15 Best Day Trips from Columbus (Ohio)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

Columbus is the capital of the mid-western state of Ohio, and also its largest city.

Known for its numerous parks and world famous university, Columbus is also centrally located between Ohio’s two other big cities: Cleveland and Cincinnati.

It is in the perfect location to be used as a base to gain access to the entire state.

Within reach of Ohio are many opportunities for day tripping, with many historic mid-west cities and towns, such as Newark and Dayton, just a short drive away.

Nature lovers will find plenty of State Parks with hiking trails, cascading waterfalls and beautiful woodland scenery to explore.

Far north of Ohio lies the huge Lake Erie, along with the state’s only National Park: Cuyahoga National Park.

Around the state there are underground caverns, caves and even ancient Native American earthworks: lasting relics from a time long ago that have survived to this day and are an important part of the region’s long history.

1. Hocking Hills

Hocking Hills State ParkSource: StevenRussellSmithPhotos / shutterstock
Hocking Hills State Park

Just southeast of Columbus is the Hocking Hills State Park, a must do day trip from the city that takes you to some of the most unusual rock formations in Ohio.

Hocking Hills is the site of caves, cliffs and crevasses, with short and long hikes connecting different parts of the park, as well as opportunities for kayaking, rock climbing and even zip lining.

The real highlight of the Hocking Hills is the cavernous Ash Cave, which forms a huge open recess in the rock that can be walked in and around.

Aside from the Ash Cave, there are many other rock formations to visit; don’t miss out on Cedar Falls, a spectacular waterfall which plunges over giant rocks.

2. Cuyahoga National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National ParkSource: Zack Frank / shutterstock
Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga National Park is Ohio’s only National Park.

Found north of Columbus and close to the city of Cleveland, it is a stunning area of natural beauty that follows the course of the Cuyahoga River, containing walking and cycling trails, waterfalls, and caves to discover.

The National Park also has an historical canal that can be traversed on foot.

This was the first canal in the state, stretching to Lake Erie in the north.

It allowed Ohio to be opened up to the rest of the country and the world by providing a means of entry and exit for people and goods.

3. Dayton

Dayton, OhioSource: Beeline Aerial / shutterstock

The small, unassuming city of Dayton has played a huge role in the history of aviation.

This is where the Wright Brothers came from, and where they built their first aircraft; going down in history as the pioneers of modern flight.

Dayton, just a day trip away from Columbus, should be visited to see where flight really began.

Today it is also home to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, a very fitting location for one of the largest aviation museums in the world.

4. Newark

World's Largest Picnic Basket, Newark, OhioSource: Kenneth Sponsler / shutterstock
World’s Largest Picnic Basket, Newark, Ohio

Newark is just 40 miles away, and is a great retreat from the big city.

Here you can find the world’s largest basket, which is actually a huge, company headquarters building shaped and designed to look like a basket.

There is also the interesting Works Museum: a museum dedicated to Newark’s industrial and technical history, where you can learn about glass blowing and canal building alongside the history of the region.

Around Newark there are also numerous ancient earthworks: huge mounds constructed by old Native Indian civilizations, that have survived to this day.

5. Miamisburg Mound

Miamisburg MoundSource: bobosh_t / Flickr
Miamisburg Mound

The Indian mounds aren’t only found around Newark, but exist in most of the state of Ohio.

One of the most interestingly shaped is the towering, conical Miamisburg Mound, raised on a high ridge and visible from miles away.

At 65-feet tall, it features a staircase through the center of the grassy mound which takes visitors to the top for panoramic views out over the surrounding area.

The Mound is one of thousands that have been discovered, the relics of lost civilizations, but Miamisburg is unique because of its height; few other surviving mounds can match it for size.

6. Olentangy Indian Caverns

Olentangy Indian CavernsSource: www.olentangyindiancaverns.com
Olentangy Indian Caverns

If you are interested in Native American history, then another great day trip from Ohio is a journey to the Olentangy Indian Caverns.

This natural cave system was used by the local native Huron people as shelter.

The caverns stretch over three floors and would have provided a refuge and safe haven in times of war, being difficult to find from above ground, let alone enter.

The caverns can be explored on underground tours led by local guides.

7. Tecumseh

Tecumseh Outdoor Historical DramaSource: tecumsehdrama.com
Tecumseh Outdoor Historical Drama

Tecumseh is not a place, but a historical show that has to be seen when visiting Ohio.

This is an outdoor drama set in the hills of Ohio, and it tells the story of the local Indians; in particular the chief Tecumseh, who tried in vain to defend his land and people from colonization in the 1700s.

Because it is held outdoors, the show is only performed in the summer months, but it is worth scheduling your Columbus trip to coincide with a showing, as it receives accolades worldwide.

8. Amish Country Ohio

Amish Country OhioSource: tomsoya / shutterstock
Amish Country Ohio

Northeast of Ohio is Amish Country, made up of several towns and cities, the largest of which is Millersburg.

This is a completely different world, where the Amish communities live in varied ways according to their beliefs in the Bible, meaning there is little technology and lots of faith.

You will see horse drawn carriages on the roads and traditional houses in the towns, while many of the communities actually speak Pennsylvania Dutch as their first language, rather than English.

9. Seneca Caverns

Seneca CavernsSource: ForestWander / Wikimedia
Seneca Caverns

Seneca Caverns is a huge underground cave system with miles of passageways and underground rivers that feed the region’s entire water system.

The cave is multi-layered and to date there are seven underground levels which can be explored.

Guides will take intrepid visitors through the system; exploring the caverns and narrow passages that lead further and further down.

It’s not known how deep the system really goes, but it’s certainly a long way.

10. Ludlow Falls

Ludlow FallsSource: Kenneth Keifer / shutterstock
Ludlow Falls

Ohio has an abundance of beautiful waterfalls due to its rocky landscape, but Ludlow Falls stands out amongst them as a spectacular cascade.

Located near Dayton, not far from Columbus, Ludlow Falls is in fact hidden away beneath a bridge, making it difficult to spot.

The walk there is easy as long as you know where you are going, and it’s a quiet, secluded spot to enjoy Ohio’s enticing natural scenery.

11. Clifton Mill

Clifton Mill, OhioSource: Alea Wickens / shutterstock
Clifton Mill

Clifton Mill is a beautifully scenic piece of Ohio heritage which dates back to 1802. The Mill is on the banks of the Clifton River, and is spectacular to see, with man-made waterfalls cascading down from its position above the river.

The Mill is water powered, and these days is more of a tourist attraction than a working mill.

There’s an on-site restaurant, and at Christmas time they put on an extravagant light display that’s famous across the state.

12. The Wilds, Cumberland

The Wilds, CumberlandSource: thewilds.columbuszoo.org
The Wilds, Cumberland

The Wilds is a unique, open-air Safari in Cumberland Ohio, where the animals roam free and visitors are taken around on big safari trucks to see rare and endangered wildlife in natural settings.

The Wilds is a non-profit organization; they put the animals first, and that’s why the facility is so popular.

They have species from across the world and educate people on conservation and responsibility rather than just providing entertainment at the expense of the captive animals.

13. Salt Fork State Park

Salt Fork Lake, OhioSource: StevenRussellSmithPhotos / shutterstock
Salt Fork Lake, Ohio

Salt Fork State Park is the largest of Ohio’s state parks, covering huge areas of forest east of Columbus.

It’s a beautiful place to hike, bike and get into the heart of Ohio’s natural environment, but it’s also known locally for the legend of Big Foot.

Believe what you will, but local lore says that it’s the home of this mythical creature.

Reported sightings have been made all across Salt Fork since the first European settlers arrived in the 1700s.

Documentaries have been filmed here and hardcore explorers head out into the wild to try and find this legendary creature.

They even hold a Big Foot conference here to celebrate this monstrous legend.

14. Cincinnati

Cincinnati, OhioSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock

An hour and a half south of Columbus is the city of Cincinnati: the third largest city in Ohio.

It’s the home of the Cincinnati Reds, the oldest baseball team in America.

Once just a sprawling industrial city, Cincinnati has reinvented itself as a tourist destination, offering great food and a growing cultural scene, all spread along the banks of the Ohio River.

The cityscape itself is one of the best reasons to visit, as the center has a huge concentration of distinct, 19th century architectural buildings from Cincinnati’s industrial boom days.

15. Cleveland

Cleveland, OhioSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock

Cleveland, Ohio’s second largest city, is found in a beautiful setting on the banks of the huge Lake Erie.

It is a culturally and historically significant city, dating back to the early days of European exploration of the Great Lakes.

Today it is most famous for being the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: a museum showcasing the best of rock from across the world.

15 Best Day Trips from Columbus (Ohio):

  • Hocking Hills
  • Cuyahoga National Park
  • Dayton
  • Newark
  • Miamisburg Mound
  • Olentangy Indian Caverns
  • Tecumseh
  • Amish Country Ohio
  • Seneca Caverns
  • Ludlow Falls
  • Clifton Mill
  • The Wilds, Cumberland
  • Salt Fork State Park
  • Cincinnati
  • Cleveland