With many families stuck at home, the idea of a family getaway – ANYWHERE – sounds more and more appealing. Cleveland is easily reachable from the Northeast and Midwest. It is about five hours from Chicago and three hours from Buffalo. With Cleveland hiking and other outdoor activities, an emerging food scene and inexpensive hotels, it is an under-the-radar family vacation destination.
Covid-19 has canceled travel around the world and many of us fantasize about the trip we will finally take when restrictions ease. My first airplane trip in seventh months was to…Cleveland. The main reason: My oldest daughter moved here.
We found many things to do and many ways to explore the outdoors, including Cleveland hiking just minutes outside the city.
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I have been to Cincinnati and Columbus, but never northern Ohio, which feels more like the northeast. The hiking trails didn’t have much elevation, but they had some, along with socially distanced trails and changing leaves.
Cleveland Metroparks and Hiking Trails
Brecksville Reservation, the largest of the 18 Cleveland Metroparks, is the largest park in Ohio. The Buckeye Trail, a 1,444-mile hiking trail that loops around Ohio, passes through Brecksville Reservation. We didn’t hike one of the gorge trails because the creeks were dry, but the Deer Lick Cave trail is a moderate 4.5 mile hike. The loop trail was well marked.
Picnic areas were open, but drinking fountains were turned off.
Although Brecksville Reservation is run by Cleveland Metroparks, it is also part of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The national park has rigorous hiking trails and easier ones like the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail, which is also open to hikers and bicyclists..
The Brecksville Nature Center, the last of Cleveland Metroparks’ original trailside museums, offers outdoor experiences year round. There are family friendly hikes and hikes focusing on wildlife. Preregistration is required.
Other Cleveland Hiking Areas
- Chagrin Falls has beautiful falls. Again, since most of the region experienced drought conditions, we decided to leave this for another time.
- Gorge Metro Park, along the Cuyahoga River, has hiking trails, and ice skating in winter.
- The Ohio & Erie Canal, which connects Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, has a towpath of hiking. There are 87miles of hiking along the Ohio & Erie towpath trail.
Group Hiking: Cleveland Hiking Club
The Cleveland Hiking Club organizes group hikes year round. These hikes range from leisurely to strenuous, and each hiker is responsible for his own food and water. If you’re not good at following trail maps, hiking with a group is a great way to not get lost.
The lakefront Edgewater Park has a beach, hiking and walking trails, fishing areas and a marina. This is a great spot to watch the sunset over Lake Erie.
Public Square hosts outdoor events year round, including art installations, fitness classes and festivals. Winterfest, at the end of November, celebrates the holiday season. It is scheduled for Saturday, November 28. Winterfest also kicks off the outdoor ice skating season, with a rink in the middle of downtown.
The annual winter art and music festival is expanding due to Covid-19. Instead of the usual one-day celebration Brite Winter will offer smaller outdoor programming throughout January, February and March, with visual art and live music.
Outdoor Fun in Cleveland Year-Round
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has free live music in its beer garden in summer, and this year, concerts ran through October. For Covid-19, you had to make a (free) reservation, and the live shows included food and beer trucks, a beer garden, socially distanced outdoor seating and free motorcycle and bicycle parking. It is even pet friendly.
Cleveland Botanical Garden and Holden Arboretum have year round outdoor activities. Northeast Ohio can be quite chilly, so bundle up.
The Cleveland Botanical Garden has a Japanese Garden that is green year round and a Topiary Garden with living sculptures of evergreen and deciduous plants. The Children’s Garden has herb gardens, fish, turtles and frogs and a new, socially distant gnome scavenger hunt.
The Wade Oval, an urban green space between the Cleveland Botanical Garden and the Cleveland Museum of Art, has year-round outdoor events. The ice rink is open December 4 to February 16, 2021. Wade Oval also has an annual Holiday CircleFest. Scheduled for December 6, the festival includes live music, food, crafts, historic displays of holiday toys, and shopping.
The dog friendly, expansive green space run by the Botanical Garden has miles of trails open year round. Hiking here is wonderful as the leaves change colors. If there is snow, you can bring your snowshoes and tromp around. The Canopy Walk and Tower are closed in winter, but the rest of the year they are fun ways to see above the treetops. [Dogs can’t go on these structures].
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
The zoo, open year round, was finishing its Asian Lantern Festival when I visited. This annual evening event attracts crowds but the zoo is so big you can easily stay socially distant. Plus, on some nights the festival is a drive-through event. We bundled up on a crisp fall night and walked to see the lights.
Wild Winter Lights begins November 17 and runs through January 3, 2021. Tuesdays and Wednesdays you can drive through, and Thursdays through Sundays you walk. There is live music, model trains, ice carving, and huge light displays.
Outdoor Dining in Cleveland
Restaurants in Cleveland have limited indoor dining, but many places have outdoor dining with heat lamps. One restaurant we went to even had a basket of blankets for chilly evenings. During Covid-19, plan to BYOB — bring your own blanket — just in case.
Need to Go Inside?
If it’s simply too hot, too cold, too wet or too…quiet? – head to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You need advance tickets now.