If it’s Sunday, it must be time for a hike! And after yesterday morning, spent huddled with my oldest nephew against the frigid wind at the farmers’ market, I felt so relieved that today started off a little warmer and calmer.
My hiking buddy Keith drove while I navigated to Cuyahoga Falls, making a stop first at Trigo’s bakery to surprise my long-time friend Kelly with a quick visit and to stock up on fresh baked goods for our hiking breaks. (I had packed cookies again, but a little baking espionage never hurts when you’re interested in what other bakers are doing!) We then headed south on State Road and cut around to the entrance of Gorge Metro Park for our first hike of the day.
I’ve been looking forward to hiking the Gorge Trail all through the Spree, especially after hiking two other trails around sandstone ledges. This trail was listed as “difficult,” and though it started off as moderately challenging, I knew things might change when I spotted the sign that warns hikers of “primitive” conditions on the trail ahead.
First, the trail grew more rugged. No problem, I can just slow down. Then we reached a bend in the sandstone ledges where the trail seemed to disappear. Keith spotted the yellow blazes painted on several rocks in a jumbled pile, so we slowly found our footing across that obstacle. And then there was the trail market shown above, pointing very clearly to a narrow gap in the ledges. Hmm….
Up we climbed, leaning a little to the left, and we clambered over a few more rocks before finding the trail again. They said this hike would be difficult and challenging, but they didn’t say how much fun it would be!
Eventually the trail twisted around and descended the slope to give us an increasingly good view of the gorge, where the Cuyahoga River tumbled over rocks into frothy, noisy rapids. And as we followed the river back upstream, the noise grew louder until we found ourselves at the Gorge Dam, a longtime feature on this stretch of the river that hides the original Great Falls of the Cuyahoga. (Removal of the dam is being considered, though there are issues to be dealt with before they can take it down. The Summit Metro Parks shared a two-part article about it this fall: read parts one and two here.)
After a substantial tea-and-muffin break (because that trail really provided a workout!), we looped around the park to reach the adjoining Cascade Valley Metro Park for our second hike of the day. Downstream from the Gorge, the Cuyahoga River still runs over some pretty nice rapids through this part of the park, and you can understand why early settlers wanted to harness the river’s power to help them establish businesses and cities.
Though the Spree hike at this park was the Oxbow Trail, I directed Keith to the Overlook entrance for the park so that we could pick up a short, ADA-accessible trail on the way to the “moderate” trail on our list. The paved Overlook Trail took us into the woods, but as soon as we turned onto the Oxbow Trail, the dirt trail started leading us deeper into forested areas and very quickly down a steady slope to the parking area where we should have started.
The trail meandered along the river for a little while before turning and heading up, up, up the hill again. That section took me a while because I was already a bit worn out from the first hike, but Keith is the soul of patience, and it was such a beautiful day I could always claim to be looking at the fall colors. (Right? Do you believe me?)
We rejoined the Overlook Trail just in time to turn onto a wooden deck overlooking the oxbow turn in the Cuyahoga River. From this vantage point we could see the vast swath of fall colors in the park, the sheer cliffs to our side, and the distant State Road bridge that marks a sort of boundary between the two parks we visited today. Looking down on the river from this angle and seeing the rapids here and there, I could almost imagine what it was like for a Native American to paddle a canoe or kayak down this river centuries ago.
Though we had considered attempting another hike in another part of Cascade Valley, after a lunch break we decided to make a quick stop at Stan Hywet for a lazy wander around the gardens before getting back home. That sufficed to help me stretch my legs out a little more, as well as to enjoy beautiful colors under gorgeous blue skies!
We have now hiked 12 of the 14 trails on the Fall Hiking Spree list, so here’s hoping we can finish it off next weekend!