As the name suggests, the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail follows the historic canal connecting Lake Erie in Cleveland and Ohio River near New Philadelphia. The Towpath is about 80 miles long and stretches through Cuyahoga, Stark, Summit and Tuscarawas counties. It is one of the longest walking/biking trails in Ohio. Sections of the trail are still being developed. When finally completed, the trail will run over 100 miles.
Brief History of the Ohio & Erie Canal
As mentioned above, the trail follow the towpath of the Ohio & Erie Canal. The canal was built in years from 1825 to 1832 to provide an inland water route to move goods and people. Back then water transportation was easier and cheaper than moving things over land on wagons. The boats were pulled in the canal by mules walking on the towpath.
The Ohio & Erie canal was 308 miles long and connected Lake Erie with the Ohio River, to allow moving freight from and to East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
To learn more history of the Ohio & Erie Canal check the official info on the Ohio & Erie Canalway page.
The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail
While I am focusing on the cycling use of the trail, people also use it for bird watching, hiking, running and horseback riding. So, expect to encounter more than just cyclists there.
The trail is a dirt/limestone path, often resembling a two-track. It follows the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath, and also Cuyahoga River, providing from time to time, some spectacular views of the river. It goes through the woods and open areas. Sometimes passes by farm land.
If you are riding from the north and going south, you are following the river up-stream, so there has to be a small ascending gradient. However, it is hard to notice. The trail, since it follow the river, is very flat.
There are 48 trailheads along the Towpath 87-mile stretch. Almost all (one exception – Portage Path Trailhead) provide parking. Parking is free. Number of parking spots vary from few to over 100.
In Cuyahoga Valley National Park overnight parking is available at major trailheads and the National Park is the only section where the Towpath is open 24 hours.
The Towpath section through Cuyahoga Valley National Park is about 20 miles long.
The trail has a lot of trailheads and access to them is not a problem. Unfortunately, I don’t know how easy it to find them, as I only rode the trail section through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Therefore, I would advise you to look it up ahead of arrival and use the GPS to find them (GPS coordinates provided in the trailheads description).
Cuyahoga Valley Nat’l Park Trailheads
In Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Towpath Trails has thirteen trailheads.
They are, beginning from the north side of the park:
- Lock 39 trailhead – (41.392853, -81.628519) – This is the first trailhead in the National Park. Expect it to be busy, especially on weekend. The parking lot has room for about fifty cars. However, is you cross the bridge and go over the Cuyahoga River to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Rockside Station, there is a parking there for another hundred cars… When I was there, in 2020, during the pandemic, the train did not run. Therefore, I don’t know how full the lot gets during the regular time when it is running. The trailhead does not have a restroom. However, there is one at the Rockside train station.
- Canal Exploration Center – (41.372570, -81.613494) – The parking lot here can accommodate about hundred vehicles. This trailhead has restrooms. There is also a small building here – the Canal Exploration Center. On the opposite side of the trail there is one of the canals many locks. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train stops here.
- Fitzwater trailhead – (41.355933, -81.599009) – Just a parking lot for about twenty cars. It’s located west along the Fitzwater Rd about 600 -700 feet from the trail. No restrooms there.
- Frazee House trailhead – (41.352456, -81.592389) – across the Canal Rd. There is room for about ten cars in the small parking lot. There is a restroom there.
- Station Road Bridge trailhead – (41.318930, -81.587706) – The parking lot and the trail station is on the west side of the river. There is a short side trail (about 500 ft) with bridge leading there. The parking lot has a room for about 175 cars. There is a restroom there. This is another busy trailhead. There is also a trail leading to downtown Brecksville (less than 2 miles). It is also a train stop. About half-mile west along Chippewa Rd there is a bicycle store – Old Station Cycle. They might assist you in case of any equipment issues. They also have rentals.
- Red Lock trailhead – (41.289580, -81.563876) – The Red Lock trailhead is slightly of the trail – about 300 feet to the east. It is just north of W Highland Rd. The trailhead has a small parking lot with sixteen spots. It also has a restroom.
- Boston Store – (41.262828, -81.557090) – The Boston trailhead is kind of half-way of the Cuyahoga Valley Towpath trail section. It has the parking lot for over fifty cars. It has the restroom. There is also additional parking for over forty vehicles between the trail and the Boston Mill Visitor Center. There is also a huge parking lot at the Visitor Center. The train stops here, pretty much right in front of the Visitor Center.
- Lock 29 trailhead – (41.243179, -81.550329) – is a parking lot for about forty cars. It has a restroom. The train stops there. About 700 feet south on the corner od Mill St W and W Streetsboro Rd, there is a bicycle store – Century Cycles, which might be helpful in case of any equipment issues. The also rent bicycles.
- Deep Lock Quarry trailhead – (41.230085, -81.554071) – The trailhead is in the woods. There is about a 1,000 feet trail leading to it. There is parking lot for about close to hundred vehicles. The trailhead has a restroom.
- Hunt House trailhead – (41.200276, -81.572044) – The trailhead is just south of Bolanz Rd across from the Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center. The parking lot has room for over forty cars. Based on my experience, the area and parking lot are very busy in season, since there are some roadside attractions and a store there. Therefore, if you have a choice, select a different trailhead. If you really insist on this trailhead and the parking is full, go half-mile south and park in the small Indigo Lake trailhead parking lot. The Hunt House trailhead has a restroom.
- Indigo Lake trailhead – (41.194030, -81.578387) – Small parking lot with a room for little over ten vehicles. It has a restroom, and it is a train stop.
- Ira trailhead – (41.184208, -81.582655) – Another relatively small trailhead with parking room for about forty vehicles. The trailhead has a restroom.
- Botzum trailhead – (41.159066, -81.574320) – The Botzum trailhead is the most southern in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It has parking lot with room for well over hundred vehicles. There is a restroom there. It is also a train stop.
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Some of you probably wondered why I provided information about train stops with the Towpath Trail trailheads description. Here is the answer.
“The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR) operates trains 12 months of the year, offering alternative transportation in the national park as well as a ‘Bike Aboard!’ service for bicyclists on the Towpath Trail…”
Yes, the scenic train operating in the park allows for bicycle transportation, allowing cyclist, who might not be able to ride 40 miles of round trip on Towpath in the park, ride the whole 20 miles and return back on the train, or vice-versa.
The train wasn’t running in the summer 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s already operating again.
To find out more information about the railroad, to plan your trip, buy tickets, etc. visit their website.
The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath is a very nice long and relatively scenic trail. It allows for some nice, relaxed ride through nature, yet with easy, short access to amenities like stores and restaurants.
The availability of the train to allow for one-way riding, or cutting the ride short because of the change of weather or other issues, is a bonus.
I would definitely recommend the Towpath trail for a longer (or shorter) ride, if you are in the area. Additionally, I would also consider it, as part of a longer touring route in Ohio.
Scenery (0-boring, 10-breathtaking): 8.0 (going mostly through wooded and open country areas, some farm fields and occasional scenic views of remaining section of the canal and many more of Cuyahoga River and some wildlife)
Easy-to-Follow (0-no maps, often broken into section without clear directions, 10-well marked with maps showing current location): 9.0 (printed maps available on line and at the park visitor center, posted maps available in several places, trailheads; trail well marked and easy to follow)
Food Access (0-no food facilities at all, 10-food available every few miles): 7.0 (many choices along, but not immediately of the trail)
Restrooms (0-none, 10-moderen restrooms every few miles): 10.0 (restrooms at most trailheads, which are, at most, only few miles apart)
Surface Quality: 7.0 (dirt/limestone two track trail, fairly smooth)
Accessibility: 10.0 (many trailheads with parking lots; very easy to access)
Usage (0-not used at all, 10-extremely popular): 8.0 (high usage, especially on weekends)
Hills (0-completely flat, 10-Extremely hilly): 0.0
Sun/Shade (0-no shade at all, 10-competely shaded): 5.0 (some shade)