Lake County’s Penitentiary Glen park can easily be described as “deluxe”. In addition to being endowed with natural beauty, the park has developed a number of first-rate facilities. If you enjoy hiking, as we do, you’ll also appreciate its trails; they’re both well-marked and well-built.
The odd name, Penitentiary Glen, has nothing to do with a prison. The centerpiece of the site is a 130-foot deep gorge. Settlers in the 1800s gave it this name due to the steep walls of the gorge. It was easy to enter Penitentiary Glen, but extremely difficult to leave.
You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.
— “Hotel California” by the Eagles (1977)
As we drove in, even the parking lot was nicely landscaped. A kiosk supplied information about the park, events, and a map. Nearby were a large nature center, a wildlife center for rehabilitating injured animals, and picnic facilities.
The nature center featured a helpful naturalist, numerous exhibits, a gift shop, meeting rooms, water fountains, and rest facilities. The rest facilities are accessible (via a separate entrance) even when the nature center is closed.
The wildlife center cares for and rehabilitates injured animals. The animals are kept in an area next to the center in large covered enclosures. When we were there, they were mostly caring from injured birds including hawks, and owls.
Nearby are tracks for a miniature steam-powered locomotive. It was not operating the day we were there, but when in operation, visitors may purchase tickets to ride on the miniature train.
The site also features an outdoor amphitheater which is a venue for concerts and plays. For instance, on July 7th there was an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
There are numerous trails that crisscross the park, including a 3 mile segment of the blue-blazed Buckeye Trail. The 424 acre park contains 7.5 miles of trails.
We hiked a couple of the smaller trails including the Gorge Rim Loop trail. This trail skirts the gorge affording scenic views from the rim. An optional side trail descends to the bottom of the gorge. It contains a long series of wide steps, so modern-day visitors are no longer incarcerated. At the bottom, Stoney Creek is visible including a small seasonal waterfall known as Stoney Creek Falls. Once you get to the bottom, there is a barrier that prevents visitors from exploring the gorge by themselves.
Except, for one other place, where the Buckeye Trail crosses the gorge, access to the gorge is limited to the public. The nature center periodically has naturalist led hikes through the gorge. If you are interested, you can contact them for details (see park web site below).
Dogs are permitted at the park. A 3 mile bridle trail is available for equestrians, mountain bikers, and hikers. In the winter time, some trails are open for cross-country skiing.
- TrekOhio: Lake County Parks & Preserves — This is the county where Penitentiary Glen is located; check out this page for links to the official site and for information on nearby parks and preserves.
Address: 8668 Kirtland-Chardon Rd, Kirtland, OH 44094
Geo-Coordinates: N 41° 36′ 44.673″ W 81° 19′ 50.292″