Bet you didnít realize Cincinnatiís urban streets and suburban neighborhoods conceal flowered and wooded pockets of green wonder where you can escape the haze of everyday life and commune with nature. Our list has nine parks; some are off the beaten path and others are local favorites. Find your sanity in one of these places:
Imago Earth Center
Five minutes from downtown Cincinnati, Price Hill hides a 23-acre urban nature preserve thatís home to forest, wetland and tallgrass prairie ecosystems; plus critters including salamanders, owls, deer, raccoons, frogs, even coyotes. Walk the trails on 16 of the acres and head inside to sit in on environmental discussion series, films, classes and kidsí storytimes. Nearby, the affiliated Enright Ridge eco-village has its own trail. Note parking here is on the street.
700 Enright Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45205, (513) 921-5124,
Hauck Botanic Garden
Cornelius Hauck--who, during Prohibition, morphed the brewery that made his family wealthy into an investment firmócalled his garden oasis ďSooty AcresĒ for the industrial ash he turned up in the beds. Now, wildflowers, herbs, hydrangeas, shade plants, daylilies, daffodils, hostas and native trees greet you along the paths of Hauckís former estate in Avondale, which is open for public strolling from dawn to dusk. You also can take classes and polish your green thumb at the resident Civic Garden Center.
2715 Reading Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45206, (513) 221-0981
Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum
Before you get the heebie-jeebies about hanging out in a graveyard, remember this historic cemetery was designed in the 1840s with strolling (OK, and cholera victims) in mind. Think ornate headstones and Gothic Revival monuments, paths curving past acres of beautifully landscaped knolls, fluffy peony bushes, weeping willows bent over ponds. This peaceful environment is the final resting place for 40 Civil War generals, plus such well-known locals as Supreme Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, grocery store founder Bernard Kroger and Quaker abolitionist Levi Coffin.
4521 Spring Grove Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45232, (513) 681-7526
With the waterside barracks at Newport, Ky., subject to constant flooding, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman sited the replacement Fort Thomas on the hilltops overlooking the Ohio River. The fortís stone water tower now marks the entrance to Tower Park; you also can see old barracks and officersí quarters. Walking trails crisscross the park, including one that switchbacks steeply down to the riverís edge. Swings, picnic areas and playfields mean you can make a family day of it.
950 South Ft. Thomas Ave., Fort Thomas, Ky. 41075, (859) 781-1700
Blooming trees and beautiful flowerbeds make this Mt. Lookout park a must-visit in Cincinnatiís late spring weather. But year-round, itís a local playground for the Frisbee-perfect open lawns, soccer field, shady benches, play equipment, community garden plots and nature trails. Be sure to climb to the top of the 1930s-era Italianate pavilion for a 360-degree view. Youíll find a detailed tour guide for the Tree Trail on the Ault Park Advisory Council Web site.
3600 Observatory Ave, Cincinnati, Ohio 45208, (513) 352-4080
Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve
Letís just say Colerain Avenue isnít exactly known for its serene, scenic vistas. If you find yourself stuck in traffic getting high on exhaust, pull into the Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve. Tucked onto 23 acres at the corner of Colerain and Poole Rd., this park is the smallest in the Hamilton County Park District. Take your road rage down a notch with a walk past trees, prairie and ponds on the fully accessible Pin Oak trail, then stop to smell the flowers in the volunteer-maintained wildflower and butterfly gardens.
3455 Poole Road, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45241, (513) 385-4811
After a nice trip to nearby Tri-County Mall, let the kids explore Highfield Discovery Garden and run around Glenwood Gardensí the 2.5 miles of walking trails (including a mile-long, wheelchair-accessible paved loop). A gravel section passes a wetland, crosses a stream and offers tree-filled meadow views (bring a water bottle in the summeróthereís not a lot of shade back here). Bring $5 for a vehicle pass, good for a year all over the Hamilton County Park District. Admission to Highfield Discovery Garden costs $1 to $4 per person, depending on the season.
10623 Springfield Pike, Woodlawn, Ohio, 45215, (513) 521-7275
This 275-acre park in Amberley Village is on land John Cleves Symmes bought from Uncle Sam way back in the day. At the time, Clevesí land was along an old Indian trail from the Ohio River to a stockade in the hills to the west. Today, French Park trails meander through woods, along a bubbling stream, and up stairs and hills. You can break a sweat or relax on a sunny hillside, pretend the picturesque mansion is yours, and survey your bucolic estate.
3012 Section Road, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45237, (513) 352-4080
Cincinnati Nature Center
Cincinnati Nature Centerís Rowe Woods in Milford give you that back-country feel without the back-country drive. You can hike 18 miles of trails, through old-growth forest, past tallgrass fields, along a waterfall-punctuated stream, and around Powell Crosley Lake. For a quicker jaunt, take the wheelchair-accessible, .6-mile All-Personís Trail. Stop in the gift shop for some birdwatching and nature books. Entry is free on Mondays; other days itís $1 for children and $3 to $5 for adults.
4949 Tealtown Rd., Milford, Ohio, 45150, (513) 831-1711
Most of these parks are open from dawn to dusk. Even though youíre not far from civilization, if you plan to hit a trail, get a map online and use the buddy system. For more great outdoor options, visit these Web sites and then go out there and take a walk:
• Cincinnati Parks Department
• Hamilton County Park District
• Green Township Parks
• City of Covington Parks
• City of Newport Parks
Photographs provided by Imago Earth Center (2,3)
and Cincinnati Nature Center (1,4,5)