Columbus Hiking: The Best Hikes to Ohio’s Native American Earthworks

Hike where people lived 2,000 years ago.

Ohio’s landscape is rich in mounds and other earthworks built by prehistoric Native American cultures that we know little about today. What remains of these earthworks are in varying states of repair, so if you want to learn more it’s good to choose a destination with interpretive information and trails that offer quality hiking. Here are a few of the best earthworks hikes to get you started.

Serpent Mound

Serpent Mound is a bucket-list destination—not just for Ohio, but globally. This unique and spectacular effigy mound is in the shape of a snake with a coiled tail and a mouth opened around what looks like an egg. The quarter-mile-long mound is well preserved and maintained, plus it’s easy to view. You’ll be drawn to start at the overlook tower to get a proper vantage. Then walk the paved path that surrounds Serpent Mound. Check out the museum to learn more about the mound-building Adena culture. Take a short spur trail (by the conical mound near the handicap parking) to the statewide 1,400-mile Buckeye Trail—look for the BT’s trademark blue blaze. Try heading west for an out-and-back hike to the length of your liking. Less than 2 hours south of Columbus, hours and days of operation vary by season (call or check online to confirm as the site is mostly closed between late November and end of February and always closed on Mondays); $8 admission. More Info: 

Highbanks Metro Park

A popular local Columbus option, Highbanks is known for many miles of trails, bald eagles and views of the Olentangy River. But it’s also home to Native American earthworks. Start at the Nature Center and check out the Adena room for more info about these prehistoric people and their earthworks. Then take the Dripping Rock Trail, including a spur to an Adena mound. From the Dripping Rock Trail, join the Overlook Trail, which takes you to the river overlook. Before arriving at the overlook, keep your eyes peeled for a long earthen embankment; these are the earthworks. Out and back, this option is about 2.5 miles, but more mileage is adjacent. Open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 1 through Sept. 30; 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 1 through March 31. More Info: 

Junction-Steel Earthworks Archaeological Park and Nature Preserve 

On the edge of Chillicothe lies Junction Earthworks and adjacent Steel Earthworks, constructed some 2,000 years ago by the Hopewell culture, now owned and operated by the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System. Both earthwork complexes were nearly leveled by over a century of agriculture, but now a restored prairie and interpretive signs allow you to explore and understand what you’re looking at. There are 6.5 miles of trail total; start at the half-mile Earthworks Trail where what’s left of Junction’s mounds are selectively mowed to reveal their size and shape. The hike has the feel of a corn maze, but this is exactly what gives you an idea of the extent of the old earthworks. This trail is best in the morning or evening, especially in late summer for prairie flowers. From here, hop on the adjacent 1.7-mile Tippecanoe Darter Trail, which takes you through the prairie and into the forest with spur trails to the attractive Paint Creek. One hour south of Columbus; open daily 9 a.m. to sunset with no trailhead amenities. More Info:    

Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve

Fort Ancient is home to North America’s oldest hilltop enclosure, estimated to be 2,000 years old. Take the 1.3-mile Earthworks and Terrace Trail system, which will give you consistent views of the earthen enclosure. If you’re looking for more mileage, a connector trail takes you down to the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a 78-mile paved bike path. Be sure to allot time for the museum with its kid-friendly, interactive exhibits about Native cultures, including the Fort Ancient culture, and early agriculture. The site hosts nature and primitive skills workshops—follow the Facebook page to keep up to date. You can also reach out to the adjacent YMCA Camp Kern ( and ask for permission to hike to the Sun Serpent Effigy, with flagstones placed in the shape of a snake and a wooden pole that marks the solar solstices. An hour southwest of Columbus, Fort Ancient is open Wednesday through Sunday, March to Nov., with an $8 fee per car for parking and hiking access; the museum requires a separate $6-7 fee. More Info:  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.