One of the lesser-known National Parks in the United States is Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located in Ohio. It is a gorgeous gem, somewhat hidden between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio.
This park is not what one would think of as a typical National Park since it doesn’t have the sweeping views or unique features iconic from the famed parks like Yosemite, but is wondrous and unique in its way.
This National Park is open year-round and always offers plenty of activities for visitors to do.
Things to do in summer
Check out the Boston Store Visitor Center
The Boston Store Visitor Center should be your first stop when you arrive at this National Park. There are multiple scattered throughout the whole National Park, but this one is the park’s primary Visitor Center. It has an interesting location inside the old Boston Store, having been more of a mercantile that served the entire area.
Instead of being located right at an entrance, like many visitor centers, this one is located in the park’s middle. You can pick up free trail maps at the visitor center or check out a short film showing an overview of the park’s history.
Search out waterfalls at Blue Hen Falls
If you start your trip into the park at Blue Hen Falls, your next convenient stop will be at Blue Hen Falls. It is a beautiful 15-foot waterfall that begins the waterfall tour of the park. The trail up to the waterfall is sometimes described as a steep hike up half a mile. However, it is not very difficult and can be done slower if you need it.
Overall, this is a short and very well-maintained trail. Often, the most challenging part is finding a parking space. Get here early enough, and it shouldn’t be too challenging. Wear rain pants if you want to get closer or feel the water once you arrive.
Cycle along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail
Cuyahoga Valley National Park runs along the Cuyahoga River. The river has become an essential part of the park and the life and culture that runs through it. Their history is tied to one another.
If you love to take bike rides, then one path that will reward your efforts year-round is the one along the Ohio and Erie Canal. This path is a towpath that follows along the river. Initially, this path was one the mules would walk as they towed oats down the river. Since the 1800s, it has become a multi-purpose biking and hiking trail.
You can take this trail as fast or slow as you want since it is easier in its overall slope. It is almost entirely paved and mostly flat. Take it as far as you want, although the entire thing runs for 101 miles to completion. Pack up a sleeping bag or a hammock to camp out along the trail for the trip.
Things to do in fall
Go shopping at Szalay’s Sweet Corn Farm and Market
A bit different than a typical activity in a National Park, visiting the Szalay’s Farm & Market is an excellent activity if you need food or supplies while you hike. It is just outside of the National Park in Peninsula, Ohio, within the Cuyahoga Valley.
They have outdoor eateries for their prime produce, or you can collect some and take it home for a snack. They develop an excellent corn maze that makes it even more special for family rides out during the fall. Take along a backpack to load up before leaving.
Hike along the Ledges Trail
The Ledges Trail is perhaps the most popular in the park due to its unique geological features. You might imagine yourself walking along a ledge when you hike this trail. Instead, the ledge is hanging over you along the path.
The rock formations along the trail create these overhanging ledges and divots in the rock that intrigue and engage kids and adults alike. The trail is almost entirely flat and only features a few slopes. There are also shortcuts if you only want to get a taste or don’t have the mobility to go along the entire trail. It is very popular, so be sure to lace up those hiking boots and arrive early.
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Go off the beaten path
During the fall, the forest that surrounds this park begins to wind down for the year. The trees change color, turning from brilliant greens to warm shades of reds, golds, and oranges. Sometimes, it can be difficult to enjoy this beauty when people surround you.
Try to avoid the crowds by getting out of the main area of the park. Ask a park ranger for recommendations on where to go to soak up the park’s beauty without being surrounded by people.
One of their recommendations is often the Boston Run Trail. It is a bit longer but also allows you to get out of the main portion of the park and experience more of the quiet of the forest.
Things to do in winter
Take a ski trip
Some National Parks have to close during the winter since they are so mountainous that the treacherous and icy winter weather makes it too dangerous for visitors. Since Cuyahoga Valley National Park is not situated within a mountain range, it stays open year-round and offers plenty of fun winter activities.
Both downhill skiing and cross-country skiing are available in the park. Take along heated clothing to stay warm in the subzero temperatures the park can experience. A heated vest keeps your core warm while heated gloves keep the exposed hands warmer along the trail.
Go sledding or snowshoeing
Sledding and snowshoeing are two other winter sports that many people enjoy while they adventure around the park. Someone of any age can enjoy them. Winter boots are valuable for these two activities.
One of the best places to go sledding in the park is Kendall Hills. There are multiple parking lots available to sledders. If snowshoeing tickles your fancy more than sledding, try going for a walk along Pine Grove Trail. If you don’t have your snowshoes, don’t worry. You can rent some at the Winter Sports Center during the weekends.
Things to do in spring
Visit Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls is the most notable waterfall within Cuyahoga Valley National park and also the most popular. During the summer months, it is packed with large crowds of people. Visiting the falls during the spring will give you a greater chance of it being less busy.
The other major pro for this waterfall during the spring is how big it gets. The extra water from the snowfall rushes over the edge of this 65-foot waterfall and makes it even more of a spectacle to see. It is also effortless to get to since a wooden boardwalk is not too far from a parking area.
Take a drive along the Scenic Riverview Road
It is possible to take in the views of the park through a large variety of transportation methods. You can hike, bike, ride, or drive. If you want more convenience and control over the pace and the distance, driving along the Scenic Riverview Road gives you that opportunity.
Driving the road is also the best way to do it if you only have a limited amount of time. This scenic drive is outlined in yellow throughout the park and easy to follow no matter where you want to start.
Things to do with kids
Take a train ride
Another way to explore the park that your kids might find more engaging is on the park’s train. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs along the Cuyahoga River and then the old canal. It gives you a similar view to the one you will see if you take the scenic drive or bike along the Towpath Trail, so you can pick your favorite instead of having to fit all the activities into your trip.
This activity isn’t only meant for kids. In fact, they serve alcoholic drinks on board if you want to relax a bit more while taking the view in through your window. It is one of the more unique activities to do compared to other parks.
Watch for wildlife in Beaver Marsh
Beaver Marsh is a swamp-like area that has created the prime environment for wildlife like birds, turtles, and of course, beavers. You can bring a pair of binoculars to enhance the experience even more.
The area hasn’t always been left to its natural marshy state. In the early 19th century, the land was drained by aspiring developers and was home to a dairy farm, an auto repair shop, and a junkyard at different times. Now, it has been returned to a marsh, and wildlife has repopulated the gorgeous area.
Learn more about the historic canals
If you and your kids are interested in the history of National Parks that you visit, check out the Canal Exploration Center. This center is a secondary visitor center in the park and is purposed to cover more of the historical interest.
The canals of old helped guide towboats into smaller townships and developments, bringing them their supplies to survive. Since the Ohio and Erie Canals run through the park, locks worked via elevators scattered throughout the park. Learn more about these systems at the exhibits in the park.
Amanda Williams is a writer, plant-nerd, and outdoor enthusiast. She has traveled extensively, around the U.S., throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Everywhere she treks, she takes time to enjoy the outdoors. John Muir is her hero. She aspires to inspire people to live better as he did.