Hikers on the Dripping Rock Trail at Highbanks

Columbus Hiking: Highbanks Metro Park

Photo: Virginia Gordon/Highbanks Metro Park

A hike through Highbanks is a step back in time, about 350 million years, when Ohio was covered by a tropical ocean.

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. 

First Stop

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.

Recommended Route

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.

 A child hikes on a trail at Highbanks Metro Park. Photo: Bryce Wasser/Highbanks Metro Park

Added Bonus

To extend your hike a bit, take the Wetland Spur Trail, a .8-mile path that connects with the Overlook Trail, and does take you out of the forest and into some wetlands.

Cross-Country Skiing

Two of the park’s trails, Coyote Run (3.5 miles, starting from the Nature Center) and Scenic River (.6 of a mile in the northwest corner of the park) are reserved for cross-country skiing when the conditions permit.

More Info

Visit metroparks.net. The Highbanks staff also lead a number of interesting and free, year-round programs, including a bird-watching hike, a river walk to the giant sycamore tree, plus a geology hike.  

Getting There

Highbanks is about 15 miles north of downtown Columbus, in the southern section of Delaware County. Take 71 North to 270 West to 23 North; the entrance is on the left.

Where to eat (and drink)

Stop by the nearby Olentangy River Brewing Company (303 Green Meadows Drive South) to enjoy the mix of several tasty beers on tap, revolving fleet of food trucks, and relaxing outdoor seating. You can’t go wrong with a pint of the American-style Sofia IPA after a day venturing to the Overlook.

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.