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We Biked the Towpath Trail Cuyahoga Valley National Park...Want a Tour?

Come with us as we take you on a tour of the Towpath Trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You’ll find here that you can’t help but wonder about the past and how the canal was built, what freight moved along the canal and how the towpath trail has evolved over the years to become the recreation destination for millions every year. Let’s Get Started!

To watch the video version of this post click here, or continue reading below

Today we are biking the Towpath Trail. But, many walk and jog the trail, too. We’ll share with you our favorite parts of the trail later but, because the original use has been long abandoned for other methods many people ask

What is the Towpath Trail Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

A towpath is a trail for horses and mules on the bank of the river or canal. It is an improved trail used by horses and mules to tow boats in the water adjacent to the trail. On the Ohio-Erie Canal these boats hauled passengers, grain, iron ore, coal, and other goods up and down the canal. The boats required the tow to navigate the waters as many boats were not yet powered by steam engines. The animals were tied to boats with long lines and walked the trail to pull the boats through the water of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Similar systems were used throughout Europe, Britain, and even in Japan and China. But, in the United States it was used many times, too. Other examples include the Illinois to Michigan Canal that connected Lake Michigan in Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico and the Erie Canal that connects Lake Erie to the Hudson River and New York City. This network opened up the Great Lakes and the West for settlement and growth. But specifically, you might be wondering,

What is the History of the Towpath Trail Cuyahoga?

The towpath trail was built adjacent to the Ohio and Erie Canal. Ohio was rich in farmland and natural resources, but it was difficult to transport goods to and from the area. But on a bigger scale it was very difficult to move goods over the Appalachian Mountains back to the more population dense east coast. With the Great Lakes to the North and the Ohio River South, the canal was built in the 1820s to connect the two. To set the timeline the Civil War didn’t begin until 1861, almost 40 years later, and the Declaration of Independence was signed only about 45 years earlier. Men dug the canal by hand and connected the two waterways successfully by the 1830s. The canal system was used well until the 1860s and as railroads were built and the canal system deteriorated it was used less. In 1913, a great flood destroyed the canal beyond repair. Over time the community chose to preserve the history of the canal and parks were established to protect the region. Cuyahoga Valley National Park was designated on October 11, 2000 by President George W. Bush and the canal runs in the middle of the park extending north to south. Coming up later we’ll let you know who can use the trail but now that you know a little bit about the trail.

What can you Expect to see on the Towpath Trail Cuyahoga?

You can see as we ride the locks next to the trail that were needed to lift and lower the boats from the middle of Ohio down to Lake Erie. At each lock in Cuyahoga Valley National Park you can read about different commercial enterprises that supported the canal. The locks took time to raise and lower the boats. So, people were waiting long enough to spend some money. Hotels were located at some of the locks. Stores and bars were located at others. Support services for the boats and animals were next to others. The canal created commerce and created an economy for the region. Today you can see nature reclaiming the land. The canals and waterways are being overrun with trees and native plants. The wetlands are healthy and thriving offering visitors great opportunities for wildlife viewing. You will see animals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. The National Park Service cares for these systems to provide recreation and biodiversity for generations to come. We’ll come back to that later but

every good trail post needs a dad joke: Why do turtles cross the trail? To get to the Shell Station!

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Now, as we ride you may wonder

How Long is the Cuyahoga Valley Towpath Trail?

Inside the park the trail is 20 miles long. But the trail currently extends about 100 miles from Lake Erie in Cleveland, through Cuyahoga Valley National Park to New Philadelphia Ohio. Inside the park there are many trailheads where you can park your car and enjoy parts of the trail. We enjoyed riding near the Boston Mill Visitor Center and the Beaver Marsh. We’ll talk more about those later but you can put miles down on this trail. With the trail being flat and well paved visitors can enjoy longer trips than on normal trails. There are limited road intersections so you can enjoy the semi-wilderness conditions as you travel along the trail. But another advantage is that you can travel at your own pace and move to different parts of the trail with the multiple trailheads and parking lots available throughout the park.

Do you like this format? We share as much of the hikes and trails in the National Parks as we can this way to help you plan your trip. Subscribe/join today so that when you search for other hikes, trails, and National Parks, our website is at the top of your search results. If you are looking for a great campground near Cuyahoga consider Cleveland/Streetsboro KOA. It is conveniently located off the highway and minutes from Cuyahoga.

Now back to the Towpath Trail and

What Can You See at the Boston Mill Visitor Center in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

The Boston Mill Visitor Center opened in 2019 and is a great place to learn more about the park. Here you will find a small gift shop and museum, too. If you are looking for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park sign it is located next to the railroad tracks. There is a train station at the Visitor Center for the scenic railroad but sometimes the location isn’t serviced. Here you can also find restrooms and bottle fill water stations for your use. East of the Visitor Center, on the towpath trail the Boston Store has more to offer including locally produced items, drinks, ice cream, gifts, t-shirts and other swag. There are 3 parking lots that service the area off Boston Mills Rd. Here you can also use the towpath trail to go under I-271 and Ohio Turnpike I-80. These bridges over the Cuyahoga River are massive and an engineering marvel you need to witness from below.

Where Can You Find the Best Natural Area on the Towpath Trail Cuyahoga?

We found the Beaver Marsh about 6 miles south of Boston Mill. You can drive by it on Riverview Road but to get in the middle you must take the towpath trail. The Hunt House Trailhead with a parking lot and bathrooms is about a mile north of the Beaver Marsh. The Ira Trailhead with parking and restrooms is only 0.3 miles south of the Beaver Marsh which makes this natural wetland more accessible. Here at the marsh you get to travel on a wooden boardwalk over the water. The wetland is home to turtles, fish, birds, water snakes, beaver and even otters. Designated as important by the National Audubon Society the marsh is a safe haven for migrating birds on their trips north and south. Many birds see their way to the marsh including ducks, woodpeckers, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Blue Herons and Egrets and many songbirds and other species. During your travel find a quiet spot on the boardwalk and just listen and look. The marsh will come alive and after a few minutes you’ll notice all the activity there is to discover. Now that you’ve learned of a couple of places to visit along the towpath.

Who can use the Towpath Trail Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

The Towpath Trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is packed sand and aggregate suitable for running, walking, jogging, and hiking. Bicycles are welcome on the trail, too. Even class 1 and 2 e-bikes are permissible. But, due to all the variety of traffic, be careful. Even though the speed limit is 15 miles per hour, gravel cyclists and kids will go faster. During peak season the popular sections will be packed. But even strollers and wheelchairs can use the Towpath Trail. The Towpath Trail Cuyahoga was designed and is maintained to be ADA accessible. But you will find potholes, fallen branches, and other obstacles over the 20 miles so recognize that even though the trail is maintained, unexpected obstacles can exist. But,

What Gear Should You Take with you when Biking and Hiking the Towpath Trail Cuyahoga?

You will want to put miles down on this trail. Make sure you wear good shoes. Whether you are hiking or biking, bring water. We always carry a backpack for our trips to include water, a first aid kit, maps, and snacks. In this urban national park, your phones will work well all the time. So there is no need for a compass as you can use your favorite map app and compass app. Dress for the weather and consider sunglasses and sunscreen. Pack bug spray for the forest and wetlands as mosquitos will find you. If you are biking make sure you have a good multitool, spare tubes, tire levers, and a helmet.

Here is the gear we typically take when day hiking and biking the National Parks:

Teton Sports Hydration Pack Video Review: Amazon Link: 2021 model 2022 model

Camelbak Mini M.U.L.E hydration backpack Video Review for younger hikers: Amazon Link:

Merrell Moab II Men's Hiking Shoes:

The First Aid Kit we carry:

Trekking Poles:

Tactical Flashlights:

Bike Multitool:

Are Dogs Allowed on the Towpath Trail Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Domesticated pets including dogs are allowed almost everywhere in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. But the Towpath Trail is one of the best places to take dogs. The trail footing is great for dogs and the wide trail provides additional safety to keep pets separated. If you are on the Towpath Trail make sure your pet is at heel to prevent accidents with cyclists going too fast. When possible keep your pet to the outside of the trail. Follow leave not trace practices and carry pet waste bags. Garbage cans are available throughout the park so that you can dispose of pet waste before getting back in your car. Keep your dog on a 6’ leash to prevent them from approaching other visitors and so they don’t run away after birds or animals. But the mountain bike trails and National Park buildings are a couple of places where dogs are prohibited. So,

What is the Most Popular Trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

The Towpath Trail is arguably the most popular trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park due to its accessibility and historical significance. It attracts hikers, cyclists, joggers, and nature enthusiasts year-round, offering opportunities for recreation, education, and exploration. But there are other trails in Cuyahoga Valley you must explore. In the northeast corner of the park, you will find The Ledges. This short trail is a moderate trail that showcases sandstone ledges through forest that is a must see. If you are looking for waterfalls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park the most popular falls in the park is the 60’ tall Brandywine Falls which can be seen with a longer trail or via a quick boardwalk hike to a few viewpoints and the remnants of an old factory. This waterfall is located southeast of Boston Mill. To continue learning about Cuyahoga Valley National Park read one of these posts next!

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