Castle Valley TrailCleveland Metroparks
North Chagrin Reservation
Mayfield Heights, Ohio (Cuyahoga County)
From Interstate 90, head south on State Route 91 (SOM Center Road). After crossing State Route 6, North Chagrin Reservation is accessible at Strawberry Lane, on the east side of Route 91.
Take Strawberry Lane until it ends at Buttermilk Falls Parkway. Head South (right) on Buttermilk Falls Parkway and take it until it dead ends at Forest Picnic Area. The trail starts at an information kiosk at the far eastern side of the clearing and parking lot.
Follow the Sylvan Trail to the Castle Valley Trail.
Length: 2.25 Miles
Duration: 2 hours
Castle Valley trail is 2.25 miles and connects Squire's Castle to A.B. Williams woods. This hike starts from the Sylvan Loop trail and heads left into the woods. About 200 feet in, the trail crosses the North Chagrin Bridle Trail and the Buckeye trail. Another 50 feet brings you to a large rock embedded with a plaque dedicating the Arthur B. Williams Woods. This area was once a Beech Maple forest. It still is but now it is degraded because of the influence of poor water management and the impacts of trails being put through the park that backed up water into areas that were previously drier. So, the woods are sort of transitional to a younger successional stage. In spite of the loss of some of the overstory trees due to the moisture changes, the forest is still very diverse.
Squire's Castle, the gatehouse for an estate that was never completed, is the northern terminus of the Castle Valley Trail at North Chagrin Reservation.
The spring wildflowers here are overwhelming in their abundance. Trout Lily, Blood Root, Trillium, and other spring ephemerals line the trail. About 500 feet in, the trail heads down a slope with some wooden stairs and crosses a bridge over a small stream. A bench for a little bit of peaceful rest sits just above the stream. About 1600 feet in, you come to another bridge crossing another small stream. You'll notice in this area, a number of standing dead trees, both American Beech, with their smooth grey bark and Sugar Maple, with a rougher shaggy bark. You'll notice the trees have been picked over by woodpecker, bark chips lying about.
These standing dead trees are important habitat and in a forest like the A.B. Williams woods which is not managed for timber production they're an important part of the habitat that remains intact. You won't find these in forests with timber production because they would have been cut out and salvaged as soon as they died. So it's a different kind of dynamic here. Some may look at this as a waste of good wood but without these standing dead trees Pileated woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and other birds and insects wouldn't have the high quality habitat to inhabit that they do.
After climbing another small rise, the trail dips down into yet another valley and another bridge at about the 1900 feet point. After this bridge head up the slope about 75 ft and the trail veers to the right, and hugs the edge of the ravine for about 30 feet before turning left into the forest again. A few Canadian Hemlocks line the edge of this ravine while the interior of the forest is made up of large Beech trees and an occasional White Oak and Red Oak. Not far after this the trail follows the rim for about 500 feet before entering a grove of younger hemlocks. Deep in the hemlock grove, it cuts sharply to the left at approximately the halfway point of the trail.
At the 7/10 of a mile mark the trail cuts to the left away from the ravine and the woods appear younger in terms of the age of the trees and the density of the understory. But, the forest itself is still very old here, you see a lot of down trees and they're laying in no discernible pattern, so they may have fallen over in time and not been a single storm event. There are dozens of very large overstory trees just lying dead on the ground. Again provides great habitat for woodpeckers and other forest creatures. At about the 1 mile point the trail comes out very close to Ox Lane Parkway. In this area you're walking through more of an edge habitat and you'll notice Stag horn Sumac, the invasive plant Privet, as well as a number of grapevines and more typical field species like Goldenrod. At about the 1 mile mark, the trail hugs the parkway on the left and runs along a deep ravine on the right. The woods here are an interesting mix of Hemlocks, large Beeches, very large Tulip Poplar and Cucumber Magnolia. If you were to pick a dominant, you'd probably have to say its tulip, which is a fast growing tree. This indicates this area may have been cleared more recently than a lot of the forests around us. Even though the trees are a large size, it still may be a younger forest because of a high percentage of light loving trees in this area. At this point the trail crosses Ox Lane and intersects with the Chagrin Valley Bridle trail. After crossing the road, take the left leg of the trail, the right leg is the bridle trail. About 30 feet in from the parkway, at the 1.1 mile marker, the trail veers to the right and follows a ravine that appears to be over 100 feet deep with a beautiful shale-bottomed stream running through it. As opposed to the other side of the parkway, we're now in an older forest dominated by Beech and Hemlocks on the slopes. In this section of trail be careful of tripping on roots.
The heavy use the trail gets has compacted the soil around the roots so there are many exposed roots which can be a tripping hazard. Overtime this over use can and does kill trees. Areas like this are good examples of why certain areas aren't open to the public. One person walking through once in a while doesn't make a difference but hundreds over the course of a century can have a significant impact on the structure of the forest. The trail now descends steadily along a winding path. At the 1.25 mile point, you'll start to notice a subtle change in the composition of the forest. We're starting to see the curling, flaking bark of yellow Birch. A tree that is usually confined to more cool areas. As you descend into this ravine the enclosed nature of the valley creates a microhabitat more reminiscent of cool Appalachian groves where you are more likely to find this tree.
Near this point you'll find wooden stairs embedded in the hillside to help the hiker make it down the steep slope without sliding. At about the 1.3 mile mark, the trail is now wandering through a bottom-land forest and a bridge crosses over a stream. The woods are dominated by Tulip Poplars, Sugar Maples, and an occasional Black Willow, in this bottom-land area. A variety of Wood Ferns, Christmas fern, wild geranium and other forest floor plants line the trail in this area.
At the 1.5 mile mark, look up and to the left and you'll notice a high ridge above you, this is most likely a glacier feature called an Esker. Which is a deposit of gravel left after glaciers recede on both sides, leaving a sharp knife-like edge. This is just one of the many glacial features present and observable in the North Chagrin Reservation.
At about the 1.8 mile mark, the trail intersects the Chagrin Valley Bridle trail and comes very close to a stream. You'll notice on your left an undercut bank; don't get too close to the edge. This undercutting, where the roots of the trees remain but all the dirt is washed away. Is usually caused by two things. One is natural dynamics, streams will naturally do this but it is increased here because of the velocity and change of volume of water due to impervious surfaces in the watershed above. So whatever happens up stream, impacts the stream downstream and into the river and up into Lake Erie. At the 1.9 mile mark, the trail crosses a stream. There are large cut stones crossing the stream. Be careful they can be slippery. The trail passes through River Grove reservable picnic area then past some fairly clean composting toilets before heading back into the forest. The trail in this area can be extremely muddy when wet so use care. Notice here there are many shrubs, raspberries, and roses. This is because of the high light level on the edge of the forest next to the picnic area.
As soon as you're back in the forest, you'll cross a small bridge which has a tributary of the Chagrin River flowing under it. The trail ascends a gentle slope through a grove of wild Black Walnut trees. To the left is a tall slope with Beech at the top, Sugar Maples on the slopes and the slopes are peppered with the green fronds of Christmas ferns. At about the 2.1 mile mark, you'll see the Oxbow lagoons on the left below the bridle trail and across Chagrin River Road.
At this point the trail cuts left and heads up hill. To the left up the hill, you'll notice a stand of Canadian Hemlocks lining the ridge. And at the 2.25 mile mark, you're at the end of the trail with Squire's Castle to the left and a cut-stone bridge over a small stream.