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5 Socially Distant Summer Adventures for Kids in Columbus

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These fun outings in Columbus will get your family safely out of the house and exploring this summer!

This summer has been a summer of major change for most of us and one of the biggest changes is how much time we have been spending at home! We managed to snag one of the coveted blow up pools for our backyard, we have taken a gazillion walks around the neighborhood, and I’ve even bought 3 (!) bird feeders for our yard! 

But while we are trying to make the most of a life lived mainly at home, we have also been on the search for new, outdoor activities this summer in order to keep our cabin fever at bay!

Please remember that masks are currently mandatory indoors in Franklin County and outdoors when you are not able to socially distance. 

5 Fun Outings for Kids for the Summer of 2020:

Here are 5 things we’ve done this summer that pass the test for being outdoors and also able to be socially (or physically) distant from other groups!

1. The Paul Busse Garden Railway at Franklin Park Conservatory

  • 1777 E Broad St, Columbus, OH 43203

model train at the Paul Busse Garden Railway at Franklin Park Conservatory

The Paul Busse Garden Railway will be on display at Franklin Park Conservatory through January 10, 2021. This is an outdoor display that takes up a large portion of the Grand Mallway.

The Garden Railway is made of all-natural plant materials and features 4 botanical themes: Fairytale Land, Wild West Town and an animal themed “Who Lives Here” and a European Travels section! Each theme has its own section of the display and there is a sign listing what each building is and what to look for! It was fun for the kids to find all of the different displays!

Masks are currently required at Franklin Park Conservatory.

boy looking at the model railway at Franklin Park Conservatory

Read more about the railway and see more photos here: The Paul Busse Garden Railway at Franklin Park Conservatory is Now on Display and it is Magical!

2. Suspension Sculptures in Schiller Park

  • 1069 Jaeger St, Columbus, OH 43206

suspended statues at Schiller Park in German Village, Columbus, Ohio

Polish artist Jerzy Kedziora’s floating sculptures will be on display through September in Schiller Park in German Village! This is part of an exhibit of around 30 some sculptures that are hanging all around Columbus including Thurber Park Livingston Park, Main Library and more!

Schiller Park is home to the bulk of these suspended sculptures and my kids had a lot of fun looking for them throughout the park! Our favorite was The Rower over Schiller Pond! 

Balance Statues in Schiller Park

Schiller Park has a great playground and lots of shaded picnic tables! We spent the late morning looking for all the sculptures and then had a picnic in the park!

3. Creeking at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park

  • 1775 Darby Creek Dr, Galloway, OH 43119

two boys playing in the creek at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park

Battelle Darby Creek has become our go-to metro park since moving to the west side of Columbus! But we have always entered through the same entrance and done the same hike again and again. Now don’t get me wrong, seeing the bison in the park and visiting the Nature Center are two of the best things you can do in the park, but trying out a new entrance gave us an entirely different experience in the park!

In order to find this creeking spot you can enter through the Indian Ridge Picnic Area or the Canoe Access Area. If you walk the Terrace Trail, you will come across even more creeking opportunities! The Indian Ridge Picnic Area also has a playground and lots of picnic areas.

railroad bridge over Darby Creek

4. Whetstone Prairie

  • 3923 N. High St., Columbus, OH 43214

deer peeking his head out of the grass at Whetstone Prairie in Whetstone Park, Columbus

My husband and I stumbled upon the Whetstone Prairie while visiting the Columbus Park of Roses in June! We were shocked to find that this area existed after years of visiting the park and having no idea! The prairie is in the western part of the park along the Olentangy Trail. (Park in or near the Park of Roses parking lot.)

The prairie area is a peaceful place to walk, look for butterflies and other wildlife! I did not expect to come upon a deer in the middle of Whetstone Park! There are large clear paths for walking and enjoying solace in the middle of the city!

path at Whetstone Prairie in Columbus, Ohio

In addition to The Park of Roses and the Prairie, Whetstone Park is home to a library, rec center, pond and playground!

5. Rope Bridge at Scioto Grove Metro Park

  • 5172 Jackson Pike, Grove City, OH 43123

two boys walking the rope bridge in Scioto Grove Metro Park

Let this be another lesson to us all about the value of exploring new parts of the Metro Parks! Again at Scioto Grove Metro Park, I have been guilty of only driving to one area within the park: the playground (which is more of a large climbing structure)!

There are a lot of good hiking areas around the playground, so don’t discount that if you haven’t done it, but this summer we were on a mission to find the Rope Bridge! We kept driving on past the playground to the Grove Lodge (where we parked) and then headed south on the REI River Trail. The Rope Bridge can be found where the REI River Trail meets the Mingo Trail (and it’s marked on the official Metro Parks map.)

view of the creek from the rope bridge in Scioto Grove Metro Park

The path to the Rope Bridge is very shady which is great, but I will caution you that it can be muddy and there were a lot of mosquitos. 

Exploring Columbus with Your Kids

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fryer park, grove city

6 Columbus Area Parks for Toddlers

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These 6 Columbus area parks are great for toddlers and younger kids!

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes taking young kids to the park can be a frightening experience.  You look away for 5 seconds and all of a sudden your toddler is standing at the top of a climbing wall looking over a 10 foot drop off to the pavement below.  I like to take my toddlers to parks where they can roam freely without a lot of worry that their lack of impulse control (or balance) is going to send us on a trip to the ER.  But that’s just me.

I suppose I should make a disclaimer that most (all?) of the younger kids’ areas in the parks I’ve been to have signs saying the equipment is designed for ages 2-5.  I don’t know anyone who has waited until their kid was 2 to take them to a park, so that being said, I have chosen 6 parks with particularly toddler-friendly play areas!

6 Columbus Parks that are Perfect for Toddlers: 

1. Funk-ee-Town, Harrison Park, Harrison West

995 Harrison Park Pl., Columbus, OH 43201
No Restrooms Available

Harrison Park

Harrison Park

GREAT toddler area here!  No crazy heights, the small slide is enclosed at the top, and lots of opportunities for imaginative play – on the ground!  My kids love the snack shack and the house with the blue roof has drums and a xylophone to play on inside, as well as a steering wheel. While you’re in the area, check out some of these kid-friendly options in the Short North!

2.  Jeffrey Mansion and Park, Bexley

165 N. Parkview Ave, Bexley, OH 43209
Seasonal Restrooms Available

Jeffrey Mansion Park, Bexley

Jefferey Mansion Park, Bexley, Ohio

The toddler area here is fenced in, making it a perfect little play area just for the younger crowd!  There is tunnel to crawl through, a dinosaur slide and a play house.  As a bonus, the grounds here are beautiful and if you follow the path into the woods behind the park, you will encounter a boardwalk along Alum Creek! If you’re in Bexley, add a stop at Kittie’s or Gramercy Books to complete the morning!

3.  Schiller Park, German Village

1069 Jaeger St., Columbus, OH 43206
Restrooms Available

Train at Schiller Park, German Village

Slide at Schiller Park, German Village

This side of the playground at Schiller park is very toddler friendly.  Kids love these trains, and the play area behind it, seen in the picture, is specifically made for the toddler set.  It’s completely closed in, there’s a ramp and the slides are so slow my 4 year old got stuck.  😉 There are several baby/toddler swings here as well. Nearby, check out Winans for great coffee and chocolate!

4. Pingree Park, Worthington

374 Pingree Dr., Worthington, OH 43085
No Restrooms Available

Pingree Park, Worthington, OH

Pingree Park, Worthington, Ohio

Pingree Park, Worthington, Ohio

My kids had a lot of fun at this park!  There’s a toddler play set, infant/toddler swings and a small path around the park that does not cross a road or parking lot.  There are a couple of picnic tables and benches here that are convenient for snacking or eating a packed lunch.

Both of my kids, including my toddler, actually really had fun on the tunnel slide, though it specifically says for ages 5 and up.  They specifically enjoyed yelling “Paw Patrol!” from the top and then pretending to slide down into their respective vehicles.  So yes, I did basically yell out jobs for them for at least 20 minutes: “Marshall, I need you and your firetruck to go rescue a kitty from a tree . . .” and so on . . . It was fun. (Sarcasm font.)

5.  Discovery Frontier, Fryer Park, Grove City

3899 Orders Rd., Grove City, OH 43123
Restrooms Available

space themed park in Grove City, Ohio

Fryer Park, Grove City, Ohio

This park is toddler friendly because it is more about space than height.  And yes, I mean that literally and figuratively.  This space-themed park has a lot of area to run, hills to climb and also sand to play in.  My kids love running through the tunnel and up the hill that is the moon. While you’re in Grove City, check out their awesome library!

There are several toddler-sized structures to play on.  It’s hard to say exactly what space-themed things they are supposed to be, but none of them are very high off the ground, and that’s what matters.  At this park, there is also a pond with a path to walk. There are several toddler swings here and they are under umbrella cover for shade – another bonus!

6. Alum Creek Park North, Westerville

221 W. Main St., Westerville, OH 43081
Restrooms Available

Train Park, Westerville Ohio

Alum Creek Park North

Most of this park is geared toward older kids, but there are two things in particular make this park toddler-friendly and worth a visit.  One is the train, which is mainly at ground level with a tunnel to crawl through, benches to sit on inside and a small slide.  The second thing is the large sand pit.  I said it was toddler friendly, I didn’t promise your kids would stay clean.  😉 This park was one stop during our Playdate in Uptown Westerville – make sure to read to find out where we got donuts before hand! 😉

I have personally tried all of these parks with a toddler and lived to see another day!  I hope you and your little ones enjoy exploring a new park!  If you’re planning to pick up coffee on the way to the park, I featured two of these parks in my post Coffee+Park: 3 Parks Within Walking Distance of a Coffee Shop!

Need more ideas? Check out Over 100 Fun Things to do in Columbus, Ohio

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ICYMI: 6 Free or Cheap Indoor Places for Kids to Run Wild in Columbus

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MEGA Train List for Central Ohio and Beyond

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My kids love trains! I have been to *almost* every place on this list! When Jaden was 3, he could have gone to Barnes and Noble every single day to play with Thomas. This list isn’t so much for your kids as it is for you! Of course your kids will love these places, but this list is to keep YOU from going insane from doing the same thing every day! 😉 A good number of these things are special events that are only available for a short time! So check the list and mark your calendars because many of those are coming up this month! You, too, can be a really useful engine! 😉

1. Paul Busse Model Garden Railway at Franklin Park Conservatory, downtown Columbus

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The train in the picture below is up nearly year round, but the one above makes a special appearance during the holidays! Check the link for info on Merry and Bright!

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2. Grandview Library, Grandview Heights

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One great library with a train table!

3. Huntington Holiday Train at Columbus Metropolitan Library, downtown Columbus

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The Huntington Holiday Train arrives in mid-November and the Main Library hosts an Open House on November 30th, which will include hot chocolate and cookies, crafts and the lighting of Topiary Park! For even more trains, keep an eye on the Hilliard and Gahanna branches which will offer Polar Express programs this year!

4. Ohio Railway Museum, Worthington

The museum has been working on repairing the tracks so no train rides are available as of today, but they hope to be up and running for the holidays!

5. The Train Station, Clintonville

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Model trains are for sale here and they also have a small play area for kids!

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6. Moody Street Trains, Clintonville

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Model trains are for sale here and there is a train table for playing. On Saturday, December 3, 2016, they will host the 2nd Annual National Lionel Train Day which will feature prizes, face painting and a visit from Santa!

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7. Model Railroad Days at COSI, downtown Columbus

Model Railroad Days are November 16-20, 2016 this year and large model train sets are available for viewing and there are also trains to play with! During the weekend you can watch the movie Rocky Mountain Express in the theater. At Christmastime, The Polar Express is shown as well! (p.s. there is also a train to play with in the little kidspace at COSI!)

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8. Barnes and Noble, various locations

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Barnes and Noble offers the hope that your children will play with trains while you quietly sip coffee and read a magazine.

9. Hilliard Branch, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Hilliard

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The Hilliard Branch is a fun library for kids and has a Chuggington train table.

10. Von Maur, Polaris Fashion Place

In the children’s section of the store, there is a train that runs along the wall and a train table for playing!

11. Easton Express Railway, Easton Town Center

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This outdoor train track is always decorated for whatever season it happens to be and is a big hit with the kids!

12. BrickUniverse, Columbus Convention Center

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There are lots of working LEGO trains at this once-a-year LEGO Expo!

13. Delaware County Model Railroaders’ Open Houses, Delaware

Model railroads are set up on these special open-house dates!

14. Great Train Show at Ohio Expo Center

This expo is coming January 14-15, 2017 and includes model railroads, train dealers, hands-on exhibits and more!

15. Inniswood Metro Gardens, Westerville

We stumbled upon this train track behind the offices at Inniswood. I couldn’t find any info on if/when it is used, but if you know, please leave a comment below!

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16. Holiday Train Display at Ohio History Center

This special train is on exhibit during the holiday season! It will be on display November 28, 2016 – January 4, 2017.

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There are other trains on the grounds of the Ohio History Center year round, including one inside the building that can be sat in, and the one seen below that sits outside.

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17. Schiller Park in German Village

This is a great park with a train that can be played on!

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18. Alum Creek Park North, Westerville

This park is affectionately known as “the train park” – and aptly so!

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19. Henceroth Park, Grove City

This park offers lots of vehicles to play on including a jeep, boat and this wooden train!

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20. North America Train Ride at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

For $1 per person, you can ride a train around the North American exhibit at the zoo!

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21. Christmas Time Open House at Central Ohio Model Railroad Club

For 4 weekends in December, the club puts on an open house featuring giant model railroad layouts, an interactive Thomas the Tank Engine display and more! Admission is free!

22. Open Garden Tour by the members of Columbus Garden Railway Society

On the second Sunday in September, members of the Columbus Garden Railway Society open their houses (gardens!) for a tour of their own Garden Railroads!

BEYOND COLUMBUS . . .

23. Little Buckeye Children’s Museum, Mansfield

One of the larger exhibits at the Little Buckeye Museum is the model train display and nearby train tables for playing!

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24. Mad River & NKP Railroad Museum, Bellevue

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There are tons of trains on display here, may of which you can climb aboard! This museum has indoor and outdoor components and the gift shop has a train table for playing!

25. Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation, Inc., Findlay

This organization offers train rides and holiday events (including the North Pole Express), a museum, gift shop and model train displays!

26. The Buckeye Express Diner, Bellville

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Eat dinner in an OSU-themed train car! There is a train playground outside too!

27. Dennison Railroad Depot Museum, Dennison

This museum has a railroad car just for kids, model trains and a scavenger hunt just for kids!

 28. Lodi Station Outlets, Lodi

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This outlet mall is built with a train theme! You can purchase tickets to take a train ride around the property!

29. EnterTAINment Junction, West Chester

This venue offers displays, a museum, seasonal rides and a funhouse!

30. Day Out with Thomas, various locations

These special days only happen a few times a year at Ohio locations and include a 25-minute train ride, kids activities, live music and more!

31. Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Northeast Ohio

The trains here run mainly on the weekends and there are several events scheduled throughout the year, including a Christmas Tree Adventure!

32. Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, Nelsonville

This railway offers special trips throughout the year including a Santa Train on December 18, 2016. Tickets are limited.

33. LM & M Railroad, Lebanon, Lebanon

This historic railroad offers special events including the Day out with Thomas and North Pole Express!

34. Train-O-Rama, Marblehead

One of Ohio’s largest multi-gauge model railroad displays open to the public! Trains are for sale in the gift shop as well!

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ICYMI: 5 Moms of Nationwide Share their Favorite Places to take their Kids in Columbus


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