Cuyahoga Valley National Park
From hidden waterfalls to scenic train rides, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has something to offer to every visitor.
Designated a National Recreation Area in 1974, Cuyahoga Valley is located just outside Cleveland, Ohio, and is one of the newest additions to the National Park system, achieving the designation in 2000.
The main feature of Cuyahoga is the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, 21 miles of which are located within the park. The towpath follows the historic canal, connecting to trails outside the park, extending to the north and south. The park is also home to over 125 miles of hiking trails and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The CVSR has several stops along the towpath, providing transportation through the valley for hikers, bikers, and visitors looking for a scenic train ride. For train enthusiasts, the CVSR also hosts a working steam engine every year in September, adding some historic charm to the experience.
Cuyahoga is very different from other National Parks I've been to, and I can see why it was originally a National Recreation Area. It lacks the extensive wilderness or monumental natural phenomena found at many of our nation's parks, but makes up for that in accessibility and historic charm.
The Boston Store visitor center is an excellent place to start, centrally located within the park. For more information on the canal, head up to the Canal Exploration Center and catch a demonstration of a working canal lock. The O&E Canal, built from 1825-1827, linked Cleveland to the Ohio river and turned the small settlement into a bustling business center.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park also provides a wide selection of waterfalls to visit. Head to Tinker's Gorge for a short hike to Bridal Veil Falls, where water cuts through shale and sandstone to form a curved cascade reminiscent of a water slide. Cuyahoga's largest waterfall (the second largest in all of Ohio) is Brandywine Falls. A short 1.5 mile loop trail includes the falls and a portion of the gorge cut by its waters. But my favorite waterfall is the small but less visited Blue Hen Falls just a short hike from the road. A sandstone ledge juts out to form a short but picturesque cascade.
A trip to Cuyahoga wouldn't be compete without some biking along the towpath. The trail is level and unpaved, and is the most popular draw of the park. The CVSR offers a service known as Bike Aboard, giving bikers a cheap and easy method to travel along the towpath to avoid making a round trip bike ride, opening up the whole 21 mile path as a relatively easy day trip. Beaver marsh along the path is great for wildlife viewing. Formerly the site of an auto junkyard, the area was was flooded from beavers damming a portion of the canal.
One final highlight of the park is the Ritchie Ledges. A short loop hike explores the 300 million year old sandstone rock formations that tower out of the forest, creating a surreal experience different from the rest of the park. An overlook at the top of the ledges faces west for excellent sunset views over the valley.
Lodging in the Cuyahoga Valley can only be found at the Inn at Brandywine Falls or Stanford House (there's only a handful of backcountry campsites), but there are numerous options outside the park, including campgrounds. Bikers will especially love the accessibility of Cuyahoga's towpath trail, and day hikers can explore the numerous short trails throughout the park without worrying about needing to get to a remote trailhead.
When to Go: Open year round. Spring through fall will provide the best weather for getting out on the trails, with fall foliage peaking in mid October.
Fees: No entrance fees are charged at Cuyahoga.