PENINSULA, Ohio — This little river town is a lively place. Passengers prepare to board the train. Hikers check their maps before hitting the trail. Bikers fill their water bottles.
Peninsula is right in the middle of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a destination for all seasons and all types of fun experiences. Whether visiting by train, bicycle, car or canoe, or on foot, the scenery invites exploration.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park stretches across 33,000 acres between Cleveland and Akron. Set in gently rolling hills, the national park wraps around the Cuyahoga River and blends seamlessly with farmland, forests, wildflower meadows and small towns. Paddlers in canoes and kayaks enjoy the river’s easy current, and anglers cast for largemouth bass. Day trippers visit farm markets, cafes and shops in the villages sprinkled in the region. This time of year, corn mazes and pumpkin patches are plentiful.
The Cuyahoga River defines the region, as it did during the days of the Ohio & Erie Canal when Ohio was thinly settled. The canal, built between 1825 and 1832, provided transportation from Cleveland on Lake Erie to Portsmouth on the Ohio River.
Barges pulled by mules treading the towpath conveyed farm produce to eastern markets and returned with manufactured wares. The canal fell out of use in the 1880s after the construction of the Valley Railway that transported farm goods to markets faster and at lower cost.
Repurposed for recreation
Nowadays, bikers, joggers and hikers use the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, and other visitors ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for a 3.5-hour, round-trip excursion. Many times, it’s a convenient combination. Bike riders may pedal the Towpath Trail, then board the train for the return trip. Kayakers do the same, stowing their equipment in specially designed compartments.
A total of 19.5 miles of the 87-mile-long Towpath Trail run through the national park. Ten trailheads within the national park provide access and parking. The trail is hardpacked, crushed limestone, and suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.
Along with the Towpath Trail, the national park offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails that weave through woodlands, wetlands and meadows. A popular trail, the 2.2-mile loop around the Ledges features massive sandstone cliffs and outcroppings rising from a hemlock forest. An overlook across the Cuyahoga Valley rewards hikers. The Brandywine Gorge Loop Trail, a trek through steep ravines and a thick forest of hemlocks and deciduous trees, leads to Brandywine Falls. Clear water tumbles over scalloped edges of eroded shale and sandstone. A wide boardwalk covers the Beaver Marsh, a watery expanse bedecked with lily pads and populated by muskrats, beavers, otters, turtles, great blue herons and other water birds.
A 1-mile trail encircles Kendall Lake, a destination featuring stone bathhouse, shelters and pier constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA). The lake teems with channel catfish, bass and bluegill. Indigo Lake, supplied by several natural springs, is favored by bass anglers.
River and rail heritage
Vestiges of bygone days enhance the national park’s visitor experience. The village of Boston, once a bustling business center with boatyards, lumber mill, brickyard and residences, remains a gathering place complete with a visitor center, outdoor exhibits, picnic area and train stop. Visitors can learn more about the waterway’s history and operations at the Canal Exploration Center, where lock demonstrations are held. The center is open seasonally.
Hale Farm and Village, located near Bath, is an outdoor living history museum. Artisan demonstrations, such as blacksmithing and hearth cooking, depict life in the mid-19th century in an environment of historic structures and heritage gardens.
Many ways to have fun
Year-round, the national park offers nearly limitless recreation opportunities. Canoe and kayak access points are conveniently located along the Cuyahoga River. Mountain bikers find several trails befitting their challenge level. Golfers play at two courses within the national park. Horseback riders meander through meadows and deep forests.
The national park’s winter sports center operates December through March to help facilitate snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing. Snow lovers visit three resorts nearby for sledding, downhill skiing and snow tubing.
To sweeten the offerings, the national park’s recreational assets connect to those managed by Cleveland Metroparks and Summit County Metro Parks around Akron. As examples, Cleveland Metroparks provides more than 60 miles of paved, all-purpose trails for cycling, walking, running and in-line skating. Also, Cleveland Metroparks’ bridle trails link with those in the national park. Picnic areas are scattered throughout the national park, and more are available through the adjoining park systems. It’s a win-win combination.
Linda Lange is a freelance writer living in Knoxville.