85 Miles of Awesome

July 20, 2015
85 Miles of Awesome

Bike, Walk, Run, or Hike your way through the Towpath Trail

Imagine 85 miles of a flat, paved trail that takes you around the formal industrial center of a big city, swings past a working river filled with freighters, traverses a 20,000+ acre metropark system, dips into a national park, bobs through tiny towns, runs past farms, parallels a vintage railroad and even saddles alongside a concert venue.

Now imagine all that just a few minutes from your hotel room in Cleveland.

No, we’re not joshing you, dear visitor. This is legit. This is the real thing. This, friend, is the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail. And, it’s about to rock your outdoor-adventure-lovin’ world.

“The Towpath Trail is one of the best ways to take a quick getaway. In literally 15-20 minutes (or five minutes if you’re downtown) you can have your moment with nature,” Katie Montgomery, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area, said.

The trail, which runs 85 miles from Cleveland to the village of Zoar (south of Canton, Ohio), is an adventure magnet for avid cyclists, walkers, runners and even horseback riders.

It’s also a pretty wild way to experience parts of Northeast Ohio that you might not otherwise find on your lonesome.

The Towpath runs along the Erie & Ohio Canalway, which is more than just a fancy term from your 9th grade geography class. It’s got some fascinating historical significance.

“Thanks to the Ohio & Erie Canal, Ohio went from starving to being the third most populace state in the country,” Montgomery notes.

Despite being a state that was rich in natural resources, Ohio lacked accessible waterways that would connect them to the economic vitality of other parts of the country. This became a major problem during the early 19th century.

But thanks to the construction of this elaborate canal system built in the 1820s and 1830s, Ohio was able to connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River. This then allowed for a direct transportation route between New York and New Orleans.

The results? Cha-ching. Ohio attracted businesses, new industries, residents and economic prosperity. It literally created new cities along its banks.

“The path we use for recreation is the little ditch that changed the world back in the day,” Montgomery said. “You’re traveling simultaneously in our present and past.”

Today, more than 2.5 million people use the Towpath Trail every year. It runs through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, four county park districts and two major cities, while offering users 50 trailheads.

“From a practical standpoint, it’s mostly flat and very accessible. You can bring the whole family including toddlers, grandparents or anyone with mobility issues,” Montgomery adds.

That means it’s one heck of place to get in your morning run or, better yet, plan a weekend bicycling trip for the whole family.

Your fresh-air refresh gets even better with the multitude of au naturale wildlife joining you along the way – to the tune of about 250 species.

“Anytime I go on a Towpath walk, I inevitably see a four-foot blue heron, beavers, muskrats, yellow birds, blue birds, warblers, wood peckers. It’s a getaway just being on that trail for a little bit,” said Montgomery.

Much of the trail runs parallel with the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, a vintage line that offers rides through the national park. On its Bike Aboard! Program, bicyclists on the Towpath can board the train – bikes in tow – for a relaxing train ride back to their original trailhead for only $3.

Before you head out to the Towpath Trail, make sure to brush up on their tips for visiting, download maps and apps, check out sample itineraries from local experts and follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Then, check out some of these popular trailheads within proximity of Cleveland:

  • Canal Basin Park: On Sundays, enjoy a Take A Hike Tour and then have lunch at Merwin’s Wharf.
  • Scranton Flats: The first publicly-owned portion of the Towpath along the industrial sections of the flats, it offers amazing views of the Cuyahoga River.
  • Cleveland Canalway Center: Easily accessible from downtown, it’s a great place to have lunch, sit back and enjoy the view.
  • Thornburg Station: Walk the Towpath and then have lunch at Lockkeepers or Your’s Truly. Then, have chocolate at Malley’s. This is also a great place to pick up the train.
  • Canal Exploration Center: Offers a deep dive into the canal’s history, including lock demonstrations.
  • Lock 29 in Peninsula: Rent bikes, have lunch at Winking Lizard, pick up the American Byway or check out Elements Gallery.
  • Indigo Lake: A large scenic lake that glows the color of indigo and is a popular spot for birding, this spot offers shuttle rides to Hale Farm & Village.
  • Ira Road: Prepare for tons of wildlife spotting – especially on the Beaver Marsh. Nearby are the Countryside Conservancy Farmers Markets, which feature fresh produce, craft cocktails and specialty food education.
  • Mustill Store: A store from the 1800s that is now a museum and visitors center.
  • Barberton Magic Mile: Check out an arch with two matchsticks on each side. Once you go through that, it’ll take you over to Lake Anna, home of a great mum festival.

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