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waterfall over amphitheater rock formation in a state park near dayton ohioAfter being named “National Geographic’s outdoor adventure capital of the Midwest” in 2019, Dayton, located in western Ohio, continues to receive kudos for its innovative urban renewal program overseen by the Five Rivers MetroParks organization.

Since its inception, this group has worked diligently to develop and maintain inner-city green spaces and outdoor amenities. Dayton is a progressive city that focuses on cultivating and preserving its parks and natural areas.

Dayton is also the boyhood home of the Wright Brothers and the location where they built their first planes, and because of this, Dayton is known as the “Birthplace of Aviation.” The city also houses the oldest and largest aviation museum in the world, the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The Dayton art scene is frequently voted as one of the most notable for a mid-sized city in the US, and its culinary and shopping scene enthralls and delights both residents and visitors.

Dayton has a big city feel with a small-town charm and welcoming mid-western hospitality; pair this with its love of the outdoors, and Dayton makes for a wonderful place to visit or live.

When you are ready to move from Dayton’s outdoors adventures and begin to explore the Ohio countryside, there’s no better way than to head to a state park, and here are two excellent reasons why—they are always open, and they are always free.

Ready for your Ohio adventure? Come along with us as we explore what Ohio State Parks have to offer.

Map of State Parks Near Dayton OH

Here is a map of the Ohio state parks covered in this post:

List of State Parks Near Dayton

Here are each of those state parks with distance from Dayton and what is special about each.

1. John Bryan State Park

Location: 3790 OH-370, Yellow Springs, OH 45387

Head east of Dayton for about half an hour, and you’ll run into the scenic John Bryan State Park. The park surrounds Clifton Gorge, formed by the Little Miami River, eroding away layers of limestone and shale bedrock that built up over eons of environmental events.

The cool recesses of the park provide an ideal home for unique plant life and are excellent refuges for wildlife. Unusual rock formations, steep walls, waterfalls, and small cascades are common throughout the park. A portion of the Clifton Gorge is recognized as a national landmark.

Activities in this beautiful and unique park include camping, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and rappelling, fishing, canoeing, and picnicking.

Helpful tips: A public rock climbing and rappelling area is located on the North Rim Trail section. Check out this information from the Ohio Climbers Coalition for more details.

2. Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve

Location: 2381 OH-343, Yellow Springs, OH 45387

When visiting John Bryant State, be sure to view Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, just a stone’s throw to the east. Encompassing a 2-mile stretch of the Little Miami State and National Scenic River, this section of the gorge is a stunning example of interglacial and post-glacial canyon cutting thousands of years in the making. Interglacial and post-glacial activity is the alternating and fluctuating environmental pattern of cold and warm that causes dramatic erosion events.

The preserve for day-use only offers three miles of hiking trails to see this gorgeous gorge.

Helpful tip: Consider visiting here in the springtime to view the spring wildflower bloom. The rare snow trillium is among the many flowers that blossom here.

3. Sycamore State Park

Location: 4675 Diamond Mill Rd, Dayton, OH 45426

Close to Dayton, only 25 minutes northeast, a rare and lovely wooded haven amid sprawling farmland. Sycamore State Park is a conservation effort to reclaim forested areas predominant before farming.

Sycamore is a popular destination year-round, and activities include camping and equestrian camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, archery, boating, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.

Interesting fact: The lands Sycamore Park is on were once slated for a housing development; when the project fell through, the grounds were donated to the state of Ohio. The park was dedicated in November of 1979.

4. Hocking Hills State Park

Location: 19852 OH-664, Logan, OH 43138

Hocking Hills State Park, located about two hours to the east of Dayton, is a spectacular state park well worth visiting. A wild and picturesque landscape characterized by cascading waterfalls, massive sandstone outcroppings, cave formations, and deep gorges surrounded by tall hemlock trees.

One of the most impressive sights in the park is Ash Cave, a massive horseshoe-shaped cave. Hike in through a narrow gorge and enter a spacious, open area with an overhanging ledge and cave shelter, complete with a waterfall that drops 90 feet to a small pool below. The cave has been used for eons, as evidenced by the ash piles within the shelter; these ash remnants are also the reason for the cave’s name.

Hocking Hills State Park is simply gorgeous, and there’s so much to do here. Activities include camping, archery, bridle trails, fishing, hunting, biking, and hiking.

Interesting fact: Native Americans have long utilized the hollows and caves of what is now the park and named the river that flowed here Hockhocking, or “Bottle River,” referring to the bottle-shaped gorge. Hocking Hills derives from this earlier name.

5. Kiser Lake State Park

Location: 4889 OH-235, Conover, OH 45317

Just 45 minutes north of Dayton is Kiser Lake State Park, a tranquil refuge for camping, swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, and picnicking. The pristine 400-acre lake is a reservoir that was created in 1940 on land donated to Ohio State by John W. Kiser and his family.

The park is comprised of diverse wetlands surrounded by rolling wooded hills, and the lake has 5 miles of shoreline with boat ramps and a 300 ft. beach open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

There is adjacent Kiser Lake Wetlands State Nature Preserve, home to a unique wetland called a prairie fen, a peat-forming wetland that develops with the addition of groundwater input over 1000s of years. A fen is similar to a bog; fens have a greater water exchange making them less acidic than a bog, so the soil and water are more nutrient-rich. The preserve features a boardwalk and nature trails through the unique native prairie wetlands.

Interesting fact: The Kiser Lake area was formed by glacial activity when blocks of ice broke away from a glacier and were covered by kame, sand, or gravel deposits that created mounds or small hills.