AKRON, Ohio – The pandemic caused such a boom in outdoor activity. Many U.S. paddlesport enthusiasts called 2020 the year of the “yak” — kayak that is.

What You Need To Know

  • Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad‘s Kayak Aboard is part of the new Explorer program

  • The Explorer program is for kayakers, bikers, hikers and runners

  • Board with your kayak at a main station or flag down a conductor at one of the Explorer stations

  • The railroad runs parallel with the Cuyahoga River from Akron to Independence, so paddlers have a number of trip options

Whether you bought a kayak last year to stay active, or have long paddled Ohio’s waterways, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad now accommodates the colorful boats.

Kayak Aboard is part of the railroad’s new Explorer program, which is designed for kayakers, hikers, bikers and runners.

Kayak Aboard is an expansion of the railroad’s popular Bike Aboard program, which over the past several years has enabled people biking the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail to hitch a train ride with their bikes.

“We saw an increase in interest in people bringing kayaks as well as utilizing the Bike Aboard program to hike and run the park,” said railroad spokeswoman Katelyn Gainer. “So with the increased interest, we wanted to offer a program to our guests that would allow them to do that.”

The scenic railroad is the only heritage railroad program in the National Park Service. It aims to provide entertainment and educational programming that enhances accessibility to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  

Several train stations have been designated Explorer Stations, although riders also can board the train with kayaks and bikes at its three main stations at Akron Northside, Independence Rockside and the Peninsula Depot, Gainer said.

Here’s how it works:

  • Check the train schedule and arrive at a main boarding station with your kayak (no canoes). Bike and go to the Explorer car to load your gear or flag down the train at one of the Explorer Stations. When flagging the train, the railroad advises to be sure to wave both arms over your head so the conductors know you need a ride and aren’t just waving.
  • Ride the train to your choice of stop, deboard and paddle, hike or run back to your vehicle.

The train schedule is online or can be downloaded via the park's app on Google Play or the Apple Store.

Tickets for the Explorer program do not need to be purchased in advance.

“One of the great things about this program is you can really make it what you want,” Gainer said. “You can make your own adventure to explore the Cuyahoga Valley National Park — it can be planned out or it can be a little more impromptu.”

The scenic railroad line runs parallel with the Cuyahoga River from Akron to Independence, so paddlers have a number of trip options. Some popular areas to access the river include:

  • Peninsula Station

Access the river from the Lock 29 Trailhead parking lot in Peninsula

  • Boston Station

Access the river from Boston Store Trailhead in the Village of Boston

  • Red Lock Trailhead

Access the river from the south side of the Vaughn Road bridge over the Cuyahoga River

  • Brecksville Station

Access the river via the Station Road Bridge Trailhead

  • Rockside Station

Access the river from the Lock 39 Trailhead in Valley View

Paddlers are responsible for their own safety on the water, and high water levels, log jams, fallen limbs and poor water quality can pose hazards on the river. The park service recommends scouting the course whenever possible before boating, and checking the Cuyahoga Valley National Parks website, which is regularly updated with the local conditions, Gainer said.

For the Explorer program, the railroad offers seasonal passes, which can be used as often as desired from May 1-Oct. 31. Day passes are $10 for a single kayak and $15 for a two-seat kayak and $5 per bike (under 40 pounds). Cash is the preferred way to pay, but cards can be accepted, Gainer said.

The scenic railroad is regulated by Transportation Security Administration and Federal Railroad Administration, so guests, volunteers and staff must continue to wear masks on the train and at all facilities, despite local or state regulations.