August 2007: Cuyahoga Valley National Park


Akron-Cleveland, Ohio

Raise your hand if you knew that America's first national park of the 21st Century was created in...........................Cleveland? To the first people who came here 12,000 years ago the Cuyahoga was the "crooked river." Its steep valley walls inhibited settlement as easterners poked into the region in the late 1700s. But a navigable water link between Lake Erie and the Ohio River was a priority in the early American Canal Age and in 1832 the Ohio & Erie Canal became a reality. Ohio boomed and settlers poured into the area. The canal was put out of business by the Great Flood of 1913 and the Cuyahoga Valley was left to recreational purposes. The 33,000 acres along the banks of the Cuyahoga River were protected as a national recreation area so the heavy lifting for creating the park was done before its designation as a national park in 2000.

As befits its history as a recreation destination, Cuyahoga is a national park that permits dogs on its trails. It doesn't have the feel of the grand American national parks but instead evokes an intimate feel on the trails that are squeezed between highways, farmlands and neighborhoods. 

The main trail through the park is the nearly 20 miles of the Towpath Trail along the route of the historic canal. Ten trailheads make it easy to hike the crushed limestone path in biscuit-size chunks. The trail is a mix of meadows and forests and the remnants of locks and villages. Another long distance trail through the park is the Buckeye Trail that circles the entire state of Ohio for over 1200 miles. About 33 miles of the blue-blazed pathway wander the ravines and ridges of the valley.

Some of the best canine day hiking in the park is in the north end of the Cuyahoga Valley, in the Bradford Reservation. A five-mile all-purpose trail traverses the Tinkers Creek Gorge area, exploring Ohio's most spectacular canyon. The gorge is a National Natural Landmark, noted for its virgin hemlock forests. Short detours off the main trail include an easy walk to Bridal Veil
Falls and the Hemlock Creek Loop Trail.

Other highlights include the dark and mysterious 2.2-mile ramble around the Ledges (from the Happy Day camp) and a short 1.25-mile loop through the Brandywine Gorge that takes your dog to the lip of Brandywine Falls and 160 feet down to the water level.

To get to Canal Visitor Center from Cleveland, exit I-77 at Rockside Road. Go 1 mile east to Canal Road; turn right. The visitor center is approximately 1.5 miles on the right.