The Ohio and Erie Canalway Towpath is full of choose-your-own adventure moments, with more than 85-miles of bike trails to tackle. The Canalway was originally constructed as a transportation route from Lake Erie in Cleveland, opening up Ohio to the rest of the settled eastern United States.
The path, which was once used by mules to tow the boats, winds through many different scenic areas, including five preserves in the National Heritage area.
The bulk of the path runs through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which means any ride you take will be full of photo-worthy landscapes.
There are so many routes you can take, but a good starter route is beginning in Cleveland and heading south into the Cuyahoga Falls National Park. It’ll be about 13 miles into the national park, depending how far you go.
It’s a good idea to have a map on hand — or use the Canalway trip planner, as the trail zigzags at times — especially in the urban places. You can rent bikes at Fridrich Bicycle or Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op, both close to downtown Cleveland.
Before hitting the trail, grab prepared foods for a picnic lunch at local grocery chain Heinen’s Downtown Cleveland location. From there, you can hop on the Canalway at the nearby Towpath Trail at Scranton Flats.
A few miles into your ride, you’ll hit the Canalway Center Picnic Area, the perfect place to fuel up with your picnic lunch and use the restroom.
After you eat, ride for a few more miles until your next break (about six miles from Cleveland) at the Bacci Park Aqueduct. Here you’ll find trails, playgrounds, ponds for fishing and even baseball fields.
From there, get back on the bike for a few miles until you hit the Canal Exploration center, a great place to learn about the history of the canal through interactive maps and games.
Hop back on the bike and start riding through the Pinery Narrows. Stay alert — it’s said that Bald Eagles nest in this part of the park, so keep your eye out for a potential bird-watching session.
If history and architecture are up your alley, make a stop at the Frazee House, a preserved historic home you’ll pass on the way to Boston Mills, where you’ll hit a small visitor shop with mementos, restrooms and a wealth of information.
You’ll want to leave your bikes for a one-mile hike over to one of the most beautiful sights, the 65-foot Brandywine Falls waterfall. Here is where your marquee photo ops will happen.
There is plenty more to explore in the park on foot or by bike. If you desire, you can end your trip and head back to Cleveland, or during the train season, many people will continue on to the town of Peninsula, where they’ll find a stop for the Cuyahoga Valley Railway. The train allows bikers the option to hop on board with their bikes and train it back to town for $5.
Or, if you’d like to take the trip in reverse, take the train from Cleveland’s Rockside station to Peninsula, and head to Century Cycles, a great place to rent bikes. Bike the trail from here back toward Cleveland, where Century has another location near Rockside, and return the bike there. Bike rentals are hourly and cannot be reserved in advance, so plan accordingly.
Regardless of the adventure you choose, find your own opportunities to take in the sights — wildflowers, animals and beautiful landscapes are at your every turn. Don’t forget to stop and just breathe in the fresh air every few miles!
Novice bikers, take note — a few rules of the trail:
As with any biking adventure, it’s important to think through a few things. Your plan will greatly vary depending on the time of year that you decide to bike.
Each time of year has its own benefits, but prime riding time generally runs from April to October, when bikers can utilize the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Bike Aboard program.
If you haven’t biked the Canalway before, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The trail is single-file, and a bike bell is strongly recommended to let people know you are passing.
- A hybrid or mountain bike works best (and is rentable at most locations) — crushed limestone is found on many of the southern end trails.
- Don’t forget the basics like water, snacks and sunscreen, and biking gloves if you have them. And a helmet! (included in most bike rentals)
- If you aren’t riding during bright daylight hours, make sure to wear bright clothing and have blinking taillights if possible.