Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Explore the History and Natural Wonders Protected by Ohio’s National Park.
Ohio’s only national park protects roughly 33,000 acres between Cleveland and Akron around the Cuyahoga River and the Ohio and Erie Canal. Cuyahoga Valley National Park began as a National Recreation Area in 1974, but was converted to a national park designation in 2000. It is known for its scenic waterfalls, hiking/running trails and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad running through the national park.
There is no entrance fee. There are activity fees for certain opportunities in the park.
The park lies between Akron-Canton and Cleveland.
Distance from Nearby Major Cities:
Cleveland, OH: 22 miles
Columbus, OH: 129 miles (2.1 hours)
Pittsburgh, PA: 113 miles (2 hours)
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The only covered bridge remaining in Summit County is the Everett Covered Bridge. Crossing Furnace Run, it is a popular area for photography. In the morning, shoot upstream. In the afternoon, shoot downstream. The National Park Service says the light is best between sunrise and 10 AM or after 4 PM.
Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail
The National Park Service has created a 21 mile trail through the park following the Cuyahoga River and the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal. The towpath trail has several trailheads and is popular for jogging, biking and walking.
For those looking to enjoy a portion of the trail, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad might be an option. It operates a variety of trains traveling through the park including the popular Bike Aboard! train (April through October). Annual passes are available.
Cuyahoga Valley is on the migration path of Monarchs heading to the Great Lakes. It takes several generations for the butterflies to travel from central Mexico to the Northern United States and Canada. The Monarch that reaches Cuyahoga Valley is typically the third generation. They arrive starting in late June and lay eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. Milkweed is plentiful in the park and provides the necessary food source for the young Monarch to survive.
Although it takes three generations for the Monarchs to reach the Northern United States, the fourth generation of Monarchs travels the entire distance back to Mexico (2,000 to 3,000 miles) during the fall. To see these butterflies in mid-September, visit fields with the goldenrod and New England aster where they stop to feed. The Cross Country Trail near Pine Hollow and the Terra Vista Natural Study Area are two good places to spend an afternoon watching the butterflies.
The park has a variety of winter activities, including cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, sledding, tubing and snowshoeing. Cross-country skis and snowshoes are available for rental when there is an appropriate amount of snow. This is four or more inches for snowshoes and six or more inches for cross-country skiing. There are more than 40 miles of potential trails ranging from easy to difficult. Sledding and toboggans are allowed at Kendall Hill in Peninsula (off Quick Road). Downhill skiing is available at Boston Mills Ski Resort and Brandywine Ski Resort, with a snow tubing park next to Brandywine. Visitors can also enjoy ice fishing for largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill when the ice is stable over park lakes and ponds. Additional information about these winter activities is available at the Winter Sports Center at Kendall Lake Shelter.
Fishing is permitted in park lakes, ponds and rivers. Areas to try include Armington Pond, Brushwood Lake, Coonrad Farm Pond, Goosefeather Pond, Horseshoe Pond, Indigo Lake, Sylvan Pond and Meadowedge Pond. Handicapped accessible fishing platforms are located at Horseshoe Pond and Kendall Lake. Bass, crappie and bluegill are popular in these waters, with steelhead trout also available in the Cuyahoga River (seasonally). You are not permitted to use live or dead minnows, fish eggs or food. Gas powered boats are also prohibited. An Ohio fishing license is required. For other restrictions, consult with the park brochure on fishing.
This land has been returned to its natural state as wetlands after being drained in the 19th century. More than 240 species of birds have been observed in this wetlands area located along the Ohio & Erie Towpath trail north of the Ira Trailhead. The National Audobon Society has designated it an Important Bird Area. Migrating wood ducks and other waterfowl can be seen in mid-March and late October/November. Migrating songbirds reach the marsh in late April and May. In the summer, wood ducks, tree swallows and the swamp sparrow live in the marsh. Beavers, otters and muskrats can also be seen in the marsh.
Waterfalls, Scenic Overlooks and Hikes
The waterfalls are one of Cuyahoga Valley National Parks top attractions. In 2015, the National Parks Conservation Association’s blog (Park Advocate) named the the park among the top ten for its waterfalls.
The most popular waterfall in Cuyahoga Valley is Brandywine Falls in Sagamore Hills Township. It is a 65 foot waterfall carved by Brandywine Creek. Over the past 300 million years or so, the water has cut away the Bedford and Cleveland shales to form a gorge downstream from the hard top layer of Berea Sandstone. Enjoy the waterfall and gorge via a boardwalk or the boardwalk and stairs. For a longer hike around the area, the 1.5 mile Brandywine Gorge Trail starts at the Inn at Brandywine Falls (a bed and breakfast). The falls is open from dawn to dusk.
Another popular waterfall in the park is the Blue Hen Falls. The 15 foot drop of Spring Creek at Blue Hen is a favorite with photographers and artists. If you continue past the falls and follow the trail (plus three small creek crossings), you arrive at a second waterfall – the 20 foot veil-like Buttermilk Falls is a total 1.2 miles roundtrip from the trailhead. If you stop at Blue Hen Falls, it is a short .5 mile roundtrip from the trailhead. The trailhead parking lot is located on the north side of Boston Mills Road with an overflow lot on the south side.
Besides hiking to a waterfall, there are a number of hikes in the park near scenic overlooks. The Ledges Overlook is perhaps the most popular with a short walk to a west facing rock outcropping for observing sunsets and the valley below. For those interested in a true hike, there is a 2.2 mile loop through the area. The trail showcases the Ritchie Ledges, created over millions of years. There is another short walk to the Tinker’s Creek Gorge Scenic Overlook at Bedford Reservation (different parking area).
For longer hikes to scenic overlooks, try the Buckeye Trail to the I-80 Overlook starting from the Boston Store Visitor Center or the Old Carriage Trail from the Station Road Bridge Trailhead or the Red Lock Trailhead.
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Some Hotels and Other Lodging Options:
There are five primitive campsites available along the Towpath trail. No backcountry camping is permitted.
Due to the proximity to the Ohio Turnpike, Cleveland and Akron-Canton, hotels are plentiful within a thirty minute drive of the park.
Roundtrip Flights to Cleveland:
Other National Park Service Areas in Ohio:
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park: The park preserves the largest ceremonial mound of the Hopewell people as well as various earthworks. The Hopewells lived in the Ohio River Valley about 2000 years ago.
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial: A memorial to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s naval victory in the Battle of Lake Erie against the British in the War of 1812. It is the largest Greek Doric column in the world and contains an observation deck reached by elevator.
Dayton Aviation National Historical Park: This park preserves the lives and legacies of Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright and Paul Laurence Dunbar. The Wrights invented and flew the world’s first successful airplane.
William Howard Taft National Historic Site: Preserves the home of the only person to serve both as President of the United States and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
James A. Garfield National Historic Site: Honors the 20th President of the United States by preserving eight acres include the Garfield home, memorial library, and 1880 presidential campaign office.
First Ladies National Historic Site: This Education and Research Center in Canton, Ohio, tells the stories of the nation’s First Ladies at the home of Ida Saxton McKinley.
North Country National Scenic Trail: A four thousand mile long trail running through seven northern states from North Dakota to New York, including Ohio.
David Berger Monument: A memorial to an American citizen, as well as ten other athletes, killed by the terrorists at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich.