The List: Ranking our pandemic hikes

From Walnut Woods to Slate Run, with a number of stops in between

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Hiking at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park

We were maybe halfway up a long, steady incline on a mid-December hike when my daughter announced, “Dad, this hill isn’t tiring at all for me.”

When she said this, she was perched atop my shoulders.

As the early pandemic unfolded last March, we were living in temporary housing, having just started a massive home renovation. This meant that the four of us (five counting Ben, who is a very good boy) were suddenly jammed into a space roughly half the size to which we were accustomed, and in which we were forced to spend virtually every moment, whether asleep or awake. At the time, our two kids were roughly 5 months old and 3 years old, which meant that entertaining them could be a full-time job, particularly with the normal escapes (playgrounds, most essentially) no longer an option.

And so we started walking.

Early on, we would just walk around the neighborhood, my daughter wearing her unicorn backpack and stuffing it with pinecones, leaves and rocks for a growing collection she kept on the porch of the rental. Gradually, we expanded both the reach, making weekly treks to different Metro Parks, and our terminology, dubbing our outings “adventure walks” in large part to keep the kiddo engaged. (She calls walks boring but loves adventure walks, which is a clear sign that branding works.)

Here’s a smattering of the hikes we’ve taken over the last year, ranked largely by my daughter’s excitement level at the time.

Bonus entry: The Ledges

I’m not including this in the official rankings since it’s located up in Akron, but it’s worth noting in some form since we were accompanied by my dad, a longtime environmental reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal who used to take me and my sisters on regular Metro Park hikes when we were growing up. I guess it’s true what they say about how we turn into our parents as we get older. I’m just fortunate in that I consider that a blessing.

7. Walnut Woods 

The kid was far less enamored with the tall pines area than I was, but I’m including it here anyway because this is my list, too, and the stretch of trail that passes through the towering pine forest really is magical.

6. Three Creeks

Bluebell Trail, tucked away in the woods on the other side of the bike trail, is less a hike (it runs a length of maybe half a mile) than one of the better spots in the city to park in the shade next to the water and skip stones in relative isolation. Plus, our daughter caught a crawfish here once, so it’s also got that going for it.

5. Battelle Darby Creek

I can’t remember the name of the trail we hiked, but I do remember that we spotted a rotted out vintage car in the woods, and that the kid had a great time driving it. And the natural play area was a total hit.

4. Big Run Park

This is kind of a cheat because it was more about the sledding, but in between runs (that kid is fearless) we took off on a long “snow walk” at my daughter’s orders, during which she entertained herself by making sporadic snow angels and trying to pelt Dad with snowballs. Still one of my favorite days.

3. Highbanks 

Yes, everyone knows about this Metro Park, and during prime weekend hours it can attract larger crowds than many places on this list. But it’s for good reason. The shale bluff offers some fairly stunning views, and the kiddo enjoyed playing in and around the creeks that run alongside the trail at various points.

2. Blendon Woods

We walked Sugarbush Trail, henceforth known as “the mud hike,” at the tail end of a long stretch of wet weather, which meant the hike ended with me hoisting my daughter atop the car and peeling off her mud-caked boots and socks before buckling her in for the drive home. For the better part of the slow, two-mile hike, we schlepped through giant puddles and thick oozing mud, which turned out to be a total hit for the kiddo, who yelped and laughed her way through most of the hike. It might have been the least picturesque site on this list, but it’s the one we talk about most often, which is why it ranks so high.

1. Slate Run

We typically do the maple leaf hike, which takes you over a series of small creeks, one of which is perfect for skipping stones. But it’s the extras that give this park the edge, particularly the living historical farm with the giant pigs that alternately terrified and delighted my daughter, and the nearby playground with its “super high” swings, which became a must-visit as some of the coronavirus restrictions started to ease on outdoor activities last summer. This is still probably the Metro Park we visit most often.