When friends in Cincinnati invited us to meet them in nearby Loveland for canoeing and lunch, the boys and I eagerly agreed. We had been looking for a fun outing before they returned to school, and this seemed perfect.

In addition to having a canoe livery a few blocks from the downtown, the quaint city boasts a well-used bike path, a large park with an amphitheater, kid-friendly dining options and interesting shops.

Our first stop was Loveland Canoe & Kayak, located about 95 miles southwest of Columbus. The company offers hourly departures. We opted for the Castle Adventure tour, a 5-mile excursion on the Little Miami River. The friendly staff loaded our party of seven into a van and drove us to the put-in site. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip on the Little Miami, which is a designated State and National Scenic River.

We paddled past turtles sunning themselves on logs, great blue herons standing stoically at the water’s edge and Loveland Castle, a life-size replica of an English castle built decades ago. We even saw a snake stick its head out of the water.

On the day we went, the water was slow and shallow enough that we allowed the five kids—ranging in age from 10 to 18—to partner up and canoe on their own. The 10-year-old rotated between the canoes. Loveland Canoe & Kayak requires children to wear life jackets. The livery also shows a safety video to prepare canoers for the trip.

The kids’ canoeing experience ranged from first-timer to a Boy Scout with a merit badge in the activity. They all did great. We stopped several times along the way to share snacks or watch the wildlife. The trip took about three hours. It drizzled a little but no one complained. Others on the trip packed lunches and pulled over along the banks to picnic.

We easily spotted the pullout area, and the staffers once again were there to help us manage the canoes and equipment.

For lunch, we decided to try the Works, a pizzeria housed in a former fire station. We enjoyed our pizzas, which were prepared in the restaurant’s brick oven.

After lunch, we explored the bike path, which we had seen glimpses of while canoeing. The Loveland Bike Trail is about 70 miles long and takes riders through Little Miami State Park. In Loveland, cyclists can pull over for snacks or shopping. Two of the more popular spots are Hawaiian Shave Ice Trailside and Graeter’s.

Visitors also can tour Loveland Castle, which originally was built by Harry Delos Andrews to serve as a place for Andrews and his Boy Scout troop to camp. He began construction in 1929 using rocks from the riverbed and concrete bricks he made by pouring concrete into milk containers. The castle opened to the public in 1981 when Andrews died. It continues to serve as an overnight destination for Boy Scouts.

The outing was a great success, and I can see us returning to canoe, hike or bike. The state park, with its towering sycamore trees and interesting limestone rock formations, would be a great spot for leaf peeping.