Special acknowledgments: Eric Oberg, RTC midwest regional director; Brian Housh, RTC policy manager
NOTE: Rails-to-Trails Conservancy urges all individuals seeking trail experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic to practice social distancing at all times and follow the guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local governments. For more information and resources on how to #RecreateResponsibly outside, go to railstotrails.org/COVID-19.
Ohio is a true treasure trove of trails, which wind through national parks, along the lakeshores and waterways, and through the biggest cities in the Buckeye State. Though the state has the fifth-most rail-trails and more than 1,000 miles of completed rail-trail, Ohio has no plans of slowing down; currently, there are multiple trail networks in development and 45 known rail-trail projects underway.
Visitors to the Buckeye State have no shortage of linear places to explore! Check out our list below discussing 10 of our favorites.
Counties: Cuyahoga, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas
Currently spanning 81 miles—from Cleveland, Ohio’s most populated city, to historic Bolivar—the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is an iconic pathway that runs through the heart of a National Heritage Area and is used by some 2.5 million people each year. Once a pathway for mule-pulled canal boats to transport goods and passengers, key visitors along the trail help preserve the cultural, historic and natural legacy of the route. While currently only 81 miles, the trail will eventually extend south to New Philadelphia for a total of 110 miles. The northern section of the trail is a major component of the Ohio to Erie Trail—a 326-mile trail network that will eventually connect Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Starting in Cleveland, the towpath runs south and features two trail bridges over busy intersections as trail users enter stunning Cuyahoga National Park (CNP). Once in CNP, visitors can enjoy tourist attractions such as the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which many opt to take one way and bike the other. After leaving CNP, the trail passes through Akron and, south of the city, becomes a boardwalk across Summit Lake. The southern trailhead is just west of Bolivar where the Zoar Valley Trail is accessible via Fort Laurens Road NW.
Counties: Clark, Clermont, Greene, Hamilton, Warren
The Little Miami Scenic Trail—the quintessence of Ohio rail-trails—spans just over 78 miles, from the outskirts of Cincinnati to Springfield, through abundant state parks and charming small towns and along historical sites. Beginning southeast of Cincinnati, the trail runs north, with the Armleder Park Trail and the Lunken Airport Bike Path nearby. The next few miles offer ample opportunities to stop and relax in greenspaces such as the 127-acre Clear Creek Park. After passing through Terrace Park, Loveland and Morrow, you can make your way to Caesar Creek State Park, which features more than 70 miles of hiking trails, as well as canoe rentals. The remaining 30+ miles of the Little Miami Scenic Trail are filled with natural habitats and connections to additional trails, including the Creekside Trail, Xenia-Jamestown Connector, Prairie Grass Trail, Simon Kenton Trail and Buck Creek Trail. The Little Miami Scenic Trail also makes up the southern leg of the Ohio to Erie Trail.
Counties: Ashtabula, Trumbull
Traveling 43 miles through rural Ohio, the Western Reserve Greenway closely follows the Pennsylvania Railroad’s former branch line, extending just shy of the shore of Lake Erie. Currently, the trail is the longest segment of the 110-mile Great Ohio Lake-to-River Greenway, which will travel south to the banks of the Ohio River in East Liverpool. The northern trailhead is located in Ashtabula, where trail users will cross the historical King Bridge over Clay Street and head to Austinburg. South of Austinburg, the route’s rural surroundings offer opportunities to see a variety of deer, beavers and birds. Continuing into Trumbull County, you’ll encounter one of the best highlights of the greenway—a stone arch bridge over Baughman Creek. The Western Reserve Greenway ends north of Warren, but you can extend the journey a few miles by hopping on the Garret Wonders Bike Trail and heading south into town.
Counties: Cuyahoga, Portage, Summit
One of the first rail-trail conversions in the country, the Bike and Hike Trail follows the corridor of two former railway lines, the Lake Erie and Pittsburgh Railway, and Akron, Bedford and Cleveland Railroad. On the northern end, this 34-mile route mostly borders Cuyahoga National Park and, unlike many trails in the flat Midwest, has dips and rises along the way. Traveling 1.6 miles west from the Alexander Road trailhead, visitors can connect to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which traverses the park. Before entering the southern loop, the trail passes by Brandywine Falls—a beautiful 60-foot cascading waterfall. Once in the southern loop, visitors will pass an observation deck on the Cuyahoga River, which offers stunning scenery as well as opportunities for fishing.
Counties: Holmes, Wayne
Located in northeastern Ohio, in the heart of the state’s Amish country, the Holmes County Trail was the first recreational trail in the country designed to accommodate Amish horse-drawn buggies, which are common throughout the route. Currently open in two disconnected segments, the southern section stretches 7.3 miles between Gann and Glenmont, and the northern section stretches 15.8 miles from Killbuck to Fredericksburg. The western trailhead in Gann connects to the Mohican Valley Trail for another 4.8 miles toward Danville. At the southeastern trailhead, there is a 7-mile gap between Glenmont and Killbuck. In Killbuck, the path travels north and follows the Killbuck Creek, traversing wetlands and long cutoff channels. Arriving in Millersburg, you’ll find a beautifully restored historic train depot—Hipp Station—which serves as the trail’s headquarters. The remainder of the trail passes through picturesque swampland, farm fields and tree-lined streams.
Of note, the trail is a host trail of the developing 3,700-mile Great American Rail-Trail, connecting Washington, D.C., and Washington State.
Once the corridor of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Kokosing Gap Trail now connects the towns of Mount Vernon, Gambier, Howard and Danville, and is a crucial link in the Ohio to Erie Trail through Knox County. With an asphalt surface and park benches every 0.5 mile, the Kokosing Gap Trail is great for all ages and abilities. Starting at the trailhead in Mount Vernon, you’ll travel along the sunken valley of the Kokosing River and cross two meticulously restored former railroad trestles. After crossing the first bridge, the route leads to the Brown Family Environmental Center at Kenyon College, which features a visitor center and a butterfly garden. A bridge in Howard showcases a small tributary that flows into the Kokosing River before the final few miles into Danville. For a longer adventure, you can connect to the Heart of Ohio Trail via the Downtown Connector Trail on the west end in Mount Vernon. On the east end, you can hop on the Mohican Valley Trail after a short gap across Danville.
Built on the former Pittsburgh, Lisbon and Western Railroad line, the Little Beaver Creek Greenway Trail is an important asset to local communities along its route, just as the railroad was 20 years ago. Over its 12.5-mile length, the trail gradually rises about 450 feet as it parallels the Middle Fork of Little Beaver Creek. The route features glacial outwashes, upland fields, mature ravine woodlots and wetland wildlife habitats, as well as historical attractions. Near the northern trailhead in the village of Leetonia, you can visit Beehive Coke Ovens Park, which sits on the remnants of 200 coal-fired ovens built in 1866.
The Little Beaver Creek Greenway is part of two trail networks: the Great Ohio Lake to River Greenway and the 1,500-mile Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, which will connect 51 counties across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York.
Counties: Butler, Miami, Montgomery, Warren
The backbone of the nation’s largest connected paved trail network, the Great Miami River Trail spans 86 miles throughout Ohio’s Miami Valley, connecting four counties in southwestern Ohio.
Beginning just north of Piqua, the trail runs south to Troy and over the Robert J. Shook Memorial Bikeway Bridge, which leads to a waterfront city park. About 20 miles south, the trail enters Dayton through five parks, one island and two trail bridges. The route winds with its namesake river through most of the city, with plenty of chances to stop and take respite. On the west side of Dayton, visitors can connect to the Wolf Creek Trail, which heads northwest to Trotwood, Brookville and Verona. On the north side, the Great Miami River Trail connects to the Stillwater River Bikeway, which is broken into two segments leading north to Shiloh and Englewood. Additionally, in Dayton’s RiverScape MetroPark, the trail intersects with the Mad River Trail, where you can visit the museums and attractions of the National Aviation Heritage Area and the Wright Patterson Air Force Base. The trail is also a host trail of the developing Great American Rail-Trail.
Tucked away in the foothills of Appalachia, the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway is a quintessential rail-trail of Ohio. The trail begins in Athens, passing Athens Community Center and then traveling upon the levee of the Hocking River. The route skirts alongside the campus of Ohio University—including Bob Wren Stadium—and then passes the community gardens of State Street Park. Those who prefer solitude will enjoy the next part of the trail, where the route crosses a bridge over the Hocking River into a quiet forest. Within this rural setting, deer, snakes, herons and many other wildlife species may be found along the trail. Emerging from the forest, you’ll find yourself in the outskirts of yet another small college town, Nelsonville, home to Hocking College. Traveling a few more miles into the city, the trail ends 1 block from the historical town square.
Through the scenic landscape and proximity to picturesque Alum Creek, the Alum Creek Greenway Trail in Columbus transports visitors away from the hustle and bustle of suburban and city life. For the first 7 miles, the trail runs from Westerville to Easton Town Center, where you’ll find shops and restaurants. This section of the trail also passes through Strawberry Farms Park where the route crosses the creek on a double-arch bridge. From there, it passes along the outskirts of Ohio Dominican University. The southern section of the trail travels through Three Creeks Park, which has boat access, picnic areas, walking trails and a connection to the 18-mile Blacklick Creek Greenway Trail.
In addition to serving as a host trail for the Great American Rail-Trail, the Alum Creek Greenway is part of the developing 730-miles-plus Central Ohio Greenways, an ambitious plan to improve connectivity across eight counties in the Greater Columbus region.
Comprising 1,500 miles of completed and developing trails across 51 counties in four states—Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York—the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition trail network aims to turn the region into a premier tourism destination—encouraging exploration of the communities, historical sites, rivers and mountains that encapsulated the heartbeat of America’s industrial revolution.
In Ohio, more than two dozen trails serve as host trails for the developing 3,700-mile Great American Rail-Trail, which will one day connect Washington, D.C., and Washington State. Currently, more than two-thirds of the route, 227 of the state’s 335 Great American miles, are already complete.