Cuyahoga Valley: Ohio’s Only National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio
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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.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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!

Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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.

Virginia Kendall Ledges

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.

Virginia Kendall Ledges at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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!)

Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Brandywine Falls

If you're interested in some of the other waterfalls that you have to hike to, I also recommend Blue Hen and Buttermilk falls.

Buttermilk Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Standing atop 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.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Towpath Trail in summer

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.

Towpath Trail in CVNP

Towpath Trail in autumn

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!

Szalay's Market in Ohio

Szalay's Sweet Corn Farm and Market

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.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

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.

WHERE TO STAY: The park is large and covers a handful of cities. There are some places to stay within the park, too, though, like the Inn at Brandywine Falls and the Silver Fern Bed & Breakfast.

Have you ever been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park? If not, does this post make you want to visit?

 

Guide to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

 

33 Comments

  • Shannon says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I honestly had no thought or desire to visit Ohio…until last week when my sister and I were exploring our genealogy and found some ancestors that were born there. Now the history, land and historical sights seem like treasure boxes.

  • Ella says:

    Wow, the nature here looks epic!! I’d spend the whole day in awe if I was there 🙂
    Ella recently posted..5 Great Travel Movies To Satisfy Your Wanderlust

  • Darryl says:

    This is encouraging me to look at my home are as a visitor would. We also have a very large Amish community near me.

    I’ve been through Ohio, actually spent a day in Cleveland. Thoroughly enjoyed the R&R Hall of Fame. Didn’t get a chance to go to the Christmas Story house?.
    Would like to go back and see more.

  • Our Wanders says:

    Haha, people usually tend to ignore their own backyard. 😀 We also realize from time to time that ‘Oh my God, how could we have never visited this place though it’s sooo close to us?’. The answer is usually exactly that. It’s close so we can go any time, that’s why we never plan to go… 😀
    Never heard about this park… actually, we don’t really know what’s worth seeing in Ohio either. Glad to read this post!
    Our Wanders recently posted..In The Gardens Of Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

    • Amanda says:

      Yup, that’s so true! But I’m trying to be better about seeing more of my home state (it’s a great way to still “travel” in between trips!).

      And there’s a lot to do in Ohio! 😉

  • Raechelle says:

    I’m so glad you posted this! I spend a lot of time in the park and the Summit County metro parks that are nearby as well. My husband and I like running on the towpath and at Hampton Hills. And Szalay’s in the fall is a must! You’ve reminded me that I need to get there soon for some grilled corn 🙂

  • Lisa says:

    Amanda, I was so excited when I saw this post. I grew up right in middle of Cleveland and Akron, and while my parents always took us biking though the area, I never quite understood how lucky we were to have this beautiful park just a few minutes away. I recently went back to Ohio to see family and realized how beautiful that area is. After your post, I think I have my itinerary planned for the next time I go to visit.

  • Polly says:

    This sounds amazing!

    It’s quite funny as I’m coming at the Midwest from the opposite way – I’m a born and raised east-coaster who left the country for five years and then WILLINGLY moved to Indianapolis. (Cue gasps from all the 20-something Hoosiers trying to escape!)

    I think the Midwest has so much to offer and this is an absolutely amazing example!

  • Dominique says:

    Ha I was the same in terms of exploring my own country. I’m making much more of an effort to explore the Netherlands nowadays. Cuyahoga Valley looks like a gorgeous park, especially the train is something I wouldn’t want to miss!

  • Danny says:

    Ah, such good memories. I used to visit Cuyahoga Valley once a year or so while growing up in Ohio. I’m glad you enjoyed it there, too!

  • Renuka says:

    The park looks beautiful and refreshing! I think most of us bad travelers when it comes to our own backyards. We set out to travel the far-flung places but ignore what we have at home. Like in my case, I visited Taj Mahal just last year and that too when Uttar Pradesh Tourism Board held a travel writers conclave and invited me!

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, it’s so easy to ignore your own backyard, or to keep pushing it off until “later.” But I’ve discovered what a mistake that is! I feel like I’m always traveling now, even when I’m at home, because I’m making it a point to explore more of Ohio whenever I can!

  • Kelsey says:

    Hi Amanda! I tried contacting you via email but it is saying your email address is no longer valid. Please email me at kelsey.matthews@skyscanner.com. Thanks!

  • Rebecca says:

    Ha, I can relate so much. I am the worst Californian! I have been to Italy, how many times? But I have never been to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite (well, I went when I was little, but I don’t remember, so I don’t count it). I have been getting out more in my area, but those are two big ones I still need to hit.

  • Ijana says:

    Dude I’ve been wanting to visit CVNP forever! It fascinated me that in one of the most random and forgotten states in the country there was a national park. Same with Hot Springs and Congaree. Unfortunately living in Las Vegas means Ohio is waaay out of my way…

    • Amanda says:

      I love to brag about CVNP because it’s quite special! Glad to hear it was already on your list! Maybe you’ll just have to plan a special visit to the Midwest. 🙂

  • This looks beautiful! I will admit until recently I didn’t know that Ohio had a national park! We just returned from a trip to the Mighty 5 last week and bought the glossy book to read through on the way home – I can’t wait to visit CVNP!
    Bridget @ A Traveling B recently posted..Best of Belfast

  • We went to a DMB concert at the nearby amphitheater a couple summers ago and also had to check out the National Park – it’s really beautiful, and lots of nice little hikes to check out!

  • Kathleen Hamilton says:

    My husband and I visited Cuyahoga National Park last year on our way back to NJ from Oregon. I was very impressed with the amount of greenery which cooled down the park. We always stop at one Ranger Station in every park we stop in. I do the park passport program which allows you to stamp your book at every park and if you wish you can purchase the stickers for the parks. We are not hikers or bikers but we do drive thru any park we run across. I call Cuyahoga the GEM park. It is truly beautiful to drive through. It is a true GEM to visit.

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