The real fun of our trip to Columbus this past summer was discovering the amazing park system in the metro area. We were delighted to discover that there were so many different parks, and each one had so many unique offerings. The passport program offered by the Metro Park system helped us really get good glimpse at all there was to offer, and although we didn’t have enough time to completely fill our book we had fun getting as many stamps as we could. And the programs, oh the programs! And of course the naturalists running these programs. Simply amazing. All were engaging, welcoming, and passionate about what they were teaching us. Several times we were the only ones to show up for a program so we really got the VIP treatment. Homeschooling has never been so easy (or fun!). We were also highly impressed with the amount of parks in the system that had ‘natural play areas.’ An area of the park designated for kids to go off trail and explore, swim and build. When I saw the first poster describing the park systems dedication to upholding the ideals for children in nature set forth by Richard Louv I knew my love for Columbus had just been cemented. I’m definitely holding on to our passport in anticipation of our next visit – I really want to see them all.
All free (with exception to the Wildlife Center which accepted donations upon entrance, and, of course, the State Fair, here are the hidden gems we discovered in the Columbus area-
Highbanks Metro Park
This one was closest to our campground so we were able to visit several times. The Adena mounds and interactive display in the nature center really meshed well with our Native American studies this year. The nature center also opened our eyes to concretions which we went on to discover all over many of the parks in the city (have you seen these things?! Tom is convinced they are from outer space). The kids particularly loved the creek where they were free to climb where they wanted and catch crayfish and minnows to their hearts content. We enjoyed a fun family night sharing a bonfire with hot dogs and s’mores with other nature lovers at the park.
Battelle Darby Creek
A bit of a drive for us, but we couldn’t resist the chance to see some bison! A truly beautiful park in its own right, with lots of wildlife and insects to discover. And the nature center was very impressive. Housed in a new ecologically friendly building there were many interactive and informative displays including one of the most creative and impressive we’ve seen- a living stream stocked with creatures native to the park’s namesake creek. And of course, the kids were invited to poke and explore.
Definitely a contender for our favorite metro park! The real star, of course, was the natural playground complete with log see saw and the ever popular zip line swing. (I’ve put in an order for Tom to build some of these at the cabin!). The kids begged to come back again and again. We had a blast here with not only friends from our hometown, but were also lucky enough to meet up with our skoolie friends from North Carolina. Nothing makes a girl feel more special than friends who are willing to meet up on the road, my heart was very full that day.
We also came back later for an insect class, which turned out to be a private tutoring as threatening storms scared everyone else away. We all had an absolute blast swiping the tall grass for bugs with our new naturalist friend.
We came seeking a wetland and were surprised to find this park held much more including a solar and wind energy education area, unique wooden playground, and obstacle course the kids couldn’t get enough of. We eventually found the wetlands (actually down the street from the park) and spent an equal amount of time watching birds and turtles as we had climbing the structures.
We came to this park specifically for a program, so we didn’t get to explore as much as usual. Still, we enjoyed seeing the train car and the large playground. The program, of course, was the most exciting part. The Columbus zoo brought some of their animals for us to meet and learn about. We even met a parrot that had been rescued by the bird center in Alabama we fell in love with the previous summer.
Inniswood Metro Gardens
I wasn’t sure what to expect from these gardens, but we were very pleasantly surprised. Not only were there many different beautifully themed gardens to explore, there was also a fun interactive area on water power and an adorable tree house to play in. And of course, the class on assassin bugs was a family favorite.
A widespread park with lots of green area to play in and explore, we really enjoyed our creeking class at Sharon Woods (another VIP experience).
The following parks and attractions we visited were outside of the Columbus Metro Park system, but were no less engaging or enchanting.
Char Mar Ridge Park
Smaller than the metro parks we had been exploring, but no less fun. The natural play area included nets for fishing and the large bird blind kept us busy for quite a while.
This park offered us the best view of the concretions we had learned about at Highbanks. We had so much fun in the creek and at the nature center that we didn’t have a chance to take a hike and see the waterfalls the park boasts.
Headwaters Outdoor Educational Center
Nearby to Mt. Gilead, we had lots of fun exploring this nature preserve. I only wish our stay had coincided with one of the educational programs they offered. They did have a little free library which you know we love!
Ohio Wildlife Center
Wildlife Centers are one of our favorite attractions to visit, and this one did not disappoint! The center welcomed us on one of their Family Sundays where we were introduced to their diverse group of residents including an opossum, some domestic rats, and many birds including a kestrel and merlin (like our friends at the Alabama Wildlife Center). We even got a close look at some coyotes!
Columbus Park of Roses
Perfect place for our lunch break during a day of running errands. The kids couldn’t get enough of sniffing all the roses, and I loved reminiscing about the last time we had visited this park when Princess was just a baby.
The Ohio State Fair
We couldn’t escape without throwing in one commercial attraction. It was hot. And crowded. We stuck mainly to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources area, which did offer some fun and learning opportunities. And of course there was the butter cow. And cotton candy. Every kid deserves at least one exhausting sugar filled day at the state fair (or so Tom argued when convincing me to go).
There you have it, our unexpectedly fun filled summer in Columbus Ohio- I will never underestimate the city of my birth again!