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The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is an amazing trail journey that takes users from the heart of this country’s industrial might in cities like Cleveland and Akron, to some of the most beautiful places in this part of the world, like Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
As closely as possible, the Towpath Trail follows a historical canal where mules once pulled boats from 1827 to 1913. Currently, 81 miles of the trail are complete from Cleveland south to Bolivar, but it will eventually extend farther south to New Philadelphia, for a total of 110 miles.
Start in the industrial valley, looking up at downtown Cleveland. Here, a couple of small sections of completed trail will soon be connected to the Harvard Road trailhead, where the majority of the connected trail starts. A well-maintained asphalt surface heads south out of the city. Wonderful trailside exhibits tell the story of the adjacent canal’s past and present. Remnants of the old canal itself are an almost constant companion, and wildlife sightings are frequent even in the urban environment.
Two world-class trail bridges take users over busy intersections as you meander south to Rockside Road. At this point, the path transitions into a crushed limestone surface as it enters Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The trail—and the park—don’t disappoint. The stone surface is firm, even under road tires, and the beautiful scenery of one of the most-visited national parks in the country is hard to just roll by. Constant stops are a must and there are ample opportunities. Quaint historical towns, historical sites, and pure beauty make this section of trail exquisite.
A bustling stop along the route is the community of Peninsula, once a hub of canal activity and now a station on the popular Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which features tourist excursions within the park. Many visitors like to bike the Towpath Trail one way and take the train back (only available April–October). In the charming village, travelers will find restaurants, art and antiques shops, an old-fashioned candy shop, and historical homes.
Farther south, you will enter the city of Akron. The trail becomes paved again here and some on-road riding is needed, but the route is not too hard to follow. Akron offers some great historical stops and refreshment opportunities as well.
Moving south, the path becomes boardwalk as it floats across scenic Summit Lake on a buoyed bridge. The trail transitions back to crushed stone with Clinton and Canal Fulton as the next stops; don’t miss the seasonal canalboat rides in the latter. The quiet, shaded experience persists all the way to the next city of Massillon. Here, trail users again have a short on-road route to navigate. While not difficult, it does have a couple of short stretches along busier streets.
The path is again beautifully quiet and wild until it comes to the southern trailhead at OH 212 just west of the village of Bolivar. On the south end of Bolivar, the Zoar Valley Trail is accessible at Fort Laurens, though it’s a rougher ride best suited for hybrids or mountain bikes.
The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is also a major component of the Ohio to Erie Trail. The growing 320-mile trail network will eventually span Ohio from the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland to the Ohio River in Cincinnati.
There are several places to park and access the trail along its 81-mile route; below are directions to a few of its main trailheads.
To reach the northern trailhead: From I-71, take Exit 246 for OH 176 S to Parma. Head south on OH 176, and in 0.1 mile, take the Steelyard Dr. exit toward Jennings Road. Take a right onto Steelyard Dr., which becomes Jennings Road. Go 0.5 mile and take a left onto Harvard Ave.; the trailhead is on the right in 0.3 mile.
To reach the Peninsula trailhead within Cuyahoga Valley National Park: From I-77, take Exit 146, and head south on OH 21/Brecksville Road. Go 0.5 mile, and turn left onto Boston Mills Road. In 1.1 miles, take a right onto Black Road. In 1.2 miles, take a left onto OH 303/Streetsboro Road. Travel 3.3 miles into the town of Peninsula, and take a left onto Locust St., then in 0.1 mile another left onto Mill St.; the trailhead is on the left.
To reach the Bolivar trailhead at the southern end of the trail: From I-77, take Exit 93 for OH 212 and go west on OH 212. Go one block, and take a right onto OH 212/Park Ave.; go 0.5 mile. Take a left onto OH 212/Poplar St. Travel 1 mile and find the trailhead on the right.
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