Built along rolling hills and an ambling river, Cincinnati promises urban adventures for all. The Queen City has parks that rank among the best in the nation, and this is a key hub for Ohio’s ever-expanding trail system. Cincinnati is the starting point for the epic, cross-state Ohio-to-Erie multi-purpose trail, connecting Cincinnati with Cleveland on the Erie shore.
Outdoorsy ways to spend time in Cincinnati range from riverside cycling and hilly forest hikes to playing beach volleyball at local craft breweries. Here are eight of our favorite outdoor activities in Cincinnati, with something for every level of experience and commitment.
Cycling the Ohio-to-Erie Trail
Bikes are having a moment in Ohio, and the long-distance Ohio-to-Erie Trail, completed in 2017, is the best way to join this pedal-power revolution. Running south to north, the trail links the Ohio River in Cincinnati to Lake Erie on the Cleveland waterfront, a journey of 326 miles. Following old rail lines and historic canal paths, this largely off-street adventure, known as Route 1, is a big hit with cyclists, but even skaters, hikers, horse-riders and families with strollers can enjoy the mostly asphalt trail.
While it’s certainly bucket-list-worthy, you don’t have to cycle the full 326 miles to enjoy Ohio’s trailside scenery. For an easy Cincinnati sightseeing ride, pick up the southern end of the trail at Smale Riverfront Park on the Ohio River, just steps from the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ballpark.
From here, you can weave along the riverbank and follow Route 1 for five miles to local legend Eli’s BBQ, a hugely popular, no-frills outdoor barbecue joint near the water. After lunch, head back for a baseball game or a brewery stop at Moerlein Lager House, located right behind Smale Riverfront Park. Rent bikes via Cincinnati’s bikeshare program, Red Bike, with a handy bike station at Smale Riverfront Park (day passes cost $10).
Hike Mt Airy Forest
Covering 1,459 acres of woodlands, Mt Airy Forest isn’t just one of the city’s best parks, it’s also the setting for Cincinnati's top hiking trails. More than a dozen trails weave through this dense and tranquil forest, located just eight miles from downtown. With no trails exceeding four miles, Mt Airy Forest is ideal for beginners, but the interconnected trail system gives more experienced hikers the chance to customize their own heart-pumping workouts. Weekdays and mornings are the quietest times to hike, although Mt Airy Forest remains relatively crowd-free, even on weekends.
Mt Airy Forest also includes the state’s only Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant treehouse, Everybody’s Treehouse, with raised shelters connected by wheelchair-friendly elevated boardwalks. And, if you’re looking for a chilled way to end the day, stop by the Mt Airy Forest Dog Park, where benches and shade make it easy to unwind and meet Cincinnati’s four-legged residents. Public restrooms are available near the tree house and playground.
Mountain Bike at Devou Park
Northern Kentucky’s Devou Park, a hilly escape across the river from Cincinnati, serves up more than 700 acres of outdoor adventures, with one of the area’s newest mountain-biking trail systems. The network includes miles of backcountry routes, with mild rock features and climbs of more than 200 vertical feet. Most trails are two-way, and run for one to two miles. The one-mile Incinerator Trail is probably the park’s most popular ride. Rent bikes at the Devou Park Welcome Center; rates range from $6 to $20 per hour.
Routes are mostly easy or intermediate, although there are a handful of trickier paths. If you’d rather stick to the pavement for a leisurely (but hilly) ride, you can enjoy the park’s multi-purpose trails and paved roads, including Park Lane, which leads to photogenic Memorial Overlook, affording stunning Cincinnati skyline views. Restrooms and parking are available throughout Devou Park. For post-ride dining, try the cozy bar or outdoor patio at Devou Park Bar & Grill.
Play Beach Volleyball at Fifty West Brewery
They may brew their own beer, but the Fifty West Brewery is as passionate about outdoor fun as it is about delicious suds. In 2016, the Fifty West team transformed a shuttered beach-bar into a beer-production site, but kept the bar’s beach-volleyball courts very much intact. More than a dozen taps of Fifty West beer now line the sides of the court, with the lauded Coast-to-Coast IPA and Doom Pedal white ale among the most popular brews.
Courts are mostly reserved for local league games during the week, but Friday through Sunday, they're available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you can’t snag a volleyball court, try your hand at pickleball or cornhole (throwing corn-filled beanbags towards a hole in a wooden board). You can arrange kayaking trips too through Fifty West Canoe & Kayak (contact them for the latest opening hours and rates).
Splash about at Miami Whitewater Forest
At 4,435 acres, Miami Whitewater Forest, 20 minutes from downtown, is Hamilton County’s largest and most action-packed park. This natural oasis is a fun-filled playground for outdoor activities—starting with its signature offering: paddling your way around an 85-acre lake.
In fact, the 'whitewater' name is misleading–the lake is serene, tranquil, and great for families or beginner paddlers ready to try their hand at kayaking for the first time. Beyond paddling, fishing is also available; an Ohio fishing license is required, and gear and bait can be purchased at the park’s boathouse, along with lunch and snacks (summer only).
The Miami Whitewater Forest boathouse rents kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, motorboats, four-seater pedal boats, and hydrobikes, for periods of one to six hours. If you have your own canoe or kayak, you can launch from a gravel ramp near the boathouse (an ADA-accessible floating dock is available as well).
Flora and fauna at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Giraffes, elephants, and a world-famous hippo, Fiona, are just the best known residents at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. The zoo packs 580 animal species and more than 3,000 plant species into its 75 acres, with well-landscaped, enrichment-friendly enclosures. This is just one of the reasons the Cincinnati Zoo, the second-oldest zoo in the US, was granted National Historic Landmarks status. It’s also admired for its global research and conservation projects.
The zoo, located just north of downtown, warrants at least a half-day visit, with mornings, especially weekdays, being the best times to avoid crowds and see the animals at their most active. Dining spots and refreshment stands abound, with by far the best views (and brews) at Hops, a craft beer garden serving local beers and bites overlooking the kangaroo and penguin habitats. You can also test your climbing skills at the new Kanga’ Klimb, an aerial adventure course with multiple platforms. Parking is available on the zoo grounds.
Go berry-picking on a local farm
Tucked away in the suburb of Loveland in northeast Cincinnati, family-owned Blooms and Berries Farm Market offers a taste (literally) of Ohio’s rich farming culture. Hands-on farm experiences run from spring through fall, including pick-your-own blueberries and strawberries in summer, and the popular Fall on the Farm experience from September to October, with hayrides, mazes, pick-your-own pumpkins and fields of sunflowers.
Tickets are required for events such as Fall on the Farm; you can buy these online or on arrival at the property. Year-round, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and crafty home goods are on sale in the Market Barn store.
Camp at a horse ranch
With the Keeneland race track just down the road in Lexington and the Kentucky Derby’s Churchill Downs course close by in Louisville, horses are integral to the culture of this corner of the Midwest. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the equestrian life is to stop—or stay—at 40-acre Misty Ridge Farm, just 10 miles from downtown Cincinnati.
This northern Kentucky getaway offers everything from two-hour family and beginner-friendly horseback rides to overnight stays in the onsite hostel (with room for up to eight people) and camping plots dotted around the property. Tent sites are available along the farm’s creek, or atop an 800-foot hill with panoramic views. Campfires are allowed here, as are pets, although space is limited and advanced booking is required.
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