Want to take a hike? Here are a few of our favorite places

With schools closed and kids and parents quarantined together for the foreseeable future, many people are looking for ways to stay sane and keep the kids busy at the same time.

And now that spring has officially “sprung,” there are many ways to enjoy the nice weather without putting yourself and your family at risk.

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The Center for Disease Control and health experts say it’s perfectly safe to exercise, walk or hike outside, as long as the official “social distancing” rules are followed. And not only is exercise good for the body, it’s terrific for mental health and may help stave off depression and stress caused by this major disruption in routine.

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Fortunately, the Miami Valley is chock full of places to enjoy the great outdoors. Please note — it’s always advisable to check websites or call before you go. And be aware that most parks have discontinued renting out shelters or any of their inside facilities for now.

That said, here are a few favorite places recommended by local folks for communing with nature.

Five Rivers MetroParks

Our Five Rivers MetroParks are an obvious choice for Miami Valley residents because there is most likely a location near you. In fact, there are 18 parks that vary in size and numbers of trails. And don’t forget your furry friend. Leashed pets are permitted at most MetroParks, but check online before you go — the system’s website is easy to use and gives hours, maps and pet policies for every park.

Sugarcreek MetroPark, Bellbrook: With trails ranging in distance from half a mile to a little over three miles, Sugarcreek has opportunities for all fitness levels. Hikes will take you through 550-year-old oak trees, a planted prairie bursting into color each season, and even an Osage orange tree living tunnel, created by large arching branches of these ancient trees.

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Cox Arboretum, Miamisburg: 2.5 miles of trails wind through this beautiful park, which always welcomes spring with thousands of blooming flowers. The Ruth Cummings Mead Woodland is 100 acres of hardwoods, wildflowers and two groves of Paw Paw trees all located at the rear of the Arboretum – a welcome surprise to many visitors!

Hills and Dales MetroPark, Kettering: Known as an "urban forest," because of its proximity to Oakwood and Kettering, this park has been a refuge for Dayton residents since 1907. In fact, historical structures like Old Barn Camp and the Stone Tower, can still be visited today. The park has two trails – the Adirondack at about 1.5 miles is the longest, and Inspiration Point, which features an incline that will literally take your breath away.

Northern Miami Valley residents are fortunate to have two of the largest MetroParks nearby — Taylorsville and Englewood. Both were created around two of the Miami Conservancy District dams built in the early 20th century to store water and control flooding.

Englewood MetroPark's seven trails range in length from just under half a mile to nearly four miles, and the park also features a disc golf course, and a paved bike and walking path near the Stillwater River.

Take in the beauty of nature coming back to life this spring at Taylorsville MetroPark near Huber Heights. Traverse six walking trails with views of amazing ravines, massive outcroppings and historical ruins, including the remains of the village of Tadmor, the original "crossroads of America."

Visit Metroparks.org for more information about hours and all 18 parks.

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Centerville and Washington Township

Centerville and Washington Township have their own park district, and folks enjoy them year-round. Right now, it’s a great time to take the family out to catch birds doing what birds do in the spring – nesting! The district is encouraging families and small groups to enjoy the paved walking paths at all their parks and check out nature coming to life.

Yellow Springs area

Up for a true one-of-a-kind nature adventure near home? Head over to Yellow Springs, where you will find a nature preserve and a state park that will leave you in awe.

Even if you’ve never visited Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve and its neighbor, John Bryan State Park, now is the perfect time to check out these Ohio treasures.

Clifton Gorge is a 268-acre nature preserve that is home to dolomite and limestone gorges that will have your family collectively exclaiming “ooh” and “a.hh” Real-life science lessons abound here as you hike the trails and explain how glaciers formed the canyon. Be sure to note the differences on the north-facing and south-facing slopes where cool, moist environments and warmer, dryer environments are home to various flora and fauna. And springtime is the best time of year to view the spectacular wildflowers, including rare snow trillium. Please note that if you plan to hike Clifton Gorge, your best furry pal will need to stay home — pets are not permitted.

John Bryan connects to Clifton Gorge and is considered the most scenic park in western Ohio. The 752-acre park invites visitors to mountain bike on nearly 10 miles of multi-use, interconnected trails and hikers to enjoy 10 trails ranging in distance from just one-tenth of a mile to nearly three. Grab a park map and note which trails are connected and make a day of it. You can even take along a picnic lunch in case the troops get hungry along the way.

For more info, visit here.

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