Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail
Along Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area
The Cuyahoga River valley has served as a transportation corridor for centuries. At some places along this trail you’ll see canal and railroad beside you and modern superhighway overhead. This trail follows the towpath of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which was built between 1825 and 1832 to connect Cleveland, on Lake Erie, with the Ohio River 308 miles away. The route was from Cleveland upstream along the Cuyahoga River to Akron, then down the Tuscarawas River. Until the middle of the 19th century the canal was an economic success. However, like many canals, railroads and floods spelled its end. The final blow for this canal was the flood of 1913.
Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail
Location Along Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area,
Cuyahoga and Summit Counties OH
Trailheads Rockside Rd, Canal Visitor Center, Station Rd Bridge, Redlock, Boston,
Peninsula, Hunt Farm, Ira, Indian Mound (Bath Rd)
Length, Surface 19.5 miles, mostly packed crushed stone
with tar and chips where equestrian trail overlaps
Character busy; suburban to rural, wooded; shady; flat
Usage restrictions Horse trail partly overlaps towpath trail;
no motorized vehicles; no snowmobiles
Rest rooms, water, bike rental, food, lodging, fishing
Driving time from Pittsburgh 2 hours 30 minutes northwest
Parts of the canal and traces of its heritage are now being restored in the corridor from Cleveland to Zoar. Cleveland MetroParks is adding 5.5 miles of the towpath to their Emerald Necklace system as the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation. The modern-day trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area runs 19.5 miles from Lock 39 in Valley View south to the northern edge of Akron. Mileage markers along the trail are based on historical mileages measured from Lake Erie, so the northern end of the trail is near milepost 11 and the southern end is about half a mile past milepost 30. The modern trail does not follow the towpath exactly, so canal mileposts are not exactly a mile apart on the trail and our intermediate measurements are approximate.
This trail follows the canal towpath from mile 10.75 to mile 30.3, including lock 39 to lock 24. Most of the trail surface is packed crushed stone. In some sections there is a parallel equestrian trail. Where the equestrian trail shares the towpath trail, it is hard surfaced. Other areas can get a little soft when they’re wet. Confusingly, the miles are numbered starting from Cleveland, but the locks are numbered starting from Akron (both northbound and southbound). This stretch lies in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, an “urban park”. As a result, the setting is varied, but never industrial or commercial.
The trail currently starts near Rockside Rd at a trailhead parking lot (mile 10.75). This lot also serves the southern end of the towpath in the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation of Cleveland’s Emerald Necklace. The canal holds water for the first six miles or so in the National Recreation Area, nearly to Station Road Bridge. For the first three and a half miles the canal is squeezed between the river and the road. The road is not intrusive, though, because the towpath is on the river side of the canal. The Canal Visitor Center is in a restored canal-era two-story frame building next to the restored lock at mile 12.5; you can view interpretive exhibits or pick up maps or other information here. To the
west, bottomlands separate you from the river; to the east, across the road from the visitor center, is a historic house. Just past mile 13 the trail and canal cross Tinker’s Ck on an aqueduct, one of 14 on the entire canal.
At mile 14 the trail passes another lock, this one beside a grist mill. Alexander’s Mill, now called Wilson’s Mill, was built in 1855 to use water bypassing the lock to power its grinding wheel. It had an interior horizontal turbine rather than the more common overshot wheel. It continued to use water power until 1972, when it was converted to electrical power. Just south of the grist mill, a waste weir provides control over the water level in the canal, both to maintain the working water level and to prevent flooding. The mechanical apparatus is visible and functional; it’s not hard to understand how the gates were raised and lowered. In another quarter-mile, the Frazee House appears across the canal. This Federal style house was restored by the National Park Service and serves as a museum of life in the Western Reserve. Just past the Frazee house, the road swings away and the canal, the river, and the railroad all squeeze through a narrow gorge called Piney Narrows that runs to the OH82 bridge. The 2.5-mile section from mile 14.4 to 16.9 is the most isolated and tranquil section of the trail. You’re likely to see ducks, geese, deer, and other wildlife here. The end of the Narrows is marked overhead by OH82 and underfoot by the remains of Lock 36 and the feeder dam and canal that supplied water to the lower end of the canal. This is the end of the watered section of the canal. From here south, your imagination will have to put the canal back in its prism.
Just past OH82 (mile 17.1), the historic Station Road Bridge has been restored to connect the trail with the Brecksville Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks and parking. The bridge is paved in wooden blocks, end-grain up. At mile 18.3 and 18.8, footbridges provide access to the Old Carriage Trail, which meanders for 3.25 miles on the other side of the canal. It also provides a connecting link to the Bike & Hike trail on the plateau at the top of the valley. Bicycles are permitted only on the direct path from the mile 18.8 bridge to the Bike & Hike trail.
The valley around the canal gradually becomes more developed as you go south. Across the river on Highland Rd, for example, is the former Jaite Paper Mill company town. These buildings are now used as National Park Service Headquarters. On the towpath just south of Highland Rd (mile 19.6) you’ll see the remains of a corrugated box company; this was the Jaite Mill. A side trail at mile 20.95 takes you to Stanford Farm Youth Hostel and onward to Brandywine Falls. At mile 21.5 the trail reaches Boston Mills Rd. Just across the road an original canal-era building has been restored as a museum; there’s a large parking lot and rest room here as well. Between here and mile 22 the trail passes under I271 and I80 far overhead.
From mile 22.3 to mile 22.6, a boardwalk carries the trail over Stumpy basin. This was originally a turning basin and work area on the canal. The river has reclaimed part of the towpath and turned the basin into a swamp. In any case, this is now a good area for viewing wildlife. At mile 23, the towpath clings to the side of the cliff; here too the river has reclaimed part of the canal. The remains of another feeder canal appear near Lock 30 (mile 23.4). At mile 23.7 you can cross over to the Peninsula parking area or continue on the towpath, crossing the Cuyahoga River on an aqueduct. If you leave the towpath here you can visit the town of Peninsula, the chief source of food or other services in the area. The town, once larger then Cleveland, began as a canal town during the canal’s heyday in the mid-19th century. Now it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Continuing south from Peninsula, the towpath passes Deep Lock quarry, reachable by a side trail, and Deep Lock. Deep Lock is so-called because it has a 17’ lift instead of the usual 9’. The Berea Sandstone quarry nearby provided stone for canal structures and was a major source of millstones for the region. The valley here is predominantly rural, with farms and villages dotting the valley. Another visitor center at mile 27 offers information and amenities. At mile 28 the beaver have won out over the canal, and another boardwalk carries the trail over swamp for a tenth of a mile. The Beaver Marsh area was once an auto junkyard; when the cars were removed, it reverted to a natural marsh. From Ira (mile 28.5) the road was constructed between the canal and the river, so close to the canal that parts of the towpath and even of locks 24 and 25 were replaced by roadway. Here the trail is on the west side of the road, not always on the original towpath. Mile 30.5 is the Indian Mound trailhead and the current south end of the trail.
The Ohio and Erie Canal towpath trail has been extended about 5 miles to the north into the Cleveland Metroparks system and 5 miles to the south.
Extensions of the ride
The historic Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad parallels the towpath for the entire
length of the trail. Most of the trailheads are also boarding areas for the scenic railroad. It is possible to arrange bike/train options; call (800) 468-4070 for current information.
The northern trailhead, at Rockside, is also the southern terminus of the towpath in the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation of Cleveland MetroParks.
The Old Carriage Trail offers a 3.25-mile excursion for walkers only.
Part of the Old Carriage Trail can be used to connect with the Bike & Hike Trail on the rim of the valley. At the mile 18.8 bridge that links the towpath to the Old Carriage Road, bikes can start up the hill. The trail emerges at the end of Holzhauer Rd; go north for half a mile to the intersection with the Bike & Hike trail. By following the Bike & Hike trail north, you can also connect with the Bedford Reservation all-purpose trail of Cleveland Metroparks.
At the Station Road Bridge trailhead you’re not far from the 4.5 miles of all-purpose trail in Cleveland Metroparks’ Brecksville Reservation. Go out Station Rd to Riverview Rd and pick up the all-purpose trail at the end of Chippewa Creek Parkway.
At Deep Lock you can explore the quarry on walking trails (not suitable for bicycles).
Information centers can supply maps for bicycle tours on park roads.
Plans call for extending the towpath southward by 2 miles. This extension was not yet accessible in mid-1998.
Vicinity: Directions begin on Riverview Rd, at Boston Mills Rd. Riverview Rd runs along the Cuyahoga River for much of the length of the National Recreation area. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go west on the PA Turnpike to the state line and continue 60 miles on the OH Turnpike. Leave the OH Turnpike at Exit 12 (Akron, OH8) headed south on OH8. At the first traffic light, turn right (west) on Boston Mills Rd and go about 5 miles to Riverview Rd, just after you cross the river.
Rockside Rd/Lock 39 (northern) trailhead and Canal Visitor Center: At the intersection of Boston Mills Rd and Riverview Rd, turn right (north) on Riverview Rd and go about 8-9 miles to the intersection with Brookside Rd. Turn right on Brookside and go a short distance to Pleasant Valley Rd. Go east on Pleasant Valley Rd to the Canal Rd exit and then go north. For the Canal Visitor Center, go north about 1.5 miles to Hillside Rd; turn left and cross the canal to the parking lot. For the Lock 39 trailhead, go north about 3 miles to Rockside Rd; turn left and cross the canal. The parking lot will be on the left.
Station Road Bridge trailhead: At the intersection of Boston Mills Rd and Riverview Rd, turn right (north) on Riverview Rd and go about 5 miles to the Station Road Bridge parking area.
Boston trailhead: Instead of following Boston Mills Rd all the way to Riverview Rd, turn left into the trailhead parking lot soon after the road reaches valley level, just past the white building next to the trail and about a block before crossing the river.
Peninsula (Lock 29) trailhead: At the intersection of Boston Mills Rd and Riverview Rd, turn left (south) on Riverview Rd and go about 1.5 miles to OH303 (Streetsboro Rd). Turn left (east) on OH303, cross the Cuyahoga River, and turn left at the traffic light 1 block east of the river. Follow signs to the trailhead.
Hunt Farm visitor center, Ira and Indian Mound (southern) trailheads: At the intersection of Boston Mills Rd and Riverview Rd, turn left (south) on Riverview Rd and go about 5 miles to the Hunt Farm visitor center, 7 miles to the Ira trailhead, or 9 miles to the Indian Mound trailhead.
Rest rooms, water: At Canal Visitor Center, Station Road Bridge trailhead, Lock 29 (Peninsula) trailhead, Hunt Farm information center, Indian Mound trailhead.
Bike shop, rental: In Peninsula.
Restaurant, groceries: In Peninsula.
Camping, simple lodging: AYH Stanford Farm Hostel 1.5 miles down a steep rough road from Brandywine Falls or 0.5 miles from Boston on Stanford Rd. The Inn at Brandywine Falls.
Swimming, fishing: Swimming and other water activities at Dover Lake Waterpark (fee). Fishing in Cuyahoga River subject to Ohio fishing regulations.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing.
Wheelchair access: Fully accessible, though the Old Carriage Road connector is steep.
Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area
15610 Vaughn Rd
Brecksville OH 44141
Maps, guides, other references
The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, trail brochure.
Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, National Park Service brochure.
Ohio & Erie Canal Corridor Guide, Ohio & Erie Canal Corridor Coalition, PO Box 435, Canal Fulton, OH 44614
Trail Guide Handbook, Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council, 1991.
Ohio Trails and Greenways from the Ohio Field office of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, 614-841-1075
USGS Topographic Maps: Cleveland South, Shaker Heights, Northfield, Peninsula.
Text version from 2002 edition. Conditions will have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 1/1990.