Cuyahoga Valley National Park: Canal Visitor Center

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It may be surprising, but the Cleveland area is home to a National Park.  But this one is unusual, especially if you’re used to the grand parks of the western United States.  It’s not the same as a Grand Canyon or Yosemite, but Cuyahoga Valley National Park is definitely worth an afternoon of your time.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located between the Cleveland and Akron, Ohio metropolitan areas.  It preserves the area around the Ohio and Erie Canal — which was, at one time, an essential transportation route between the Ohio River and Lake Erie.  From 1827 to 1861, the canal carried freight traffic.  When railroads arrived, the canal became obsolete for travel, but still provided water to industries along the path until 1913, when flooding damaged the canal, and it was abandoned.

These days, the canal provides a perfect place for recreation.  Since it’s fairly level, the towpath (which parallels the canal) is an easy trail for bike rides and hikes.

I had just a few hours to explore the park, and I arrived at the Canal Visitor Center just in time.  Park rangers were getting ready to shut the doors for the day, but luckily, one of them was more than willing to spend a few minutes with me, discussing my options for hiking in the park.  There’s much more to see here than just the canal and towpath — including waterfalls and great hikes through the woods.  After getting several ideas, I set out to make the most of my afternoon.

The Canal Visitor Center is in an old building known as the “Locktender’s House”, although it’s unclear if a lock master ever lived there. It was built in the late 1820’s, doubled in size in 1853, and carefully restored by the park service in 1982. Over the years, it served as a residence, general store, and tavern.

Of course, you shouldn’t leave the Canal Visitor Center without taking a close look at one of the locks that made the canal function.  This is Lock 38, also known as Twelve Mile Lock, because it’s about 12 miles away from the lake.  The gates of the lock could swing shut, then the water level would be increased or dropped, in order to allow boats to sail up or down the canal without navigating rapids.

Two of the best ways to explore Cuyahoga Valley are by bicycle and by train — and it’s easy to combine the two.  The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad makes several trips every day through the valley, with several stops along the towpath.  You can rent a bike in Peninsula (located roughly in the middle of the park), ride for a while, then hop on the train with your bike for the return trip.  The price is right: just $3 for bikers to ride the train.  Check out the railroad’s website for details.  Unfortunately, during my visit in 2011, the tracks were closed for repairs, so the train wasn’t running — otherwise, I would have done this, too!

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from the A Christmas Story House into Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  I included captions on the video, so you will know where you’re at (since the park’s roads are somewhat confusing).

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