Metroparks Trail Challenge: Kayaking and other water fun on Hinckley Lake

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

Full disclosure: While I have walked the earth for more than half a century, I had never been in a kayak before this experience.

My assigned task to take on the Metroparks 2022 Trail Challenge Presented by Cigna, however, challenged this personal shortcoming. After all, the trail list includes no less than three water routes, so I selected the 1.5 mile Hinckley Lake paddling loop and enlisted my husband's aid for the eighth installment of my ongoing Metroparks adventure. August 11 was the day.

The author and her husband a few minutes before launch.It started from my comfy sofa of all places, where I dutifully got online and reserved a tandem kayak for $22 an hour (single kayaks and standup paddle boards are $20 an hour, and for those with a group of up to 12, a pontoon rental is 90 minutes for $80 plus deposit).

Despite passing clouds, the weather was fair as we pulled into the Hinckley Reservation for our 11:40 a.m. rental slot, but a bit of nervous energy coursed through me just the same. Would we capsize the boat? (Best to leave the phone in the car). Would a dangerous wind kick up and prevent us from getting back to shore? Worse yet, maybe the entire sky would darken around a freak cyclone cloud and suck us up into some terrifying oblivion. The light breeze lapped at the water, mocking me: Come on in already!

We arrived a few minutes early as directed for the safety spiel: no smoking or alcohol, beware the spillway and shallow areas (they're marked), lifejackets are mandatory…. We listened on as our kayak awaited us on the edge of the water, then situated ourselves in the (surprisingly comfortable) seats. Courtesy of a gentle push from a staffer, we were off to explore the compact lake.

For the next 45 minutes or so, we glided along. Paddling and navigating were easy as pie and we were able to get up to a pretty good clip. Our shorts and feet got a bit wet (water shoes or flip flops would be a good choice), but we stayed mostly dry. That said, I was glad to have an extra change of clothes in the car just in case. The tandem kayak unit was solid and stable, but also really fun.

Kids frolic in the wading area near the Hinckley Lake swimming beach as picnickers lounge in the background.It would be a terrific option for anyone wanting to enjoy the lake with a younger tot (Kiddos age three and up are allowed in a tandem, ages 8+ for a single kayak, and 10+ for a standup paddle board. All require an 18+ guardian).

We paddled around the perimeter of the entire lake, and absent any electronics, I'll guess we logged about a mile and half. I loved pulling the paddles from the water, leaning back and just floating around for a few minutes. Cliché or not, the water is blessedly peaceful, and while the lake is on the small side, there was plenty of room to share the water with other boaters and people tending a fishing line.

Hinckley Boathouse is the only Metroparks facility offering rentals in 2022. The season's remaining schedule depends on the weather, but will likely include weekend rentals through September and possibly through the first part of October. Check online for availability.

Those with their own boats are free to launch them here (trolling motors only), or the Metroparks has a number of other launch facilities. For beginners like yours truly, the park recommends Hinckley or Wallace Lake in the Mill Stream Run Reservation. Options also abound on Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River.

The fun but short excursion left us wanting more, so we made our way over to the other side of the spillway—NOT with the kayak!—to scope out the swimming beach. Families and kids were romping around in the inviting water and wading area.

Hinckley Lake spillway beach and swimming area. For those with toddlers who want a lake experience, but don't to want to brave Lake Erie's notorious waves, the manageable Hinckley Lake is an excellent option. The concession area by the beach is closed this season, and while there are goodies for sale at the Boathouse & Store, I was envious of the coolers and picnic baskets and wished we'd packed a lunch.

Suffice it to say that between the water amenities, the absolutely fascinating Worden's Ledges, and the diverse trail circuit in Hinckley Reservation, it is an ideal place to enjoy an old-school day at the park.

As for my silly concerns, none of them came to fruition. No cell phones (or people) went overboard. No malevolent storm systems stymied our fun. To be honest, dear reader, the most challenging part of the proceedings came before we even left the house: wriggling into my new swimsuit.

Some tidbits:
Hinckley Lake was created in 1926 through the “construction of a dam, utilizing 6,000 tons of concrete and steel, situated at river mile 23.16 of the East Branch of the Rocky River.”

• On Saturday, Sept. 24, Hinckley Reservation will host Ledges to Lake Adventure Races, with activities for kids, teams, and adults. Races include biking, running, and kayaking. Fees range from free to $110.

• Just a scant mile, the Whipp's Ledges trail loop leads to an area with an old soul that's been deemed enchanting by some. It's also the only rock-climbing area within the Metroparks, with 30-foot climbing challenges amid ancient Sharon Conglomerate sandstone. Please be careful and follow all safety protocols. This year has seen not one, but two dangerous incidents in the area.

The main entrance to Hinckley Reservation is at 1 Metropolitan Park West (near State Road intersection).

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.