The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail or simply the 'towpath,' as it is more commonly known, is one of Ohio's longest and most scenic bikeways. When finished, it will extend about 100-miles from Lake Erie at Cleveland, to Waterworks Park, in New Philadelphia.
Along with the Little Miami Scenic Trail, the towpath is one of the most popular trails in Ohio. It will surpass the Little Miami in total length as well. The two are also part of the larger Ohio-to-Erie Trail. It's only fitting that these two fine bikeways that lie at opposite ends of the state are part of what will be the first cross-state trail in Ohio, when completed.
Within the Cleveland Metroparks jurisdiction, the towpath surface is asphalt. This is also true along segments in Akron which use asphalt and concrete. Otherwise riding along the towpath means riding on a finely crushed stone surface.
For you asphalt junkies this may be a concern, but fear not. The surface is firmly packed and can easily be navigated on a road bike. Newer sections may have a few spots that are loosely packed, but for the most part these areas are few and far between.
If you don't like cleaning your bike, however, you should know that the towpath can be fairly dusty, particularly during extended dry periods in summer. The dust isn't a problem while riding, but a good bike cleaning will be needed afterward. If this sounds like a hassle, try riding the day after some rain.
Many portions of the canal still hold water. Others have only puddles from rain or runoff or are completely dry like a huge, barren drainage ditch. Where water still slowly flows the canal must look as it did many years ago with towpath once again in working order. Add a canal boat and horse, such as the St. Helena III in Canal Fulton, and you have a better picture of the past.
Towpath riding can also mean dealing with closed trail sections. Since the trail often lies along a valley floor with a few sections no more than a foot or so above the waterline, the towpath is more easily subject to flooding and washouts than other trails. Check with trail section overseers, such as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park web site, when you suspect the area where you wish to ride may have suffered from heavy or prolonged rains.
Much of the towpath is very well signed. Street crossings and connecting paths (even overhead railroad bridges) are marked with signs. This is invaluable to trail users riding through unfamiliar areas.
The trail surface can vary considerably. Some older sections are a bit narrow, maybe only 7-8' wide in places while newer sections are about 10' wide. Bridge decks and boardwalks are wider still. Currently sections on the most southern portion of the towpath are not much wider than a footpath.
At this time the trail is about 88% complete. Construction remains to be completed at the north end of the trail, along with a few gaps along the route. Some reports claim that it may take another decade or more to complete the towpath. While this may be true of the final leg in Cleveland where the trail attempts to cut a difficult path, the remainder of the trail faces less obstacles and could be mostly finished in the next few years, funding permitting.
The reviews below are organized by county. Refer to the 'Trail Specs' for towpath details for each county.
Let's take a look at the route from north to south:
Begining at Lake Erie in Cleveland, the towpath will follow the Cuyahoga River south. The first few miles from the lake have yet to be constructed. However, this map shows the proposed alignment to the first established trail section at Steelyard Commons, roughly 3.5 miles inland. The proposal includes a link with the Cleveland Lakefront Bikeway.
From Steelyard Commons, about a .8-mile gap exists over to the Harvard Road Trailhead where the towpath begins in earnest. From this point, the bikeway heads south for 62 miles before another short gap in the trail appears in Massillon, Ohio. When this gap is closed, the trail will extend another 13 miles to a point west of Bolivar.
This northern portion of the trail follows the old canal route through the Cuyahoga Valley and the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. A section also parallels the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which caters to cyclists with its 'Bike Aboard' program.
The CVNP is also where the towpath joins up with 2 other major regional trails, the Akron Bike & Hike Trail and the Emerald Necklace Trail. In fact, the Emerald Necklace and towpath share a short stretch of trail in the Brecksville Reservation, while the Bike-Hike runs parallel to the towpath just to the east. Connections are easy to make and can be found on the Gmap.
Our ride north to Harvard Road was surprisingly quiet. Though we were now in Cleveland, it certainly didn't feel that way. The Cuyahoga Valley had created its own peaceful environment along the towpath and carried it close to the lake where people were catching fish in the canal waters. I felt like we had sneaked past much of the big city on our way north. It'll be interesting to see how the remaining miles play out beyond Steelyard Commons through the industrial area that still stands between the towpath and its final destination.
There's a visitors center just off the trail in Cuyahoga Heights and a short .6 mile trail loop that connects to the towpath. The connecting trail that leads to the Canalway Center continues on into nearby city streets.
Previously the tranquility of the trail would begin to fade as you rode south into Independence where you were forced to deal with a bit of urban congestion. But in 2006 that was remedied as reported by Lynda Warner: "As of [fall 2006], two very unique bridges were opened, which remove the stress of having to cross two major intersections. The paved 5.7 mile section of the trail from Rockside Road north to Harvard Road is actually in the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation of The Cleveland Metroparks, which funded the bridges."
In Independence you'll pass under the super structure of I-480 that towers overhead as you make your way to the Thornburg Station, a commercial complex with food and parking. This also marks the spot where the asphalt surface transforms itself to classic towpath crushed stone as you leave the jurisdiction of the Cleveland Metroparks and continue southbound past Rockside Road.
Mile marker posts tick off the miles as you head further away from Lake Erie, mile "0". This provides a good way to gauge your distance from the north coast from any point on the towpath. No GPS needed!
Soon you enter the Cuyahoga Valley National Park where facilites are open year-round and well-maintained. Perks for trail users include: riding on the scenic railway and camping spots reserved for through hikers and cyclists.
There are good trailheads all along the towpath. Along the northern section, Peninsula makes an excellent starting point. It's between Cleveland and Akron and has parking right along the trail with restroom facilities. There's also a depot for the scenic railway and a restaurant and bike shop -- all the ingredients for a great trail ride!
There are a couple of restored buildings along this section that now serve as small exhibits and information stations. One has a working lock (lock 38), the other houses a canal exhibit at Boston Mills Road.
The route south from Peninsula was designed a bit differently. It features many gentle curves to give more interest and character to the trail. To my knowledge, this is the first Ohio trail that was deliberately planned this way. Does the design work? Yes, definitely. The layout is certainly more interesting than a predominately flat, straight trail. The only drawback is that sight lines can be limited and passing can be tricky on days with heavy trail traffic. Considering this is one of Ohio's most visited trails, it's safe to say that cruising this section on weekends involves a lot of passing!
The Cuyahoga Valley is fast becoming one of our favorite areas in Ohio to trail ride. The Emerald Necklace, Akron Bike & Hike Trail and towpath will cover about 190 total miles when the 3 trails are completed. Roughly 24 towpath miles lie directly in the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley which provides a wonderful refuge from nearby cities and suburbs. The biking trails and the natural beauty of the valley form a winning combination. You'd be hard pressed to find a better match anywhere in the state of Ohio.
Length: Trail north of Thornburg Station: 8 miles / asphalt
Condition: Very Good
Facilities: Canalway Centers in Cuyahoga Heights & Hillside Rd., Bacci Park, Thornburg Station & Station Rd Bridge (Brecksville Res.).
Food: Steelyard Commons and Thornburg Station in Independence.
Parking: Harvard Ave. Trailhead, Canalway Center in Cuyahoga Heights, Bacci Park, Thornburg Station in Independence, Hillside Rd., Station Rd. Bridge (Brecksville Res.), W. Highland Rd.
(Boston-Store) Station-Rd-Bridge Thornburg-Station Steelyard-Comm. Lake-Erie
22.7mi 18.2mi 11.7mi 4.5mi 0mi
Summit County has become the first county to complete their portion of the towpath by closing two gaps in the trail. Those being the Bartges Street bridge project in Akron and the segment around the PPG facility in Barberton. Both sections were completed in 2011.
The Summit County section includes a portion of the CVNP to the north. From there it extends south through the heart of Akron and reaches just south of Clinton, Ohio.
The Cuyahoga Valley Train offers service to cyclists along a stretch of the trail from North Akron to Independence. Hopping aboard gives visitors another way to enjoy the valley. It can also knock some miles off of your trail ride when you're doubling back to your car! (Check their Bike & Hike train schedule.)
There are several unique trail sections that are constructed to form a boardwalk. These wooden segments are approximately 14' wide and feature wide, sweeping turns. One section takes you over a wetland while another overlooks a golf course. When riding south you pickup speed on a slight downhill and can hear the deck boards "sing" when a rider comes zooming past. Be careful on rainy, wet or frosty days. The surface is bound to be slippery. More boardwalk sections can be found further north.
Heading south the trail takes on a gently rolling character. The towpath appears to be relatively flat here, but that is not the case. In fact, you are gradually climbing. I wasn't aware of this until we headed north from North Street in Akron. You pick up speed as the downhill sections become more obvious on your way back.
The towpath passes underneath the Scenic Railroad tracks and parallels the trunk sewer. The sewer line is more interesting than its name suggests. It's a large, closed concrete pipe-like structure that is partially buried in the ground. The portion that protrudes above ground is somewhat obscured by brush and moss in summer and takes on a rather curious look in the surrounding landscape.
There is no odor from the sewer line, but the trail does briefly pass a pungent area that appears to be a compost facility. I had no idea that decaying brush, leaves and grass could produce such strong odors. Oh well, it's certainly no worse than the smell of farm manure and you'll be past it in short order.
Where the towpath enters North Akron the surface turns to asphalt with a stone chip top coat. It returns to crushed stone once you leave this developed area in the city. There are several places to eat here, so take advantage of nearby restaurants if you're hungry.
At North Street resides the historic Mustill Store. Formerly a general store during the glory days of the canal, it now serves as a museum displaying goods and trade from that era. There's also a trail parking lot and facilities at this trailhead.
Directly across North Street from Mustill is Cascade Locks Park where the towpath carries on. The trail continues south up a 5% grade (a .6-mile climb), over the Akron Innerbelt (Rt. 59), and south to Canal Park.
Once over the innerbelt, the trail transitions to wide concrete sidewalk and continues alongside streets over to Canal Park. (South on Quaker St., west on W. Bowery and finally southwest on Water Street.) This .3-mile stretch is just 2-3 blocks and does not involve any road riding.
The short segment within Canal Park, home of the Akron Aeros, features a red rubberized surface, perhaps the most unusual one you'll find along the entire towpath.
Joe Chase describes the Canal Park segment: "This [section] extends from the Akron Civic Theater south through a public festival park, around the west side of the Canal Park Stadium and down to the parking area behind Canal Place (the old BFG factory).
"Part of this section of the canal was once covered by a parking deck; the city has done a great job removing decrepit buildings and landscaping the canal in this area. From this path north to the Staircase Locks [near Martin Luther King Drive], the canal has been buried forever beneath office buildings and the Akron Innerbelt, but the water still flows. Did you know the lobby of the Civic Theater is actually a bridge across the canal?"
The section alongside the old BPG plant is now complete and the towpath continues unimpeded along the canal and under the new Barges Street bridge.
South of Bartges Street the trail surface has been updated, including a new trail bridge across the canal. The updates continue south over to Thornton Street.
This area has been landscaped at one time and features green lawns that come sloping down from adjoining apartment complexes to meet the canal. There is a gazebo, a nearby children's play area and some interesting landscaping here along the canal waters, making this section an unusual sight along the trail.
From Thornton Street, the towpath becomes a 12'-wide concrete path that extends .6 miles over to the Rec Center off Lakeshore Boulevard at Summit Lake by weaving its way under roadways and across exit ramps.
At Summit Lake the trail passes the rec center and moves along the shoreline before taking to open water via the boardwalk-like floating trail section that crosses the south end of the lake and enters the canal.
This newer segment connects with the 4.3-mile Barberton towpath where the canal is alive and full of water, as it once was when canal boats ruled the day. You may see fishermen trying their luck as you ride through a residential area that gives way to an industrial zone. Here back yards abut the canal and decks occasionally protrude over the water, along with a dock here and there.
This section is likely prone to washouts since the trail dips close to water level in a number of spots. This is bound to be an issue in other areas as well.
A statue has been erected at Manchester Road. It's a bronze of an indian carrying his canoe. It's a monument to the original Portage Indian Trail which followed a section of the Cuyahoga Valley. This monument can be found at each terminus of the trail, the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas.
At Snyder Avenue another new segment continues south from Barberton. This section features several bridges and a tunnel as it detours around the original towpath route for about 1/2-mile or so.
You'll encounter some short punchy climbs here that will get your attenion. Along with the 5% grade in Akron, this represents the most overt climbing you'll do along the otherwise flat towpath trail. But here you will climb regardless of your direction of travel, while the Akron climb is entirely for those riding south!
Further south the trail enters Clinton Towpath Metropark where remants of the canal are on view. Remaining locks, partial locks and other historic reminders are scattered along the towpath route. As are trailheads, facilities and places to eat.
As you leave Clinton a duck pond borders one side of the trail, while the canal lies opposite. The next stop is Canal Fulton.
Length: 33.4 miles / asphalt & crushed stone
Condition: Very Good
Facilities: Boston Store, Peninsula, Mustill Store and a number of trailheads along the way.
Food: Snacks at Boston Store, restaurants in Peninsula & N. Portage Path in Akron.
Parking: Penninsula, Riverview Rd, Hunt Farm, Ira, Botzum, Big Bend, Memorial Pkwy, Mustill Store in Akron, Summit Lake, Manchester Rd, Fairview Rd in Barberton, Snyder Rd, Center Rd, Clinton, OH.
(Canal-Ful.) Clinton Barberton Akron Boston-Store (Station-Rd-Bridge)
58.9mi 55.1mi 48.2mi 40.5mi 22.7mi 18.2mi
Though Summit County boasts that it may be the first to complete its portion of the towpath, Stark County is not far behind. Two small gaps in the trail remain here. One in the heart of Massillon (which should provide a marked route between sections). The other is a short gap to the Tuscarawas County line.
Stark County Towpath begins south of Clinton and passes through Canal Fulton, Massillon and Navarre south to the Tuscarawas County line, just short of Bolivar.
Canal Fulton is another great towpath starting point. There's plenty of trail parking, places to eat and a canal boat ride, the St. Helena III.
The trail ride south of Canal Fulton is also scenic and features the classic crushed stone trail surface.
The Lake Avenue Trailhead in Massillon is well-stocked with plenty of parking, a bike shop, a place or two to eat and restroom facilities.
Further into Massillon the towpath meets up with the Sippo Valley Trail at Lincoln Way West. It's not hard to find as the towpath comes to an end at this point (from the north) and ramps up to the Lincoln Way bridge.
There is a .6-mile gap over to Walnut Road where the towpath continues south atop the river dikeway. See the Gmap for the connecting route to remain on the towpath or hop onto the Sippo Valley Trail to head west.
Once back on the trail at Walnut Road, the towpath runs uninterrupted to just short of Bolivar and the county line. The ride to and beyond Navarre is quite rural as the canal corridor provides its own linear ecosystem which is quite lush in summer.
The towpath now extends through Navarre, dispensing with the road route through town. Should you venture away from the trail, use the blue and white Ohio Canal Way signs to help you find your way back to the canal, as this road route lies close by.
According to ohioeriecanal.org, "StarkParks is currently constructing the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail along route 212 from Riverview Rd. to the Stark/Tuscarawas County line. Future plans are for a bridge to cross the Tuscarawas River where there was once a canal aqueduct. This will connect the two counties."
Length: 25 miles / crushed stone
Condition: Very Good
Facilities: Canal Fulton, Butterbridge Rd, Crystal Springs, 40 Corners Rd, Lake Avenue in Massillon, Warmington Rd, Craig Pittman Trailhead in Navarre.
Food: In Canal Fulton, Lake Avenue Trailhead in Massillon & Navarre.
Parking: Lake Lucerne, Canal Fulton, Butterbridge Rd, Crystal Springs, 40 Corners Rd, Towpath Ct. in Massillon, Lake Avenue Trailhead, Warmington Rd, Waterworks Park in Navarre, Craig Pittman Trailhead & Rt. 212.
(Bolivar) Navarre Massillon Canal-Ful. (Clinton)
82.8mi 74.2mi 68.1mi 58.9mi 55.1mi
Roughly 15 miles of towpath will exist in Tuscarawas County when construction is completed. The trail will extend from the Stark County line west of Bolivar, to Zoar, Zoarville, then on to New Philadelphia, Ohio. Two gaps along with two completed sections currently define the route.
There is a missing link between the southern end of the Stark County trail and the next open section at Ft. Laurens in Bolivar. (2012 construction of a 1/4-mile segment from Ft. Laurens into downtown Bolivar is underway.) From here open towpath crosses I-77 and runs 3 miles south to Canal Lands Park in Zoar. An unfinished section stretches 2.5 additional miles south over to Rt. 800. Then a completed final leg takes users 6.5 miles into Dover.
We've never visited the Dover segment and can find no online info on this section. However, the Ohio & Erie Canalway map shows this section as complete.
In late '09 we paid a visit to the Zoar Valley Trail, along the southern portion of the towpath. This segment extends from Ft. Laurens to Canal Lands Park Trailhead, as mentioned above.
The towpath here is roughly 3-feet wide, with a smattering of stone dust over dirt. On either side of the new trail bridge over I-77, however, more stone has been added creating some loose, unpacked spots.
The I-77 trail bridge is a major piece of infrastructure that looks as though it would support single lane auto traffic. It's that robust. The extra width was designed to carry ped and bike traffic alongside horses and riders. The bridge crown features a partition that separates horses and allows them to cross more safely.
Heading south the towpath is smooth, mostly flat and slightly undulating. It's a departure from the more finely manicured sections to the north, but still an enjoyable ride. In fact, the mini undulations will mean more fun for many riders.
A narrow boardwalk can also be found on this trail. It's constructed around a former eathern overpass. The structure was necessary as the detour dips into the marshy soil of the old canal.
As you approach Old St. Rt. 82, you'll spot a wooden staircase leading up to a deserted bridge over the trail. This is a former roadway that is now closed. The bridge was restored in 2004 and now serves as a trail access and overlook point.
Shortly after this structure, you'll pass under the Dover-Zoar Road Bridge. A spur soon appears on your right (unmarked) that leads to the Canal Lands Park Trailhead.
You can venture further south along the towpath, as it is still manageable. However, the surface becomes bumpier and within a few tenths of a mile becomes marshy near the river under a railway bridge. According to online sources, you can still continue on at this point over to St. Rt. 800. But understand that it's unfinished trail that is better suited for hiking or mountain bikes. But if you don't mind primitive trail, check out the Zoar Valley Trail map to continue south.
According to the Ohio & Erie Canalway map, a finished segment continues on from Rt. 800 into Dover.
A bit of a surprising sight were the familiar stone towpath mile-markers seen further north. A few, perhaps miles 81-83 can be seen along the way. For those unfamiliar with these markers, they indicate the distance to Lake Erie, which is mile "0."
The trailhead sign at Canal Lands Park is unnecessarily misleading. It reads, 'Pedestrians Only.' While the signs at the other end of this segment, at Ft. Laurens, shows that ped and bike traffic is allowed. Obviously if one is permitted to ride south from Bolivar, they would also be permitted to return ride north. This is a silly mistake that needs to be corrected as respectful trail riders visiting from outside the area will be turned away. In fact, that is exactly what happened with us on a previous visit years ago. Another car with bikes did the same.
Lastly, this Zoar section gives off a unique, if odd vibe. It has a desolate or deserted aura. Perhaps that's due in part to the fact that our two visits have been late in the year when leaves have fallen and the surroundings are laid bare. But there's something about the environment in and around the deserted Old St. Rt. 82 Bridge. Though we heard an occasional bird chirping, there were no signs of ground critters such as squirrels and chipmunks which are common along Ohio trails on warm days.
Completion of the entire towpath looks to be some years away. Current projections are that much of it will be completed by 2012. The current projection for completion within Tuscarawas County is 2020.
The northern most segment through the industrial flats in Cleveland may take a bit longer. By then the total length of the trail will be somewhere around 100 miles. However, trail construction is moving right along with new trail sections being finished on an annual basis. If you enjoy riding on the towpath, you should have some new trail to explore each season.
Towpath users are encouraged to provide updates on any towpath section.
Length: Approx. 15 miles / crushed stone when completed (may utilize a road route west of Bolivar & through town)
Facilities: Ft. Laurens in Bolivar.
Food: In town in Bolivar, Zoar & Dover.
Parking: Ft. Laurens in Bolivar & Canal Lands Park in Zoar.
Dover Zoarville Zoar Bolivar (Navarre)
98.2mi 92mi 85.8mi 82.8mi 72.4mi