Written by Seamus Kelleher.
The Towpath Trail in northeast Ohio snakes along the original route of the historic Ohio & Erie Canal, built nearly two centuries ago to connect the state’s key bodies of water— Lake Erie to the north and the Ohio River to the south. Once completed, goods could be shipped by water all the way from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico. The canal’s construction, a true technological feat for its time, provided a crucial means of trade transport and passenger travel, and it alerted the rest of the U.S. that Ohio was open for business.
The advent of the railroad system and, later, automobile-filled roads in America led to the historic canal’s demise, but it lives on today through the scenic Towpath Trail.
Today, the trail’s intent is more for indulgence than industry. The Towpath stretches 85 miles between Tuscarawas and Cuyahoga counties, and passes through charming towns lined by original canal locks, historic buildings, places to eat, wildlife wonders and other distinct diversions.
Things to Do
The well-maintained trail is perfect for a bike ride alone or with friends. Don’t own one, or break down along the way? No worries. There are nine local shops situated near the Towpath Trail that rent and fix bikes.
Ride the Train.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a vintage passenger train that takes you through 51 miles of the Cuyahoga, Summit and Stark County sections of the Canalway, offering some of the best views of the Towpath and surrounding areas. There are also plenty of special events to choose from, like a Superhero-themed ride for the kids, or a Murder Mystery adventure for the adults. Biked too far on the trail and need a lift back? You can have your bicycle loaded on the train for just $3.
Take a Hike!
Get off the beaten path and find peaceful solitude on any of the 50+ trailheads diverging from the Towpath. The hikes promise to be beautiful, especially through Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Bring your camera and photograph some of America’s most beautiful sights like Brandywine Falls or Ritchie Ledges. Cuyahoga Valley National Park was named one of the top 25 places in the world to photograph nature by Outdoor Photographer magazine.
Zoar Village was founded in 1817 as an experiment in communal living by a group of 200 German separatists who’d fled Europe due to religious persecution. Zoar is considered one of the most successful communal living examples in history, lasting more than 80 years. The town remains largely unchanged from its founding 200 years ago and its restaurants, gardens and shops maintain their authentic feel.
The Towpath and surrounding parks are perfect for ice skating, sledding and cross-country skiing. At Christmastime, the train transforms into the famous Polar Express and travels all the way to the North Pole. Kids can wear their pajamas, meet Santa and his elves and listen to stories while sipping hot chocolate. The Polar Express was named one of the 10 Best Christmas Activities at National Parks by USA Today.
The canal significantly shaped Akron and Cleveland’s identities as industrial centers. There are plenty of places you can learn about this history, such as Canal Exploration Center in Valley View, Old Canal Days Museum in Canal Fulton and CanalWay Center in Cuyahoga Heights.
Presently, the Towpath Trail stretches 85 miles from Bolivar to Cleveland, but there are disconnected and undeveloped parts of the trail. As travelers enter Cleveland, long stretches of the path remain unlinked.
The Towpath Trail Extension Project, initiated in 2012, is expected to be completed by 2019. The project will seamlessly connect the trail to the East Bank of the Flats in Cleveland, a burgeoning urban residential and dining district where the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie meet downtown.
Culminating at the new Canal Basin Park along the river, the Towpath Trail will finally have a true endpoint at the water as it historically did. Reaching the Flats promises to make the Towpath an even more attractive destination, while rejuvenating this historic trail.