Too far back? OK, how about 10,000 years, when the glaciers melted and the runoff chiseled out the slate- and shale-lined ravines that still meander and crisscross their way through the 1,200 acres of this Metro Park. Native Americans wandered these woods, including the Cole Culture, who built a horseshoe-shaped earthwork about 1,000 years ago that rings the edge of the 110-foot-tall bluffs above the Olentangy River—and gave the park its name.
While all this history is fascinating, Highbanks is also all about getting away from it all, on the 10 trails and 13-plus miles of wide, hard-packed paths through forests and meadows that are ideal for hiking—and running.
The Nature Center features a small but informative display on the millions of years of geoscience that happened here, including a replica of the fossilized jawbone of a prehistoric fish that once swam in the tropical ocean. There’s also a bookshelf-lined library with a great view of the sparrows, chickadees, flickers and starlings who visit the feeder just outside the library’s wall of windows. Make sure to pick up a trail map.
It’s not called Highbanks for nothing, which means the Overlook Trail to the Overlook Deck is a must see. The 2.3-mile loop will take you through a canopy of 150-year-old trees that are part of the Hutchins Nature Preserve. The trail also winds past the final resting place of the Pool family (sort of). Some of this land was once farmland, and the local farmers included Joseph and Sally Pool, who arrived from New York in 1812. They had 13 children, and a family gravesite. While the exact location of their graves is unknown, the headstones were found and relocated just off the Overlook Trail.
The earthworks of the ancient Cole Culture are a quarter-mile-long moat that’s a bit of a mystery. Was it ceremonial? A boundary? Protection from the elements? Nobody knows for sure, but historians do know the Coles were an Indigenous woodlands people who cultivated crops and made pottery and flint tools.
And then … the Overlook Deck, and proof positive that central Ohio isn’t as flat some people would have us believe. From this large, wooden deck, you can look down, way down, from the top of the limestone cliffs, across the Olentangy River. This is also the best spot to see one of the bald eagles that nest in the tallest of trees.