Cuyahoga Valley National Park. (Photo: Melissa Safran)

Why I hiked every trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

words and photos by Melissa Safran

I’ve always been someone who craves big adventures.  

And as someone who grew up in suburban Ohio, I’ve always known that big adventures don’t happen in Ohio. Obviously. Adventure is in the mountains out west or in trips to China. It’s in month-long backpacking trips and cross-country bike rides.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park. (Photo: Melissa Safran)

I love outdoor adventures for so many reasons. It’s the feeling of being away from the hustle of normal daily life. It’s in the people that you adventure with — spending three, four, five hours with dear friends walking and discussing every little thing that’s happening in our lives lately. It’s being the only one out there to feel dusk settling in around the lake. It’s really feeling your heart beat and the cool air sting your lungs. It’s discovering places you didn’t know existed, like the beautiful pine grove on the top of a big climb. It’s feeling super hardcore because you’re outside conquering big goals even though it’s raining or the trail is a sheet of ice. It’s seeing the sun pour through the perfect orange and red autumn leaves and feeling incredible gratitude that you chose to get up from your desk and not miss this. It’s in the experiences that aren’t exactly fun at the time, but that you tell later with deep joy and big laughs, like the time we chose to do a freezing waist-high river crossing in November.

These things didn’t happen in Colorado or Peru or the Alps, or on a road trip or summer-long adventure. I experienced them all in the last three months — right here on the Buckeye trail, at Kendall Lake, in Bedford Reservation, at the Everett Road Covered Bridge, and at Hampton Hills, all less than a 30-minute drive from my home in our very own Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

When I started this little project, I thought setting a goal to hike every trail in the park would just be motivation to be outside more and get some exercise. I’d been dealing with running injuries, and since I wasn’t going to be training for a marathon anytime soon, hiking seemed like a good way to keep moving. 

Cuyahoga Valley National Park. (Photo: Melissa Safran)

My goal of hiking every trail in the CVNP was all of those things. But much more than that, it was the big adventure that I thought I couldn’t have while also holding down a steady job, paying a mortgage, and staying close to family. It was a big adventure right in my own backyard, and for that, I couldn’t be more grateful. Plus, to be honest, there is something pretty nice about an adventure that ends with a hot shower and a good night of sleep in your own bed.

I also love that hiking in the Cuyahoga Valley is such an accessible adventure. You don’t need any special gear or to request time off work. There’s no entry fee and it’s so close to where so many of us live. It’s something you can do alone, with a group of friends or with your kids. And yet it still has so many of the benefits of those “big” adventures — time outside, away from the hustle, and beauty galore.

Hiking every trail has helped me more fully appreciate and celebrate this unique place where we get to live instead of lamenting the fact that all the “big” adventures I’ve dreamed up are elsewhere.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park. (Photo: Melissa Safran)

I encourage you to get outside and take on your own big adventure. Maybe for you that means hiking all 190-some miles of trails in the CVNP. (If you decide to try this, I recommend the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Trail Guide by the Cuyahoga Valley Trails Council — my main resource!). Or maybe it means hiking a trail in the Summit Metro Parks you’ve never visited, or walking a mile on the Towpath.

Whatever challenge excites you, I’ll be cheering you on — because I see now that adventure comes in many forms, and it’s always worth it.

Melissa Safran is a project manager, wedding venue owner, and hiker of as many trails as possible.