I've admitted to this before, but growing up in northeast Ohio, I was a pretty terrible Ohioan. I basically ignored most of the cool things in my own state (and even in my own country), instead always focusing on getting out.
I went to Cleveland *maybe* once a year. I didn't visit Put-In-Bay for the first time until well after I graduated college. I've never even been to Amish Country.
And, up until I moved to Twinsburg, I had barely set foot in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Shame, shame on me on many counts.
Not only is my home state pretty freaking awesome, but it's one and only national park is also worth way more attention than I gave it in my teens and twenties.
But I'm amending that oversight now, attempting to visit as much as I can in every season.
Ohio's only national park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the only national park in the state of Ohio. It stretches from Cleveland to Akron, following the Cuyahoga River through some beautiful sections of deciduous forest. It was first established in 1974 as the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area and then was designated as a national park in the year 2000.
These days, people head to the park for outdoor activities like hiking and biking, taking advantage of the miles and miles of trails that take you through scenery that varies from marshy wetlands to mossy limestone ledges. There are even a few waterfalls!
Living so close to Cuyahoga Valley National Park these days, I've become quite proud and protective of it. My boyfriend and I are members of the CVNP Conservancy, and we take our bikes (or our hiking shoes) to the park as often as we can.
And now I'm on a mission to make other people fall in love with the park, too.
Must-dos at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Visiting CVNP so often, I've developed some favorites when it comes to places to see and things to do. Whether it's by car, foot, bike, or train, here are all of my must-dos for a visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park:
Hike Virginia Kendall Ledges
There are miles upon miles of hiking trails within Cuyahoga Valley National Park (over 125 miles of them, according to the National Park Service), but my favorite trail by far is the trail that takes you around the Virginia Kendall Ledges. This 2.2-mile trail is a moderate one, taking you through a forested landscape dotted with gigantic limestone boulders, caves, and mossy cliffs.
This is one of my favorite places in the park to take photos!
Visit Brandywine Falls
There are a handful of notable waterfalls within Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but the most famous is definitely Brandywine Falls. This 65-foot-tall waterfall is easy to reach from a nice parking area via a wooden boardwalk, and is great to see in every season. (Autumn so far is probably my favorite!)
If you're interested in some of the other waterfalls that you have to hike to, I also recommend Blue Hen and Buttermilk falls.
Bike the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail
Since CVNP runs along the Cuyahoga River, this means that the river's history is also now part of the park's history. Back before the days of airplanes and reliable railroads, goods were transported throughout northeast Ohio using a canal system. Today, the path that mules used to use to tow boats up the historic Ohio & Erie Canal in the 1800s has been turned into a multi-purpose hiking and biking trail.
The Towpath Trail is one of my favorite places for a bike ride, since it's mostly paved, mostly flat, and so very scenic. Elliot and I like to start in Peninsula for many of our rides since there are some shops and a restaurant near the trailhead.
Shop at Szalay's
If you live in northeast Ohio, chances are you've heard of Szalay's Sweet Corn Farm and Market. During the summer months, this farmer's market is a great spot to either visit on its own, or to ride to on the Towpath. I love the colorful fresh produce and the grilled corn you can pick up for a snack. In the fall, they also put on a great corn maze!
Ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique in that is also has a railroad running through it. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is extremely popular with park visitors, especially during the autumn when the park bursts into fall colors. The railroad operates scenic rides, themed trips (such as their popular Polar Express trip), and even has a Bike Aboard program where you can ride the train one way and bike the other for just $3.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Thinking of heading to Cuyahoga Valley National Park this season? Here's what you need to know before you go:
WHERE: Northeast Ohio, roughly following the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron.
WHERE TO START: The official visitor center for CVNP is at the Boston Store Visitor Center on Boston Mills Road.
WHEN: Cuyahoga Valley National Park is open year-round. Visit in all four seasons to see how different it looks!
HOW MUCH: $0! There is no entry fee to enjoy Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
BIKES?: If you want to hit the Towpath trail but don't have your own bike, check out Century Cycles near the Peninsula trailhead/train depot for rentals.
TRAIN?: The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad departs for scenic rides through the park anywhere from 2 to 4 times per day from June to October. The Peninsula Depot is the most popular place to board the train.
Have you ever been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park? If not, does this post make you want to visit?