Of the trails I have left to explore in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, most are longer and more difficult than the trails I have already checked off my hiking goals list, making my progress on this goal slow considerably. Today’s trail is even more complicated, because I can’t hike it all in one go.
The Old Carriage Trail is a winding 2.5-mile trail off the Towpath between the Red Lock trailhead and the Station Road/Rt. 82 trailhead. To further complicate matters, you can no longer hike the entire trail because the middle section is closed. Three old steel box-truss bridges were used to span the deep ravines along this trail, and at this point all three bridges have been condemned because they are structurally questionable. And since the ravines they cross do not have alternative options for the hiker to cross them, the entire portion between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bridges is off-limits.
Given that this trail lies close to the halfway point between the two Towpath trailheads (on a 2.5-mi stretch of flat trail) — and given my current lack of stamina for super-long hikes — I have to break this trail into two long-ish sections for my own health and sanity.
Once I finished my very short baking to-do list early this morning, I headed over to the Cuyahoga Valley and parked at the Red Lock trailhead, at the south end of this section of trail. I walked about 0.7 miles up the Towpath, past wetlands and a lovely winding stretch of the river, before I reached the sign for the south end of the Old Carriage Trail.
Turning, I followed a surprisingly paved path up a steep hill, huffing and puffing and stopping occasionally, and reached a plateau point overlooking two ravines. An educational sign at this point indicated the presence of ancient native American earthworks (possibly from the Hopewell Era). The trail then followed a narrow ridge between that plateau and the far edge of the valley, offering me some stunning views on all sides.
The trail made a couple of hairpin turns, following those ridge lines, before I reached a point where I could see the first bridge on the trail. I walked as far down the trail as I could, stopping at the metal bars across my end of the bridge, and marveled at the engineering it had taken to create this bridge spanning the valley. Sure, this wasn’t the widest gap ever spanned by a bridge, but with no supporting structure anywhere except for the ends, I could see that I wouldn’t want to get stuck on this bridge if something were to happen to it. (And knowing my fear of heights, I can tell it would have been difficult for me to cross the bridge even had it been open.)
From here I retraced my steps back to the car, making my round trip just a smidgen over 4 miles. According to my map of the trail, the portion of the Old Carriage Trail I have yet to hike is 1.6 mi long, and its starting point lies 1.25 mi from the Station Road Bridge trailhead or 1.1 mi from the Red Lock trailhead. That will make it an even longer hike, so I will definitely have to be prepared for it. And after today’s hike, I know I can do it, even if I have to take my time.
How soon will I be able to check off this trail? I’m not sure yet, but given how much I enjoyed it (even with that steep hill), my guess is that it won’t be long…