The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located just south of Cleveland and north of Akron, Ohio. It stretches north-south along the valley of Cuyahoga River flowing from eastern Ohio and emptying into Lake Erie. The park area is 33,000 acres. To put it in perspective, Smoky Mountains National Park area is over 500,000 acres, and Yellowstone – 2.2 million acres. So, Cuyahoga is a relatively small park. There are still enough attractions in the park, that you can fill your schedule of few days to spend there.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an unusual park – a one that has towns in it, and farm fields, mixed with some natural areas with sometimes interesting and sceinc landscape features like waterfalls, rocky ledges, and a great river. It also has a great trail running through the park. The Cuyahoga Valley National Park, however, does not have any accommodations. There is no lodge, nor campground in the park. More about it later…
The Beaver Marsh is located in the southern part of the park, between the Indigo Lake and Ira trailhead along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The marsh can be view from the Towpath boardwalk. For best wildlife viewing, you need to be there in the early morning or late evening.
Brandywine Falls is one of the most popular of park attractions. It is accessible by a boardwalk. There is also a lower deck for a different perspective. Additionally, there is a 1.4 mile Brandywine Gorge Trail. I learned, by experience, that the lower deck is rented, from time to time, to private parties, like for example, for weddings. This makes it inaccessible. So the only view of the falls is between the vegetation from the upper boardwalk.
Additionally, if you want to see the falls like it looks in the park official pictures, visit the park in the Spring, or after a period of heavy rains. I visited the park in September, and you can see that in my image the falls doesn’t look as spectacular as in official park website pictures.
The popularity of the falls, and the proximity of the Metro Park Bike and Hike Trail make the parking lot very busy and often full (in season). Therefore, it is a great idea to visit early or late during the day, and avoid the mid-afternoon time.
The Ledges is a local area of sandstone cliffs and rocky outcroppings. The trails through The Ledges are about 2 miles long. The area is very scenic, providing for some spectacular views. It is also very popular. So, expect it to be crowded at times.
As said on Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley Nat’l Park webpage: “… Steep in spots, this is a hike that makes you think you’re not in Ohio anymore; perhaps somewhere else in the world entirely, surely not the Cleveland-Akron area.”
The Ledges remind me of Hocking Hills area, but at much smaller scale. While still interesting and worth checking out, if you like the sandstone cliffs, visit Hocking Hills State Park in southern Ohio (see my post Amazing Hocking Hills State Park for more info).
There is a 100+ spot parking available in the large lot adjacent to the shelter and trailhead.
Blue Hen Falls
“This 15-foot waterfall is a beautiful hike any time of year.” I would beg to differ. More about it later. To get to the falls you need to hike 1.5 miles (one way) from Boston Mill Visitor Center. Looking at the map, you would think that you can park somewhere along Boston Mills Road and hike a short distance to get to the falls. However, the park website warns that: “Parking outside of designated areas or along the roadway is prohibited. Cars parked illegally may be ticketed and towed.” So, be careful about it and park at Visitor Center.
Now, about the falls being beautiful “any time of year”… I visited Cuyahoga in late September. The conditions were dry. You can see from my picture, that the falls were not much to look at. So, most likely, if you want to see a beautiful waterfall, visit the park after period of Spring or Fall rains. The hike itself is through the woods without any spectacular views…
And even then, this is a dubious attraction, even for Ohio, which has much more spectacular waterfalls in Hocking Hills State Park (see my post Amazing Hocking Hills State Park for more info). Even though those too can be just a trickle in the dry summer.
The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail
“The Towpath Trail is open 24 hours, giving you the chance to explore after dark. Within the national park, the trail is level and hard-packed for people using wheelchairs, bicycles, or strollers. The National Park Service does not plow the trail in the winter to permit cross-country skiing.” This is what the park website says.
To me, this is the greatest attraction of the park. The long scenic trail that has the advantage of have a local train running along it, allowing you to hike or bike one way for a longer distance, and then return to your starting point by train. The train runs from May through October. Schedules is available online at Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s website.
The trail has many access points, and I wrote in more detail about them in my post Biking on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. You can find out where the train stations are by reference the park map. The trail is very popular with cyclists and hikers and the parking lots fill early in season.
The trail, from time to time,offer some magnificent views of the Cuyahoga River.
Activities in the Park
Paddling the river – kayaking and canoeing is allowed on Cuyahoga River in the park. However, there is no rental – you have to have your own equipment. The park map, unfortunately, does not provide the locations of river access points. However, the list is available on their website.
Biking – on the Towpath Trail – as I mentioned earlier, is a very popular park activity. There are also Cleveland Metroparks’ All Purpose Trails available for the same purpose. These are paved trails (Towpath is NOT) and they stretch for 60 miles. The ones that are close to Cuyahoga Valley National Park are Bedford and Brecksville. You can find their maps here.
Hiking – Cuyahoga Valley National Park has over 125 miles of hiking trails. These trails range from almost flat to challenging. Some trails require you to cross streams with stepping stones or log bridges, while others, including the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, are nearly level. A portion of Ohio’s Buckeye Trail also passes through the park.
Fishing – Cuyahoga Valley National Park allows fishing. To find more info visit the National Park Service Fish & Fishing website.
Horseback Riding – Horseback riding is permitted only on trails signed and designated as horse trails. Horses need to be brought in as there are no horse rentals adjacent to the bridle trails in CVNP.
One of the unusual aspects of visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park is that there are no entrance fees. The access to the park is FREE! Also, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is open every day of the year!
The Boston Mill Visitor Center is open most of the year. It’s closed on few holidays. Therefore, check the schedule on the park’s website here . The Boston Mill is located in the center of the park.
Unfortunately, Cuyahoga National Park does NOT offer overnight accommodations including camping. There is camping available in the nearby area. More info about is available on park’s website here.
Making a Cuyahoga Valley area a national park was a stretch. And, maybe there were valid reasons behind it, like trying to protect the land from commercial development. However, don’t expect anything like in the big national parks, or parks out west. In my view, it should have reminded a national recreation area.
However, there are still interesting, albeit very local attractions in the park to explore – The Ledges, Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.
Although, if you live quite a distance from Cleveland, Ohio, I would not make a special trip, just to visit the park. But it would be a prefect place for a day- or two- break, if you travel through Ohio.
The park being located in a very populated area of the country, and also very close to Cleveland, makes it quite popular and, at times, crowded. So, if you are those people who look for solitude, and like to avoid crowds, I would not recommend visiting Cuyahoga in the warm season.
The lack of accommodations in the park, forces you to drive back and forth, if you want to visit for more than a day. In my point of view, this is also a major drawback.