Sure, Cuyahoga Valley National Park isn't as flashy as The Grand Canyon or Yosemite... and that's a good thing. You don't need to conquer a mountain or have your mind blown to enjoy a National Park. Cuyahoga Valley is all about relaxing in nature, and going back to a simpler time, when life was a little slower... and the region's history as a quiet farm community echoes that. Whether you're taking a scenic train ride through the park, or you're going on a serene hike, you'll definitely leave feeling relaxed and recharged.
Some tips for visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park:
-Most National Parks conjure up images of thousands of acres of pure, untouched wilderness... but Cuyahoga Valley is nothing like that. Meant to preserve fields, forests and streams as well as scenic byways, farmland, historic small villages, and even a railroad, it's a different experience than visiting other parks, but it's just as filled with natural beauty as any other park. Don't be surprised if you find yourself hiking under an interstate overpass or driving through a town as you explore. -The picnicking in the park is incredible, but sadly, you'll have to leave behind that bottle of merlot... alcoholic beverages are banned in the park. -If you decide to fish in the park, you can't eat anything you catch. Also, swimming in Cuyahoga Valley's bodies of water is iffy as well... parts of the park were actually an illegal toxic dump before they were annexed and cleaned up, and they're still working to get conditions back to the way they were. -Cuyahoga is incredibly bike- and pet-friendly, though, especially when compared to other National Parks.
There are about 100 waterfalls in Cuyahoga Valley, and hikes to many of them are quite popular. Buttermilk Falls is one of the more "hidden gem" waterfalls. It's tucked away in a secluded little glen, making it a more peaceful hike. Plus, on the trail out here, you'll pass by the equally lovely Blue Hen Falls!
There's no better way to explore the park than with a cruise on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The 51-mile-long route traverses almost the entire park, and each stop offers something new to see and do. They'll even allow you to bring your bike onto the train (so you can ride your bike into the park and then hop on the train for the return trip), offer cool events like beer tastings, wine tastings and sunset tours, and have a guided audio tour for those looking for some train-ride entertainment. Oh, and their dining car sometimes serves beer. Score!
It's not a vacation in Ohio unless you stop for a photo op on a scenic covered bridge! I'm not joking-- Ohio used to have the most covered bridges in the entire country: about 2,000 at its peak! Today, only a few remain, including the park's Everett Covered Bridge. It was built at some point in the 1870's, allegedly after a local tragedy: John Gilson and his wife tried to cross the stream one winter evening, but he ice and rising waters caused John to lose his footing-- the horse dragged the couple into deeper water. Mrs. Gilson, despite being thrown into the water, was rescued; John wasn't so lucky. The bridge recently underwent repairs to restore it to its original appearance in 1986, and today, it's a safe way to cross the water-- or to just take some pictures!
For a truly unforgettable trip to Cuyahoga Valley, stay at the ritzy Inn At Brandywine Falls. A historic, 1840's farmhouse, the draw of the inn is that it overlooks the park's crown jewel, the Brandywine Falls. Try and book the Simon Perkins room, if you can-- that's the room with the waterfall view-- although all the rooms are perfectly cozy!
Why not catch a concert while visiting the park? The popular Blossom Music Center hosts nationally touring acts (they're booked by Live Nation) on lawn and pavilion seating right in the middle of a forested patch of land in the park. Whether you're there to catch the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra or Blink-182, they offer lots of awesome concerts.
Of course, since so much is made of the history within the park, a trip to Hale Farm & Village is in order. It's a living history village and museum that explores the culture and way of life of the villagers who lived in small towns and on farms in the Valley during the 19th century. Ask questions, watch demonstrations, and soak in the rustic beauty of the old, restored buildings.
A long day of hiking and exploring deserves a treat, and Rosati's Frozen Custard is the perfect place to satisfy your sweet tooth. Their custard is rich and smooth, and they make it fresh in-house. They offer custard on cones, in sundaes, as shakes, and blended with different toppings. Plus, the neon and vintage building will have you feeling all good and nostalgic.
Brandywine Falls is the biggest and most popular waterfall in the park... but with a parking lot right nearby, a hotel on the riverbank, boardwalks with different angles, and tons of trails in the area, it's pretty easy to access and is quite lovely. The 65-foot cascade is definitely a stunner!
One of the best-kept secrets of the park is the Stanford House. Built in 1843, the historic farmhouse was a youth hostel until recently, when it was turned into a B&B. The decor is especially lovely-- it nails the farmhouse chic vibe, and it's all made by a local furniture maker who used recycled wood. Bring your bike-- you're a short ride away from both the park and the quaint town of Peninsula.
The park isn't all towpath trails, waterfalls, and forest... there is also a portion of the park the preserves some stunning sandstone gulches known as Ritchie Ledges. Take the Ledges Trail out here to admire the wild geological phenomenon. Caves, moss-covered cliffs, and dense forests make you feel like you're in the middle of the wilderness!
If you've really worked up an appetite, head into nearby Hudson to chow down at Flip Side. This popular burger joint offers decadent options like truffle fries, kobe beef corndogs, medjool date milkshakes, and, of course, inventive and mouthwatering burgers. It's a relaxed environment where you can hang out, drink some beers, and eat some solid grub!
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Brecksville, OH, US
One of the nicest trails in the park is the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. This route has a long history, and was originally the towpath where mules would tow canal boars filled with goods for trade. It ran from Portsmouth, Ohio, which is located right on the Ohio River, to Cleveland, where goods could be sent all over from Lake Erie. This means the current, restored trail follows the Cuyahoga River almost its whole length (from Independence to Summit County for a total of about 21 miles), and the river offers a cool breeze and lovely views. It's perfect for hiking and biking. It also passes by plenty of visitors' centers and quaint little towns, perfect for exploring. Pro tip: it's especially pretty in the fall!
Not in the mood for burgers or frozen custard? Then how about some pizza? Carmino's is a local favorite. Whether you want a large pie, a chicken parm hoagie, some ziti, taco pizza, or just a pile of breadsticks, Carmino's has you covered.
There's no bad time to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park! Spring and summer offer great hiking and biking weather, fall brings incredible leaf-peeping, and come winter, the park offers sledding, cross-country skiing, and more. Winters do get cold and snowy, though, and can last until March or April, so if you're looking to hike and bike, plan accordingly.