Now that autumn's awesome coat has fallen to the forest floor, it's time to hibernate, right?

Now that autumn's awesome coat has fallen to the forest floor, it's time to hibernate, right?


As Ohio moves into its most frigid, unforgiving season, the outdoors isn't a place to avoid - it's one to explore. The late-fall landscape opens in a way not seen any other time of the year, as if a magician whisked away a leafy, bushy cape to reveal a hidden surprise.

Sight lines widen and deepen into areas once concealed. This means it's an excellent time to scope out wildlife, especially mammals and birds. Without bugs buzzing or leaves rustling, the wilderness is often completely silent and powerfully serene.

My first trip in November is always to Slate Run Metro Park, which is fine at any time but especially memorable in cold weather. When trees aren't pretty, you've got to find fields, water and open spaces, which cover this Canal Winchester preserve.

The coolest section these days will be a segment called the Wetlands Wildlife Refuge, located at the park's western entrance. Wild grasses ring a series of marshy ponds, and slatted boardwalks on their shores provide a place to sit and ponder things.

I can remember walking there with a roommate last year on one of those gray days in Ohio that seems so drab and hopeless. From nowhere, a crisp wind rustled the reeds and dappled the surface of the water, and the park seemed bolder and more beautiful than I could understand.

Further down the road from Slate Run is Rock House, the only true cave in Hocking Hills State Park. (Others areas, like the lovely Cantwell Cliffs, feature recess caves.) Take the rough-hewn natural steps to the cavern's entrance and begin exploring its sandy, secretive interior. The towering rock face a bit farther on is also impressive.

To tackle this new season on two wheels, try the Little Miami Scenic Trail, which runs 70 miles total and really sparkles in the 20-mile stretch between Springfield and Xenia. With the tree-lined corridor bare, you'll be able to see the Little Miami River and the farms that dot this section of western Ohio countryside.