Exploring The Ledges Trail: Cuyahoga Valley National Park's Most Scenic Hike
Arguably the most scenic hiking trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Ledges Trail offers a glimpse into the natural beauty and geological wonders of the region. The hike is highlighted by the Ritchie Ledges, a series of sandstone cliffs that rise dramatically from the forest floor, reaching heights up to thirty feet in height. The towering rock formations are the result of millions of years of geological processes, including erosion and weathering, creating a visually striking landscape that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Mixed throughout the well-manicured trail are narrow passageways, moss covered rock outcroppings, beautiful hemlock canopies, stone staircases, hidden 19th-century rock carvings, the Ledges Overlook, and more. If there's one hike that you shouldn't miss on your trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this is it.
Trailhead elevation 1,040'
Don't miss the 19th-century stone carvings near Ice Box Cave
Hiking the Ledges Trail
There are numerous route options for hiking the Ledges Trail, but the most scenic of them all is hiking clockwise, beginning from the overlook. To reach the overlook, locate a gap in the trees in the southwest corner of the parking lot.
After crossing a large open field, the overlook will come into view almost immediately. It's a bit underwhelming, but a great spot to hang a hammock and relax at the end of the hike. If you're planning on hiking this later in the evening, the overlook is a fantastic spot for sunset.
Beyond the overlook, the trail gradually descends and wraps around the plateau, passing by a junction with the park's Pine Grove Connector Trail.
Within a third of a mile, several of the largest formations along the trail present themselves. You'll notice an abundance of white quartz pebbles embedded in the sandstone, along with numerous hollows where larger quartz stones were once extracted. Back in the 1600s and 1700s, when the Lenape, Oneida, Ottawa, and Wyandot people inhabited the region, these larger quartz stones, known for their hardness, were removed and skillfully carved into arrowheads.
Long after the native peoples fled the area, Hayward Kendall, a prominent industrialist from Cleveland, acquired the land encompassing the ledges. After Kendall's passing in 1927, the land was donated to the Akron Metropolitan Park District and renamed Virginia Kendall Park, a homage to Hayward's mother. During the 1930s, as a part of FDR's New Deal public works programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps undertook construction of the Ledges Trail. To combat the impact of the Great Depression, young men aged 18 to 25, who were facing unemployment, were enlisted to build out the trail and construct shelters.
After almost a hundred years, the Ledges Trail continues to stand as an exceptional showcase of trail construction, representing the remarkable work undertaken by the CCC in the region. Among the shelters, the Happy Days Lodge stood out, earning its name from the 1929 Leo Reisman and His Orchestra song "Happy Days are Here Again," which played a significant role in Franklin Roosevelt's 1932 Presidential campaign. The lodge, built with locally sourced chestnut to harmonize with the natural surroundings, lies to the north of the Ledges Trail and offers convenient access via the Haskell Run spur trail further along the hike.
While hiking the Ledges Trail, don't miss out on the numerous off trail exploring opportunities it offers. Discover narrow passageways and refreshing chasms that are found throughout the hike, which often become the highlight of the trip. Later in this article, we'll highlight a hidden passage adorned with 19th-century stone carvings, which remains largely unknown to most.
The trail also showcases a beautiful stone staircase, but its origins remain shrouded in mystery. Some contend that the Civilian Conservation Corps built it during the 1930s, while others assert that an enigmatic landowner from the early 1900s, known only as Mr. Thompson, was responsible for its construction. Recently, old newspaper articles from the early 1900s, complete with photos of the staircase, have surfaced, casting doubt on the former theory. Nevertheless, definitive evidence supporting the later claim has yet to emerge.
As you traverse the trail, you'll encounter formations adorned with clusters of honeycomb-like holes, akin to those in the giant blocks below. These unique features owe their existence to the passage of countless eons when water permeated the stone, eroding and carrying away the once embedded quartz pebbles.
Precariously positioned boulders can be found throughout the area, which serve as remarkable testaments to the power of nature and her ceaseless endeavor to shape and reshape the land.
Among the mix of hardwoods found throughout the area, hornbeams with exposed root systems dominate the ledge side of the trail.
With a little more than a half mile to go, you'll encounter what many consider the most beautiful area of the Ledges Trail. Here, as the trail runs alongside the base of the ledges, a wooden staircase emerges, and you'll feel the air noticeably cool. At the foot of the staircase, to the right (left in the photo below) lies Ice Box Cave - a narrow hundred-foot-deep cave home to hundreds of brown bats.
Centuries ago, Native Americans took advantage of the cave's crisp temperature and used it for refrigeration. Today, it's been closed off to prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome, one of the most devastating wildlife diseases in modern times that has claimed the lives of millions of bats across North America, however, the surrounding area remains incredibly scenic.
The best off trail exploring can be found just prior to Ice Box Cave. Just behind the staircase in the image two photos above, you'll find a very narrow passageway between two formations. Squeezing through the tight space and climbing over a small waist high boulder leads to the less restrictive passage shown below.
On the western wall, you'll come across two rock carvings depicting human heads, along with a third unfinished carving, dating back to the 19th-century. Who created them and the identities of the individuals depicted in the carvings remain uncertain.
Further down the wall and near ground level, an intricate carving of a horse can also be found.
After exiting the passage, consider exploring the immediate area more. You'll find numerous chasms and passageways leading in various directions, all of which are worthwhile. After off trail exploring, the main trail resumes and passes through a mixed hardwood forest before reaching a small wooden bridge spanning a usually dry ravine.
From here, it's a short third of a mile back to the overlook and ultimately the parking area. If you're hiking the Ledges Trail in the evening, consider sticking around the overlook for sunset. If the conditions are right, you'll be in for a treat.
If you're an AllTrails app user, consider skipping the route they detail. It's less scenic and recommends walking down an old service road that isn't terribly appealing. It's also worth noting that there are bathrooms, several picnic tables, and charcoal grills near the overlook. If you're interested in off trail exploring, which we can't recommend enough, plan an extra hour into your trip. You'll need it. For more ideas on things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, check out Two Days in Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Buttermilk Falls: Cuyahoga Valley National Park's Most Scenic Waterfall.