Words by Matthew Merchant

leaf graphic
Photo by Briana Neal.

Towner’s Woods Park

Kent, Portage County

For the deep-woods hikers, winter-sled enthusiasts and nature lovers.

In brief: Towner’s Woods is the place to go for beautiful lakeside hiking, a sense of mystery and the great sledding during winter.

Towner’s Woods is an out-of-the-way park surrounded in mystery. For anyone looking for a place to get away from the world, this is the place to go. Established on 175 acres of forest, wetlands, meadows and lakefront hillsides, Towner’s Woods has a little bit of everything.

If you head to this park, take a buddy. It is vast, and the woods are dense. Chipmunks and squirrels claim this territory, and they know it. Not that they would attack or anything – they’re more scared of you than you are of them. Downed trees are a common sight along the rough, unpaved trails, and the trails aren’t always marked as clearly as you might think. Be careful as you explore.

Situated alongside the Portage Hike and Bike Trail and next to Lake Pippen, the park contains some very unusual natural and historic features. Most prominently is the Hopewell Mound. When you get to the park, take the main path to the left, formally known as the Lakeside Trail and indicated as such on the trail map. You will pass a gazebo area set into the right-hand hillside, which is popular for wedding photos and ceremonies. Keep walking until you come to the fork in the trail. Taking the left-hand trail will lead to another picnic gazebo as well as the burial mound.

The history of this area is relatively unknown. Supposedly, the Hopewell Indian tribe used the peninsula where the mound is located as a burial and ritual spot. Excavation in 1932 led to the discovery of several Hopewell skeletons and artifacts. There are ghost stories about the mound. I myself have never experienced any paranormal activity, but the area is always eerily peaceful and quiet. With 180-degree views of Lake Pippen and the surrounding area, the top of the mound is an experience to be had.

Follow the Lakeside Trail as it winds its way along the shores. If the weather is nice, you can see across the lake to a small, inaccessible island. The trees along the shore are simply beautiful. Most are naturally occurring, while others were planted in rows along the trail, creating a tunnel effect that leads hikers farther into the park.

Along this trail are sporadic benches if you need a rest, and some of the smaller trails lead off to small picnic gazebos. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed all of the structures at Towner’s Woods when the park was founded in the late 1970s. The wood is old, and moss clings to every visible surface. There are rustic touches to the design, but they are comfortable to use if you want to eat a packed lunch.

The Lakeside Trail will merge with the Brigham Ski Trail. Stay to the left and continue to the Eagle Trail. This is my favorite spot in the park. Up to this point, the boundaries of the park are clearly defined with wire fences and no trespassing signs put up by the city of Akron. Lake Pippen is part of the Akron water supply, so, officials don’t want anyone poisoning the well. The Eagle Trail skirts and crosses the boundary, somewhat official, somewhat off-the-map, and takes adventurous hikers to a lookout point close to the shores. This spot can be so beautiful at sunset, so it’s worth the hike out. Just give yourself time to hike back!

Heading back to the Brigham Ski Trail, you can backtrack to pretty much any spot on the map. The Swann’s Way trail leads hikers to a meadow full of wildflowers and thistles. Emerging from the darker woods, open skies greet you and fresh air fills your lungs. Take a refreshing break on one of the benches or grassy hillsides. The Brigham Ski Trail loops throughout the woods, so if you’re interested in cross-country skiing during the winter months, this is the place to go. You can also head to the designated ski hills. There are two or three main spots in the area that I’d consider to be great spots to hit the slopes. All are located close together within eyesight of the others.

The main sledding hill is on the left if you take the Brigham Ski Trail. This hill is narrow, nestled among the trees. To the right of the trail is a wider, more-open hillside. Dead-ending in the brush along the tree line, this hill could be dangerous if you’re going too fast. Be careful! Smaller hills also are scattered throughout the immediate area along with picnic shelters if you’d like to take a break.

Following the Forest Path trail will lead you back to the parking lot. Throughout the hike, be sure to stop and enjoy the natural sense of the park. Hardly anywhere else can you be so close to campus and feel so far away from civilization. Don’t count on cell service at this park – get connected with nature for a change.

Recommended Equipment:

  • Hiking boots
  • Sled (during winter)
  • Cross-country skis (during winter)
  • Water
  • Picnic lunch (if you’d like)

Directions from Kent:

    Follow Lake Street east until it changes to Brady Lake Road.
    Take a left onto Lake Rockwell Road (near Beckwith Orchards) and stay right/straight onto Ravenna Road when the road splits.
    The park is straight ahead on Ravenna Road by the railroad bridge.

Estimated travel time: 10 minutes.