Central Ohio is home to a variety of park systems, which provide both green space and family-focused (and usually free) programming. We have written about some of these locations and included links to those articles beneath the listings.

Central Ohio is home to a variety of park systems, which provide both green space and family-focused (and usually free) programming. We have written about some of these locations and included links to those articles beneath the listings.

STATE PARKS

Find an Ohio state park on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' website. Here are six within easy driving distance from Columbus:

Alum Creek State Park (3615 S. Old State Road, Delaware 43015; 740-548-4631; parks.ohiodnr.gov/alumcreek) The Alum Creek reservoir is a popular destination for water-sports enthusiasts all year. Extensive trails offer options for horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, cross-country skiing and more. Activities include camping and cabin rental, disc golf, a dog park with water area, fishing, hunting (in-season), picnicking and swimming from Ohio's largest inland beach.

A.W. Marion State Park (7317 Warner Huffer Road, Circleville 43113; parks.ohiodnr.gov/awmarion) With just 306 acres of land and 145 acres of lake water, A.W. Marion is small but peaceful. Boating is electric-motor only. Swimming (for people and dogs), fishing, hiking and picnicking are available.

Buckeye Lake State Park (2905 Liebs Island Road, Millersport 43046; 740-467-2690; parks.ohiodnr.gov/buckeyelake) Dating from 1826, Buckeye Lake is the state's oldest park. At press time, Buckeye Lake was undergoing significant changes because the dam, which creates the lake, needs to be rebuilt, so the water level is lower than usual. This restricts swimming, the use of boats and other forms of water recreation. The area still offers excellent camping, bird watching, hiking and other activities.

Deer Creek State Park (20635 State Park Road 20, Mt. Sterling 43143; park office: 740-869-3124, lodge office: 740-869-2020; parks.ohiodnr.gov/deercreek) Officially considered a "resort park," Deer Creek's 2,000+ acres is home to a lodge, cottages, campground and 18-hole golf course. The 1,277-acre Deer Creek reservoir allows for swimming, boating and fishing, and also has a dog park with water access.

Delaware State Park (5202 U.S. Route 23 North, Delaware 43015; campground office: 740-363-4561; parks.ohiodnr.gov/delaware) This 3,000-acre park is divided between the Delaware Lake reservoir and land that includes a popular campground. Activities include boating, disc golf, fishing (with a special pond just for kids 15 and younger), hiking, hunting (in-season), picnicking, swimming and winter sports (including cross-country skiing, sledding and ice skating on a rink).

Madison Lake State Park (4860 E. Park Drive, London 43140; 937-322-5284; parks.ohiodnr.gov/madisonlake) This 106-acre lake is part of the Darby Plains area. It offers peaceful options for recreation, including swimming, picnicking, angling, sailing, rowing, canoeing and kayaking.

REGIONAL PARKS

Metro Parks (headquarters: 1069 W. Main St., Westerville 43081; 614-891-0700; metroparks.net) The Metro Parks system considers Franklin County and Columbus its home, but its 27,000+ acres of parks and trails extend into seven countries. Its focus is on providing natural-area parks with extensive outdoor recreation opportunities and family-friendly, free programming. Here is a quick summary of the parks that offer programming and their "claims to fame":

Battelle Darby Creek (1775 Darby Creek Drive, Galloway 43119) Spans the Darby Creek system. Includes a nature center that overlooks roaming grounds for a herd of bison.

Blacklick Woods (6975 E. Livingston Ave., Reynoldsburg 43068) Heavily forested with a wide variety of tree species. Also includes a golf course, which doubles as a bird sanctuary.

Blendon Woods (4265 E. Dublin-Granville Road, Westerville 43081) Great bird watching and a mix of ravines, rolling fields and forest.

Chestnut Ridge (8445 Winchester Road N.W., Carroll 43112) Part of the first ridge in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Clear Creek (185 Clear Creek Road, Rockbridge 43149) At 5,300 acres, is home to Ohio's largest state nature preserve and more than 2,200 species of plants and animals.

Glacier Ridge (9801 Hyland Croy Road, Plain City 43064) Home to a popular wetlands boardwalk and 25-foot observation tower.

Highbanks (9466 U.S. Route 23 North, Lewis Center 43035) One of the most popular parks in the system; extensive trails, recreation areas and sledding hills. Includes a nature center.

Inniswood Metro Gardens (940 S. Hempstead Road, Westerville 43081) A 121-acre nature preserve with theme gardens and landscaped areas.

Pickerington Ponds (7680 Wright Road, Canal Winchester 43110) Excellent bird watching in a wetlands environment.

Prairie Oaks (3225 Plain City-Georgesville Road, West Jefferson 43162) A restored prairie-lands park, also near the Big Darby River.

Scioto Audubon (400 W. Whittier St., Columbus 43215) A revitalized brownfield setting with a great view of downtown Columbus, featuring a climbing wall, wetlands and the Grange Insurance Audubon Center.

Sharon Woods (6911 Cleveland Ave., Westerville 43081) A mix of forest, fields, a lake and a nature preserve.

Slate Run (1375 State Route 674 North, Canal Winchester 43110) Best known for its wetlands and wildlife viewing.

Slate Run Living Historical Farm (1375 State Route 674 North, Canal Winchester 43110) A real farm run as it would have in the 1880s. Extensive programming and chances to help do farm work.

Three Creeks (3860 Bixby Road, Groveport 43125) A park, run with the city of Columbus, at the confluence of the Alum, Big Walnut and Blacklick creeks. Rich in wildlife.

COUNTY PARKS

Fairfield County Historical Parks (headquarters: 407 E. Main St., Lancaster 43130; 740-681-7249; historicalparks.org) A system featuring historic structures, covered bridges and nature preserves. Among its best-known sites are Rock Mill Park (1429 Rock Mill Place, N.W., Lancaster 43130), home to an 1824 grist mill, and Smeck Historical Farm (7395 Basil Road, Baltimore 43105).

Licking Park District (740-587-2535; lickingparkdistrict.com) A system of nature reserves, trails, a wildlife sanctuary (open to the public by appointment), the Ohio Canal Greenway (101 Canal Road, Hebron 43025), the William C. Kraner Nature Center (10383 Fairview Road, Newark 43055) and the T.J. Evans and Panhandle Bike Paths.

Madison County Parks & Trails (740-845-1667; fmcpt.com) Best known for a variety of rails-to-trails pathways, including its leg of the Ohio to Erie Trail.

Pickaway County Park District (headquarters: 104 E. Franklin St., Circleville 43113; 740-973-4737; pickawaycountyparks.org) Manages a system of formal canal land and is developing the Pickaway Trail.

Preservation Parks of Delaware County (headquarters at Hogback Ridge Preserve: 2656 Hogback Road, Sunbury 43074; 740-524-8600; preservationparks.com) A growing system of nature and historic preserves and trail systems in Delaware County. Includes programming and educational programs. Among its most popular sites are the Blues Creek Preserve (9627 Fontanelle Road, Ostrander 43061); Gallant Farm and Woods Preserves (2150-2151 Buttermilk Hill Road, Delaware 43015; and Shale Hollow Preserve (6320 Artesian Run, Lewis Center 43035).

CITY/LOCAL PARKS

Many municipalities and townships in the area operate their own parks and recreation systems, including Bexley; Delaware; Dublin; Gahanna; Grove City; Groveport; Hilliard; Liberty Township; New Albany; Orange Township; Pickerington; Plain Township; Powell; Reynoldsburg; Upper Arlington; Westerville and Worthington.

The best-known system is the City of Columbus'. Here we highlight a few of their most popular sites (for the full lineup, go to columbus.gov/recreationandparks or call 614-645-3300 for more information)

Franklin Park (1755 E. Broad St. (Near East Side), Columbus 43203) A 100-acre site shared with the nonprofit Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

Goodale Park (120 W. Goodale St. (Victorian Village), Columbus 43215) One of the city's oldest parks (it dates to 1851), it's most famous for its elephants fountain and edge-of-downtown location.

Hayden Falls Park (4326 Hayden Run Road, Dublin 43017) This two-acre nature preserve is an unexpected treat in the middle of suburbia. Located just west of the Scioto River and south of Hayden Run Road, stairs and a boardwalk lead to a gorge and 35-foot waterfall.

Schiller Park (1069 Jaeger St. (German Village), Columbus 43206) Another historic park, located in German Village. Home to a summertime Actor's Theatre series of free Shakespeare performances.

Whetstone Park of Roses (3901 N. High St. (Clintonville), Columbus 43214; parkofroses.org) The 13-acre rose gardens are justifiably famous, but kids will also love the whimsical structures, fishing pond and amphitheater.