This article was brought to you by Wenzel, whose fleece sleeping bags will keep your whole family feeling cozy on even the chilliest of autumn nights in any of these Ohio state parks.


With more than 70 state parks scattered across The Buckeye State, there are plenty of great options for outdoor exploring and camping in Ohio. But if you’re looking to avoid the crowds and set course for the road less traveled, we’ve gathered together an awesome list of the most overlooked and underrated state parks in Ohio.

We’ll kick things off with a few state parks that are indeed lesser-known, but still have a bit of a reputation around Ohio. Then we’ll steadily move into the truly hidden gems that eagerly await (and deserve) more visitors.

8 Overlooked Ohio State Parks to Take The Whole Family

1. Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park

Rock ledges at Nelson Kennedy Ledges State Park.

Image from The Dyrt camper Scott M.

This 167-acre park is an absolute treasure trove of stunning rock formations. The dramatic sandstone rock formations are covered and bisected by an abundance of tree roots and plant life. One could argue it resembles a miniature Angkor Wat; but this one sits just 45 miles outside of Cleveland.

This park is a great destination for hiking, where you can take in your scenic surroundings across 4 designated hiking trails that vary in difficulty from easy to difficult.

2. Kelleys Island State Park

A sprawling 677-acre park, which covers an impressive 25% of Kelleys Island itself. Situated in Lake Erie near the Ohio-Michigan border, this island getaway is just an hour from Sandusky and just about two hours from both Toledo and Cleveland.

If you’re looking for a relaxing and unique excursion, this may be your best bet. Kelleys Island state park is home to Inscription Rock, which is where visitors will find mysterious petroglyphs carved into a limestone boulder. The carvings are estimated to have originated around (or before) the 1600’s.

This is a great spot for families, with a relatively flat landscape that is littered with hiking trails, walking paths and even some fun mountain biking terrain. You’ll have easy access to a variety of outdoor activities like swimming, picnicking, fishing and boating. And thanks to the downtown area being just minutes from the park, you’ll also have all the modern conveniences your heart desires.

3. Barkcamp State Park

Historical building in a field at Barkcamp State Park.

Image from The Dyrt camper Bobby C.

Surpassing 1,000 acres in size, Barkcamp State Park is an expansive area in eastern Ohio that is most well known for its picturesque rolling hills and for its incredible array of outdoor activities. A sampling of the available activities include: swimming beaches, boating, fishing, hunting areas, a nature center, hiking and multi-use trails, plus there’s even an archery range and an 18-hole mini golf course! No matter what kind of family outing you have in mind, Barkcamp has you covered.

4. Mohican State Park

Another large scale park at 1,110-acres, Mohican State Park also sits right next to a 4,525-acre state forest! With that kind of protected wilderness around you, you’re guaranteed to feel at one with nature.

The main attractions at Mohican State Park will be especially enticing to more active outdoorsmen. Anyone looking for trail running, mountain biking, canoeing or inner-tubing…look no further. With a 27-mile stretch of river running through the park, it’s no wonder this area is known as the “Canoe Capital of Ohio”. But not to be outdone, there are renowned running, hiking and biking trails throughout the park. There’s even a 25-mile mountain biking trail that was voted the best in all of Ohio by Mountain Bike Action Magazine.

5. Strouds Run State Park

Kayaker raising their paddle overhead while floating in a lake.

Image from The Dyrt Camper Ruby W.

This is a park for people who are looking for some untouched natural beauty. The scenic landscape of Strouds Run State Park is best known for its exaggerated rolling hills with deep valleys, high peaks and dense, tranquil forests covering it all.

The forest and hills create some stunning scenery that can be enjoyed from any of the numerous trails found all over the state park. There are multi-use trails as well as dedicated trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Water activities are another mainstay for Strouds Run; fishermen, boaters, and swimmers will not be disappointed.

6. Pymatuning State Park

Pymatuning Lake and State Park are a bit unique because they both sit directly on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. And while it is true that more of the lake and state park falls on the Pennsylvania side of the border, that is more of a technicality than anything else. A weekend camping trip in this area and I’m sure you’ll find yourself moving regularly from one side of the border to the other.

The absolutely massive man-made lake boasts some staggering statistics; it covers just over 17,000-acres in total, is 17 miles long, has 70 miles of shoreline, and holds a mind boggling 64.3 billion gallons of water.

Boaters, fishermen, and swimmers rejoice! Pymatuning is a serious destination for water lovers to have some serious fun. Plus, the camping options won’t disappoint; with regular tent camping sites, group sites, cabins and even yurts available to rent.

7. Pike Lake State Park

Two young girls walking on a dock at Pike Lake.

Image from The Dyrt camper Bonnie L.

A gem of a park in southern Ohio. Pike Lake State Park is just a 2-hour drive east of Cincinnati, with lush forested landscapes surrounding a quaint 13-acre lake. If you keep your eyes on a swivel you may be able to spot some serious wildlife including deer, foxes, rattlesnakes, box turtles, and even wild turkeys!

Pike Lake has the usual water activities available, plus another more unique attraction we haven’t found at many other state parks: an 18-hole disc/frisbee golf course.

8. Lake Hope State Park

Lake Hope in southeastern Ohio wraps up our list on a high note. The entirety of this state park actually lies with the larger Zaleski State Forest, the latter of which covers an astounding 28,600-acres!

The landscapes throughout Lake Hope are a bit more rugged and densely forested than some of the other parks on this list, but don’t let that scare you off, because this is still a surprisingly family-friendly destination. It is home to a 29-mile backpacking trail with rudimentary campsites nearby, multiple other hiking trails, more than half a dozen mountain bike trails, playgrounds, basketball courts, a swimming beach, and much more. You’re guaranteed to have lots to do and a lot of nature to explore at Lake Hope.


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Campsite with Wenzel tent and string lights.

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Ryan Woeltje

Ryan Woeltje