Even though the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) is relatively close and covers terrain that has become increasingly familiar to me in my past year of hiking, it still has the capacity to surprise me or to make me see it with new eyes.
I had hiked the Oak Hill trail last fall, enjoying the autumn color and light as well as the mixture of woods and ponds on this relatively easy hike. So I expected the Plateau Trail, a longer and slightly more challenging trail creating an outer loop around Oak Hill, to be similar.
I set foot on the trail around 6 AM, the morning sun slowly dissipating the mist as it warmed the still-chilly air. Passing from the meadow along the parking lot through a tunnel of trees, I stepped into an airy woodland vibrant with green foliage and harmonious bird song. The path meandered for about 3/4 mile before reaching Meadowedge Pond.
Partially covered with water lilies and ringed by cattails, this pond provides home to plenty of frogs and insects, making it a restful and fun place to pause my hike. Though the sun’s rays only touched the treetops, I could imagine the sights and sounds of this little ecosystem on a summer afternoon. Pure bliss!
I headed back into the woods, soon finding the turn for the Hemlock Point side trail. Leading out along a ridge line, this quiet path gave me time to appreciate the morning sun filtered through the feathery hemlock. I also found a bench overlooking the ravine, so I enjoyed my first short snack break of the hike.
Back on the main trail, I followed the path on its modest ups and downs as it twisted and turned for nearly a mile before descending to a path leading to the Valley Picnic Area. The descent was smooth and steady, as expected for a trail that doubles as a cross-country ski trail, but I knew I would head back uphill soon enough.
The climb was as smooth and steady as the descent, and though I had to stop a few times to catch my breath, I made it up with no problems and continued along a long, straight stretch of trail through the woods. Every so often, the character of the woods would change as the predominant species shifted between hemlock and oak and pine and beech — kept the scenery interesting!
After about 1.5 miles, the trail led through a thick, sheltered meadow, then turned and marched smartly along a straight alley of oak and pine trees pointed directly at Chestnut Pond. This smaller pond had its share of water lilies and frogs, too, though its location behind bushes and trees made it a more secluded spot to enjoy the morning.
The last half mile of the trail made for an easy ramble through open woods, bringing me back to the parking lot after just under 3 hours for this 5-mile hike. As with the Oak Hill Trail, I thoroughly enjoyed the terrain and scenery and would rate it as one of my favorite trails in the CVNP.
Only four more trails to tackle in the national park to reach my goal — what wonders will I find next?