Bison Hike at Battele Darby Creek Metro Park
Travel | With Kids

Kids Adventures: Hikes & Night Events

Tackle the youngster-friendly trail to Ash Cave, check out the bison at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park and more. 

Hikes & Night Events | Bugs, Blooms & Water | History & Farm Life | Camps & Classes | Animals 

Bison Hike at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park
Bison once roamed Ohio’s prairies. They do once again at this park system just outside Columbus. 

There’s nothing quite like an Ohio prairie in August, filled with sunflowers stretching to the sky and other fleeting blooms. The problem is children don’t find them all that enthralling. 

“It’s very hard to get kids excited about prairies,” says Peg Hanley, public information manager for Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks. “We thought a great way to do that would be to reintroduce the bison herd that once roamed freely in Ohio.” 

So, the park system built the fencing and infrastructure necessary to create a place for the animals to call home before relocating six female bison from The Wilds in Cumberland in 2011. The animals have since grown to a herd of 11 thanks to a bull bison brought in to increase the animals’ numbers.

The bison can be seen in two paddocks — one during winter and a different one during summer. Although the herd moves around and visitors are never quite sure where they’ll be, a short hike from the nature center gives families the chance to spot the enormous mammals, which can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds. 

“You’re looking at the largest land mammal in North America,” says park naturalist Tim Taylor. “It’s just awesome to see such a huge, huge animal. The kids’ smiles are immense.”

But the bison’s presence isn’t merely to draw visitors. The animals roam what was once Ohio’s Darby Plains, which the park system has been working to restore since the 1970s. 

“The bison help maintain the prairies by their stomping and moving the seeds,” says Hanley. “They are an integral part of that ecosystem.” 1775 Darby Creek Dr., Galloway 43119, 614/370-6254, metroparks.net

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Brandywine Falls
Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s enchanting 65-foot waterfall draws a steady stream of visitors, including plenty of families who climb down into the gorge to get a closer look. A walkway makes that trip easier and offers two options for exploring. “There’s a wooden boardwalk that leads to an upper viewing area and a lower viewing area,” explains Pamela Barnes, the park’s community engagement supervisor. “The lower area has some steep areas and it is not accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, but the upper deck is very accessible.” Those looking to add a hike to their visit can take the Brandywine Gorge Trail, a 1 1/2-mile loop that guides hikers down into the gorge, over a creek and back up the other side. “The falls viewing area is extremely popular, especially on weekends in the summer,” adds Barnes. “I would suggest that families visit on a weekday.” 8176 Brandywine Rd., Sagamore Hills 44067, 330/ 657-2752, nps.gov/cuva

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Ash Cave
Hocking Hills State Park captures the imagination of young and old alike, but one hike is the best fit for young adventurers.  

Hocking Hills State Park contains some of Ohio’s most breathtaking natural treasures, but rim hikes along the top of towering rock formations aren’t for everyone, especially the littlest ones in your life. 

When it comes to the preschool crowd, Hocking Hills State Park naturalist Patrick Quackenbush says there is far and away one hike that works best:
Ash Cave. 

An easy-to-navigate, quarter-mile trail leads hikers from the Ash Cave trailhead to Ohio’s largest recess cave — measuring more than 700 feet from end to end. 

“If you know a little bit about what you’re looking for, there is Native American evidence all around you — everywhere you look, every boulder,” Quackenbush says. “With just a little bit of information it can be fascinating for children. And to top it off, as I always like to say, it leads you to southeastern Ohio’s biggest sandbox.

Each spring, Quackenbush leads a guided hike to Ash Cave for local preschoolers, which ends with shovels and pails. 

“They stay back there and play until lunchtime,” he says. “You’re talking a total hike of about a half mile — maybe a touch more than that, in and out.”

Similarly, the fully handicapped-accessible gorge trail through the center of Conkle’s Hollow is easy and stretches just three-fourths of a mile. Quackenbush points to it as another hike that works for young kids, complete with a shallow creek where youngsters can look for fish and other creatures.

“At the end, there’s a little bit of rock scrambling,” he says. “It’s nothing small children can’t handle, but it’s a little more of an adventure for them.”

No visit to the Hocking Hills is complete without a stop at Old Man’s Cave, but Quackenbush cautions about taking kids that are too young on what can be a taxing hike for little legs. 

“The problem preschoolers are going to have is the amount of steps there,” he says. Because there are multiple ways in and out of Old Man’s Cave, Quackenbush recommends parents of small children just tackle a portion of the hike.

“If they want to take a little one down, they can break the hike up into sections,” he says. “They could go from the upper falls to the visitor center and come out. That’s only about a third of a mile and it’s not so bad.” Ash Cave, 26400 St. Rte. 56, South Bloomingville 43152, 740/385-6842, ohiostateparks.org

Dragonfly Zipline Adventure
Hocking Hills Canopy Tours in Rockbridge draws scores of adventure seekers, but up until a few years ago, the smallest explorers couldn’t soar through the air like the big kids. That all changed in 2014 with the opening of Dragonfly Zipline Adventure. “Our main courses only accommodate ages 10 and up,” says Julieann Burroughs, owner of Hocking Hills Canopy Tours. “We wanted something that would encompass all ages.” The Dragonfly course takes kids on eight zip lines, across three fun bridges and through a sky tunnel. Best of all, everything is completely safe and secure thanks to a cable system connected to each child throughout the duration of the course. Unlike many adult zip line courses, kids don’t have to worry about clipping in and clipping out, leaving them to focus all of their attention on the experience. “They think it’s the closest thing to flying,” Burroughs says. Each admission includes two trips through the Dragonfly Zipline Adventure course, but Burroughs adds that’s just not enough for some kids. “You would be amazed at how many parents pay for a third and fourth time so their kids can go back through,” she says. $29; visit website for hours; 10714 Jackson St., Rockbridge 43149, 740/385-947, hockinghillscanopytours.com

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Holden Arboretum 
Give the kids a bird’s-eye view this summer with a visit to Holden Arboretum’s Canopy Walk and Emergent Tower. Constructed from a mix of suspension bridges and platforms, the Canopy Walk takes visitors up a ramp and into the treetops. “It is very easy access, and it will take you about 65 feet off the forest floor,” says Cait Anastis, who serves as editor of Holden Arboretum’s Forest & Garden magazine. “So you are walking in the middle of the forest.” Nearby, the 120-foot-tall Emergent Tower provides breathtaking views for those willing to climb the 202 steps to the top. “You can see 10 miles to the south and 10 miles to the north, which means you can see Lake Erie,” says Anastis, who adds that, perhaps most importantly, it offers kids a fresh perspective on the world around them. “It’s a safe adventure.” Visit website for admission and hours; 9550 Sperry Rd., Kirtland 44094, 440/946-4400, holdenarb.org

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Night Lights
The sun can’t have all the fun. Many parks set up night hikes, hunts and crafts to do under the moon and stars.

Dusk To Dark • Aug. 26
As the sun dips, Cleveland Metroparks’ Rocky River Nature Center invites kids to flip on their flashlights for a night hike highlighting the creatures that call the forest home. “The experience is something that your typical kid, even grownup, is not used to,” says Marty Calabrese, a Cleveland Metroparks naturalist. “Here, the animals are around us. It’s dark, it’s moonlit, and it’s just really unique.” Along with attracting moths, catching frogs and keeping an eye out for furry friends such as deer and coyotes, the event also invites kids to make a night-themed craft. The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association will also be on hand with telescopes. Free; 24000 Valley Pkwy., North Olmsted 44070, 440/734-6660, clevelandmetroparks.com

Moth Night • June 9, July 7, Aug. 11
Cedar Bog Nature Preserve is home to 650 species of plants, which means one thing: lots and lots of bugs. One of the most interesting-looking is the moth, and Cedar Bog is home to hundreds of varieties. They’re tough to spot during the day, but that all changes at night with a sheet and a light. The moths can’t resist being drawn to it, which allows entomologist and volunteer naturalist Jim Lemon to offer his guests a close-up view of the fascinating creatures. “Kids are excited to be out at night,” says Lemon. “We’ve seen moths, beetles and other nocturnal insects come to the cloth.” Free; 980 Woodburn Rd., Urbana 43078, 937/484-3744, cedarbognp.org


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