Cincinnati’s geographic location allows for easy access to a number of great outdoor attractions in the Midwest and beyond. But in the fall and winter months, finding those opportunities can prove slightly challenging. In response, our local parks organizers are ramping up their cold-weather offerings to help Cincy families stay engaged, outdoors and active all year long.
With more than 78 miles of trails — both paved and natural — for hiking, biking, walking, running and horseback riding, Great Parks of Hamilton County (formerly known as the Hamilton County Park District) is one local outdoor org that offers endless possibilities for beating the cold-weather blues and experiencing the beauty of Cincinnati’s wildlife once summer is gone.
“The parks make a great effort to provide family programming year-round,” says Great Parks representative Kimberly Whitton.
Paved trails, such as the eight-mile loop at Miami Whitewater Forest, provide an accessible path for cyclists, runners, walkers and even roller-bladers. Families can often be seen on the trails with little ones learning to ride a bike.
Meanwhile, Simmonds Family Dog Park in Cleves and Otto Armleder Park near Lunken Airport offer large open areas for furry family members (and their owners) to roam, socialize and exercise.
Check out Soapbox's roundup below, which features all sorts of opportunities to get outside and take advantage of the cooler temps that are ideal for every activity from Frisbee golf to bird watching.
TOP FIVE PARKS FOR FALL COLORS
- Shawnee Lookout Miami Fort Trail: This 1.4-mile nature trail gives a spectacular view of fall colors over the Ohio River and Great Miami River valleys that is totally worth the uphill trek.
- Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve Pin Oak Trail: Tucked away alongside the hustle and bustle of Colerain Avenue, this park offers both paved and nature trails winding through 22 acres of woodland.
- Glenwood Gardens Wetland & Garden Loops: This unassuming haven is surprisingly diverse, featuring woodland trails, prairies, wetlands and meadows that transform into a wonderland of color in the fall.
- Sharon Woods Gorge Trail: Meandering through a limestone glacial gorge that offers amazing views of Sharon Creek and its waterfalls, this trail creates a colorful canopy.
- Fernbank Park Trail: For a paved scenic walk along the Ohio River, this trail features water fowl and beautiful fall scenery for a unique viewpoint.
Bonus! Great Parks trailheads provide access to the Little Miami Scenic Trail, the third-longest paved trail in the United States, at just over 78 miles. Take a long bike ride or run through tunnels of fall color in quaint communities like Loveland and Yellow Springs. Hit the trail at Avoca Park, Bass Island, Little Miami Golf Center or the parking lot at Beechmont Avenue and Route 32.
BEST PARKS FOR FALL CAMPING
- With its comfortably warm days and crisp cool nights, fall can be the best time of the year to camp. Whether it’s a weekend getaway at Winton Woods or Miami Whitewater Forest Campground, or an extended stay at Steamboat Bend Campground, families and friends can find sweet spots to escape the urban hustle.
- Great Parks’ newest campground, Lake Isabella Campground, will open in spring 2018.
TOP 5 FALL EVENTS
- Great Outdoor Weekend, Sept. 23 & 24: This annual event hosted by Green Umbrella gives nature lovers of all ages a sampling of the Queen City's best outdoor recreation and nature awareness programs.
- Fall Park Fest, Oct. 1, Noon to 4 p.m.: Winton Woods Harbor will host an afternoon of outdoor activities, such as fitness challenges, pedal boat tours, local bands, Circus Mojo, mini golf and more.
- Halloween Nights at Parky's Farm, Oct. 12-29, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.: Enjoy family-friendly spooky fun at Parky’s Farm with hayrides, festive Halloween displays and other all-ages fall-themed activities. Pre-order tickets online: $7/person; $8 at the gate. Free admission for children under 2.
- Black Walnut Weekend, Oct. 14 & 15, Noon to 4 p.m.: Bring the family to Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve/Ellenwood Nature Barn to celebrate the harvest of black walnuts. This event has something for the whole family, including games, crafts and more. Local favorites Jake Speed & the Freddies will perform live music on Sunday from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.
- Thanksgiving on the Ohio Frontier, Nov. 12, 2 to 5 p.m.: The Society of Northwest Longhunters will reenact scenes from an era when Shawnee Native American tribes and early European settlers celebrated the first Thanksgiving 200 years ago at Shawnee Lookout Park. Reenactments will take place every half hour.
- All winter long, snowy walks at Sharon Woods and Winton Woods will offer a serene scene and unique opportunities for bird watching and tracking the animals that inhabit Cincinnati’s forests — everything from rabbits and squirrels to foxes and coyotes.
TOP 5 WINTER EVENTS
- Santaland at Sharon Woods, Nov. 17-19 and 23-25, 5:30 to 10 p.m.: After touring the Holiday in Lights display complete with Dickens Carolers, step inside the Sharon Centre for hot chocolate, sweet treats, a holiday train display and photos with everyone's favorite guy in red.
- Great Parks' Annual Winter Hike Series (registration), Dec. 1, 8 a.m.: This series of winter hikes from Great Parks ranges in distance from 4-5.5 miles. Hikes are held at different parks for a new experience each week. Every hike concludes with a hot bowl of soup and plenty of camaraderie. Sign up for one, several or the whole series. Spots fill up fast, and registration is on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Annual Winter Bird Count, Dec. 9, 7 a.m. to Noon: No matter your birding skill level, count the wild and wonderful birds that call Great Parks home. Beginners can sleep in and start at 9 a.m. or join the advanced birders at 7 a.m. Click the link above for a list of meetup locations.
- Walk the Lights Night, Dec. 27, 6 to 10 p.m.: Take a final walk through the holiday lights for festive exercise, great for the family and even canine friends.
- Maple Sugar Days, Feb. 24 & 25, Noon to 4 p.m.: Bring the family to celebrate the awakening of the trees as the nature lovers at Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve/Ellenwood Nature Barn prepare for spring with the traditional craft of maple syrup making. A delicious weekend of tastes, crafts, demonstrations and hikes.
Looking for even more reasons to get outside (and stay outside) this fall and winter? Visit GreatParks.org or call 513-521-7275.