Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Photo: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Photo: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Mother Nature is starting to tease you with the promise of spring. The snow is gone. The temperatures keep inching a bit higher during the day—before rapidly dropping at night. While the sunshine makes you want to trade the treadmill for the park and switch your usual brunch spot for a sidewalk table. It’s time to get outside.

Now, before the tourists start to arrive, is the perfect time to explore a nearby national park. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is, surprisingly, one of the most visited national parks in the country. The only national park in Ohio, in between Cleveland and Akron, follows the winding Cuyahoga River around rolling hills, fertile farmland, steep ravines, and rushing waterfalls. People flock to the Blossom Music Center, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, with its vintage engine and cars, passes old lumber and grain mills, historic villages, and art exhibits as it chugs through the valley. Plus the Towpath Trail follows a former stretch of the Ohio and Erie Canal.

But, right now, the park is still peaceful as it emerges from its winter hibernation. Beavers are busy rebuilding their dams damaged during winter storms. Maple, beech, and hemlock trees are shedding their brown layers in exchange for buds. Ducks and herons greatly outnumber people.

You head straight for the Towpath Trail. The 20-mile trail, covered mostly in crushed limestone, starts at Rockside Road, just eight miles south of Cleveland. Follow the river, which is high after recent rains. Stop at the Canal Exploration Center to learn about the canal era and how the locks work. Cross creeks, horse trails, and little bridges. See old mills and ski mountains with snow still capping their tops. By the time the trail ends—actually it merges with the Summit County Bike & Hike Trail—you’ve promised yourself that you’ll return once the farmers’ markets you passed along the way open in a few months. You haven’t felt this refreshed in months.

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