Bob Downing

CONCORD TWP: Big Creek may be the best unknown hike in Northeast Ohio.

The 5.2-mile round trip runs through Lake Metroparks’ Girdled Road Reservation near the Lake-Geauga county line.

The hike begins at 12840 Girdled Road at the north end. It runs through deep woods, climbs two ridges, travels along the valley’s rim, descends to Big Creek, climbs out of the valley and runs through old farm fields to reach the Radcliffe Road trailhead at the southern end.

The route uses part of the park’s Big Woods Loop Trail as well as part of the blue-blazed Buckeye Trail, which stretches 1,444 miles through Ohio.

The hike through the 932-acre Girdled Road Reservation is surprisingly pretty. But it is not easy. You will work climbing hills and ridges.

Departing from Girdled Road, you can make a brief stop at the Valley View Overlook 125 feet above Big Creek, a stream that begins near Chardon and flows north to the Grand River. It provides a great up-high vista of the valley.

Heading south, you walk through woodlands, cross a hemlock-lined ravine on a wooden bridge, ascend a ridge, follow the valley rim and then descend via switchbacks to the stream.

Wildflowers in spring

That’s where Aylworth Creek empties into Big Creek. The bottom lands are widely known for their striking spring wildflowers. You will see hemlocks and yellow birch along the crystal-clear gurgling stream with large glacial boulders.

You will then come across what used to be Camp Mather, an old Boy Scout camp, where the trail splits.

The Buckeye Trail follows an old camp road downstream to state Route 608 via the right fork along the stream.

The left fork leads you to the 2.1-mile-long Big Trail Loop. You can go left (longer) or right (shorter). There is a fairly steep climb out of the valley to the upland woods. That will take you past the Big Creek Ski Area and nearby Big Pond to the Radcliffe Road picnic area.

The Girdled Road Reservation also offers a 1.17-mile pedestrian-only loop at Skok Meadow. Access is off Concord Hambden Road. The trail features a pond and traces the perimeter of the meadow.

The park district has a wilderness tent campsite on Big Creek in the Girdled Road Reservation. It is a backcountry site with no restrooms, and is ideal for people training for long-distance backpacking trips. Advance reservations are required.

The hike offers a bit of Western Reserve history. Girdled Road was the first road in Northeast Ohio, built 100 miles from the Pennsylvania border to the newly established city of Cleveland to the west.

Girdling was the method that was used in the early 1800s by Gen. Simon Perkins to clear the road. First a narrow path was cleared of trees. Then the trees were girdled, stripped of bark all the way around the trunk to cut the flow of nutrients and kill the tree. The dead trees were then removed to widen the road.

French explorers and trappers entered the region before 1700. They had established a trading post at the mouth of Chagrin River by 1750.

After the Revolutionary War, Northeast Ohio was settled by New Englanders. They established farms, villages and commercial operations along the streams.

Big Creek’s tumbling waters saw numerous water-powered mills built on the stream and its tributaries.

Creek forms waterfall

The Cascade Valley of Big Creek got its name from an 85-foot-high waterfall where East Creek drops into Big Creek just north of Girdled Road.

A series of 30 canal locks were once proposed along Big Creek to connect it with the Grand River.

Lake Metroparks purchased the Girdled Road Reservation in 1965. The park is the largest in the park district and with its woodland, meadow and wetland offers the most biodiversity. Audubon Ohio has tabbed the reservation as an Important Bird Area.

The park has 7.8 miles of trails. Hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

To get to the Girdled Road Reservation from Akron, take state Route 8 north to Interstate 271 north to I-90. Proceed east on I-90 to the state route 44 exit. Go south 1.6 miles on state Route 44. Turn left/east on Girdled Road for 3.5 miles. The park entrance will be on the right/south.

For more information, contact Lake Metroparks, 440-639-7275 or 440-358-7275 (visitor services), www.­lakemetroparks.com. For Buckeye Trail information, go to www.buckeyetrail.org or call 740-832-1BTA.

You can also visit the Geauga County Park District’s Big Creek Park north of Chardon. One of the newest additions to Lake Metroparks, it includes a very wild Lake Erie beach.

Lake Erie Bluffs in Perry Township was acquired in 2010 by the park district. It opened to the public in 2012.

The park district later added 460 acres west of the original land, creating a park with 1.6 miles of public Lake Erie beach in Perry and Painesville townships. That expanded park with a trailhead at 3301 Lane Road was dedicated on Sept. 16. It includes significant meadows and wetlands, plus the sandy and cobbled beach.

The original 139-acre preserve is at 2901 Clark Road, between Painesville and FirstEnergy Corp.’s Perry Nuclear Power Plant.

Visit beach at own risk

The park includes beach access. But the 1,300-foot-long beach itself is shallow, perhaps 20 feet, and was filled with lake-tossed driftwood on a recent visit. In fact, the driftwood is everywhere.

You can swim at your own risk. No lifeguards are on duty. You can launch kayaks from the beach but you must carry them 500 yards to the water.

The park also includes a 40-foot-high bluff that rises above Lake Erie and offers up-high vistas. A gravel loop hiking trail stretches 0.57 miles.

Facilities are few: a restroom and a few picnic tables. Additional improvements are planned, especially in the new tract to the west.

Park hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Take state Route 2 to where it ends and becomes U.S. 20 east of Painesville. Proceed east to Blackmore Road. Turn left (north). It dead-ends into Clark Road. Turn right (east). The park entrance will be on your left.

Another pretty spot in Lake Metroparks is called Chair Factory Falls. It is a 30-foot-high waterfall off the park district’s Greenway Corridor in Concord Township.

It is a 0.3-mile walk from the bike-and-hike trail through the forest and into a hemlock-lined ravine to the waterfall on Jordan Creek.

The water tumbles over dark-colored shale. The stream is short, eight miles, and empties into Big Creek.

A mill to make chairs once stood at the site, its lathes powered by Jordan Creek, also known as Gordon Creek. It burned down more than 100 years ago.

The park district acquired the waterfall in 2010 from a donation by Laura MacMillan Crago, Johanna Bates and Julia MacMillan in memory of George V. Bates and Susan Bates MacMillan. It is very close to Interstate 90 and traffic sounds dominate.

Parking is available at Concord Township’s Old Stone School, 7125 Ravenna Road north of Concord-Hambden Road. The waterfall is a half-mile from the parking lot.

The Greenway Corridor stretches 4.8 miles from Painesville to Concord Township. It is a trail dominated by greenery. There is a 200-foot climb from north to south on the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad route. It connects to the Maple Highland Trail in Geauga County that runs to Chardon and beyond.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.