State parks offer seasonal family fun

Halloween is a great time to make family memories, and Central Ohioans have several chances to do so this season at Ohio State Parks.

Families can find 36 state parks within 100 miles of Columbus, 16 of which are within an hour's drive. Seven of those will celebrate Halloween in some significant way between late September and the end of October.

The granddaddy of them all is the Halloween Campout at Hocking Hills State Park, on tap Oct. 27-29. Registered campers and cabin guests can trick or treat through the campground, watch a family-friendly spooky movie and participate in other activities. “This is a great event. It was the first one in the state park system,” said naturalist Pat Quackenbush. “It began in 1995 on a small scale, and then I came here in 1998 and it's really grown over the years.

“Scheduled events include a Friday night hike, which is fun and educational, too, because we look for owls and bats and small animals,” he said. Other activities include a costume parade and contest—for infants through adults as well as pets—and a campsite-decorating contest. “Some of these folks go all-out. Some come in on Monday and decorate all week,” Quackenbush said.

Saturday brings trick-or-treating, an event so popular that last year Quackenbush gave out more than 500 pieces of candy, and a hayride through the campground. “I think we have the fanciest hayride wagon in the state park system,” he said with a chuckle. “About six years ago, we had a weekend with snow flurries and then rain so we decided to put a roof on our wagon. One of our staff members painted the ceiling of the wagon, and the kids love it.”

Most activities are restricted to registered campers and cabin guests, but anyone can participate in the Friday night hike and the Saturday morning pumpkin carving at the Old Man's Cave shelter house. “It's a weekend designed for fun. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and we go all out,” Quackenbush said.

Other Opportunities

Multiple other state parks also offer Halloween Campouts. Activities may include night hikes, scavenger hunts, hayrides, face painting and contests, according to Eric Heis, public information officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “People are looking for camping sites to extend the summer as long as they can, and Halloween events are a great opportunity to go camping with family even though summer is over,” he said.

The full event schedule will be posted in early to mid-October at ohiostateparks.org. Note that some activities are open to anyone and some are restricted to registered campers and cabin guests. Find the 2017-18 state parks booklet with a map of all facilities at parks.ohiodnr.gov/portals/parks/pdfs/about/welcomemap2017.pdf.

“Halloween weekends at our state parks goes to show that there are fun, affordable opportunities for families at our state parks year-round,” said Division of Parks and Watercraft Chief Michael Bailey. He also suggests checking the parks calendar at parks.ohiodnr.gov/calendar.

Here's a sampling of Halloween events at state parks relatively close to Central Ohio:

Sept. 29-30 – Fall Festival at Delaware State Park with trick-or-treating, costume and site-decoration contests, movies and hay rides. (5202 U.S. Route 23 N., Delaware) Sept. 29-30 and Oct. 6-7 – Halloween Campout at Hueston Woods State Park with a haunted trail, games, campsite decorating and treats. (6301 Park Office Road, College Corner) Oct. 6-7 – Fall Festival at Alum Creek State Park, with a haunted trail, pumpkin decorating and costume and site-decoration contests. (3305 S. Old State Road, Delaware) Oct. 13-14 – Halloween Campout at Shawnee State Park with trick-or-treating, a costume parade and a pumpkin-carving contest. (4404 State Route 105, Portsmouth) Oct. 27-28 – Halloween Campout at Deer Creek State Park, with trick-or-treating, movies, costume and site-decoration contests, music and vendors. ( 20635 State Park Road 20, Mount Sterling) Oct. 29 – Burr Oak State Park will hold an event with trick-or-treating, a scavenger hunt, pumpkin carving, a Spooktacular Night Hike, a campfire with s'mores and face painting. (10220 Burr Oak Lodge Road, Glouster)