Sure, Cincinnati's not necessarily perched atop a snowy mountain ridge or basking in the warmth of an ocean coastline.
But that certainly doesn't mean that our beloved Queen City is disconnected from the great outdoors. Between the multi-faceted parks within Cincy itself and the ever-impressive destinations that comprise the Great Parks of Hamilton County system, there's a whole lotta nature at our fingertips. But sometimes...
Sometimes, you're looking for something a little more substantial. A bit more immersive.
If you happen to be pining for a weekend trek or a backpacking adventure, fret not -- our region has plenty to offer. (& Yes, a bit of extra effort might be required to reach a truly great spot. But then again, we Midwesterners aren't known for shying away from a bit of extra effort. Right?)
Here are some of our favorite destinations.
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1) HOCKING HILLS, Ohio
Distance from Downtown Cincy: approx. 2.5 hours
A special place near Cincinnati, in the direction of Columbus. This spot is great during all times of the year and can even fit nicely into a lovely day-trip (if you get an early start). Attractions like Old Man's Cave and Upper & Lower Falls can get quite busy with tourists, but don't let that scare you off. If these popular destinations might be a bit too accessible to feel really special or secluded, keep on marching. You'll likely find some solitude about a half-mile in.
Tip: Because this destination tends to get crowded, winter can be the most ideal time to visit.
2) RED RIVER GORGE, Kentucky
Distance from Downtown Cincy: approx. 2.25 hours
Red River Gorge, located southeast of Cincinnati, is best known for its amazing climbing. If you live in the region and have any interest in the sport, this is the place for you. Located within the Daniel Boone National Forest, this stunning park is easily accessible -- perfect for a weekend trip. Backpacking overnight is the best way to absorb "the Gorge," though I've also had some great weekend "glamping" experiences in some of the area's well-outfitted hot tub cabins.
Tip: Trails worth checkin' out include... Gray's Arch, Natural Bridge Laurel Ridge Trail, and Chimney Top Rock.
3) CUMBERLAND GAP SAND CAVES, Kentucky
Distance from Downtown Cincy: approx. 3.5 hours
A lesser-known (but no less great) two-day backpacking trip within driving distance is Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Take off after work on Friday and spend the night in the little mountain town of Cumberland Gap. Backpacking the Ridge Trail will bring you to two gorgeous stops: White Rocks and Sand Cave.
4) INDIANA DUNES STATE PARK, Indiana
Distance from Downtown Cincy: approx. 4.5 hours
Hiking the Indiana Sand Dunes makes for a classic day of lakeside fun. Enjoy the skyline of Chicago from across Lake Michigan as you run on the dunes and splash in the waves.
Tip: In addition to reveling in the natural sights & sites, make sure to check out the charming town of Beverly Shores. The area's got quite a lot to do, in fact. Here's a great resource to get you started.
5) PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST, North Carolina
Distance from Downtown Cincy: approx. 6.5 hours
If you're willing to drive a little ways for a weekend of great backpacking, skip the Smoky Mountain National Park crowd and head to the Linville Gorge. On your way, hit Looking Glass Falls for a delightful peek at a roadside waterfall.
Tip: If you're heading down this way, you'll probably want to go ahead and make a whole trip of it. Dive into the artsy/outdoorsy, sleepy/bustling, all-around enchanting city of Asheville. There's something for everybody.
6)NEW RIVER GORGE, West Virginia
Distance from Downtown Cincy: approx. 5 hours
The New River Gorge definitely deserves a spot on this list (though, full disclosure, I prefer it for its whitewater rafting). This drivable weekend getaway allows you to experience world-class rapids right near middle America. Hikes in the region tend to showcase springtime blooms a few weeks earlier than Cincinnati, so get there as soon as winter lets up.
7) CLIFTY FALLS, Indiana
Distance from Downtown Cincy: approx. 1.5 hours
An easy drive from Cincinnati, Clifty Falls offers a great five- or ten-mile day-hike. The hike itself is challenging and involves lots of stone-stepping up a (somewhat) drained riverbed. The waterfall ranges from dried-up to moderately impressive, depending on the amount of rainfall the area received prior to your visit. To maximize your chances of seeing the falls in its prime, consider a trip during the spring.
Tip: After leaving Clifty Falls State Park, grab lunch in historic Madison, Indiana on the ride home.
8) BIG SOUTH FORK, Tennessee
Distance from Downtown Cincy: approx. 4 hours
This destination is better suited to a long weekend trip, rather than a day-hike. But you should definitely have it on your radar. Big South Fork National River is a ton of fun and relatively easy to tackle. The hike is ideally enjoyed as a multi-day backpacking trip. Taking your time will allow you to really root into the experience -- you know... play in the river, do some rock jumping, perhaps even spot some wildlife.
9) YELLOW SPRINGS, Ohio
Distance from Downtown Cincy: approx. 1.25 hours
Yellow Springs makes for the perfect day-trip on a sunny, Ohio day. Head up to this funky/rustic town for an easy (but undeniably pretty) hike through the John Bryant State Park.
Tip: After the hike, check out the town. There are some great coffee shops, beer bars, and pizza joints that make for a nice treat after a morning in the woods.
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& Just for a fun...
A quick "tip of the hat" to the amazing (and sometimes unexpected) outdoor options within the Queen City.
10) SPRING GROVE CEMETERY, Cincinnati
Distance from Downtown Cincy: 15 mins
(... Hello Northside!)
Though it might sound a bit eerie, this urban cemetery is one of the most relaxing places to stroll in Cincinnati. The paths are paved and the stories are endless as you wander through miles of well-loved, gorgeously maintained landscaping. Small lakes are scattered throughout the property, making for many a lovely photo op (or just a nice chance to sit and enjoy the stillness of a quiet space).
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Happy spring, Cincy. Get on out there!