You don’t have to travel far to find a trail in Cleveland. Starting right in the middle of the city is the Erie Canal Towpath, which stretches from the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. And surrounding the city is the Metroparks’ Emerald Necklace, a band of parks where you can walk among rivers, cliffs, and waterfalls. Travel a little further and experience the lush forests of Hocking Hills State Park or the recreation-rich Allegheny National Forest just across the border in Pennsylvania.
There’s also no shortage of community to recreate with. You might spot hundreds of cyclists riding the streets on a Friday, a running group at Edgewater, or some folks from a neighborhood climbing gym setting up ropes at Whipps Ledges.
Here we outline our favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors in and around Cleveland, and in all four seasons. Our partner, The North Face, is helping us bring this guide to life with The Cleveland Explore More Challenge, which starts November 14, 2019 (and you’re invited to join the party). Read on below to find out how you can win prizes, find new adventure buddies and most importantly, get outside.
New to Mappy Hour? Join the Cleveland Chapter here.
The Explore More Challenge
The Explore More Challenge, presented by The North Face, is a multi-month challenge that rewards you for going outside with new Mappy Hour friends. Each participating chapter will launch a guide with 10 challenges (see below) that can range from exploring your city to finding further afield outdoor gems in your state. Each adventure, which will be selected by your chapter leaders, will hold a point value. Mappy Hour members will compete to complete the challenges (aka go outside!). The North Face is further supporting this new program with prizes for all chapter members who complete the challenge and an even bigger prize for the first person to complete it in each chapter!
The Cleveland Explore More Challenge Details:
- Our challenge dates run from November 14, 2019 to August 2020. You can complete adventures any time between those dates.
- Get 60 points to complete the challenge and win a prize from The North Face! The first person to 60 will win an even bigger prize from The North Face. If you complete all the challenge items, there’s another reward awaiting you.
- We’ll have a logbook at every Mappy Hour event throughout the year. You just have to come to Mappy Hour to “sign in”. Bring a picture of yourself doing the challenge and your chapter leaders will sign off in the logbook.
- We know that sometimes you miss a Mappy Hour — no worries, you can do an adventure in December and then sign in the following March.
Adventure 1: Bike in Cleveland
Riding a bike on Cleveland streets can be intimidating. Thankfully, Cleveland has an incredible system of bike trails that stretch from the city, through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Akron, and beyond by way of the Ohio and Erie Canal towpath. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Bike Aboard program will give you and your bike a ride for just $5. That means that you can hop on the trail near a station bike 2-25 miles to another station and hitch a ride back to where you started. Need a bike? You can rent one at Century Cycles.
If you prefer to bike in the city, you don’t have to go it alone. Cleveland has an active Critical Mass chapter, which organizes group bike rides leaving from Public Square at 7pm on the final Friday of every month. Each month’s ride ends at a point of interest, like a concert, farmer’s market, or festival.
The Challenge: Take advantage of the Bike Aboard program, or join a Cleveland Critical Mass ride. If you go with the former, the ride between the Canal Exploration Center and Peninsula is breathtaking. (10 points)
Pro tip: The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad also shuttles kayaks.
Adventure 2: Follow the Blue Blazes
Ohio native Emma Gatewood, known affectionately as Grandma Gatewood, became the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 1955. She was also among 34 founders and leaders completing the 20-mile Buckeye Trail dedication hike on September 19, 1959. Since then, the Buckeye Trail has developed into a 1,444-mile loop around Ohio, reaching every corner of the state.
The Challenge: Hike your favorite section of the Buckeye Trail. Plus, 2 points go to the first person who writes us a blog post about their trip. (5 points)
Pro tip: Pay attention to double blazes! Offset double blazes signal an upcoming turn with the upper blaze offset to indicate the new direction, while a double blaze with no offset simply means the trail route may not be obvious.
Adventure 3: Paddle in Cleveland
The Crooked River has come a long way since the infamous river fire that spurred the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency 50 years ago. Now, there are numerous places to put-in along the river. Camp Hi Canoe and Kayak Livery offers rentals with shuttles along a stretch of the upper Cuyahoga, which features white lilies, marshes, and a fun set of rapids.
As the shallowest of all the Great Lakes, Lake Erie can easily get choppy waves in light wind. But on a calm, glass-top day? Nothing beats it. Popular areas to put-in are Whiskey Island and Rocky River Reservation. You can get rentals at Edgewater Beach or 41 North Kayak Adventures in Rocky River Marina.
The Challenge: Paddle any portion of the Cuyahoga River. (10 points)
Pro Tip: While we may get a warm day in March, the water doesn’t get warm until mid-June so make sure to check the temperature of the water while planning your trip. If the temperature of the water and the temperature of the air don’t add up to at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re at risk of hypothermia. Wear a dry suit or wait until it’s warmer.
Adventure 4: From the City to the Slopes
Cleveland may not be known for its skiing, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist…or that you can’t drive a few hours for some nice slopes. Consider Boston Mills and Brandywine to the South or Alpine Valley to the East for a hyperlocal adventure, or venture out to Peek’n Peak (NY), Holiday Valley (NY), or Seven Springs (PA) for a well-deserved weekend getaway.
The Challenge: Go downhill skiing or tubing in or around Cleveland. There are plenty of local spots great for beginners and nearby resorts featuring greater vertical drop for more experienced folks. (10 Points.)
Pro Tip: Check out late-night and beginner specials.
Adventure 5: Find your Crag
Cleveland is a half-day drive from two of the best rock climbing areas in the country: the New River Gorge in West Virginia, and the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. If you’ve been climbing for a while, and haven’t taken a trip to either, we encourage you to find a good crew and make a weekend of it. The Ohio Climbers Coalition has been working hard to develop the Mad River Gorge, which is located just three hours Southwest of Cleveland and features more than 170+ bouldering problems and sport routes.
If you want to stay local, there are plenty of gyms offering bouldering, like Climb Cleveland and NOSOTROS, and top-rope routes, like the Cleveland Rock Gym and Shaker Rocks. After years of advocacy from local climbers, the Cleveland Metroparks recently opened Whipps Ledges in Hinckley Reservation to top-roping and bouldering.
The Challenge: Push yourself to a new crag, wherever that may be. (5 Points)
Pro Tip: Many local gyms have classes for beginners that will teach you movement techniques to get you started.
Adventure 6: Waterfall Weekend in Hocking Hills
No joke – Hocking Hills State Park in the Spring looks like a place where fairies live. With lush greenery, crystal rivers, and waterfalls at every turn, it’s worth the three-hour drive. There are plenty of campsites within and around the State Park. Build a fire and stay a while.
The Challenge: Camp and hike in Hocking Hills State Park (13 points).
Pro Tip: You’re going to pass Grandpa’s Cheese Barn on the drive down. Definitely stop and get some meat, cheese, and fudge for trail snacks.
Adventure 7: Snow Shoe and Cross country ski
Winter is a time for reflection and slowing down. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing give you an opportunity to do just that. Take in mystical views of drifting snow and embrace the peaceful silence as you step or glide through the many trails in the area.
The Challenge: Grab a new Mappy Hour friend for a leisurely stroll or a full-blown workout and keep your eye out for animal tracks! Plus 1 point if you snap a photo of wildlife. (5 points)
Pro Tip: For a view of Lake Erie and the Cleveland Skyline on a clear day, head to the Sharon Conglomerate ledges in the Chapin Forest Reservation. West Siders, try out Rocky River Reservation if you’re looking to stay close to home.
Adventure 8: Allegheny Backpack
Across the state border in Pennsylvania lies Allegheny National Forest, which features a range of recreation opportunities like hiking on the North Country Trail, paddling in the Allegheny River or Reservoir, bouldering, and mountain biking at Jake’s Rocks.
One of our favorite grab-and-go weekend getaways is to do a one-night backpacking loop in ANF. It’s close enough where you don’t have to take a day off work just to drive; if you leave by 7:30 on Saturday morning, you’ll get to the trailhead by about 10:30. It’s also easy going and super serene. Hey, not every trip has to be an intense one. Our favorite trips include the Morrison Hiking Trail for swimming and views.
The Challenge: Backpack in Allegheny National Forest. (13 points)
Pro tip: Know how to hang a bear bag.
Adventure 9: Visit a Nature Preserve
Ohio is full of unique nature preserves that offer spectacular wildlife spotting and quiet refuge. Some have origin stories that begin with industry and end with preservation and rewilding. If you feel like driving a little, Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve is one of a few mixed oak swamps left in Ohio. Right in the city is the Lakefront Nature Preserve, a reclaimed landfill that is now a popular bird watching spot. Terra Vista Natural Study Area, located in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, was formerly strip mined for sand and gravel.
The Challenge: Visit a nature preserve in Ohio. (5 points)
Pro Tip: Bring along a guide to help you identify plants, birds, and amphibians that you may see. We recommend the iNaturalist app or a good, old fashioned field guide. Bonus point if you snag a photo and positively i.d. a species.
Adventure 10: Mural Run
There are plenty of murals in Cleveland. Find them all around town and look into the history of at least one of these spectacular pieces of art…you may be surprised at what you find! Did you know the mural inspired by Cleveland Public Theatre’s Brick City program is one of the largest murals in all of Ohio? Designed by Ananda Nahu you’ll find it along Washington Ave.
The Challenge: Check out these murals and more along this ~4.3-mile running route through the Detroit Shoreway and Ohio City neighborhoods. (5 points)
Pro Tip: The run begins and ends at Platform Beer Co. Finish up the loop and grab a brew.
Pro Tip #2: Cleveland has a robust running community. Check out this (in)exhaustive list of free groups that cater to all levels: Run Wild CLE, Harness Cycle RTB, Black Girls Run CLE, Sole Train, Crooked River Trail Runners, Eat Clean, Run Dirty, No Meat Athlete and the city’s newest group, Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation parkrun!
Bonus Adventure: Give Back
Help strengthen the outdoor community of Cleveland by volunteering at a local non-profit! Whether you’re passionate about working with youth, using your hands to build things or advocating for policy change, you’ll find an organization in Cleveland doing the work. Some non-profits that come to mind include:
- Parkrun Cleveland
- Ohio City Bike Co-Op
- Sierra Club
- Youth Outdoors
- Western Reserve Land Conservancy
- Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park
…but any group that helps protect nature or get more people outside is good by us.
The Challenge: Spend an afternoon, day or weekend volunteering.(10 points)
Pro Tip: A couple of our Mappy Hour monthly meetups feature hands-on volunteer opportunities, like that time we cleaned up a new park with Western Reserve Land Conservancy or beautified our very own Edgewater Beach with Drink Local. Drink Tap. Join us and earn challenge points!
The Cleveland Explore More Challenge
Completed at 60 Points
|Spend the day volunteering||10|
|Follow the Blue Blazes||5|
|Find Your Crag||5|
|Snowshoe or Cross Country Ski||5|
|Visit a Nature Preserve, Positively I.D. wildlife||5, 1|
|Paddle in Cleveland||10|
|BONUS: Get 1 extra point for every time you adventure with a new Mappy Hour friend||1|
|Bonus: Take someone on their first adventure||1|
This Cleveland Explore More Challenge comes from your chapter leaders Tasmin & Lindsey.