Named for the twisty Cuyahoga river that runs through the middle of the park (Ka-ih-ogh-ha is the Mohawk word for crooked), Cuyahoga Valley began its park life as an urban National Recreation Area in 1974 and was made a National Park in 2000. It stretches 22 miles between Akron and Cleveland, and has gorgeous landscapes, wetlands and forests, deer, coyote, beaver, otters and over 100 bird species.
But our favorite part of the park was the way the area was and is influenced by people. Its location makes it super accessible for urban dwellers, and its history as the location of the Ohio-Erie Canal means it’s full of history from the development of the area.
For notes on our first visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, go check out this post.
Where Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located:
Cuyahoga Valley is located in northeastern Ohio, between Cleveland and Akron.
Getting to Cuyahoga Valley National Park:
Cuyahoga Valley is one of the most accessible parks in the NPS. It takes about half an hour to get to the park from Cleveland or Akron. Driving is the easiest way to get there and around, but you can also take a bus or train from either city.
Where to stay in Cuyahoga Valley National Park:
There are two lodging options within the park: Stanford House and The Inn at Brandywine Falls.
Stanford House is a historic farmhouse that sleeps up to 30 people. The rental includes the entire house. Make reservations here.
The Inn at Brandywine Falls is a six-room B&B. More info here.
There are also loads of hotel and motel options all around Cuyahoga Valley.
How long to stay in Cuyahoga Valley National Park:
Plan on one to three days.
If you’re just passing through the area, you could stop to check out some of the historical information at a visitor center, or stretch your legs on a short trail. More time will allow you to enjoy multiple hikes, historical buildings and cultural programs.
When to go to Cuyahoga Valley National Park:
Cuyahoga Valley is a true year-round park. Spring brings wildflowers and raging waterfalls. Summer is perfect for wildlife-watching, hiking and paddling the river. The forests burst with colorful foliage in autumn. And in winter, you can snowshoe, sled, tube, cross-country ski or downhill ski.
There are loads of cultural and historical sites near Cuyahoga Valley. Visit First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton or James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, both run by the NPS. Or spend a few days exploring Cleveland—don’t miss the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!
Biking is super easy in Cuyahoga Valley. The Towpath Trail follows the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal. Now it’s maintained as a walking, jogging and biking path. It’s a flat, compacted gravel surface, easy for bikers of all skill levels. You can rent bikes at one of a few shops near the park.
For more of a challenge, mountain bikers can check the several loops in the East Rim Trail System.
Cleveland Metroparks and Summit Metro Parks also maintain trail systems that run through or border the park.
There are 125 miles of hiking trails in Cuyahoga Valley, with a good range of options for wheelchair and stroller accessibility.
The 2.2-mile Ledges Trail is a popular and beautiful option.
The 3-mile trail to the gorgeous little Blue Hen Falls is another great choice for families.
There are around 100 waterfalls in Cuyahoga Valley. Some require a hike to visit, some can be viewed from the road.
The most famous is the 65-foot Brandywine Falls, accessible via a short boardwalk trail.
There are many more falls in the Tinkers Creek Gorge area in the northern section of the park, including Great Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
There are five maintained access points for people who want to paddle the Cuyahoga River. Bring your own gear and be sure to check out river conditions first! There are also a few ponds within the park that are open for paddlers.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is on land taken from the Erie and Kaskaskia people.
Until the establishment of the national recreation area in 1974, the area was occupied by homes, farms, a canal and a railroad.
Learn more about the land’s recent history through hands-on exhibits at the Canal Exploration Center (you can also see a demonstration of a working lock on the canal!). Take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which often features guided tours, themed trips or catered meals on-board.
Cuyahoga Valley is an unusual national park in that it encourages farming within its boundaries. Through the Countryside Initiative, farmers can lease land from the park to farm, abiding by strict sustainability guidelines. The farms host a summer farmers’ market at Howe Meadow.
Visitors can get a taste of 19th-century farm life by visiting Hale Farm and Village ($12/adult, $6/kids.) Tour historic buildings, chat with costumed guides, watch working farm animals and check out demonstrations of blacksmithing, glassblowing and other crafts. The farm also hosts a range of seasonal programs and events. Check out more information here.
Cuyahoga Valley is home to deer, coyote, beaver, otters and over 200 bird species (you can see a database of species here.) The most popular place for wildlife spotting is Beaver Marsh. A large wetland that was formerly a junkyard, Beaver Marsh was reclaimed by beavers and is now home to dozens of species.
Cuyahoga Valley is a paradise for winter sports! From December through February (and sometimes March, depending on the weather), the Boston Mill Visitor Center rents snowshoes and cross-country skis for free! (At the time of this writing.)
You can snowshoe on most of the park’s trails, and there are several maintained trails for cross-country skiing. Check out some trail options here.
Cuyahoga Valley partners with several organizations to host concerts and other cultural events. The park’s conservancy hosts a concert series each year with a range of musical performances, and the Cleveland Orchestra plays in the park each summer.
There’s probably not an easier park to visit with kids than Cuyahoga Valley. There aren’t a lot of extreme sports on offer here, which means that kids can do pretty much anything their grownups are doing.
Especially fun for kids would be a visit to the historic Hale Farm and Village, a demonstration of how canal locks work at the Canal Exploration Center, and a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Be sure to get Junior Ranger activity books from one of the visitor centers, and check the calendar for ranger programs geared toward families.
The following are questions we received from our readers about visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Where can we camp?
Nowhere inside the park! There are several private campgrounds in surrounding towns, but no public land we know of for camping. But there’s always Walmart parking lots in you’re RV-ing!
I lived in Cuyahoga County and didn’t even know that there was a national park. Is it multiple places?
Depending on when you lived there, it might not have been! Cuyahoga Valley became a national park in 2000, so it’s one of the newest in the system :). It’s a long, skinny park, mostly following the old canal. While most of the park is connected, getting around will take you in and out of the park. I-80 passes right over top, and we drove that section many times before we had any idea there was a national park underneath the bridge!
What are the best hikes for a young family, like 3-4 miles?
We love Ledges and Blue Hen Falls, both of which are mentioned above. A walk or bike on the Towpath Trail is also a great choice with kids, and it’s stroller-friendly!
Honestly, most of the trails here would be fine with kids. The bulk of the 125+ miles of hiking here is easy to moderate.
What are the best lesser-known trails? And some good places to just sit and connect with nature?
From our experience (but we’ve only been twice!), many locals use the park for recreation and exercise, but once you get a few miles down any trail, the crowds start to drop off—which is the case with most parks! If you want a little peace and quiet, we recommend choosing a longer trail and/or visiting on a weekday.
We also always recommend getting tips from a ranger at one of the visitor centers. You can tell them what you’re up for and that you’d like something a little off the beaten path, and they always have great advice!
Advice from Our Readers:
“Make sure to look up if the train is doing any exciting events before you get there!”
“Do the ridges trail and go through all the cracks in the rocks. Some are cool paths!”
“Time your trip with a show at Blossom! Beautiful venue.”
“Try getting some Country Maid ice cream after your hike!”
“It’s very different and more urban than most parks, but that’s okay! It’s still pretty.”
“Being from out West, we were surprised that you drive in and out of the park all the time.”
“Visit during summertime and don’t miss Brandywine Falls.”
“Weekend visits: go to Virginia Kendall area. MUCH less crowded than by Brandywine Falls.”
“Visit Beaver Marsh!”
“Stop along the trail at one of the country markets for fresh, local produce.”
“Rent bikes and ride the Towpath Trail to follow the route of the Ohio & Erie Canal.”
“Northern Ohio IS farms. Some think it’s a less epic park but it really showcases Ohioan historical identity.”
“We rode our bikes down the entire Towpath Trail and then we were able to hop onto the train (with the bikes) to hitch a ride back.”
Embrace the urban proximity of Cuyahoga Valley! Learn about its rewildification and its farming and canal history. Take advantage of its cultural programs and farmers’ market. Revel in the wonder of having so much nature and wildlife so close to big cities!
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