Photo: Steve Wartenberg

Cycling the Columbus Loop

Circle the city on this 30-mile route connecting paved bike trails.

Columbus cyclists are fortunate: The city has two trails that can be linked to create a scenic and traffic-free loop around town. The 30-mile route includes trails that parallel the river and a creek, are lined with parks, and pass fields and woods where you might see deer, hawks, and herons.

The Olentangy Trail and Alum Creek Trail run north-south, and there are safe ways, on low-traffic streets, to connect the two. The best connecting routes are the Olentangy-Alum Creek Connector up north, and from Bexley to Columbus Commons and the Scioto Mile farther south. Both of them traverse mostly residential streets, and the southern connector goes through a scenic neighborhood with stately homes and parks. 

The mostly level loop is great for cyclists of all levels, and it’s especially fun for out-of-town guests as it really shows off the highlights and history of Columbus. The signed trails are easy to follow in most places, but there are a few confusing spots and route options, so use this guide to stay on track. (You’ll find the loop on navigation apps, but most tracks do not have the best connectors described here.)     

Starting Points

Since it’s a loop, there are several places to begin. The route described here starts in the big parking lot of Whetstone Park in Clintonville. As the route loops around (clockwise) from Whetstone, some of the many other places to start include: Woodward Park Middle School on Karl Road; Innis Park, off of Innis Road; Wolfe Park in Bexley; and downtown, along the Scioto Mile. These are just a few of the options; depending on where you live, you might also just want to ride to the loop from home. 

Launching the Loop

Starting at Whetstone, head west to the river and the Olentangy Trail, where you’ll make a right turn and go north, upriver. At 2.5 miles on the Olentangy Trail, there’s a bridge across the river. This is the start of the easterly Olentangy-Alum Creek Connector. Cross the bridge and start following the green signs. The route is mostly well-signed, but be aware of a few places where it’s not.

The first point of confusion comes a couple miles after the bridge, where there’s a sign with a left arrow for “Kanawa Ave.” So, you take the next left, correct? Nope. The second left is Kanawa. Many first-time riders on the connector have mistakenly turned left on the first left, which is Rosslyn Avenue. 

Go across High Street, and, at the 5.5-mile mark, ride up and over the pedestrian bridge above Interstate 71. The two sides of the bridge make for the steepest section of this entire ride. 

Connecting to the Creek

At about the 7.5-mile mark, the green signs give you a choice: Take a left and head to Cooper Park, which is on the Alum Creek Trail, or take a right and head to Parkridge Park, also on the Alum Creek Trail. The route to Parkridge Park is a much nicer route, as the Cooper Park route goes through what seems like an endless string of strip malls and shopping centers.

The next point of confusion comes at the 9.5-mile mark. This is where you make a right turn, onto a short, downhill connector path to the Alum Creek Trail. However, there’s no green sign with an arrow pointing that way and it’s easy to glide past. Look for the Westerville Woods and Alum Creek signs, and go right onto the connector path. You’ll hit the Alum Creek Trail in a few hundred yards and make a right (south). If you hit the 10-mile mark and aren’t yet on the Alum Creek Trail, backtrack a bit and look for this connector path.

Over the next few miles, enjoy a wonderful section of the Alum Creek Greenway, as you parallel Alum Creek most of the way. At Mile 16, there’s an historical marker that describes how the creek was an important part of the Underground Railroad—it was a “liquid line of freedom” used by escaped slaves, who waded through the creek’s waters to throw off the bloodhounds of the bounty hunters tracking them.

Photo: Steve Wartenberg

Heading Downtown

At Mile 17, another option: To the left is the Downtown Connector Trail; to the right is the route to Bexley. Go toward Bexley. The Downtown Connector parallels busy streets and crosses major highways (and it isn’t scenic). Bexley is the better option.

Bexley beckons at about Mile 18 as you ride past St. Charles Prep and along Wolfe Park. Bexley (to the east of the park) is one of the more upscale neighborhoods of the metro area. As you ride south through Wolfe Park, the Alum Creek Trail bends to the right and crosses a beautiful old bridge. This is the point where this route leaves the Alum Creek Trail, which goes south for several more miles. Go east, across South Nelson Road, under the railroad bridge and onto Franklin Park South.

On the right is the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a 13-acre urban oasis. When you get to the end of the Conservatory, the official green sign says to continue straight to get downtown. A better route is to make a left here, on Miller Avenue, and then a right onto Bryden Road. Bryden, lined with historic brick homes, is one of the most beautiful streets in all of Columbus.

Cross back over Interstate 71 and Bryden turns into East Town Street, where the Topiary Garden Park is on the right. Stay on Town Street and, at Mile 21, arrive at Columbus Commons, a six-acre park opened in 2011 that was the epicenter of the downtown revitalization plan.

Closing the Loop

Head south through the park, to East Rich Street, make a right and follow this to the river and go right (north) on the Scioto Trail. Cycle along the Scioto Mile to the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers, at Mile 23, and the traffic light at West Long Street. The Scioto Trail ends here. To the left is the Camp Chase Trail portion of the Ohio to Erie Trail, the route that goes all the way from Cleveland to Cincinnati. Cross West Long to pick up the Olentangy Trail. Immediately on the right you’ll pass Lower.com Field, the new stadium of the Columbus Crew. 

Stay on the Olentangy Trail and pass the southern section of Ohio State University (Mile 25), and the historic Ohio Stadium (the Shoe) at Mile 26. 

From here, continue north on the Olentangy all the way back to Whetstone.

Refresh & Refuel

As you’d expect on a lap around a major metropolitan area, there are many options. Here are a few favorites. 

Near Whetstone

The Rusty Bucket serves up tasty burgers (4109 N. High Street).

On the Olentangy-Alum Creek Connector

Try the pepperoni pizza at the Pizza House (747 E. Lincoln Avenue).

Near Wolfe Park in Bexley

Brassica Bexley makes a delicious falafel sandwich or salad, with hummus and/or baba ganoush (2212 E. Main Street).

Downtown

Condado Tacos, on Columbus Commons, is great if you like spicy chorizo-sausage tacos (132 S. High Street).

Confluence

The Boat House restaurant at the confluence of the Olentangy and Scioto rivers has a great view of the rivers and downtown. It’s another good place to start and end the loop. 

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.

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