Cleveland has a reputation for being all concrete and manufacturing plants on the edge of the lake. The “mistake by the lake” as some would say. But Cleveland is also ringed with an extensive park system, the “emerald necklace” that offers access to beautiful places nearby. All you’ve got to do is seek it out. I’ve made it a practice to be a seeker of beautiful places wherever I go, and this trip to Cleveland wasn’t going to be an exception.
I stayed in a hotel in Independence, largely because it was between places I was going to for business meetings. What I learned quickly was it was also in close proximity to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. There’s a waterfall in this park, Brandywine Falls, that is supposed to be stunning. I didn’t have the time to visit Brandywine on this trip, but will save it for the next one. Instead I looked at smaller falls within 15 minutes or the hotel and found two very close to each other in the Bedford Reservation: Great Falls at Tinker Creek and Bridal Veil Falls. I silently plotted a visit, and when Thursday morning remained open I had my opportunity to see them both.
Waze told me I was 16 minutes from Great Falls, and I made my way there first. It was pouring out, reminding me of visiting the Isle of Skye exactly a year ago with the constant soaking raw rain. And here I was again, chasing beautiful places in soaking rain. I stopped at a store and bought a $6 umbrella that felt like it would fold in half in the first gust of wind. It turned out to be just enough for me to ignore the rain and focus on the task at hand: finding the falls.
Waze sent me to the viaduct instead, and after walking on the paths down to the edge of a long drop to the river I realized this wasn’t the place. Getting my bearings using the park maps I figured out where Waze had steered me wrong and saw that I was actually closer to Bridal Veil Falls and went there next. The benefit of the steady rain was I was joyfully socially isolated. No COVID in the park today, thank you. The mask remained in my pocket. The drawback was nobody to offer recommendations, but heck, I’m an explorer at heart. Go explore.
Bridal Veil Falls was more obvious, with a parking lot and good signage. There’s a boardwalk that helps you navigate the walk down to the falls easily. This makes this site good for all ages. With the stairs it would be challenging for wheelchairs to get all the way to the falls using this path, but there seemed to be an alternative on the other side of the river that might have worked. Bridal Veil Falls was roaring from all the rain, and reminded me of similar falls I’ve visited in Ithaca, New York.
Checking my watch I knew I had time to visit the elusive Great Falls, and reviewed the map again. The problem wasn’t Waze, it was the operator who put Viaduct Park in as the destination instead of Great Falls. As is almost always the case, it was user error and I was the user. A quick drive got me where I needed to be and I took my cheap umbrella for another walk.
If Bridal Veil Falls is deep in the park, Great Falls is on the edge of town. Cleveland Metroparks offers this description of the site: “Great Falls of Tinkers Creek shows the natural beauty and historic relevance to the development of Bedford“. Hint: “historic” and “development”. The falls are beautiful but the site isn’t pristine. There are ruins of an old grist mill on the edge of the falls and graffiti from some misguided soul that ruined a beautiful photo op. Just downstream is a large stone viaduct that used to support trains. These falls had a vibe closer to the Pawtucket Falls in Lowell, Massachusetts. Still beautiful, but more… “industrial revolution“. The rain ensured I had it all to myself, and I was careful with my footing on the wet leaves and mud. Didn’t want to be that tourist who slid into the river with his cheap umbrella and iPhone.
And with that it was time to drive to the airport, only 30 minutes away, but seemingly much further. That’s the benefit of parks like this; you can be deep into natural beauty in minutes. And as I drove past a sea of concrete and steel and asphalt on my way to the rental car drop-off, I was grateful for the reprieve. You never know what the world offers just around the corner until you go look for it.