Claridon Woodlands makes for a great fall hike

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The landscape surrounding the lodge building at Claridon Woodlands offers hues of orange, red and sage green. (photo Julie Geiss)

Usually in the fall we have one last camping trip of the year. Cooler temperatures allowing for blazing campfires and crunchy fallen leaves under hiking boots make our last camping adventure of the year more enjoyable.

However, this year we had commitments that changed our trajectory. Instead of booking a reservation at a campground, we set up camp on our property. The price was right and the packaging was light.

Always eager to explore, we’ve added a few tank trips to our agenda for the month. We traveled a bit north to visit an area known for sugar maple trees.

Ohio typically ranks fourth or fifth in the nation for maple syrup production. On average, maple syrup producers in Ohio together produce 100,000 gallons of maple syrup. The industry brings in $5 million to the state economy. That’s a sweet contribution!

Founded in 1798, the village of Burton in Geauga County, Ohio is America’s quintessential hometown. As with many early Connecticut Western Reserve settlements, it has a public square like many village greens in New England.

The Town Square, which looks more like an elongated oval, was accented by bright red sugar maple trees the day we visited. The color of the leaves was so vivid that the trees almost seemed to be neon or glowing. Our timing was perfect for viewing the fall foliage.

We made a quick stop at a favorite cafe just past the square and continued to our destination, Claridon Woodlands. The Geauga Park District manages over 20 parks. Covering 127 acres, Claridon Woodlands has plenty of space for a variety of outdoor entertainment. Two man-made ponds are surrounded by forested areas bursting with color in the fall.

Claridon wood
Claridon Woodlands has plenty of space for a variety of outdoor entertainment. Two man-made ponds are surrounded by forested areas bursting with color in the fall. (photo Julie Geiss)

pump track

The park has something to offer for all ages. Three easy hiking trails have a combined 2.2 miles. While my daughter and I were walking our dog on the paved trail, my youngest son zoomed past on his mountain bike. It was headed for the pump trail and the single track mountain bike trail.

A pump track is a unique driving experience that features hills and inclines. Riders can complete the circuit without pedaling. Instead, the momentum created on the trail propels the bike forward. The goal is to make continuous loops without pedaling. With the woods as a beautiful backdrop, the mountain bike trail features several banked turns and narrow bridges.

The park also has an entrance attached to the Maple Highlands Trail which covers 21.1 miles through Chardon County to Middlefield. The paved trail crosses two covered bridges and connects to several other parks.

My daughter and I walked along the trail, admiring the beauty of the falling leaves and the peaceful atmosphere. Several cyclists passed after offering us a jovial greeting. Pleasant weather and beautiful scenery have a way of bringing out the best in people.

boulder wall

After biking we headed up to the freeform rock wall. I’ve climbed a rock face before, but this was different. It was a 12 foot freestanding boulder with hand and foot grips of various shapes and sizes. We overestimated our abilities and tried to start in a field that was beyond. Not only were the holds wide apart, but the reverse angle also required a lot of upper body strength.

We were touched when we realized we had to start with the larger woodland creature-shaped grips. I didn’t feel very hardcore hanging onto an oversized dragonfly with my foot resting on a ladybug. It was really hard to pretend that I was an avid climber. At one point I thought I was going to crash to the ground if I lost my grip, but then I realized I hadn’t even climbed two feet.

Next to the rock wall, a natural playground was extremely attractive for the little guests. A rustic log cabin and a stationary canoe are perfect accessories for imaginative play. It is also an ideal resting place overlooking the lake with a view of the lodge as well.

Beautiful landscape

Our wildlife viewing has veered toward the smaller size; chipmunks and squirrels darted among the trees. At one time in history, the area was dense with hardwoods like oak, ash, cherry, and maples. Wildlife at this time included elk, bears, wolves, and even cougars.

Before leaving, we took one last look at the landscape surrounding the lodge building. The panoramic view showed hues of orange, red and sage green. Even the plants were planted with care and purpose.

Bioretention cells are used to keep wet areas and surrounding areas cleaner. The plants in the bioretention cells filter contaminants from the water. Excess nutrients that grow algae are consumed by deep-rooted plants. The clean water can then be reabsorbed into the ground.

The drive home was enjoyable as we admired large Amish farms and pointed out more flamboyant red maple trees. We plan to return soon with the goal of riding the 21 miles of the Maple Highland Trail on our bikes.

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