The city of Toledo is on a beautiful waterfront location on the northwestern side of Ohio, offering plenty of free things to do.
Toledo is the seat of Lucas County and is a major port city on the west side of Lake Erie, one of the five bodies of water in the Great Lakes.
The city’s 80-kilometer land area spreads on the western shores of the lake’s Maumee Bay.
The Maumee River also traverses Toledo’s eastern side, as this waterway empties into the bay.
Given this great location, visitors to this city can unlock plenty of inexpensive life and leisure activities.
Choices of urban fun destinations also abound in Toledo, given its many successes in its long development history.
The city was first incorporated in 1833 as a part of Monroe County in Michigan but was re-founded in 1837 for inclusion under Ohio.
The opening of the Miami and Erie Canal in 1845 brought progress to Toledo.
It eventually grew as a major trade center and travel destination in the Midwest, as seen in the following list of free things to do in Toledo.
Tour the Wildwood Manor House
The Wildwood Manor House is a Toledo icon and the centerpiece of the Wildwood Preserve Metropark on West Central Avenue.
This park on the south banks of the Ottawa River spans over 493 acres and was formerly the estate of the prominent Stranahan family of Toledo.
Tours of the Manor House, a Georgian Colonial home, are free.
It also hosts various historical, social, and cultural events, with the monthly Teas of Manor House volunteers one of the most popular.
Partly used as the Metroparks district’s headquarters, this Depression-era mansion spreads over 30,000 square feet.
A house tour is limited to ten participants inside the mansion.
Paddle on the Maumee River Water Trail
Save on boat rental fees and bring a kayak or canoe to paddle the Maumee River Water Trail on a visit to Toledo.
Metroparks Toledo joined other agencies in developing this 107-mile water trail from Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay to the Ohio-Indiana border.
The trail has 30 public access points, many of which are within Toledo and provide a variety of other activities as well as amenities.
Five Metroparks in the Toledo Area are linked via this trail, including Middlegrounds, Providence, Side Cut, Farnsworth, and Bend View.
Paddling this trail can also give you access to three state parks: Maumee Bay, Independence Dam, and Mary Jane Thurston.
The Maumee River Water Trail connects three wildlife areas—Meyenholtz, Van Tassel, and North Turkeyfoot—and 15 other public parks.
Relish the River View at Glass Middlegrounds Metropark
Located on Ottawa Street in downtown Toledo, Middlegrounds Metropark covers 28 acres, including a scenic, half-mile river frontage.
There’s an entrance to the riverfront of this park on the western base of the Anthony Wayne Bridge.
From here, you can walk or bike on a meandering 1.5-mile path offering serene views of the Maumee River and boats plying the waters under the bridge.
The development of this park is a study of sustainability, with ipe wood used in its decking.
The park rose from reclaimed riverfront land and harnesses a natural system to capture and cleanse water runoff from the nearby bridge.
A kayak cove in the park allows paddlers convenient access to the river, and there’s also a hub for the service provider Veo Bike Share.
The Middlegrounds Metropark also features an off-leash dog area with fenced sections to separate small and large dogs.
Use of this dog park does not require a membership fee, and thus, it is open to locals and visitors alike.
Explore Art in Public Places
You can learn and appreciate much about Toledo’s arts and culture scene with a self-guided tour of the city’s program, Art in Public Places.
The city’s Arts Commission runs this program and lists all public artworks in Toledo and their exact locations on its website.
Visitors of the city who want to explore DIY public art will have a choice from more than 80 sculptures around Toledo, collected since 1977.
These outdoor art pieces are well-maintained and managed; highly skilled art professionals care for the Art in Public Places.
Many of these artworks are in Toledo’s downtown, like the bronze and granite sculpture “Eternal Flame” on Adams and Michigan Streets on the Lucas County Main Library grounds.
Some are in the city’s Metroparks.
One of these paintings is the intricate, angled brick steps, “Swan Waves,” set at the mouth of Swan Creek in the Middlegrounds Metropark.
Find Joy in Nature at the Wildwood Preserve Metropark
Aside from its historic Manor House, Wildwood Preserve Metropark’s natural beauty has helped it become one the most visited of the Toledo Metroparks.
Its visitors can commune with nature through the park’s trail system traversing various trains uncommon in northwest Ohio’s flatlands.
The Ottawa River that bisects the Wildwood Preserve creates sandy soil that provides a bounty of nature in the park’s Oak Openings Region.
The preserve thus became the habitat of fascinating and diverse plants and animals.
Ground-nesting birds, like American woodcock, field sparrows, and rufous-sided towhees, breed in the park in spring.
During summer, park visitors can enjoy the spectacle of prairie wildflowers in bloom and luxuriant grass growths.
The park’s natural tapestry in summer includes big bluestem, rough blazing star, and high Indian grasses, some undulating at ten feet tall.
Visit the Historic Walbridge Park
Located on Broadway Street, Walbridge Park is the first city-owned park in Toledo, first established as Lenk Park during the 1870s.
The park’s location just south of the Toledo Zoo and Aquarium affords scenic views of the Maumee River.
Visitors can enjoy these beautiful vistas via the park’s extensive walking and biking trails.
Upon arrival, visitors of the park will see its impressive 22-foot tall arch built in homage to indigenous plants and animals.
This arch sculpture is also one of Toledo's most celebrated public art pieces.
Other park facilities include a playground, a gazebo, a pavilion, and picnic shelters.
Walbridge Park also hosts many special events in Toledo, such as summer concerts and festivals.
See Toledo Up Close via the Chessie Circle Trail
The Chessie Circle Trail runs over 11 miles along an abandoned stretch of the historic Toledo railway.
This corridor, great for runners, bikers, and hikers, cuts through parks, shopping districts, and light industrial areas.
Featuring information kiosks and wayfinding signage, the trail also traverses residential neighborhoods and schools for a truly close look at life in Toledo.
You can access the Chessie Circle Trail from Ottawa Park on Ottawa Parkway and Highland Park on South Avenue, where parking spaces are provided.
The trail is accessible north of Bowman Park on Jackman Road, where parking is also available.
In addition, this park features a barbecue area and several ballfields.
Enjoy the University/Parks Trail Experience
This trail extends over seven miles from East Rocket Drive on the University of Toledo campus to Silica Road in the township of Sylvania.
Owned by Lucas County, University/Parks Trail features a level, paved course suited not only for bikers and joggers.
It is also wide enough to accommodate those in wheelchairs and in-line skaters.
Leashed dogs are allowed on this trail, offering the experience of passing through a lush greenway of meadows, wetlands, and savannas.
This course is well-kept and secure, as it is maintained by the city of Toledo, the University of Toledo, and Metroparks.
In some sections, the Metroparks’ rangers and local jurisdictions patrol the trail.
Trail access points are available in several Toledo neighborhoods and districts, including the Wildwood Preserve Metropark trail system.
The trail also has designated roadway connections to Olander Park, Ottawa Park, and Westfield Shopping Town at Franklin Park Mall.
Catch a Free Event at the Franklin Park Mall
As the largest shopping center in Toledo, the Franklin Park Mall hosts many events with freebies, especially during the holiday season.
Enjoy free, uninterrupted Wi-Fi service throughout the mall’s nearly 1.3 million square feet of commercial space.
This mall is conveniently located off Interstate 75 and is home to 160 retail stores, great for window shopping.
Among these are the mall’s six anchor tenants: JCPenney, Dillard’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, DSW, Forever 21, and Macy’s.
Aside from its enclosed commercial space, Franklin Park Mall also features an outdoor shopping promenade featuring major brands like Old Navy, Dave & Buster’s, and DSW.
Observe Wildlife at the Swan Creek Preserve
You can connect with nature without leaving Toledo’s city limits at the Swan Creek Preserve on Airport Highway.
This pastoral setting in South Toledo provides a crucial resting and feeding ground for migrating birds and a nesting site for local species.
Swan Creek offers its forested banks as a sheltered corridor of lush vegetation, known as a habitat for wild turkeys.
Wildlife like foxes, deer, and raccoons sneak through this creek to seek resting, feeding, and mating areas.
While wildlife sightings can be elusive, Swan Creek is a sure bet for visitors who want to relish beautiful floral displays like tulip magnolias and Ohio buckeyes in bloom during summer.
Watch a Concert at Ottawa Park Amphitheater
Visit Toledo in the summer to watch a free concert at the historic Ottawa Park Amphitheater.
Located on Kenwood Boulevard, this charming venue has hosted free summer concerts since the early 1960s.
Using 500 tons of stones, the amphitheater was built in 1935–1936 on a slope surrounded by trees and part of a bird sanctuary.
The amphitheater can hold an audience of about 750 guests and is the only permanent open-air venue for free concerts in its Toledo area.
Besides concerts, other events hosted in this handicap-accessible amphitheater include Shakespeare plays, Broadway productions, and magic shows.
Play Disc Golf at Ottawa Park
You can also find the only disc golf course in Toledo in Ottawa Park.
This course off Ottawa Parkway is open for free year-round and features a 19-hole layout, with two holes set for competitions.
The course hosts two to five major tournaments annually.
It also holds more than three weekly leagues plus a Special Olympics.
Walk-in players can still use the Ottawa Park disc golf course even during these competitions.
Go Mountain Biking in Jermain Park
Mountain bikers visiting Toledo shouldn’t miss out on the 6.4-mile loop trail in Jermain Park developed especially for the sport.
First built in 2010, the trail was extended to over six miles in 2012–2013.
It accommodates mountain bikers of all skill levels.
Likewise, it features signage indicating the easy and challenging paths so riders can pick the route suited to them.
The trail offers a pleasant ride that passes through the banks of the Ottawa River and the periphery of Ottawa Park’s golf course.
Bikers can start their run from the trailhead near the tennis courts of Jermain Park on Upton Avenue.
Other Free Things to Do Nearby
Go Fishing at Side Cut Metropark
If you already have an Ohio fishing license, cast your line at Side Cut Metropark in Maumee, Ohio, 19 minutes from Toledo.
This park on West Broadway Street, just ten miles southwest of Toledo, is a popular destination for fishing walleye on the Maumee River.
Side Cut’s other park attractions include river and canal access, plus a playground and a sledding hill.
The park also provides picnic shelters and wildlife feeding and viewing stations.
In addition, you can easily access Wabash Cannonball Trail and the Fallen Timbers Monument and Battlefield from Side Cut Metropark.
Enjoy Birdwatching at Oak Openings Preserve
This preserve is on Girdham Road in Swanton, Ohio, 29 minutes from Toledo.
Oak Openings Preserve, spanning over 5,000 acres, is the largest in the jurisdiction of Metroparks Toledo.
Birdlife abounds in this park’s natural habitats that range from oak savanna to vegetated sand to wetlands.
This preserve boasts of having the only public treehouse village in the United States.
It also provides two cabins and two campgrounds for families who want to immerse in nature.
Toledo captures a fantastic vibe of nature despite its highly urbanized communities and neighborhoods.
Given its strong affinity with the natural environment, it is easy to have a good time in the company of nature.
Check out the free things to do in Toledo, Ohio, for an unforgettable budget-friendly adventure!