Cuyahoga Valley: A Guide to Ohio’s Only National Park

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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 only been to the Hocking Hills twice. 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
Station Road Bridge

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.

Cuyahoga Valley: 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
Brandywine Falls

Living so close to Cuyahoga Valley National Park these days, I've become quite proud and protective of it. My husband 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

Things to do 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:

1. 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!

Virginia Kendall Ledges at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The trail here takes you down into a small valley and back up again, ending at an overlook that's a popular spot to watch the sunset.

The hike is moderately difficult and is unpaved and uneven, so be sure to wear proper footwear!

RELATED: The Best Hiking Trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

2. 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 large 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 in Cuyahoga Valley National Park 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

3. 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 restaurants near the trailhead.

Towpath Trail in CVNP
Towpath Trail in autumn

4. 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 up a great corn maze and have tons of pumpkins!

Szalay's Market in Ohio
Szalay's Farm Market

5. 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 $5.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

FAQ about visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Here are some things to know before you visit CVNP:

Where is Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

The park is in northeast Ohio, roughly following the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron.

Where should I start?

The official visitor center for CVNP is at the Boston Store Visitor Center on Boston Mills Road.

When can I visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is open year-round. Visit in all four seasons to see how different it looks!

(Yes, you can even visit in winter!)

RELATED: Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the Winter: Your Ultimate Guide

How much does it cost?

It's $0! There is no entry fee to enjoy Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Can I rent a bike?

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.

How do you take the 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 in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

The park is large and covers a handful of cities; you can base yourself in Akron, Hudson, or Peninsula. There are some places to stay within the park, too, like the Inn at Brandywine Falls and the Silver Fern Bed & Breakfast.

If you're interested in an Airbnb or other vacation rental, check out this cozy cottage in Akron, or this historic house in Peninsula.

Can you camp at Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

There is no camping within Cuyahoga Valley National Park. There are some private and state park campsites within driving distance, though. Refer to this list for suggestions from the National Park Service.

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

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"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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71 Comments on “Cuyahoga Valley: A Guide to Ohio’s Only National Park

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  1. Thanks for pulling together highlights online. There aren’t that many guidebooks out there covering CVNP (will check again before we travel). Looking forward to visiting one of the few driving distance NPs from Chicago.

    I love this park too! FYI the ledges are sandstone not limestone and the towpath trail is crushed stone not paved.

      Parts of the Towpath trail are paved! But you’re right about the ledges – they are indeed sandstone!

    I’m going to hike the Valley late October this year. I am bring my Border Collie with me. Which trails do you recommend for hiking with a dog? Which should we avoid?
    Appreciate your input. I cannot wait to go.

      I know you can take dogs on most of the trails in CVNP, including the Towpath Trail, as long as they’re on a leash. So it just depends on which trails you’re interested in! The Ledges Trail at Virginia Kendall Ledges is my favorite shorter trail, and is fine for dogs. The Towpath Trail is a good option if you want something flat and mostly paved.

    where to stay while making a visit to the park?

      There are two suggestions at the very end of this post that are within the park. Nearby, you could look at towns like Hudson and Twinsburg, or even go as far as Akron or the Cleveland area if you have a car and don’t mind driving a bit.

    My mom always said there was so much to see in Ohio that we didn’t need to travel far away. We would take one day trips on the weekends and see so much! Part of those trips landed us at the CV parks. Now we have taken our kids there. We have done all that you have listed here. I am grateful for the fond memories of riding our bikes up the towpath to see the falls and then resting on the train back to Szalays. I grew up on a produce farm that is no longer operating, so seeing Szalays still prospering warms my heart! We run into so many friends that come there to just relax on a glider and listen to the musicians. Thanks for highlighting our area!

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