The Best Car Camping Near Columbus

Photo: Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Here are 6 of central Ohio’s best state parks for planning an outdoor getaway.

Camping at Ohio’s scenic, amenity-filled Hocking Hills, Mohican and Alum Creek state parks is popular. Perhaps too popular. Because campers can make site reservations up to six months in advance, these three parks fill up quite quickly on the weekends, and then weekdays, too, says Heidi Hetzel-Evans of the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources and Jayne Maxwell, ODNR’s natural resource administrator. Fortunately, there are several more state parks with campgrounds worth considering within a 90-minute drive of Columbus. Here are six solid state park alternatives to the “big three” of Hocking Hills, Mohican and Alum Creek.

And don’t forget: Even though these recommendations are a little more off the radar, Maxwell urges Ohio car campers to plan in advance, noting that the state parks system is still seeing record numbers of reservations across the board.

Camping options

State parks offer a few different levels of campsites and cabins. “Our full-service campsites are our most popular,” says Maxwell, noting the amenities of electric hookups, water and sewer, which makes them ideal for longer RV stays. Electric sites are as advertised, with electric hookups. And then at the other end of the spectrum, primitive sites (where you can pitch a tent; available at a limited number of state parks) have only a fire ring and picnic table (as do the electric and full-service sites) catering to a more natural camping experience.

Cabins come in two varieties

The more basic camper cabins (also called Sherman cabins), which include cots or futons, a table and chairs, plus a microwave and small refrigerator (BYO linens and cookware); and deluxe cabins, which are open year-round with heat and AC, TVs and full furnishings (including linens and cookware). 

Noted improvements over the last few years include additional shower and restroom facilities, more electrical hookups, renovated nature centers and larger individual campsites to accommodate RVs. “We’ve done a lot to make our campsites more amenable for modern camping,” says Hetzel-Evans.

More info

Visit for the state parks system’s full listing of campsite and cabin costs (which vary depending on the type of site/cabin and time of week/year), plus some added explanation of its online reservation system

Deer Creek

“This is a great park for boating, fishing, camping and special events,” Hetzel-Evans says, “since it’s one of our nine state lodge parks.” And the lodge at Deer Creek even has some presidential history. It was built in 1918 by Harry Daugherty, attorney general under President Warren G. Harding, an Ohio native. Harding is said to have visited the cabin, which is now named in his honor (and sleeps up to nine people).

This park, 30 miles southwest of Columbus, has more than 200 electric sites. Pets are permitted on all these sites, but not in the camper cabins. There are five primitive equestrian campsites and two primitive group campsites. The park has showers, flush toilets, laundry facilities, a dump station, and a seasonal store. More info: 

A campsite at Deer Creek Campground

Delaware State Park

Delaware Lake was created in 1951 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a flood control dam north of Columbus. The state park was dedicated a year later and now the lake’s surroundings are filled with wildlife: fox squirrels, woodchucks, rabbits and white-tailed deer. “It’s a lovely, wooded campground with a great lake for fishing, boating and paddling,” says Hetzel-Evans, noting the quality of the beach along the lake, as well as the nearby wildlife area that contributes to the park’s vibrant environment. Added bonus: The Delaware Wildlife Shooting Range, a public rifle and archery range, is located adjacent to the park.

There are more than 200 electric campsites surrounded by forests at Delaware State Park, and four ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) campsites. Pets are permitted on all these sites, and there’s a dog park and swim area. The park has flush toilets, showers, laundry facilities, a potable water fill and dump station. More info: 

Dillon State Park 

Located an hour east of Columbus, this park offers a nice, large family campground close to the nature center, plus “a great commissary, archery range and nighttime observatory that’s great for stargazing,” says Hetzel-Evans. The family-friendly fun doesn’t stop there; there’s also a Storybrook trail. Located at 10 state parks, these kid-oriented trails are lined with pages from popular children’s books, designed to blend reading and literacy with healthy outdoor activities and a love of nature. Beyond that and other nice hiking trails, Dillon State Park also has a large lake ideal for boating, paddling and fishing, a beach and picnic shelters.

There are a total of 195 campsites, including full-hookup, electric and non-electric, and two ADA sites. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table. Pets are permitted. There’s also an equestrian campsite separate from the family campground, as well as cabins located on two roads away from the main campground. More info: 

Indian Lake

Hetzel-Evans calls this state park a “boater’s paradise.” No wonder, as the 5,100-acre lake allows unlimited-horsepower boating with access galore via five launch ramps and 500 boat docks available to rent, as well as a kayak launch site. Shoreside, Indian Lake is also a great spot for birdwatchers, lying on one of the country’s main avian migration routes—it’s a resting stop for Canada geese, ducks, grebes, swans, egrets and herons, while bald eagles like to nest near the lake. 

Off the water, Indian Lake’s large campground (a 75-minute drive northwest of Columbus) features full-hookup and electric sites, including some sites with premium views right along the waterfront. Pets are permitted. More info:   

John Bryan State Park

Home to another Storybook trail, this state park (located one hour west of Columbus) is “one of the system’s loveliest” Hetzel-Evans says, due to its wooded nature and its hiking volume and variety. The 10 trails range from the half-mile Storybook option to the 2.7-mile North Rim Trail that provides gorgeous views of the limestone-lined Clifton Gorge carved out by the Little Miami River. There’s also a public rock climbing and rappelling area along a section of the North Rim Trail. And then just outside of the park, you’ll find additional hiking trails at Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve, as well as stream access to the Little Miami State and National Scenic River, a great paddling option with and a bike trail that runs along the river. 
The wooded campground at John Bryan has 16 electric and 40 non-electric sites. There’s a shower house, drinking water and dump station, as well as a seasonal camp store. More info:

Mount Gilead State Park

This smaller, more secluded state park is “a hidden gem that’s perfect for a weekend getaway,” Hetzel-Evans says. “You can stay at Mount Gilead and hike at Mohican State Park or visit Malabar Farm State Park, both are about a half-hour away.” Within Mount Gilead (50 miles northeast of downtown Columbus) there’s a half-dozen hiking trails, plenty of bass in the lake, five picnic areas, disc golf and a playground. 

As far as camp amenities go, there are 37 full-hookup campsites and 37 electric campsites, including two full-hookup ADA sites. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table and the campground features a camp store, shower house, flush toilets and wastewater drains. More info:

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.