WORTH THE DRIVE: From luxury to roughing it, state parks offer something for everyone

Planning an escape close to home? Ohio’s state parks have something for everyone from camping to luxury rooms.

From rustic campsites to cozy cabins to luxury lodges, there is something for everyone when it comes to lodging at Ohio State Parks.

And there is no time like the present to embark on a state park adventure as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has reopened campgrounds, cabins and, most recently, lodges.

“Ohio’s modern but cozy lodges and conference centers offer visitors a relaxing retreat from daily life, surrounded by woods and lake views,” said ODNR director Mary Mertz. “After a day of hiking, fishing, boating or swimming, guests can spend their nights in safe, clean and comfortably appointed guest rooms.”

Lodging options are available throughout the state but you don't need to travel far to feel like you are a world away as several state parks are just a short drive from the Dayton area. For lodge availability and reservations, visit www.greatohiolodges.com, for cabins and campgrounds, visit www.reserveohio.com or call 866-644-6727.


Hueston Woods

Don’t let the nearby farms fool you. Hueston Woods is a wooded wonderland with trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding as well as a picturesque lake if fishing or paddling is more to your liking.

Located in College Corner, just minutes from Miami University, Hueston Woods State Park offers a full-service lodge, campground, cabins and equestrian camp nestled among the 200 acres of old-growth woods that are protected as the Hueston Woods State Nature Preserve, also a National Natural Landmark.

»PHOTOS: Find serenity along Southwest Ohio’s best summer hiking trails

The Hueston Woods Lodge and Conference Center is an ideal home base – a cozy retreat with all the comforts of home. With 92 guest rooms, a dining area, pools, fitness room and tennis courts, there is plenty to keep the whole family busy but there is even more adventure to be had right outside the lodge. Hueston Woods also has 37 furnished cabins with a variety of styles and amenities and a campground with both electric and non-electric sites.

Hike, bike or saddle up and enjoy one or more of the park’s 12 trails including a portion of the 15-state American Discovery Trail, 20 miles of single-track mountain bike trails and an 18-mile bridle trail. Cooling off is easy at Acton Lake, an idyllic spot for boating, fishing and paddling. The marina offers boat rentals, seasonal docks and fuel.

More fun:

  • 18-hole, 7,005-yard, par 72 golf course with driving ranges
  • 36-hole disc golf course is free but visitors must bring their own equipment
  • 1,500-foot swim beach
  • Picnic areas located throughout the park

Nature center programs are currently suspended through July 15 as a result of COVID-19. Visitors can call the park office about all closures or visit www.ohiodnr.gov.

Shawnee State Park

Once the hunting grounds of the Shawnee, this region – located in the Appalachian foothills near the banks of the Ohio River – is one of the most picturesque in the state, featuring erosion-carved valleys and wooded hills. The rugged beauty of the area has earned it the nickname, “Ohio’s Little Smokies.”

Nestled in the 63,000-acre Shawnee State Forest, Shawnee State Park is a hiker’s paradise. The lush canopy of trees is home to a wide variety of woodland creatures as well as a wondrous variety of wildflowers that bloom throughout the summer.

With 50 guest rooms, all with private balconies, the Shawnee Lodge and Conference Center offers breathtaking views of the forest and the Ohio River. With a full-service restaurant, and lounge, Wi-Fi, indoor and outdoor pools, a game room, sauna, hot tub and tennis, shuffleboard and basketball courts, boredom is not a problem. There are also 25 recently renovated deluxe cabins nearby.

With two lakes on site, you can add boating, fishing, paddling and swimming to your state park bucket list. The lakes are stocked with largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie and trout and a valid Ohio fishing license is required for everyone 16 and older.

More fun:

  • Archery, disc golf, mini golf, volleyball and geocaching
  • Campground offers electric campsites with heated shower houses and laundry facilities
  • Historic sites nearby include the Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center and Serpent Mound


Buck Creek State Park

The water takes center stage at this boater’s paradise.

With a 2,400-foot sand beach and an expansive 2,100-acre lake, water adventures are plentiful at Buck Creek. The lake offers unlimited horsepower boating and a six-lane boat ramp. The marina offers fuel, snacks, bait and seasonal dock rental but no boat rentals. And the beach is ideal for swimming.

The park offers 25 deluxe family cabins surrounded by woods – some with stunning lake views. The fully furnished cabins feature two bedrooms, bath with shower, living room, complete kitchen and dining area, screened porch and air conditioning with all linens and kitchen essentials provided.

»The best places to hike this summer

There is also plenty to do on land with trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

More fun:

  • Family campground offers electric and non-electric sites along with shower houses and restrooms.
  • Located near several other natural areas to explore including Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, John Bryan State Park, Siegenthaler Esker State Nature Preserve and Kiser Lake Wetlands State Nature Preserve

Cowan Lake State Park

Whether you enjoy sailing, fishing or just meandering along a scenic wooded trail, Cowan Lake State Park fits the bill.

The compact size – 1,775 acres – allows guests to walk or bike to nearly every corner of the park located in Wilmington. Swimming, fishing, sailing and kayaking are popular at the lake, which is easily accessible with three boat ramps. No boat, no problem as boats and canoes are available to rent at the South Shore Marina.

Anglers will find crappie, largemouth bass, catfish and bluegill with an accessible fishing pier and a youth pond. A valid fishing license is required for anyone 16 and older.

After a day on the water, settle into one of the park’s cozy cabins situated between the campground and lake. Some cabins have been recently renovated and two ADA preferred cabins are also available. Pets are allowed in select cabins for an additional fee.

More fun:

  • Family campground onsite with both electric and non-electric sites, additional non-electric sites overlook the beach, ideal for tent camping.
  • Boat swimming and boat camping are available in the northern portion of the lake.
  • A short drive to many other areas of interest including Little Miami and Caesar Creek state parks and Kings Island


Caesar Creek State Park

Hiking, boating, fishing and camping are just a few of the many outdoor activities at this expansive 3,700-acre Warren County park.

With picturesque waterfalls and swinging bridges, the large trail system is exceptionally scenic. Equestrians can enjoy four bridle trails while mountain biking enthusiasts have their own trail as well.

The 2,830-acre lake offers unlimited horsepower boating with five boat ramps for easy access. And the Marina at Caesar Creek offers both transient and seasonal docks.

The large family campground has roomy sites and shady spots and offers electric, non-electric and full hook-up campsites. Amenities include shower houses and restrooms. There is also a playground and basketball courts and pet camping is permitted at all sites.

More fun:

  • Other activities include archery and picnicking
  • The nature center and pioneer village offer a variety of seasonal programming but are closed until July 15.
  • Easy drive to Cincinnati tourist sites.

John Bryan State Park

With its remarkable limestone gorge and forested woodlands, John Bryan State Park packs a lot of beauty into its compact 752 acres. A portion of the gorge is even designated as a national natural landmark and the park’s 10 different trails skirt the scenic feature.

The river isn’t just for looks as paddling and fishing are also popular activities at John Bryan.

Looking for fun for the entire family? Try the new John Bryan Storybook Trail – “As an Oak Tree Grows,” written by G. Brian Karas – which shares American history from the perspective of a majestic oak tree. The trail – one of five new storybook trails in the State Park system – might be a bit rugged for very young children and connects to the scenic Rim Trail.

»Take a walk along John Bryan State Park’s new Storybook Trail

A small wooded campground offers sites for both tent campers and RVs. Many sites are partially shaded. There is no shower house but latrines, drinking water and a dump station are available, and pets are welcome at every site.

More fun:

  • Mountain biking trails
  • Picnic areas
  • Yellow Springs is a short drive with Young's Jersey Dairy and Clifton Mill among the favorite spots for a tasty treat

Ohio State Parks COVID-19 reminders

  • Restrooms may be limited or closed. It differs from park to park. Call the park to check on day-use facilities.
  • Playgrounds, nature centers, shelter houses and camp stores are currently closed. Some of these facilities may reopen later this summer but, as of now, they remain closed. The ODNR website www.ohiodnr.gov updates its list of facility closures regularly.
  • Practice "carry in, carry out" with trash as waste receptacles are very limited.
  • Practice social distancing when visiting – trails, fishing piers and boating areas can become full quickly.
  • If a parking lot is full, consider another parking spot or another park. Don’t park on the grass, along roadsides or other non-parking areas as it’s unsafe.

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