Cincinnati has one crown jewel few outside the Queen City know about: the Cincinnati Parks system.
The Trust for Public Land regularly ranks Cincinnati Parks among the nation’s top 10 park systems for large cities – a title earned through park equity, acreage, investment and amenities. Here are nine of the best city parks to explore across Cincinnati.
There’s a reason couples and families flock to Ault Park for portrait sessions: It’s the best park for pictures in Cincinnati, largely thanks to its Italian-Renaissance architecture. Ault Park rests in Cincinnati’s Mount Lookout neighborhood, packing formal gardens, a sprawling terrace, nature trails and cascade fountains into its 223 acres.
A 1930s-era pavilion draws photographers far and wide, but the hilltop views are equally as dazzling, with panoramas from the Little Miami River to the city's skyline. Relax among flowers and forests in the park’s picnic facilities and gardens. Or, get that heart pumping on one of the park’s nine connected trails.
Smale Riverfront Park
Smale Riverfront Park adds greenery and gardens to downtown Cincinnati’s Riverfront neighborhood, and it’s among the best parks for walking and running in the city. The two-level park is steps from some of Cincinnati’s best attractions: the Ohio River, the waterfront Moerlein Lager House, the pedestrian-friendly Roebling Bridge to Kentucky, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds. The welcoming water-view swing benches and flower-fringed pathways make it hard to leave these 45 acres of urban greenery.
There are many family-friendly options at Smale Riverfront Park, from the adventure playground with rock-climbing canyons and a granite amphitheater, to the cascading and illuminated splash-friendly fountains. The hand-carved Carol Ann’s Carousel and the Skystar Observation Wheel add amusement-park fun, while the Cincinnati Bike Center offers on-site rentals to explore the park’s connected riverfront neighbors, Sawyer Point Park and TM Berry International Friendship Park.
Mt. Airy Forest
Mt. Airy Forest brings a slice of wilderness to urban Cincinnati, with 1459 acres of trails, gardens, picnic areas and a lake. Its roughly 13 trail miles draw hikers, runners and mountain bikers. The forest also has a host of bridle trails for horseback riders.
The park’s facilities impress just as well as its dense forests, with a wheelchair-accessible public treehouse, two forest lodges and 23 picnic areas. A dog park, disc golf center and the 30-acre Mt. Airy Arboretum rounds out the park’s diverse roster of experiences.
The 186-acre Eden Park links Cincinnati’s Mount Adams and East Walnut Hills neighborhoods with slivers of greenspace, gardens, nature trails and architectural gems like Mirror Lake and the Bettman Fountain. With its meandering hilltop locale, Eden Park delivers panoramic views of the Ohio River. Its Krohn Conservatory, an indoor botanical garden, houses more than 3500 international plant species in its glass Art Deco digs. The Tom Jones Commons, unveiled in spring 2021, brings new walking trails, wetlands, a boardwalk and a natural play environment to Eden Park’s western end.
But Eden Park is more than a natural escape. The park’s also packed with arts and culture, starting with the Cincinnati Art Museum, Playhouse in the Park theater and Seasongood Pavilion all within its bounds.
Originally an old stone quarry, Inwood Park offers city dwellers tranquility and entertainment, with the 20-acre park just two miles north of downtown. Nods to Inwood Park’s transformational history abound. Cincinnatians voted to turn the space from quarry to park in 1904, and the original Inwood Pavilion, built in 1910, stands tall to this day – as does the granite-boulder statue of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, the “father of gymnastics,” built in 1911.
But there’s more to Inwood Park than history. There’s a lake, a play area and the newest addition: the fully accessible Grow Up Great playground, with a 90-foot zipline, miniature houses, musical instruments and a wheelchair-accessible spinner.
As the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood’s only major greenspace, the recently revitalized Washington Park is a gathering place with historic architecture and new-age entertainment. Developers retained the pastoral charm of early Cincinnati in the park’s southern half. Recycled historic columns and a restored bandstand are among the many hints to Over-the-Rhine’s past.
Washington Park is filled with Cincinnati’s top attractions, from the adjacent Music Hall performance venue and onsite urban flea market, The City Flea, to the American Classical Music Walk of Fame – complete with a dancing fountain. As adults grab brews and wines from the park’s open-air beer garden, The Porch, little ones flock to the imaginative playground, packed with a castle, climbing wall, boardwalk and water activities. This playful park is one of the best for toddlers in Cincinnati.
Burnet Woods brings 90 acres of serene urban green space to the University of Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood. It’s among the city’s oldest parks, with hiking trails, a fishing lake stocked with catfish and bass and the Trailside Nature Center, complete with a children’s museum.
Adjacent to the Trailside Nature Center is Burnet Woods’ top attraction: the Wolff Planetarium, the oldest planetarium west of the Allegheny Mountains. The 12-foot dome fits up to 20 people; local naturalists narrate these night-sky immersions, with star simulations from every latitude and season.
Otto Armleder Memorial Park
Expansive trails and water access are top draws to the sprawling Otto Armleder Memorial Park. The 305-acre park lies east of the city and boasts one of the park system’s longest-distance bike trails: a 10-mile route between Otto Armleder Memorial Park and the adjacent Lunken Airport.
Speaking of size, the destination is by far the best Cincinnati park for dogs, with a 10-acre dog park and sectioned-off areas for small and big dogs. And water-sports enthusiasts can launch kayaks and canoes into the Little Miami River straight from Otto Armleder Memorial Park’s shores.
California Woods Nature Preserve
In Cincinnati’s California Woods Nature Preserve, flora and fauna are the main attractions. The forest packs 53 tree and 200 plant species into its 113 acres. Wildlife like snapping turtles, kingfishers, wood ducks, great horned owls and beavers frequent this forest, with the Magrish Preserve, a designated Important Birding Area, running adjacent to California Woods.
Hit the park’s hiking trails for the chance to spot one of these critters, and don’t miss the butterfly and hummingbird garden near the nature center, where park rangers sit at the ready to answer visitor questions.
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