I have been hiking a lot more this winter than in the past and it’s been delightful. There are far fewer people on the trails than in the spring and summer. It’s possible to enjoy local history and natural features without crowds. Finding parking is easy. Interacting with most pests is less likely. Getting outdoors helps keep the winter blues away. The reasons to give winter hiking a chance are endless.

Last month I hiked the trails at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park for the first time, and it was a great experience. Despite temperatures hovering around freezing, the trails, which wind through sandstone cliffs, were warm and shielded from the wind.

Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park

Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park. Sara Welch photo.

The rock formations at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park draw many hikers throughout the summer. They are among a handful of outcrops in northern Ohio still exposed to view. They were formed by erosion wearing away softer rock layers to leave behind the more resistant layers that form the ledges.

The ledges are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. In spring, many wildflowers, including the rare red trillium, can be seen growing along the ledges and songbirds can be heard flitting about the canopy above. During summer, fall and winter, hikers can enjoy a variety of trees, mosses and ferns growing into the cliff faces and crevices. In addition to birds, the park is home to a variety of small mammals.

Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park
Moss, ferns and trees have managed to grow and even thrive in the rock faces and along the cliffs at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park. Sara Welch photo.

Preparing for your hike

Wearing the proper clothes and personal protective equipment is crucial in the winter, especially on a hike that may involve some climbing.

Boots. Wear sturdy, waterproof boots regardless of what trail you choose at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park. Many sections of the trails require hikers to traverse slick rock faces and shallow streams. Additionally, during the late fall and early winter, thick leaf cover on the trails can make them slick. Good boots will prevent injuries and keep you warm and dry.

Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park
Shallow streams run under the rock formations at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park. Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are essential. Sara Welch photo.

Hat. The caverns and crevices at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park hold moisture and water drains off the cliff faces along the edges of the trails. A hat will help cushion your head from dripping water and falling snow, ice, mast or branches and it will keep you warm. Keep in mind it’s never a good idea to hike in windy conditions as dead branches in trees and snags are more prone to fall.

Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park
Icicles form and hang from the rock faces and cliff walls at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park. Water constantly drains down the sides of the cliffs, so hikers can expect to come into contact with dripping water and potentially falling ice. Sara Welch photo.

Clothing. Wear clothing that offers some flexibility and can endure light climbing. On cold days, dress in moisture-wicking bottom layers and waterproof top layers to stay warm. You’ll likely get hot enough to sweat if you choose a more difficult trail. However, the temperature on the trails outside of the cliffs will be significantly colder.

Other gear. As always take hiking essentials, including water, a first aid kit, a flashlight, a whistle, trail mix, sun protection, a compass and a map. And always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.


Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park. Sara Welch photo.

Parking is available off of State Route 282 in Nelson Township, Ohio, across the street from the various trailheads. Driving directions can be accessed via the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website.


Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park
There are a variety of trails to choose from at Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park, ranging in difficulty from easy to difficult. Sara Welch photo.

Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park features four trails. The white trail is one mile long and considered to be at an easy difficulty level. The yellow and blue trails are both ¾ mile long and considered to be at a moderate difficulty level. The red trail is a half-mile long and is considered to be difficult.

Along the trails, there are several highly sought-out formations, including Devil’s Icebox, Fat Man’s Peril and Old Maid’s kitchen.

You can plan your hike in advance by downloading and saving the Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park Map and The Geology of Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park Guide.

Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park. Sara Welch photo.

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