Happy trails! Explore Greater Cincy's best outdoor walkways this summer

Summer is for relaxing and exploring, and Cincinnati has plenty of options for both. We often tend to gravitate toward sitting at a favorite local haunt enjoying a cold one, but sometimes, you just have to get outside.

That’s what Groundwork Cincinnati, a local trail-advocacy group, is encouraging residents to do. Right now, there are bits and pieces of trails all over the city, and Groundwork wants to connect them all — from Hartwell south to the riverbank, and from Rivers Road east to Mount Washington — into one huge trail network.

The majority of Cincinnati’s trails are part of the expansive Ohio to Erie Trail, a network that, once completed, will stretch all across the state, from Cincinnati to Columbus to Cleveland — a whopping 320 miles. Lots of work needs to be done before this happens, but for now, there are more than enough trails to explore.

This week, we took it upon ourselves to lace up our hiking boots (or most comfortable pair of tennis shoes) and check out the well-known urban treks, off-the-beaten-path adventures and day trip hikes in Greater Cincinnati.

Urban hikes

1. Lunken Airport isn’t just for planes. A five-mile trail loop along the levee runs around the airport and ends at Wilmer Avenue, where it connects to the Ohio River Trail. North of the airport, it connects to the Armleder Park Trail that loops through its namesake park and features hiking trails, a playground, picnic shelters, sports fields and off-leash dog park. Lunken’s trail is relatively flat and is easy to walk, which makes it the perfect spot for families. Plus, you can watch planes come and go. Parking and trail access at 4241 Champdale Ave.

2. One of central Cincinnati’s greatest assets is the Mill Creek Greenway Trail, tucked along the Mill Creek that runs through Millvale, South Cumminsville and Northside. With support from Interact for Health, Groundwork manages the trail and has incorporated reused and recycled materials in everything from bike racks and benches to energy-efficient trailhead lights and paving materials. Much of the trail is paved for easy cycling and running. Exercise stations dot the path, and you can take a peek at the night sky courtesy of SPACEWALK, a 2016 People’s Liberty project. Parking and trail access off of Spring Grove Avenue and at the north end of the trail in Caldwell Park (415 W. North Bend Rd.)

3. If you’ve been downtown for a Reds game or gone to an event at Sawyer Point, you've been just steps away from the Ohio River Trail. Although portions are still under construction, the 23-mile trail will follow the river from Coney Island to Sayler Park, and connect downtown to the Little Miami Scenic Trail, which extends north of the city. On warm days, you can find kids splashing in the interactive fountain, riding Carol Ann’s Carousel or swinging on the giant two- and three-person swings. Parking and trail access at T.M. Berry International Friendship Park, Sawyer Point or at The Banks.

Hidden gems

4. Just off Hamilton Avenue in Northside is Buttercup Valley Preserve and Parker’s Preserve. Buttercup runs from Hamilton Avenue in the west to Crawford Avenue in the east, and features steep inclines and heavily wooded trails. One trail will take you to an area called The Flats, which is a prairie habitat, and another trail will take you to right up to Spring Grove Cemetery. Parker’s Preserve has two easier trails — one paved and one wooded. Parking and trail access off Stanford Drive, just off Hamilton, or Crawford Avenue, which runs behind the cemetery.

Trail markers in Tower Park pay homage to Ft. Thomas' military history. 5. Nestled in the heart of Fort Thomas, Ky., is Tower Park. It’s surrounded by remnants of the U.S. Army post that was founded there in 1890. Officers’ quarters have been turned into houses and a historic building in the heart of the park has been turned into the Military Museum. There are even remnants of old fort buildings along the trail route. The park’s gravel trails wind down a hill to a hard stop at Route 8, making it a challenging hike, especially on the way back up. Parking and trail access at multiple points throughout the park.

6. Ault Park sit at the highest point in Hyde Park and boasts some of the best views of the city. It’s the perfect spot for an outdoor wedding or family picnic, but there is also a 1.4-mile hiking, walking and mountain bike trail that’s one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets. (The other is Cincinnati Observatory on the outskirts of Ault Park.) The trail is hilly and a bit difficult, but the wildlife and scenic views make it worth the effort. Parking and trial access at 5090 Observatory Ave.

Worth the trip

7. Only 20 minutes from downtown, Miami Whitewater Forest features two paved trails, four nature trails and two horseback riding trails. There’s also a lake, boathouse, nine-hole disc-golf course, campgrounds and an 11-acre dog park with an all-season area and dog agility course. Miami Whitewater is a Great Park of Hamilton County; an annual pass for Hamilton county residents is $10; all other visitors, $14.

8. Just a 45-minute drive from Cincinnati lies Hueston Woods State Park. Twelve hiking trails dot the 3,000-acre park — trail difficulty ranges from easy to moderate — plus there is an 18-mile horseback riding trail and a 12-mile trail for mountain biking. Other features include fishing and canoeing on Acton Lake and campsites, cabins and a resort lodge. Hueston Woods is also known for fossil hunting.

9. The Little Miami Scenic Trail is the key to connecting Cincinnati to Cleveland. In 2008, it was the longest paved trail in the United States, stretching 76 miles from Springfield to Newtown, Ohio. The trail is mostly wooded and runs along the right-of-way of the old Little Miami Railroad — you can still see the railway bed along parts of the route. The town of Yellow Springs, just east of Dayton, is right on the trail. The entire town is bike friendly, and you can ride your bike right up to the front door of Yellow Springs Brewery. Yellow Springs hosts a street fair twice a year (June 10 and Oct. 14 this year), and bicyclists descend on the town for a day of shopping, art, music, food and beer.

Do you have a favorite trail? Let us know and we'll add to our running list!

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Read more articles by Caitlin Koenig.

Caitlin Koenig is a Cincinnati transplant and 2012 grad of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She's the department editor for Soapbox Media and currently lives in Northside with her husband, Andrew, and their three furry children. Follow Caitlin on Twitter at @caite_13.