Looking for something fun to do in Ohio? The Towpath Trail that follows the Erie Canal runs more than 85 miles and attracts more than 2.5 million visitors annually.
The Towpath Trail is a nature trail that people of all ages and fitness levels can enjoy.
This easy trail is “hard-packed” and level, which means it is fully accessible for people in wheelchairs or parents with strollers. You can also bike and ride horses on the trail.
In the winter, the snow is left on the trail for cross-country skiers. And, every year in the fall, runners hit the trail for the annual Towpath Marathon, which, as of 2018, is celebrating 26 years.
The Towpath Trail is fairly easy to follow, but if you are looking for a Towpath Trail map, check out this mobile-friendly “ribbon” map that is designed to be used on a smartphone.
What Else You Will Find at the End of the Trail
Without the Erie Canal, there would be no Towpath Trail. The trail is called “Towpath” because it follows the route that early canal users would use to “tow” canal boats using mules on land.
The Ohio portion of the Erie Canal was built between 1825 and 1832, and connected Ohio with the eastern part of the United States. Prior to the canal, travel to New York from Cleveland, Ohio would take two and a half weeks over dry land. Despite canal travel still being relatively slow, it could still reduce travel times by half than previous overland excursions.
Canal boats were used to ship goods as well as people. The Ohio passageway was used for almost 100 years, from 1827 to 1913.
Without any sort of engines to drive canal boats, horses and mules (on land) were used to tow the boats along. Thus, a path was needed next to the canal to allow the pack animals to drag the boats behind them.
It is this path, or most of it, that is the basis for the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The trail follows the historic towpath as much as possible, with a few detours when needed for safety or logistical reasons, as time has erased some of the original pathways.
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park
A good portion of the Towpath Trail runs through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This national park is close to Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. The park is free, and the best part is that the Cuyahoga Valley National Park section of the Towpath Trail is open 24 hours!
So, you can do a Towpath bike run at midnight, provided you wear headlamps and have lights on your bicycles, as the path is unlit.
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park has many interesting canal-related attractions that are accessible from the trail or close by. These include:
The Ohio & Erie Canal has many areas that fell into disrepair after the canal stopped being used. The Beaver Marsh has gone through many incarnations after the end of the canal, from a farm to a junkyard. With the help of the community, who cleaned up the garbage, nature was able to reclaim this area. Beavers moved in, and now a thriving wetland exists where the canal once passed. A boardwalk has been built through the marsh to allow park visitors an opportunity to enjoy the amazing natural scenery.
Canal Exploration Center
This historic building has been a fixture on Lock 38 of the Erie Canal for more than 150 years. This home was purchased by Moses Gleeson in 1837 to take advantage of the vibrant canal traffic. In its various incarnations, the house has been a residence, store, boardinghouse, tavern, and a blacksmith shop. It now serves as a visitor center that offers interactive exhibits about Erie Canal history. You can also buy souvenirs that hearken back to the hey days of the canal.
Alexander’s Mill / Wilson Feed Mill
This historic feed mill, which overlooks the Ohio & Erie Canal, opened in 1855 and still operates today! Originally called Alexander’s Mill, after the original owners Andrew and Robert Alexander, the name was changed to the Wilson Feed Mill after being purchased by Thomas Wilson and his son in 1901. The Wilson family still owns and runs the mill five generations later!
Take a Trip to the Towpath Trail
Whether you live in Ohio or are visiting the Midwest state, you will definitely want to check out the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Open year-round, and in some places, 24-hours a day, this accessible trail is filled with nature and history the whole family can enjoy.