Dayton: The Outdoor Adventure Capital of the Midwest

 By Amy Forsthoefel

Photo: MetroParks’ Mountain Biking Area (MoMBA) at Huffman MetroPark, John Bryan State Park and Caesar Creek State Park feature miles of sweet single track mountain biking trails

When people think of Dayton, Ohio, there are certain iconic attributes many can easily call to mind. The biplane is an easy fixture and can be found emblazoned on everything from T-shirts to highway infrastructure in Dayton. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the largest employer in the state, might be another association people have with the Gem City. But another characteristic of Dayton often is overlooked, and collectively these amenities are larger than Wright-Patt and some predate the Wright Brothers. The Miami Valley’s collection of outdoor recreational amenities – cycling and mountain bike trails, rivers and lakes, backpacking and camping facilities and hiking trails – are putting a new version of Dayton on the map as “The Outdoor Adventure Capital of the Midwest.”

Situated in a valley, Dayton has a plethora of lakes, rivers and creeks perfect for fishing, kayaking, canoeing and other near- or on-water activities, such as stand-up paddleboarding, which looks a little like an over-sized surfboard and is propelled via paddle.

“I think publicity that came from the River Run acquiring its needed $4 million entirely from donations really put Dayton’s kayaking scene in the spotlight,” said MetroParks Outdoor Recreation Manager Amy Dingle. “Montgomery County has one of the highest rates of kayak and canoe registration in the state, and I think as facilities like the Mad River Run and the RiverScape River Run come online, you’re going to see that number increase.”

Both RiverScape and Mad River Run projects will contribute to improved river health and bank stabilization. The RiverScape River Run project will also remove a dangerous low dam. When both projects are complete, there will be a 7-mile stretch of water trail from Eastwood MetroPark to Carillon Historical Park. “We saw significant improvements in aquatic habitat when the low dam was removed from the Stillwater River in 2010,” Dingle said. “Both projects will improve riparian habitat, which is very important to sustaining healthy wildlife populations.”

Construction recently started on the Mad River Run project, and nearly all required permits have been secured for the RiverScape River Run project. Construction on the RiverScape project is expected to begin in summer 2014.

Want to dip a toe in the waters of outdoor recreation before diving in? Find a program. “If you’re not ready to make an investment in recreational equipment, Five Rivers MetroParks offers our ‘Try It’ series,” Dingle explained. “We provide the gear, safety equipment and basic instruction, and you get to try it out free of charge. If you’re ready to take your skills to the next level, check out the ‘Intro’ and ‘Basics’ classics. When you’re ready to get your own gear, we suggest visiting a local retailer. They have trained staff who can help you find the equipment that’s right for you and how you want to use it, and you can’t always get that experience and know-how from a big box store.”

Cycling has deep roots in Dayton. From the advent of Dayton’s famous fraternal flying duo, cycling has been connected to life in the Miami Valley. Thanks to efforts of groups like the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, the Miami Conservancy District, the City of Dayton’s Bike-Walk committee, Five Rivers MetroParks and countless other municipal and volunteer groups, Dayton is home to the largest connected, paved, off-street bikeway network in the country.

“It’s amazing to me how many people I encounter who have lived here their whole lives and never realized the vast expanse of bikeways they can access anytime,” said Dingle. “There are more than 330 miles of bike trails, and it still remains one of those ‘best-kept’ secrets.” Visit for resources on tackling the trails, including a list of access points throughout the region.

Mountain biking is another form of cycling taking a strong foothold in the region. “People who love biking but are looking for more of an adventure should try mountain biking,” Dingle said. “Climbing and descending hills in a forested area puts you directly in contact with nature and is an intense-yet-enjoyable experience.” Mountain biking trails can be found at MetroParks’ Mountain Biking Area (MoMBA) at Huffman MetroPark, John Bryan State Park and Caesar Creek State Park.

Other outdoor activities including backpacking along the 22-mile Twin Valley Trail connecting Germantown and Twin Creek MetroParks, plus front- and back-country camping available in seven MetroParks, as well as area state parks. Don’t forget about fringe activities like slacklining that have been gaining ground in the Dayton region. One good way to get a taste of all things outdoors the area has to offer is to attend one of two premier recreation events: The Midwest Outdoor Experience takes place October 4-5 at Eastwood MetroPark, and the biennial Adventure Summit returns to Wright State University February 14-15, 2014. Visit and to learn more about these events. “The best way to experience Dayton’s outdoor scene is just to get outside and try something new,” Dingle advises. “Take a hike, rent a bike from Ride the River Rentals at RiverScape MetroPark, walk along the bike trails, take your family camping – it doesn’t matter what you do, just get out and live!”

Learn more about exploring the “Outdoor Adventure Capital of the Midwest” at “Get Out & Live” and get the inside scoop on upcoming outdoor recreation events and activities by “liking” the MetroParks’ outdoor recreation community page at


Reach DCP freelance writer Amy Forsthoefel at


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