by William Bostwick
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a jewel-studded oasis of green, draped beneath the Lake Erie shores of Northeast Ohio. Some of its gems are flashier than others: showstoppers like the Ritchie Ledges and Brandywine Falls. But away from the sparkles of those stars — and the crowds they rightly attract — hide the park’s hidden gems, trails, and vistas no less precious, but more valuable, in fact, for their extra sheen of solitude.
All it takes to find these diamonds in the rough is a sense of adventure.
A benefit of parks like the Cuyahoga Valley is their natural wonders and the variety of visitors they attract. There’s a trail for everyone. While that means popular sites can teem with hikers and nature lovers, it also means each visitor might have a unique favorite spot, personal just to him or her.
Photographers have an eye for isolated oases, rich with wildlife. Trail runners look for quad-busting hills and invigorating stream crossings. Pet lovers might want to avoid horses and mountain bikes, letting their furry friends sniff around in peace. And we all want a glimpse of the wild, and a keener sense of connection with the natural world. Lucky for you, that can be found on any trail. Still, with a little local advice, we came up with a pocket-sized list of lesser-known favorites.
Check them out—then find your own!
1. Terra Vista Study Area
Where to find it: Park at the small trailhead at 11400 Tinkers Creek Road, just west of the Valley View Village Church
Solon-based photographer Steven Springer loves capturing images of the birds, deer, and mysterious fungi that lurk in the meadows and wetlands around Terra Vista Study Area, a former sand and gravel mining site the park acquired in 1985. “It certainly feels tucked away,” he says, with a small gravel parking lot and a short but scenic trail with a rich mix of environments. “I love catching a beautiful, golden sunset over the open field, then wandering through the dense woods nearby.” Birds flock to the small pond at the trailhead, deer frolic in the thick trees, and almost fifty different species of butterfly have been seen flitting around the area.
- Oak Hill and Plateau Trails
Where to find it: Oak Hill Trailhead, 3901 Oak Hill Road
This interlocking pair of loop trails is a great choice for runners looking for scenic singletrack. “It has some long stretches through pine corridors, just like Pine Lane on the Buckeye Trail,” says Vince Rucci, owner of Hudson’s Vertical Runner and a partner of the Western Reserve Racing trail-running organization. “But it’s not as long or as crowded.” Sylvan Pond makes the surrounding wetlands prime habitat for birds, flowering dogwoods, and wildflowers (and insects!) in spring and summer, so make sure to pack some bug spray with your running shoes and camera.
3. Salt Run Trail
Where to find it: Park at Kendall Lake (1000 Truxell Road), then hike around the Lake Trail to get to Salt Run Trail
Rucci says this four-mile loop in the Pine Hollow area is a favorite for runners, with steep hills and even a few sections of steps over a relatively short distance. “It has everything,” he says. “Older trees, a thick pine forest, a meadow, and if you keep an eye out, you even pass a natural spring.” (That’s White Oak spring, at the foot of one of its namesake trees.) Be on the lookout, too, for meadows aflame with yellow sorrel and ancient, wrinkled hemlocks. But be careful — their twisted roots can make for unsure footing.
4. Wetmore Trail
A four-mile slice of a much larger network of equestrian trails, Wetmore Trail remains unfamiliar to many hikers, even after refurbishment work on Tabletop Trail (an offshoot of the main Wetmore Trail) in 2014 following flood damage. While some parts are wide and horse-friendly, the trail terrain varies a lot, mixing in rocky hills and narrow single-track, so be sure to keep an ear out for whinnies, and give horses right of way. Wetmore is a fun but challenging hike, with lots of elevation changes, and a few exciting stream crossings to cool your feet on warmer days.
5. Perkins Trail
Where to find it: Park at Everett Covered Bridge trailhead (2247 Everett Road), then hike across the bridge to find Perkins Trail on the left
Named after one of the founders of Akron, the Perkins Trail rockets up a wooded, 300-foot climb in just under four miles. It’s a workout, to be sure, but don’t let the climb scare you. It keeps the crowds at bay, and the quiet makes the trail a perfect place for pets. “It’s such a friendly little trail,” says City Dogs Cleveland volunteer Tatiana Roberts. She likes taking her pooches on rambles along the ridge and says the connector trails provide options for mini loops along the way, if Fido is tugging the leash to explore! (Keep an eye out for gnarled trees, still bearing the scars of the great storm of 1996.)