Featuring a scenic river, majestic waterfalls, deep forests, rolling hills, and an abundance of wildlife and plants, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a haven for nature lovers. Despite the park’s close proximity to Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, it feels like a world away. The tranquil and picturesque Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the perfect destination for an outdoorsy trip, including a plethora of spots to go hiking and cycling.
Recently, I took a solo trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and had an absolute blast. I stayed for two nights and would’ve loved to extend my trip for a few more days. There is so much to do, see, and learn about in this beautiful national park.
About Cuyahoga Valley National Park
As the lone national park in the state of Ohio and one of seven in the Midwest, Cuyahoga Valley National Park was first designated as a national recreation area in December 1974 and became a national park in October 2000. The park protects more than 33,000 acres of land along the banks of the Cuyahoga River, however, 2,400 acres remain in private ownership.
Entrance to Cuyahoga Valley National Park is free, and it’s open every day of the year. With its location in Northeast Ohio, the national park is easy to get to. Cleveland, OH is a 30-minute drive away, while Akron is just 20 minutes. And Columbus, OH and Pittsburgh, PA are both under two hours by car.
Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Go for a hike
With over 125 miles of hiking trails, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a great place to visit for avid hikers. There are a variety of trails for all abilities. I was recommended the following short trails from a helpful park ranger at the Boston Store Visitor Center.
The Brandywine Gorge Trail stretches for a mile and a half and joins up with the Stanford Trail. Brandywine Falls is the most famous waterfall in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and is mesmerizing to see. A wooden boardwalk offers a couple stunning viewpoints of the falls, but don’t just walk to the falls and back. Enjoy the entire gorge trail with numerous views of the river, including a part that takes you down by the river bed.
The Ledges Trail is 2.2 miles long with the path hugging stunning ledges most of the way. Along the trail, you’ll see some incredible rock formations, large crevices, and impressive tree roots. At the top of the rocky rim, there is a beautiful open view of the peaceful and scenic surroundings. It’s a moderate hike that connects with a network of trails in the Virginia Kendall Unit, allowing you to easily shorten and lengthen your walk along the Ledges Trail.
Explore the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail
Once upon a time, the Ohio & Erie Canal was used to transport goods throughout Northeast Ohio. In the 1800s, mules used to tow boats along a path that’s now been turned into a hiking and cycling trail. Extending north and south, the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail runs for 87 miles.
If you have a bicycle and are able to transport it with you to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, bring it to cycle along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. However, you can also rent one from Century Cycles, which is conveniently located close to the trailhead in the village of Peninsula. The trail is also accessible to people using wheelchairs and strollers. However, during the winter months, the trail isn’t plowed so people can cross-country ski.
Hop on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Between Independence and Akron, OH, Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad travels through Cuyahoga Valley National Park year-round. There are three-boarding stations: Rockside, Peninsula Depot, and Akron Northside. The railroad offers a variety of excursions, including the classic 3.5-hour round trip journey where you can get on and off to explore. A ticket is $15 and good for one day. You can purchase tickets online or at one of the stations.
I used the “Bike Aboard!” program where you can take the train one-way and ride your bike the other way for just $5. There are additional stops for this program. On top of that, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has beer and wine tasting excursions, themed-events, and Polar Express trips during November and December.
Where to stay in or near Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park has five primitive campsites open from Memorial Day weekend to October 31. Additionally, there are a variety of state parks and other campgrounds in the surrounding area. I stayed two nights in a cozy cabin at Streetsboro/Cleveland SE KOA.
If you’re looking for more luxurious lodging options, Stanford House and the Inn at Brandywine Falls are open year-round and located right in the national park. Both even have hiking trails you can walk to right from your room.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a stunning place to explore and a perfect destination for outdoorsy travelers and nature lovers. Would you like to pay this national park a visit? What would you like to do there?