15 Outdoor, Socially Distanced Places To Visit - For Free
Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
While restaurants and social gatherings are off limits, hiking trails and Sunday drives (or for that matter any day of the week drives) are not. If you can't stand being cramped up at home and need to get away, here are 15 ways to have a little fun. Just remember to pack a snack before you go.
Note: Besides the gas money, everything on this list is free to do.
1. Take a Driving Tour of the Land of Cross-Tipped Churches
The Land of Cross-Tipped Churches is located just north of Miami County in the peaceful countryside of Mercer, Auglaize and Shelby counties. The 36 churches and buildings can be toured by car in one day. If you've never seen them, or if it's been a while, you'll be amazed at just how beautiful and majestic these structures are. There are also plenty of outdoor areas to explore and get some fresh air, as well as quaint towns to pass through. See the a full map of locations and plan your drive HERE.
2. Tour the Barn Quilts of Miami County
Just like the above activity, this tour can be done from the comfort of your own vehicle in one day, all within Miami County. The array of different quilt patterns is something to see. Since most are located on country roads, this adds to the peacefulness of the experience. To learn more and to see a map, visit the Miami County Visitor's Bureau HERE.
3. See the Wildflowers at Garbry Big Woods Sanctuary
Miami County Park District trails remain open and this secluded park can provide a fresh breath of air, plus one of the best displays of spring wildflowers in this region. Also listen for tree frogs and look for scarlet cup mushrooms (pictured here). Be warned though, the boardwalk can be slippery when wet. Walk carefully. Located at 2540 E. Statler Rd.
4. Hike the River’s Edge Wildlife Preserve Near West Milton
Also referred to as “Brukner 2,” this secluded and sparsely visited park is located on Calumet Road near West Milton. It is actually quite interesting. It has several waterfalls, natural springs, limestone rock formations and some of the highest views above the Stillwater River in Miami County, reaching about 100 feet above the river at one spot in the park. The park entrance is located near the intersection of Calumet and St. Rt. 48.
5. See the Natural Arch at Greenville Falls
The next few weeks will be some of the last to see foliage-free views of the natural rock arch (pictured below left) at Greenville Falls, a Miami County Park District park. You can also see some amazing relics from the time when a power plant operated at the falls and watch spring come to life from above the falls (pictured below right). Located at 9140 Covington-Gettysburg Rd., Covington.
6. Explore Lockington Dam & Lockington Locks
Just north of Piqua, these secluded places are absolutely fascinating to explore, and there are rarely ever any other human beings around. The dam offers amazing views of the peaceful countryside and the locks drop several times, making them an extremely rare artifact from this country’s past.
7. Tour the Bridges of Preble County
Most of the bridges in Preble County are located in beautiful, secluded places. The tour includes driving from bridge to bridge and occasionally getting out to explore one up-close. I wrote a story about this tour in the Fall 2019 issue of This Local Life magazine. It can be read free of charge online HERE. Just turn to page 52.
8. Drive Route 66 from Start to Finish – Or Keep Going for a Dark Night
Although you’ll need to stop for gas, this trip (linked HERE), passes dozens of interesting outdoor, secluded and socially distanced places, including the beautiful scene pictured at below left in St. Marys. Drive a little further north into Michigan and visit Lake Hudson Recreational Area, which is one of the most secluded places in Michigan and also a Dark Sky Zone where you can see the night sky in its full splendor.
9. Dark Sky Zones
Speaking of Dark Sky Zones. These places get their names because they are far away from civilization. There are numerous places visit them, including a few local ones (pictured at right). Learn more at www.mymiamicounty.com/thedarkskies.
10. Visit Miamisburg Mound
Take the back way to Miamisburg (Rangeline and Diamond Mill roads) and visit Miamisburg Mound. The view from the top is unbeatable in this area! Located at 900 Mound Road.
11. Hike Kiser Lake State Park & Davey Woods State Nature Preserve
Although the indoor facilities and restrooms are closed to the public, the hiking trails at nearby Kiser Lake are open. This is probably a trail system that most people are unfamiliar with, which makes it all the more adventurous. Just a few miles east is an even more secluded hiking trail at Davey Woods State Nature Preserve, 7661 Lonesome Rd.
12. Take the Heart of Ohio Road Trip on U.S. 36
You can’t visit the businesses along this trip, but this journey has so many free, outdoor and secluded places to visit that it’s still worth the gas money. Learn more HERE.
13. Explore Maple Ridge Reserve, Stillwater Prairie and Goode Prairie
These three Miami County Park District parks are located next to each other in the peaceful countryside between Covington and Bradford, with plenty of room for everyone to have their own private space. Each park has a variety of wildflowers and wild mushrooms in the spring and Maple Ridge and Stillwater Prairie have great riverfront views, plus places for children to get out and stretch.
14. Visit Fletcher Covered Bridge and Fletcher Cemetery
Miami County’s “other” covered bridge is located in Fletcher, which is located directly next to The Fletcher Cemetery. A visit to both of these places can include a walk around the cemetery, where you’ll see a chair-shaped and log-cabin-shaped gravestone, among other unique sights, plus fresh air in wide open spaces.
15. See the Purple and Yellow Wildflower Carpet in Tipp City
In early April, and only for a short while, an area near the Great Miami Recreational Trail at the Tipp City Nature Center teems over with a carpet of purple and yellow flowers. Keep going north on the trail for one of the most secluded parts of the trail system.