The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is one of the best hiking and biking trails in the nation. It’s rich with both history and scenic views. Millions of visitors come to the area every year to catch a glimpse of the canal that helped form America into what we know today.
If you’re an avid biker or hiker, this trail offers an 85-mile challenge you can tackle in parts or all at once. If you’re on a bike, it’s not too difficult to get through the trip in a couple of days – or you can take longer and absorb everything the trail has to offer. If you live in the area, several yearly events make the most out of the canal’s trail.
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.
History Along the Way
Embarking down the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath is a trip through history. The creation of the canal had a profound impact on the Ohio area and the country.
Before settlers built the canal, the area was nothing but wilderness with a few settlements here and there. There was ample farmland, but trading was near impossible due to the long journeys a farmer would have to undertake. Once settlers started to prosper, they found that the cost of the journey outweighed the eventual payout.
The creation of the Erie Canal changed all of that. It linked the Hudson River in New York to Lake Erie in Buffalo. Once landowners in Ohio caught a glimpse of the substantial improvements the canal provided, groups in this area started construction on their own canal: The Ohio & Erie Canal.
Prosperity exploded in the wake of the canal. Those who lived in the area were able to export their surplus for a profit, and import goods they couldn’t make on their own. Innovation flourished as new goods entered the area for the first time. Property prices rose, farmers cleared room to live, and the Midwest developed into a hub of industry and Western life.
Use of the canal tapered-off in the early 20th century. It was damaged by a flood in 1913 and deemed too costly to repair. In the 1970’s, though, interest in the canal started to pick up again, as residents viewed it as a historical landmark that the government should preserve.
Support for the conservation of the trail only grew as time passed, and residents along the route started pushing for a path that covered the historical course. As construction on the first few miles of the trail began, more visitors and locals began visiting the area. This attention urged further development, and the trail continues to grow longer today.
Now, the canal is home to the famous Ohio & Erie Canal Trail. Visitors treat themselves to a scenic view of the canal as they traverse the 85 mile-long path. There are historical landmarks to discover along the way, as well as a beautiful view for bikers, hikers, and even horse riders to enjoy.
Traversing the Towpath Trail
There are several ways to enjoy the scenic views the Towpath, whether your visiting for a day or want to tackle the whole thing. There are several places to start along the route, so it’s best to plan out your trip using a map of Erie Canal or a Cuyahoga River map. Decide on how far you want to travel, then plan your entrance and exit accordingly.
Hiking or jogging on the trail is the best way to take in everything it has to offer. Traversing the 85 miles might be tough on-foot, but you could always complete the trip in stages.
If you’re interested in the history or wildlife in the area, ask some of the rangers for guidance. There are several historic landmarks along the way with their own bit of history to explore. If you love birdwatching, ask one of the guides to give you tips for the best views of the area.
If you want to complete the trail in one journey, biking it is the most efficient way. Towpath bike expeditions allow you to see the entirety of the trail in only two or three days – depending on your speed and endurance. Of course, there’s no rush, as there’s plenty to see and experience on your journey through the history of the Ohio & Erie Canal.
If you plan on taking a bike for your trip, you’ll want to have the best bike for the trip. Eighty-five miles is a long journey if you don’t have the right tires. While you might think a road bike is the best option, you’re probably better off choosing a mountain bike or a hybrid bike.
A lot of the track is covered in gravel, and there are few spots of pure pavement upon which to ride. Even the sections of pavement are prone to rocks and dust that could cause your bike to falter. You might be able to get away with a road bike, but you also risk taking a tumble and ruining your enjoyment. The thicker wheels of hybrid bikes are the ideal selection for the trail, but mountain bikes will also work sufficiently.
Most people who choose to bike the trail will take the railway back. If you’re more of a passive visitor, you can always take the round-trip on the train and get the whole experience in a few hours. There are boarding stations along the route, and you can still call it quits and take the train back for only $3.
Events on the Towpath Trail
There are several events in which you can partake on your trip down the trail. If you’re a local, you can join a hiking, biking, or birdwatching club to get notifications of group events. These are a great way to make new friends that share the same passion for outdoor activities, wildlife, and history. On top of that, there are a couple of yearly events that are worth exploring for further enjoyment.
Questing is an excellent way to turn your Towpath hike into a true adventure. From April 15 to November 15 of every year, park organizers hold questing events that give visitors a trip through time.
The quests are presented as clues throughout the hike, which gives viewers hints as to where the next one will be. They also draw your attention to important landmarks along the way and give you a quick history lesson from the area.
If you follow the clues to the end, you’ll eventually find a handmade Towpath Trail map leading you to the final secret box. Inside the box is a book where you can add your name to the list of people who completed the quest. Additionally, you’ll find a stamp you can use to mark your problem-solving prowess as a souvenir.
There are dozens of quests available, which range from minutes to hours. You can pick one and plan your route accordingly, or take a whole day solving multiple quests along the bike trail.
If you like long runs, the Towpath also plays hosts to a Towpath marathon or two every year. The next half marathon is taking place this upcoming April and features some of the most scenic areas of the trail. There are also several other races that take place along the trail, so you can test your speed and fortitude while you take in a bright part of this nation’s history.
Staying Safe on Your Trip
If you embark on your trip along the Towpath, there are some safety tips you should consider. We’ll skip the simple ones like bringing water and wearing a helmet, as these should be common knowledge to anyone who hikes or bikes on any trail.
Follow these safety tips to make your Towpath trip as fun as it can be:
- Always check for closures along your planned route. Nothing can be as annoying as having your journey cut-short because you forgot to check for short or long-term closures.
- Stay to the right and pass on the left. Walk in a single-file line at all times. There’s often a lot of traffic on the path, so try not to bump into anybody!
- Bikers yield to pedestrians, and everyone yields to horses. Be careful around the horses, as you may startle them if you make too many sudden movements.
- When you’re passing someone on foot or a bike, let them know before you do so.
- In the winter, avoid walking on ski tracks, so skiers have a smooth surface in front of them.
- When you stop on the trail, move to the side or off the trail entirely. Never block the trail to other traffic.
Enjoy Your Adventure
The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath offers a unique mixture of scenic beauty and historical significance. You can explore the wildlife of the area, go for a jog, undertake a bike excursion, or view landmarks on a hike. Currently sitting at 85 miles, the Towpath is getting bigger and bigger as construction continues.
There are many ways to enjoy your adventure down the historic Towpath. If you aren’t from the area, this is one of the most beautiful places in Ohio to explore on a visit. Start questing, hiking, or biking to make memories on the scenic Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath.