From the outside, Cleveland might not strike the typical outdoor enthusiast as a place to immerse in nature. Long-standing yarns and witticisms about Cleveland’s “miserable,” post-industrial struggles and the Cuyahoga River catching fire in 1969—which, incidentally, led to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency—belie the vast natural wealth here.
Cleveland has six lakefront park properties managed by the State of Ohio since the late 1970s, but belong to the City of Cleveland. Today, the parks are managed by the Cleveland Metroparks, who hold a lease agreement with the city to manage the 511 acres along 14 miles of property. What’s more, you’ll find a whole host of outdoor groups—CAMBA, BikeCleveland, Cleveland Touring Club, Hermes, Second Sole, FleetFeet, Roadrunners, Cleveland Plays and so many more—that can keep you plenty busy.
Trail: Two major park systems in the Cleveland area span over 42,000 acres: the Cleveland Metroparks (sometimes referred to colloquially as the “Emerald Necklace”) spans roughly half of those acres, offering adventurers hundreds of miles of walking, hiking, cycling, and limited climbing prospects. Many Metroparks reservations are contiguous to the nearly identically-sized Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the only U.S. national park in Ohio, which envelops landscape between Cleveland and Akron along the Cuyahoga River. But there is plenty beyond Cuyahoga County, too—only a short drive away.
Water: Cleveland also has Lake Erie, the fourth largest of the Great Lakes (by surface area) but also the shallowest, and smallest by volume of them. Erie literally has “100 miles of paddle-friendly shoreline,” as The New York Times proclaimed in 2011; the beautiful connecting Cuyahoga River (the same you read of at the top) has plenty of paddling options as well. Both bodies of water offer a lion’s share of amazing topographical views, with the latter’s canopies of foliage offering stunning views that vary by season.
Rock: While there is plenty of beautiful rocky scenery in the Cleveland area—and certainly most of it is accessible for hiking, trail running and even some quantity of mountain biking exhilaration—there is little in the way of official rock climbing happening in the area. Outside of Whipps Ledges (Hinckley Reservation, Metroparks) where a permit and proof of insurance is required, indoor options like the Cleveland Rock Gym, and the Akron-based Kendall Cliffs are the most challenging options for climbers.