched to a horse that a volunteer was guiding around the field.

Such a cool experience and educational too! It’s fun to take a look back in the past and see what life was like for people way back when. In my opinion, totally worth the long drive, if you live far away like I do!

Slate Run Metro Park

Slate Run Historical Farm is located within the larger metro park of Slate Run. When you check out the farm, don’t forget to pack a lunch and explore the scenic walking trails as well! They have a natural play area and plenty of wildlife to observe.

Emily Traphagen Preservation Park

Emily Taphagen Nature Preserve features a pair of shorter walking trails which are perfect for walking with little ones. There’s a large field to have a picnic, play soccer, or throw a ball during your visit. There is playground equipment as well as a natural play area. This is great for both your little ones as well as older children!

This is a less frequented park you don’t want to miss out on. The smaller size is perfectly suited for exploring all in one visit with your kids. There is also a shelter there that we rented for my daughter’s 2nd birthday. It is well kept and beautiful.

Innis Woods Metro Gardens

These metro gardens are the perfect place for picture taking or strolling around to take in the beauty. My family always has pictures done here in the spring. So pretty there! You’ll love wandering along the paths and discovering all the nooks and crannies these gardens have to offer.

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park

The biggest draw for me when it comes to visiting Darby Creek Metro Park is seeing the herd of bison that lives there. If you don’t spot the bison in the field close to the road, follow the signs to the nature building and check out the field behind it. There are view finders on the deck that wraps around the building that should help you to find them.

This Metro Park has playground equipment as well if you’re looking for ways for your kids to climb and burn energy in that way after exploring the walking trails.

Havener Nature Preserve/ Deer Haven Park

These parks are side by side and feature so many different habitats that motivated my five-year-old to keep on walking even when on other trails she might have otherwise tired. She was eager to discover what new habitat was just a little ways down the path. There are changes in elevation too, which were fun to conquer together.

There is a viewing blind my children loved to dance around in and to peek out the viewing holes. We probably scared away any wildlife we might have been able to see from the blind, but, we had a ton of fun!

Blendon Woods Metro Park

We LOVE the natural play area path at Blendon Woods Metro Park. There’s a zip line and a teeter totter and tether ball post. It is so much fun to walk around this path and explore. We usually do a couple laps around the path.

There are also wild turkeys at Blendon Woods that we’ve seen on occasion in the parking lot. It’s always fun to see wild turkeys!

Glacier Ridge Metro Park

If you haven’t been to Glacier Ridge in the last 5 years, it’s worth the trip! They have a really cool wooden play structure that features a zip line, and warp walls like you might see on America Ninja Warrior. There is also a traditional playground, if that is your preference. There are walking trails, of course, and we have also brought bikes out to use on their multi-use trails.

If you like frisbee golf, this park also has a frisbee golf course that goes through the woods that would be fun with older children.

Kiwanis River Walk

We love this super short trail down by the Scioto River. It’s fun to see the variety of birds down by the river and see the beautiful trees. Perfect for a quick walk with young children and it is rarely crowded.

Char Mar Ridge

The natural play area at this nature preserve is phenomenal. Your kids will love exploring the creek bed and walking over the bridge.

Shale Hollow Preservation Park

Shale Hallow was a “new-to-us” park to explore this year. It probably has one of the most extensive natural play areas of all of the parks we have visited.

Take boots or shoes for your kids to wade through the water. Also, take an extra change of clothes in case your kids take a dip in the water.

Park of Roses

One of our favorite places to visit, the Park of Roses is a beautiful place to wander around and see how the gardens are growing. Of course, it’s more fun to go when the roses are in bloom. But there is also a lovely playground nearby to explore.

When we’re in the area, we will take coffee or food to the park to enjoy the scenery as we eat and talk on one of the many benches in the park.

I urge you to check out the websites for each of these beautiful parks and nature preserves to see what other activities they provide. The metro park system has many great programs and activities to discover, if you know to look. I follow the Metro Parks on Facebook to stay up-to-date on the fun extras the Metro Parks provide like creeking and other educational programs!

Explore your area and have fun.

If you’re like me, getting outside and being in nature greatly increases my mood and helps with my mental health. This is true for my children as well. Their moods are lighter and their bodies more tired at the end of the day when we’ve gotten to spend a good amount of time outside in the fresh air.

I once heard it said “If your children are bouncing off the walls, take away the walls.”

Take away the walls and you take away the anxiety and tension for both you and your children. We could all use a release of anxiety during this stressful time. Getting outside provides stress relief for everyone and helps us maintain a positive mental state.

I hope this list inspires you to get outside and learn more about the beautiful parks in central Ohio! Enjoy!

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