excerpt from 'best hikes near cleveland,' penned by fresh water contributor joe baur

When I pitched my concept for Best Hikes Near Cleveland to Falcon Guides about a year and a half ago, I needed a hook that separated my vision from existing guides. As an urban Clevelander who loves showing off his hometown, the idea came fairly quickly.

Why not get hikers into the city as opposed to encouraging them to flee from it?

This led to the inclusion of seven urban hikes that open the book, which take readers through Downtown, Ohio City, Tremont, Little Italy and Lakeview Cemetery, Forest Hill, Edgewater Park and the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve. What's more, I selected these hikes with a nod toward sustainability, an important concept for many hikers. Each is accessible by public transit or bike for city dwellers, so consider leaving the car at home.

The first seven options give hikers a taste of the heart of Cleveland before moving on to 33 additional hikes that explore Cleveland Metroparks’ Emerald Necklace; various reservations and parks in Summit, Lake and Geauga County; and several within the majestic Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The crème de la crème is an overnight backpacking trip along the Buckeye Trail that ends with a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Below is an excerpt:

Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve Lollipop Trail

Ornithologists, prepare to change your shorts. This urban nature preserve has over 280 bird species in addition to diverse plant and mammal populations. Add the scenic overlook, which offers a beautiful juxtaposition of the city’s modern skyline and traditional manufacturing industry for a hike that’s more than a worthy addition to any Cleveland hiker’s itinerary.

The Hike

What makes a brisk 1.3-mile hike qualify as one of the 40 best hikes near a major city like Cleveland? How about an overlook and scenery you won’t soon forget.

The Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve rightly describes itself as a unique urban wildlife haven on Lake Erie. While you might naturally think 1.3 miles of man-made trails would be moderately interesting at best, the preserve’s "lollipop loop" actually (and surprisingly) yields a substantial amount of diversity and wilderness you wouldn’t expect to find within eyesight of the city.

You begin in front of the Lakefront Metroparks Office, hiking on the mulch trailhead that begins at the northwestern corner of the parking lot. This trail will quickly wind behind the nature center, reaching a metal gate within the first 0.1-mile. Here you can log your name and arrival, an opportunity you won't find at any other trail within this book.

Continuing through the gate, you’ll quickly find yourself immersed in natural surroundings more reminiscent of a backcountry escape than an urban trek. More than 280 species of birds, 29 species of butterflies, 16 species of mammals (red fox, coyote, mink and deer, to name a few), two species of reptiles, 26 plant species, and nine species of trees and shrubs have been identified over time by various researchers. It seems worth noting again that all this takes place just five miles from the city center. The preserve is easily one of the more unexpected gems in a city full of surprises to travelers and locals alike.

Grassy trails take up a majority of the first out-and-back leg that you’ll traverse again upon your return. Before long (this is an incredibly short hike, after all), you’ll arrive back onto mulch-covered trail that amasses to a small hill at the fork in the trail. Ahead lies the loop of the Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve, which can be conquered in either direction. For the purposes of the book, we’re heading counter-clockwise by following the mulch trail northeast back onto mixed trail. This will quickly wind into a straight, northwestern shot toward Lake Erie where you’ll turn left to hike along the coast.

This area, covered in high grasses with a soundtrack of chatterbox birds, will lead to the overlook junction. This is another brief, out-and-back hike to the western corner of the nature preserve and the main reason you’re doing this hike to begin with. Follow signs for the overlook where you’ll be treated to amazing, panoramic views of the Cleveland skyline and Lake Erie. Even better for history and Rust Belt nerds is the noteworthy presence of an old factory standing proudly south as if it’s trying to join the skyline (though in reality the building is northeast of the city). For urbanites, this might be the best overlook in the book.

When you’re done standing in awe, you’ll finish the loop by returning to the overlook junction (again, we’re talking spitting distance) and turning right to head back to the mulch-covered junction where we started the loop. From here, simply repeat the stick portion of the lollipop to wind back to the gate behind the nature center where you’ll be just 0.1 mile from finishing your hike.

In all, you might be a skeptic considering the trail’s meager distance. Perhaps you might want to combine the lollipop with another hike in this book for a more sufficient day’s worth of hiking, but there’s little doubt that you’ll agree that it's one of the 40 best hikes near Cleveland by the end.

Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve

This peninsula comprises approximately 88 manmade acres that over time have become a haven for some of the most diverse species of migratory birds, butterflies and animals in the region. Formerly known as Dike 14, the Port Authority of Cleveland opened this unique piece of urban green space to the public in February of 2012.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for how the land mass has taken shape. They began working on the area in the late 1970s using sediment dredged from the Cuyahoga River. The Army Corps placed the sediment in this area from 1979 to 1999 to preserve the width and depth of the Cuyahoga River’s ship channel used to move goods and raw materials.

Following the closure of the area as a dumping ground to sediment, nature began to take over, resulting in a diverse habitat full of plant and animal life that had the public calling for redevelopment of the site as a nature preserve for hiking and bird-watching. Today, the preserve has come full circle as a stalwart example of the city’s commitment to improving sustainability throughout the region.

Reprinted with permission from Best Hikes Near Cleveland by Joe Baur, published by FalconGuides, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, 2014. The book is available in bookstores across the region and online at Amazon.

Join the author for a meet-and-greet at 7 p.m. on June 23rd at the Rocky River Nature Center of the Cleveland Metroparks.

Joe Baur
Joe Baur

About the Author: Joe Baur

Joe Baur is an author, writer and filmmaker who has worked for a variety of local and national publications including Matador Network, Yahoo! Travel, National Geographic and BBC Travel. In addition to freelance writing, he is the author of Best Hikes Near Cleveland and director of numerous travelogues from across the globe. You'll currently find him working in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica, because spending the first year of marriage where others vacation seemed like a good idea.