Don’t just call it a facelift. The revitalization of the downtown Columbus riverfront runs much deeper. The dramatic upgrade of the past several years began with the 2015 removal of dams that returned the Scioto River to its more natural state. The creation of beautifully landscaped parks along the river was the next step, followed by the renovation of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) museum, the construction of the National Veteran Memorial and Museum, and the rebirth and ongoing development of the Franklinton Peninsula on the west banks of the Scioto. The area has become a bonafide destination.
There’s no better way to take in the sights of the so-called Scioto Mile than a leisurely paddle along the Scioto River. It’s the Columbus equivalent of a boat ride on the Seine in Paris, past Notre Dame and the Louvre. Sort of.
The downtown stretch of the Scioto is one of the river’s widest sections in the city proper. Lowhead dams to the north and south of this section prevent commercial traffic, and a gentle (to nearly nonexistent) current makes for stress-free, pleasant upriver paddling. The Scioto also rarely freezes over, so if you’re hale and hearty with the right cold-weather gear, it's possible to paddle year-round on this mellow and scenic section that cuts through the heart of Columbus.
There are three nice access points downtown. Starting upriver from the north, they’re located: above the Broad Street Bridge, on the river-left, east side; above the Main Street Bridge, also on the river-left, east side; and just above the railroad bridge, on the river-right, west side. Be forewarned: It can be challenging to transport your kayak from your vehicle to these three launches. You have to park a couple hundred yards away, and carry your craft across a street or two and down some grassy knolls to the river.
The best place to launch is about a mile to the south at the Lower Scioto Park, just off West Whittier Street and near the Scioto Audubon Park. There’s a large parking lot, which includes extra-large spots for vehicles with trailers, and you can back your car right up to the concrete ramp that leads down into the river.