Great American Road Trip: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Great American Road Trip: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The list of national parks has been growing for over 100 years now, pointing travelers to some of our country’s most beautiful and beloved destinations. One of the newest additions is sandwiched between Cleveland and Akron: Cuyahoga Valley. Designated a national park not too long ago (October 2000), the area draws more than 2 million visitors a year for hiking, off-road biking, bird-watching, camping, kayaking and even golfing.The park is open 365 days a year and the entrance fee is hard to beat (completely free). Below, we’ve pulled together a few highlights to help you plan your trip to Cuyahoga Valley.

When To Go

Every season brings a different look to the park and a different activity to enjoy, so this really comes down to personal preference. Summer is popular, of course, and a great time to explore the waterfalls, wander the trails and do a little catch-and-release fishing in the Cuyahoga River.

Don’t discount winter for a visit, though. When there’s more than 6 inches of snow on the ground, the park rents out winter sports equipment: think snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and ice fishing. But if you ask a local park ranger, we hear they favor autumn, when sweeping views of the valley are transformed with color.

What To Do

Here, it’s a beautiful mix of farmland, forest, river, waterfalls, and rock formations, so there’s no shortage of scenery to behold. Most visitors set off for the hiking trails: the Buckeye Trail is long-distance, occasionally muddy (it crosses several streams) and carries you out to more isolated areas of the park; Ledges Trail offers a 2.2 mile easy hike and an overlook with picture-perfect views across the valley. One of the most popular hikes is the Brandywine Gorge Trail that leads to a stunning waterfall–easily a visitor favorite.

To spot wildlife, head to Beaver Marsh, where you might encounter a great blue heron, wood ducks, otters, and yes, likely beavers. There’s a boardwalk across the marsh, making it easy to venture near the water and all the creatures who love to call it home.

Paddlers can canoe and kayak down the Cuyahoga River for a different way to take in the landscape. Worth noting: the park recommends this only for experienced paddlers, as they don’t actively clear hazards from the river and warn that conditions can fluctuate.

For an in-depth look at the valley, book a seat on the train. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers 3.5 hour excursions all year long, giving you great glimpses of all the natural splendor during the journey. Some of the rides even offer beer and wine tastings, murder mysteries, and fun kids’ themes (Polar Express!).

Good To Know

If you plan to stay overnight, the park has primitive camping for $25 through the end of October (nearby state parks also have campsites) plus two beautifully historic lodging options: The Inn at Brandywine Falls and the nine-bedroom Stanford House.

For those who want to hike, run, or bike long distances along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail but don’t want to make the return journey, you can hop on the train one-way (bike aboard) for just $5. The proper way to flag down the engineer is by waving both (not one!) arms overhead at any of the boarding stations.

And finally, a word to golfers: there are four golf courses within the park. So if hiking and biking aren’t your thing, plan to visit Cuyahoga Valley and tee it up instead.