Metroparks Trail Challenge: A fun, but muddy loop while en route to Deer Lick Cave

Erin O’Brien has accepted the Cleveland Metroparks 2022 Trail Challenge. She will be chronicling her adventures on the trails throughout the year.


It was 34 degrees at 12:35 p.m. on March 8 when my hubby and I ventured out to tackle Deer Lick Loop, my second installment on the Metroparks 2022 Trail Challenge Presented by Cigna.

The trail list designates this as a 3.5-mile adventure in the Brecksville Reservation and recommends starting from the Deer Lick Cave parking area. We opted instead to set out a scant mile north, from the Brecksville Nature Center.

Many parts of the trail meander by bubbling creeks.The connection from there to Deer Lick Loop includes two staircases: 60 steps up and 60 steps down. Add that to a couple of side trips, and we easily logged more than five muddy miles by the time we finished up just shy of 3 p.m.

As was true in my first installment of the challenge, this early March hike unfolded amid late winter's bare trees, exposing cascading waters and rock formations the green leaves of summer will soon obscure. And while the temperature lingered in the mid-30s, we never felt cold, maybe because we were having so much fun.

The semi-rugged trail meanders through thick forest and along high ridges overlooking ravines, as well as lower paths next to gentle creeks. Rocky areas and respectable hills make this trek much closer to a hike than a walk. To help navigate the terrain, rustic pedestrian bridges and stairways pepper the loop like would-be Easter eggs just for hikers, while Mother Nature provides assists all her own by way of stairs fashioned from exposed tree roots.

Like so many of the Emerald Necklace's greenspaces, Deer Lick Loop will have you feeling like you're lost in Blair Witch territory one moment, only to have a car break the spell as it makes its way along one of the park's interior roads. And glimpses of neighboring Sleepy Hollow Golf Course's neatly manicured greens along the western portion of the trail will remind you that this is all in the middle of suburbia.

To get to the Deer Lick Loop from the nature center, it's 60 steps down ...This trail also briefly coincides with the venerable Buckeye Trail, which includes more than 1,400 miles of path circling Ohio from Lake Erie to the Ohio River and back again. And when you happen upon the associated information placard here in Brecksville, you may start to wonder if a more formidable hiking adventure is right for you.

It sure got me thinking about all the trails I've yet to explore in my own back yard, which brings me to a "full disclosure" moment.

I spent the first five years of my life in Brecksville and have lived in Broadview Heights (about six miles from Deer Lick Cave) for the last 30 years, yet this was my first time venturing into the interior trails of the Brecksville Reservation. I am so glad I finally did—better late than never indeed.

Lastly, the loop's namesake, Deer Lick Cave, isn't really a cave at all, but a deep sandstone overhang. The winding trails leading up to and through the feature invite all kinds of exploration, including a path to a lookout point positioned above this small but magical wonderland of jutting rocks and gurgling water. Suffice it to say that for a short day-hike destination, Deer Lick Cave will not disappoint.

The Brecksville Nature Center.Some takeaways:

• Hiking boots are your best bet for this trail, the surface of which ranges from improved dirt to gravel to paving. Whatever your footwear of choice, prepare to get muddy.
• While it might be too much for the tinier tykes, the tween set will love this fun and semi-rugged hike.
• Take a look at the map beforehand and customize your experience by entering the looped trail at one of many picnic and parking areas along the way.
• Fun fact: Brecksville Reservation is home to Wallin Creek, a tributary of Chippewa Creek named in honor of Harold Wallin, who became the Metroparks’ first chief naturalist in 1954, but not before becoming close friends with one of the park's resident owls.

The main entrance to the Brecksville Reservation is at 9000 Chippewa Road, Brecksville, Ohio. The Brecksville Nature Center is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on major holidays.

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.