THE PLAIN DEALER Enlarge
Sandwiched between two of the state’s largest cities, bisected by the busy Ohio Turnpike, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is not your typical national park.
There are no dramatic canyons, no jagged mountaintop peaks. What you will find, though: a river, a canal, scenic waterfalls, terrific rock formations, hiking trails, bike paths, and much more.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is our urban oasis.
“It’s 33,000 acres of preserved countryside right in the heart of our metropolitan area,” said John Debo, the former longtime superintendent of the park who now raises money for its nonprofit conservancy. “It has sometimes been characterized as Ohio’s equivalent of Central Park. It’s that important of a space.”
People unfamiliar with the park, which stretches into southern Cuyahoga County, are often astounded to find it listed among the most-visited national parks in the nation (No. 10 in 2012, right after Acadia in Maine).
Northeastern Ohio residents, however, aren’t surprised at all.
RELATED CONTENT: Northeast Ohio attractions and activities
There’s so much to do, and it’s so close. Among the favorite activities:
- Biking along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which runs 20 miles through the park (and extends another 60 miles north and south, connecting Cleveland with Zoar). Follow the trail where mules once pulled canal boats during the Civil War era. Information: www.ohioanderiecanalway.com.
- Checking out the lovely Brandywine Falls or exploring the Ledges Trail, among the most popular hikes in the park, which has more than 125 miles of trails to explore, including a 35-mile section of the Buckeye Trail.
- Hopping aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which carves a route through the park. If you bike one way and ride the train the other, the fare is only $2. Information: www.cvsr.com.
- Attending a concert at Blossom Music Center (Summit County), the outdoor amphitheater that hosts the Cleveland Orchestra all summer, or checking out smaller groups at smaller venues, including Happy Days Lodge.
- Spending the night at the private Inn at Brandywine Falls, a perfect antidote to a day of hiking. Information: www.innatbrandywinefalls.com. Or try the Stanford House, owned by the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, with nine rooms to rent, together or separately. Information: www.conservancyforcvnp.org.
For more information on the park: www.nps.gov/cuva.
The national park, of course, is just one place to enjoy Mother Nature in northeastern Ohio. The region’s other jewel is Lake Erie.
Lake Erie’s western basin, from Sandusky west to Toledo, includes the always-hopping Lake Erie islands. Farther east, the lake offers plenty of attractions of its own, including several terrific sandy stretches: Huntington Beach in Bay Village (Cuyahoga County), just west of Cleveland, and Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor (Lake County).
Just east of Headlands, also in Lake County, is Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park, part of the Lake Metroparks system, a terrific strand that offers plenty of fun for more active beach bums, including kayak rentals and sailing lessons. The park also offers lessons in stand-up paddleboarding, an increasingly popular sport that’s a hybrid between surfing and kayaking.
Seth Begeman, park manager at Fairport Harbor, said the sport is relatively easy to learn — and offers a unique perspective.
“It almost feels like you’re walking on the water,” Mr. Begeman said.
The park has six paddleboards available to rent, and beginner lessons are offered from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday mornings, June 15 through Labor Day. Information: www.lakemetroparks.com/select-park/fairport.shtml.
Paddleboarding lessons are also available at Lakeview Park Beach in Lorain County. Information: www.lakeeriepaddler. com/lessons.
The eastern shore of Lake Erie is also a great spot to catch a fishing charter, with boats leaving from Ashtabula, Painesville, Cleveland, Eastlake, and other lakefront towns. Information: www.northcoastcharter.com.
For a fine lakefront overnight, check out the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, a state park resort in Ashtabula County, with terrific lake views from most rooms, bikes for rent, and a shuttle to area wineries. Information: www.thelodgeatgeneva.com.
Away from the shores of Lake Erie, consider these outdoor adventures in northeastern Ohio:
● Go zip-lining in the Mohican River valley. Tree Frog Canopy Tours (Knox County), open since 2010, offers a three-hour treetop tour, with seven zip-lines, two sky bridges, and two tree rappels.
Cost is $75 weekdays, $85 weekends. Information: www.treefrogcanopytours.com.
● Pick up a paddle and check out the view from the water in what’s known as the Canoe Capital of Ohio. The Mohican region (Ashland County) is also a great area to explore on horseback. Information on either activity: www.loudonville-mohican.com.
● Rent a canoe on the Upper Cuyahoga River. Try Camp Hi in Hiram (www.camphicanoe.com) or the Grand River in Rock Creek (Ashtabula County, www.grandrivercanoe.com).
● Consider a trip to Atwood Lake in Carroll County, with pontoon and sport boat rentals. Information: www.atwoodlakeboats.com. Stay overnight at Atwood Lake Resort, which reopened late last year after being closed for two years. The renovated 104-room resort plans to open a par-3 golf course in June. Information: www.atwoodlakeresort.com.