A big city is not where one expects to find a United States National Park. Yet, between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio lies 33,000 acres of indigenous plants, wildlife, wetlands and waterfalls providing hikers, cyclists, bird watchers and horse enthusiasts a respite from the city. Cuyahoga Valley National Park was upgraded from a National Recreation Area to a National Park in 1974.
The hundredth anniversary of the National Park System has recently passed. This event inspired many people to set a goal of visiting as many National Parks as possible in a lifetime. For people in the eastern half of the United Stated, Cuyahoga Valley is within a day’s drive, or an easy flight to Cleveland.
The History of Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The park pays tribute to the Ohio and Erie Canal way. Built from 1817-1825, the canals connected New York’s Hudson River with Lake Erie. The canal was the beginning of a national transportation system, creating new opportunities for trade and commerce across the United States.
The Flood of 1913 damaged the canal, making it too expensive to repair. By this time, railroads were expanding, speeding up the transport of goods. The national heritage of the canal system is preserved and remembered through the Towpath Trail. Today, this trail transports hikers, cyclists and horse riders along the old canal route.
The tenth most visited park in the National Park System, more than 2 million local, national and international visitors enjoy the park each year. There is no main gate and no admission ever charged at this park. Parking lots are also free. Because there is no public transportation in the park, a car is a must.
Programs and Activities at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
For an intimate and adventurous family day of hiking and picnicking, the park can be entered from all directions. Check out the map at any trailhead, and you can easily find trails and places to explore on your own. Brandywine Falls was my favorite trail, offering spectacular waterfall views. The trail includes some man-made stairways with sturdy railings where the trail gets steep.
For a full on National Park day, complete with the introductory video and ranger presentations, start at the Boston Store Visitor’s Center. Request the free video when you arrive. The ranger will send you up to the conference room, then push the button to start the video just for you. The video explains some of the canal history as well as the story of how the park became a park. The daily schedule of events will determine the rest of your day.
Restrooms at all trail heads and water fountains at most, make this a very people friendly park to explore. In addition, 125 miles of trails mean plenty of options for hikers of all levels.
Five bike trails throughout the park provide opportunity for bikers to explore. Many visitors bring their own bikes, but if you need to rent bikes, you will find private bike rental companies located close to the park. The NPS website can recommend the closest places to rent bikes. No bikes are available for rent by the park service.
Volunteers Enhance Your Experience
More than six thousand volunteers donate upwards of 200,000 hours each year in the park. Volunteers keep the trails well maintained and offer a variety of programs. Program schedules change quarterly. They include ranger presentations, the National Parks Junior Ranger program for children, ranger-led hikes, and even free cross-country ski and snow shoeing lessons in the winter, when snowfall reaches 4” or more. Rental rates apply for skis and snowshoes if you don’t have your own.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers audio guided train rides through the park Wednesdays-Sundays in the Summer and Fall. The Park recommends advance purchase of tickets for this popular activity.
The two options for accommodations adjacent to the park are the Inn at Brandywine Falls, a six-room bed & breakfast built in 1848, furnished with Ohio antiques, and offering candlelight breakfasts. The second, Stanford House, provides nine rooms and two shared baths. Making this accommodation great for large families or groups traveling together.
Limited to five primitive campsites, camping is available by reservation from Memorial Day to October 31. No overnight RV parking is allowed. The park website provides a list of camping accommodations at nearby state parks and privately owned campgrounds. The close proximity to Cleveland and Akron makes using affinity programs of your favorite hotel chains in either city is a great way to plan an extraordinary family vacation on a modest budget.
Combining a National Park visit with city experiences, like a Cleveland Indians game, a trip to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, or the Cleveland Museum or Art makes for a diverse and enriching trip marrying nature and culture. At many National Parks, it seems the people have to travel a long distance to see the park. At Cuyahoga Valley National Park, it feels as if the park has come close to the urban dwelling to meet the people.
Read reviews for Stanford House on TripAdvisor, a MilesGeek affiliate.