Bikepacking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail
Experience the remnants of the early 19th-century Ohio & Erie Canal as you embark on a captivating journey along the historic Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The scenic trail winds over 85 miles, meandering through picturesque landscapes, beside old ruins, and through historic towns and rural villages. The trail's development began in the 1990s, starting with a 20-mile segment within the renowned Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Today, it stretches south from Bolivar to Cleveland's Scranton Flats, with plans for expansion north to Lake Erie and south to New Philadelphia underway. With more than 2.5 million annual visitors, the Towpath Trail is Ohio's most beloved and well travelled multi-use trail, and offers an opportunity for a fantastic overnight bikepack. This article details notable stops along the 88-mile trail, as well as the prefered camping location when bikepacking the trail as an overnight trip.
Trailhead elevation 580'
Don't miss Cuyahoga Valley National Park hiking trails and camping at Big Bend
Ohio & Erie Canal History
As early as 1787, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson discussed a desire for a national canal system to transport goods and help support the country's western expansion. Most of the country at the time was land sparsely settled by independent Indian nations and wandering explorers. As western expansion occurred settlers found themselves struggling to be self-sufficient. They were able to grow crops, but getting surplus to markets required more than a month's journey and proved hardly worthwhile. It was a new, largely undeveloped country facing many logistical challenges. In the East, the economy relied on imports from Europe. Those who had settled west of the Appalachians had no efficient way to transport goods over the mountains to the east.
Several efforts to gain national aid for a canal linking the Hudson River to Lake Erie failed to pass Congress in the early 1800's and when the War of 1812 began those efforts officially ended. After the war and without the support of the federal government, New York's State Legislature approved funding for the Erie Canal and the first step towards uniting the country divided by geography. In 1825, after eight years of construction, the 363-mile long, 40-foot wide by 4-foot deep canal was completed spurring the first great westward movement of American settlers. An efficient means of transporting goods past the Appalachian Mountains had an immediate and dramatic effect. Freight rates plummeted. What once cost $100 per ton to transport goods over roads was now $10 via canal. New York quickly became the nation's busiest port, moving tonnages greater than Boston, Baltimore and New Orleans combined.
Seeing the benefits of the Erie Canal, Ohio soon caught canal fever. In 1825, the Ohio State Legislature passed an act funding the Ohio Canal's construction and soon after, ground was broken. Workers, mostly unskilled Irish immigrants, were initially paid $0.30 per day and a jigger of whiskey for their efforts. After more than two years of construction, the Ohio Canal became operational from Akron to Cleveland. On July 3, 1827, the first canal boat left Akron, traveled through 41 locks and over 3 aqueducts over 37 miles of canal to reach Cleveland on July 4, the nation's 51st anniversary of independence. During the next five years more segments were added until its completion in 1832.
The canals prospered from the 1830s to the early 1860s. During the 1840s Ohio was the third most prosperous state, owing much of its success to the canal. Due to flooding and financial factors, among others, the Ohio Canal was abandoned by 1913, but its history has never been forgotten.
Bikepacking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath
0.0 miles - Begin your Towpath adventure at coordinates 40.576819, -81.396631, where a convenient parking lot with a capacity for six vehicles awaits along Rt 800. The initial segment of approximately 5.7 miles takes you along the clearly marked Zoar Valley Trail, with a well-defined dirt surface. Throughout this section, the Tuscarawas River will flow on your right side.
5.7 miles - Arrive at Fort Laurens Museum, the site where Ohio's sole Revolutionary War fort once stood. Constructed in 1778, this formidable stronghold served as a strategic base for launching attacks on the British in Detroit, safeguarding the neutral Delaware Native Americans, and deterring Native American tribes allied with the British from targeting settlers in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. If you have time, consider stopping to experience the museum's exhibits, which offer insights into this crucial chapter of American history. The museum operates on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 AM to 4 PM, with a nominal entrance fee to support its preservation efforts.
Navigating from Fort Laurens can be a bit confusing for first-time riders. To ensure a smooth journey, exit Fort Laurens and take a right onto Park Ave SE/Rt 102. Continue past the intersection with Rt 212, through downtown Bolivar, and make a left on Bolivar St NW. At the end of Bolivar St NW you'll find a sign for the Towpath at the Towpath Trail Peace Park. While passing through the downtown area, you'll come across a handful of restaurants and a gas station, providing some convenient amenities.
18.0 miles - Arrive at the John Glenn Grove Trailhead in Navarre, Ohio where you'll find a small tribute to the Ohio-born American hero, a large picnic area, and vault toilet restrooms.
29.7 miles - Arrive at Lock 4, an intriguing and somewhat infamous location along the Towpath Trail. This site holds a cryptic legend from 1857, where the lock manager, upon learning that his lock was destined for permanent closure, committed a tragic act, taking the lives of several canal workers before taking his own. Today, the lock stands as a haunting testament to the past, fully intact, with the former lockkeeper's living quarters still present on-site. There is no mention of the tragedy at the lock, but some claim that the lockkeeper's ghost roams the area at night.
31.0 miles - Arrive at Canal Fulton's Historic District, an ideal spot along the Towpath Trail to pause, rest, and explore local establishments. Right along the trail, you'll find Cherry Street Creamery, a delightful destination offering local ice cream, refreshing lemonade, burgers, hot dogs, fries, and more. They accept cash only, but fear not, as an ATM is conveniently located on the side of the building.
Within a few hundred feet of the trail, there are several stores well worth a visit. The Toys Time Forgot, Brimstone Bicycles, Deliciously Different, and Speakeasy Coffee are just a few worth mentioning.
At Helena Heritage Park in downtown Canal Fulton, consider taking an hour-long ride aboard the St. Helena III, a faithful replica of an 1830s canal boat, towed by two draft horses. The scenic boat ride allows you to relish the beauty of the canal while an onboard historian shares fascinating insights about the canal's history, the boat itself, and the surrounding area.
47.8 miles - Arrive at Summit Lake over which the Towpath Trail floats on a buoyed bridge. Just beyond this you'll pass right beside the Summit Lake Nature Center, Summit Lake Community Center, and George Sisler Field.
50.3 miles - Arrive in downtown Akron where the trail navigates city streets, beside Canal Park baseball stadium, Lock 2 Park, and Lock 3 Park. Nearby downtown Akron stores worth visiting are the Peanut Shoppe of Akron and The Northside Marketplace.
51.6 miles - Reach the Mustill Store & House. Located in their original site at Lock 15, these restored canal era buildings are believed to have been built in the 1850s and used as both private residence and commercial store by the Mustill family. For three generations the Mustills offered goods and services to the canal's many users. It's also the last remaining building of its kind along the canal and a great place to stop. The museum is open on the weekends until 4 PM and offers cold drinks, snacks, and locally made goods. Just beyond the Mustill Store, near the bottom of a brief decline in the trail, the Little Cuyahoga River forms to the right. Three miles later, the Little joins the Cuyahoga River near the Big Bend Area.
54.7 miles - Arrive at Sand Run Metro Park's Big Bend Area. Exiting the Towpath here and following a paved path, marked with a brown sign reading "Big Bend Area," for a few hundred yards leads to bathrooms and a water spigot on the left. Just beside the bathrooms you'll find a path leading uphill and an overnight camping sign-in sheet. At the top of the small hill there's flat ground for several tents, which is a great spot to camp if you're overnighting the Towpath Trail. It's rarely used, so you'll likely have the spot to yourself. Camping here leaves a little more than 30 miles for the next day and puts you within a few miles of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. About a mile and a half north of here there are several restaurants, a gas station, bike shop, and more.
58.3 miles - Arrive at the Botzum Trailhead and Cuyahoga Valley National Park's southern boundary. The railway to the left of the Towpath Trail is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. If you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of the National Park Flyer, an 1,800 horsepower locomotive that travels through the park at various times of the day. There are bathrooms and drinking water at this stop.
60.0 miles - Arrive at Beaver Marsh, one of the more popular areas in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Here you'll have great opportunities to view bald eagles, great blue herons, beavers, turtles, snakes and more. Placards placed near the center of the boardwalk tell of the marsh's unique history and the wildlife it possesses.
61.5 miles - A short mile and a half from Beaver Marsh you'll encounter Szalay's Farm & Market, a very popular stop along the trail. During the summer months you'll find cold drinks, hot dogs, sausages, ice cream, hot ears of corn, fruits, vegetables, and other dry foods. The hot food stands close up come fall, but you can still purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, cold drinks, and more.
64.6 miles - Arrive at the small village of Peninsula, the gateway to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Here, the Towpath Trail crosses over the widest section of the Cuyahoga River.
Immediately after crossing the Cuyahoga you'll encounter Lock 29, one of the few locks along the Towpath that you can actually walk through. To access the village of Peninsula and its restaurants and shops, pass through the parking area adjacent to Lock 29 and follow the path that runs beside the railroad. After a short distance you'll arrive in the village where there are a few good restaurants, a bike shop, the Conservancy of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and more.
67.1 miles - Just 2.5 miles from Peninsula the Towpath Trail arrives at the Boston Store, a mini-museum that has cold drinks, ice cream, and bathrooms.
Just west of the Boston Store, on the far side of the Cuyahoga River, is the Boston Mill Visitor Center, Cuyahoga Valley National Park's lone visitor center. It's a worthwhile stop if interested in learning more about the park and its namesake river. There are bathrooms and drinking water at the visitor center.
The trailhead to Blue Hen Falls, a three mile round trip hike and one of the most popular in the park, can be found just outside of the visitor center on the corner of Riverview and Boston Mills Rd. A lesser known, but much more scenic waterfall known as Buttermilk Falls can be found a half mile beyond Blue Hen Falls.
Along the Towpath Trail and a half mile beyond the Boston Store you'll encounter a signed spur trail leading to the Stanford House. The 4-mile Stanford House to Brandywine Falls Trail begins here and is a hike worth considering, especially if it has rained recently.
76.1 miles - Arrive at the Canal Exploration Center, the best place along the entire Towpath Trail to learn about the engineering and construction behind the historic canal. Here, when the water levels are right during the summer months, park volunteers demonstrate Lock 38, the park's sole working canal lock. There are bathrooms and drinking water at this stop.
88.0 miles - Reach the end of the Towpath Trail at the Scranton Flats Trailhead. The Tremont neighborhood, which can be found near the Scranton Flat Trailhead, is a great area to stop for a bite to eat at the end of the ride. There's not a bad choice in the area, but a few of our favorites that offer patio seating are The South Side and Edison's Pub.
That's the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in a nutshell. A full list of trailheads with drinking water and bathroom facilities, more camping options, and more can be found on Century Cycles' website.