With paved trails totaling about 70 miles, the Emerald Necklace Trail is still one of the longer trail networks in the state. The Necklace extends about 61 miles across. Add the offshoot to the Big Creek Reservation and the mileage totals around 70.
The Cleveland Metroparks that make up this system are called reservations and many are linked together to form the giant green (emerald) necklace shape, giving the trail system its unofficial name. (The trail is more commonly referred to as an "all-purpose trail" on the Cleveland Metroparks web pages).
The Cleveland Metroparks were established in 1917, long before the phrase "linear park" was coined by contemporary trail builders. But many of the parks have been lined up nicely for many years, linked by parkway roads and trail that ties together and forms this unique trail system.
There are other reservations that are not connected directly to the necklace, while the Big Creek Reservation is an offshoot that is linked by trail.
The scenery is quite beautiful along much of the trail. It seems that every few hundred yards or so there is something to catch your eye. Vertical hillsides scattered with rocks, mammoth-sized highway bridge trestles, trail bridges over rivers, soccer games and family picnics -- the sights are numerous and varied as you make you way through the parks.
On our 2009 visit, we puzzled over how our ride approached 100 miles over two days. With sag support, we didn't have to double back, so an extra 30 miles seemed extreme. Initially it was thought the reported mileage did not include the parkway road riding necessary to link between trail sections. But a mileage check with a mapping program revealed that 70 miles is fairly accurate.
We did an out-and-back ride to the Big Creek Reservation, so that added several miles. Short excursions exploring a few spurs, making a couple wrong turns, riding an unnecessary loop at the South Chagrin Reservation, it all added up. But we could still only account for about 83 of our 96 miles logged.
It's safe to say that you can expect to ride more than the advertised mileage here, particularly if you're not carrying good maps!
The condition of this huge trail network varies quite a lot due to the periodic resurfacing of older segments and the occasional addition of new segments or spurs. So the surface runs the gamut from poor to excellent condition, while the width of the trail is also subject to change with many older sections being narrower.
In 2009, the poorest conditions were en route to and in the Big Creek Reservation (some heavily cracked and deteriorated asphalt) and the North Chagrin Reservation (large "cupping" in the center of the trail with cracks alongside, probably due to an inadequate base for the asphalt). With a good fat-tire machine, none of these older sections should be a problem. And you can manage it with skinny tires, albeit more slowly.
On a previous visit we reported that water was difficult to find in some parks. That is no longer the case as latrines with antibacterial soap and nearby water fountains were commonplace.
Emerald Necklace - Western Section
We revisted the trail in July, '09 and followed the same west to east route as before by starting at the northwest end of the bikeway at the Rocky River Reservation in Lakewood at Detroit and Sloane Avenues. Entering the reservation you descend into the Rocky River Valley which is at the bottom of a deep ravine. The paved trail snakes along between the Valley Parkway Road and the river, which accompany you on your ride.
The trail travels through wooded areas and over and along several hillsides. This allows for some natural obstacles on the trail surface. Extreme caution is recommended when riding after a heavy rain, particularly in the fall when wet leaves and nuts can be a real hazard. Mud slides are also possible in some sections.
The Emerald Necklace Trail is not a rail-trail and therefore it is not a flat or straight bikeway. The trail winds its way along much like a snake's track in the sand. This snake-like path quickly challenges your riding skills by taking you up and down small hills and through an assortment of curves of varying degrees of sharpness. The asphalt path is quite narrow at only 8-9' wide, which makes negotiating the terrain while passing other trail users quite challenging. The trail provides a very technical ride if you attempt to cycle at more than just a leisurely pace, which is not recommended. This is a leisure trail intended for pleasant slow-speed rides through wooded areas.
Road bikes are a bit out of place on the trail. Most trail riders use mountain or hybrid bikes, while the roadies take to the Valley Parkway which parallels the trail. There they can pickup more speed and ride in more of a straight line.
On our most recent visit, the western section of bikeway had one continuous asphalt path from Lakewood, at the start of the Rocky River Reservation, to the Stuhr Woods Picnic Area, just west of Ridge Road. This 25-mile section runs out near the top of a challenging climb at the picnic area. After summiting on the parkway road, it's an easy 5.75 miles along the Valley Parkway until you cross Rt. 21 where the trail picks up again at the Brecksville Reservation.
However, if you're inclined to explore the new Lake-to-Lake Trail that connects Lake Abram and Lake Isaac, you'll want to turn north onto the trail at the Big Creek Parkway. This connector is just south of the I-80 underpass along the trail in the Mill Stream Run Reservation. Exploring the entire Big Creek Reservation trail adds about 15 trail miles (7.5 up and back), while exploring the Lake-to-Lake path should be a bit less.
Take note that at the time of this review much of the Big Creek Trail section was in poor to fair condition with deteriating asphalt sections and some heavily cracked tarmac as well. But unless you're on a skinny-tire road bike, this shouldn't pose any problems. We managed it on skinny rubber, but it's not much fun.
We found the road riding along the parkway to the Brecksville Reservation to be a pleasant one. The posted speed limit of 30 mph, along with the courtesy displayed by local drivers who seemed accustomed to bicycle traffic along this road, made the ride a lot less scary than riding on a rural highway or busy city streets.
If you're used to riding flat trails, however, the Emerald Necklace provides quite a challenge. Though the trail does have some flat sections, most often you'll be climbing or descending in and out of the valley or along its hillsides.
There are a number of connecting paths that you'll encounter along the way. Most are not signed, so at times you won't be sure which is the main trail. Sometimes a marker will tell you where a spur goes, but you won't know how far the trip is.
An attempt was made at some point to paint distance and destination markers on the trail surface. But many have faded over time and the legible ones provide destination names that may hold little meaning for visitors.
The bikeway's signage definitely misses the mark as ignored 'Stop & Walk Bike' signs appear at most every road and drive crossing. Asking riders to repeatedly dismount is not realistic or practical. A better approach would be 'Yield' and 'Stop' signs, where appropriate, with perhaps a 'Dangerous Crossing' thrown in at more difficult or busy crossings.
We managed to pick the wrong path a number of times as some spurs have been added over the years and signage is poor or nonexistent. On this trip we carried copies of the reservation maps from the Metro Parks web site. Another option, a Cleveland Metro Parks map and Pathfinder, an accompanying info booklet that shows more detailed maps of each reservation, is probably still the best way to travel. (To request a map, call Cleveland Metro Parks at: 216-351-6300.)
Continuing east on the trail through the Brecksville Reservation you ride down a fairly long, steep hill. The trail soon merges with the Parkway Road and comes to a stop. Here the road comes to a "T" at Chippewa Creek Drive.
A right turn will soon bring you to Riverview Road. Continue straight (east) through this intersection and you will find yourself at the Station Road Bridge Trailhead of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. In fact, to continue northeast through the Metro Parks Necklace, you will ride a portion of the Towpath Trail here at its 17-mile marker point.
At this point we're still in the Brecksville Reservation and have covered about 32 miles of the Emerald Necklace (47 miles if you include the Big Creek side trip). The railway station and trail bridge make a pleasant, scenic spot for a break or kodak moment.
As on our last visit, we found the Cleveland Metro Parks system to be quite impressive. There seems to be something for everyone: a park road with a low speed limit for road cyclists, a paved trail for pedestrians who wish to rollerblade (on newer segments) or take a leisurely bike ride, a bridle trail for horseback riding (which also follows the river along with the parkway and the paved trail), and of course, traditional facilities like ball fields and pavilions for picnicking and much more.
Emerald Necklace - Eastern Section
Let's pick up on our journey at Station Road Bridge in the Brecksville Reservation at the train station. You'll find restrooms and water here, as well as a nearby kiosk with a map of your location. We noticed several of the "you are here!" maps throughout the reservations along the route. However, unless you take your own maps or are familiar with the area, you may miss out on the bigger picture that includes the O & E Towpath and the Bike-Hike Trail, both major trails in this area. To see the close proximty and trail connections, go to the Ohio Trails Map page.
Parking lots abound along the trail and restroom facilities should not prove hard to find. But if you happen across a picnic area without a water source, keep in mind that a small fountain or spigot that's close to the ground can usually be found near shelters or pavilions.
Continuing north on the towpath the trail surface alternates between fine crushed stone and old asphalt segments as you make your way along the old canal route.
We jumped off the towpath at the Frazee House to take nearby Sagamore Road. Though Sagamore provides the shortest connecting road route, it is certainly not the smoothest and many riders opt for Alexander Road to the north instead. Sagamore is quiet, but about half of the 1.5-mile stretch was potholed, patched and in poor shape during our visit.
Just as you pass a lone facility on your right, you'll encounter a trail crossing for the Bike-Hike Trail. Turn left and take the trail north to Alexander Road where the B & H ends and the Emerald Necklace continues through the Bedford Reservation.
From this point the trail is pretty much a continuous path from the Bedford Reservation through the South Chagrin Reservation, with one short jog at Richmond Road. Turn left on Richmond, ride about 1/4 mile and pick up the trail on the right alongside Hawthorn Parkway. If you turn right at Richmond, you'll end up 1.8 miles south at Broadway Avenue where this connector continues to the northwest.
Much of the South Chagrin Reservation trail segment is made up of a large loop. We missed our turn off at Chagrin River Road and rode the loop by mistake. After doubling back, we were on course once more.
Take Chagrin River Road north (includes a quick jog right on Old Mill Rd, then left again on Chagrin River Rd) to Wilson Mills Road where you turn left and soon pickup the North Chagrin Reservation on your right. We found the road route to be a pleasant ride that's about 10 miles long. For a more detailed description, see this review.
North Chagrin Reservation provides a spunky climb, followed by some riding along an abandoned road before returning to trail. We finished up at the Strawberry Picnic Area, about a mile from the trail's end near Chardon Road.
A lot of time has been spent on providing directions in these reviews and for good reason. Though locals know the area well, for first time visitors it's easy to take a wrong turn in this massive park system. Take good maps to ensure you have an enjoyable ride!
The trail is mostly tree-covered as the bikeway moves through the green belt that defines the park system. You'll pop out into the sun from time to time along the parkway roads, but more shade is never far away. The same holds true for facilities and water, though you'll still want to know some of those locations in advance, particularly for slower riders spending more time on the trail between stops. And don't forget that there's plenty of climbing!
Are there differences between the eastern and western portions of the Emerald Necklace? Most definitely. The eastern section is hillier. The climbs are often steep and/or long. The trails in this section often seem to be climbing or descending in and out of the river valley in a crisscrossing fashion. But a break from the climbing is easy to come by here. Simply plan your route to include either the Bike & Hike and/or towpath trail.
Also, the eastern section spends more time following alongside the parkway roads rather than taking jaunts off into the woods as does the western side. However, the western section does a better job of following the river and remaining closer to the valley floor. So if you're not interested in doing a lot of hill work, go west! (For even flatter riding terrain, visit the towpath or Bike & Hike Trail.)
One of the most appealing things about the Emerald Necklace Trail has to be the fact that 2 other major trail systems are also located in the area. The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath and the Bike & Hike Trail combine to add many more miles of trail riding options. With easy connecting points to both of these trails, it's truly trail-junky heaven!
The Cleveland Metro Parks trails system is truly unique. Not only are there traditional park facilities such as picnic areas, ball fields, etc., but bridle and paved trails run through much of this linear park system that is loaded with river views and beautiful scenery. Add 2 more major trails to this mix and... well, what more could one ask for?
Length: Approx. 70 total miles throughout the park system - width varies from 8-9' with some wider sections
Condition: Varies from Poor to Excellent; Overall - Good
Facilities: Finding restrooms along the trail is not difficult as there are facilities like picnic areas throughout the trail system. Typically a latrine with antibacterial soap with a nearby water fountain can be found. For areas that may not have this setup, look for portable toilets and a small fountain or spigot that's close to the ground and usually found near shelters or pavilions in the picnic areas.
Food: Cynthia Grahl writes "...this trail has food stops at the beginning at Scenic Park off Detroit up by the marina and also at Wallace Lake swimming area Quarry Rock Cafe, maybe only during summer seasons... the fish fry on Fridays at the marina is outstanding. You can also probably stop at one of the three golf courses you pass on the trail -- Little Met, Big Met, Mastick, to get a snack."
Parking: Parking all along the Emerald Necklace reservations. The Gmap shows the entire trail route. However, it's best to have a Metro Parks map in hand while riding. There are a number of connectors & spurs that can cause confusion. Call Cleveland Metro Parks at: 216-351-6300 to see about requesting one. There may be a fee.
Lakewood Rocky-River Mill-Stream Brecksville Bedford S-Chagrin N-Chagrin
62.1mi 50.9mi 42.4mi 31.6mi 21.5mi 13.6mi 0mi