Words by Matthew Merchant
The Gorge Metro Park
Cuyahoga Falls, Summit County
For the adventurer, dog walker, trail runner, hiker
In Brief: The Cuyahoga River has carved out a massive gorge just north of Akron, Ohio, in Summit County. With steep trails and near-vertical cliffs, this park is a hiker’s paradise.
Stepping out of your car at the 155-acre Gorge Metro Park, you won’t immediately be impressed. I know what you’re thinking: this is called a gorge and all you see is the wide, slow-moving Cuyahoga River and a paved path disappearing into some trees. Gorges are supposed to be like dangerous canyons, right? Keep walking, I say. Keep walking.
Just past the main parking lot for Gorge Metro Park is the trailhead to the Gorge Trail, a 1.8-mile, multipurpose path. What begins as a smooth, even surface accessible to anyone (including wheelchairs), quickly turns into steep hills and winding trails through overhanging sandstone outcroppings. The trail passes the main park shelter: a rustic, open-air facility complete with charcoal grills and picnic tables for 60 people, as well as the newly restored fishing pier.
Farther along the trail, the terrain begins to change, at times dropping off into a shear cliff into the mighty Cuyahoga on one side and a steep hillside on the other. Staying on the path is the safest bet, especially for first-time visitors. Never fear, the gorge trail is well-maintained and clearly marked.
The elevation will begin to drop as you continue down the trail and soon, it will seem as if a rushing sound fills your ears. It’s not the whispering wind as it pushes through the gorge, but the sound of water rushing over a dam. That’s right, a dam — the Ohio Edison Dam, to be exact. Built by the Ohio Edison Electric Company in 1912, the massive concrete structure dominates the gorge. A wooden viewing platform and stairs leads down close to the base of the structure, a safe distance away but is still misty. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even clamber down the narrow paths to the old slate riverbed a few feet below.
Most visitors to the park turn around at this point and head back to the picnic shelter. However, the best is yet to come if you’re up for a challenge. The Gorge Trail continues even farther downstream and loops up into the cliff side. I would suggest that if you decide to explore, be extremely careful. The hillsides past the dam are steep and lead straight into the river below. Staying on the trail is enough of a thrill, even for experienced hikers.
On this upper section of the Gorge Trail, you will cross massive side canyons and rivulets with stunning views of the surrounding area and even a cavern. Take the time to read the placards and signs through the park if you are interested in the history of the area. The cave, known as Mary Campbell’s Cave, was named for a pioneer girl who was kidnapped by Native Americans and held captive there in the 1700s. Similar to other parks with cliffs, there is no climbing on the overhanging ledges or pockmarked walls.
When you get back to the picnic shelter, take a moment to catch your breath under the shade of an old oak and watch other visitors walking their dogs or playing with their children. The park is dog friendly; just remember to clean up after your four-legged friend.
If you’re looking for more to do, there is the easier, 1.8-mile Glens Trail, which winds through the Northern section of the park upstream. You will have to cross the street to reach the trailhead, but the path is shaded and is an easy stroll with views of the 100-foot cliffs along the opposite shore of the Cuyahoga and overhanging bluffs above. There is also the Highbridge Trail, which follows the electrical lines to the dam power plant and continues into the adjacent Cascade South Metro Park.
- Tennis shoes or hiking boots
- Fishing rod (only if you want to fish, of course)
Directions from Kent:
- Take Route 59 West to Route 8 South.
Exit at Howe Avenue and take a right onto East Cuyahoga Fall Avenue
Take a sharp right onto Front Street. Head north.
The park is across the bridge to the left.