Have you noticed you rarely go when you live near a fantastic place? Although Cuyahoga Valley National Park is in our home state of Ohio, I’m embarrassed to admit that Julie and I have never gone. This fall, we decided to visit Ohio’s only national park and explore everything it offers. We will outline the best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for keeping Miles with McConkey going!
Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail
One of the most extraordinary things in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the Towpath Trail. You can bike, hike, or run along the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal. It is the same path where mules walked, towing canal boats in the 1800s and early 1900s.
The Towpath Trail covers 20 miles within the park and connects to many trailheads for additional exploration. It is the park’s heart, leading to many natural and historic sites.
The trail is level, consisting of compacted, crushed limestone. It is open 24 hours and available to:
The Towpath Trail is an enjoyable experience that takes you through beautiful scenery and history. Julie and I thoroughly enjoyed several short walks on various sections of the trail.
Many bikers use the path as it is well-designed for this purpose. Accordingly, being aware of your surroundings as a hiker or runner is vital.
Hands down, Julie’s favorite section of the park is Beaver Marsh. The lily pad-covered marsh is reminiscent of Everglades National Park but with a colder climate and no alligators.
Although we did not see a beaver, the peaceful area teems with wildlife. We saw many birds, including great blue herons, red-winged blackbirds, geese, mallards, and wood ducks. Painted turtles sat on logs, basking in the sun, and a giant snapping turtle lurked just under the water’s surface.
Otters, minks, and muskrats inhabit the marsh. The quiet night air gives way to croaking frogs on hot summer evenings. Bats dart about the dark skies, searching for insects to devour. It is a wonderland for observing God’s creatures.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Waterfalls
Cuyahoga Valley National Park has numerous waterfalls. For my money, you can find Ohio’s best waterfalls at Old Man’s Cave in underrated Hocking Hills State Park after a rainfall. However, Cuyahoga Valley National Park houses the single best waterfall in the state, Brandywine Falls.
Although the park has many waterfalls, we will list the top two for you to see.
The breathtaking 60-foot waterfall cascades over layers of sandstone and shale, eventually spilling into Brandywine Creek. You can explore the area by taking a 1.5-mile hike around the Brandywine Gorge Loop. If you merely want to see the waterfall, you have easy access by walking down wooden stairs and onto a boardwalk for a magnificent view.
The waterfall is open daily from dawn to dusk. Visitors regularly swarm the popular attraction between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. Parking is limited, so we recommend that you arrive early. When you hear water gushing over the rocks and pouring into the creek bed, your soul will thank you for getting up early to beat the crowds.
Blue Hen Falls
Small in stature, Blue Hen Falls is only 15 feet tall but shines as a picturesque setting. You cannot help but smile as the water spills over the ledge, leaving behind the lush forest.
A little work is required to earn the beautiful view. You will embark on a 3-mile round-trip hike from the park’s visitor center with a 580-foot elevation gain along the Buckeye Trail. Similar to Brandywine Falls, it is a popular site. We suggest hiking to Blue Hen Falls early or late in the day to avoid crowds.
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Julie and I love train rides. As the train glides across the tracks, you can relax, enjoy the view and feel a part of history.
Riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR) is an excellent experience, delivering a smooth and comfortable ride. Friendly workers facilitate the boarding process, narrating the journey and answering any questions. You gain views of the park’s varied landscapes as you pass through small towns, wooded areas, wetlands, and various canal sections.
CVSR offers themed rides throughout the year, like the Fall Flyer and the North Pole Adventure. Visit the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad site for information about tickets and schedules.
Boston Mill Visitor Center
Located near the middle of the park, Boston Mill Visitor Center is an ideal place to begin your visit. You can obtain a park map, information, and itinerary suggestions from park rangers.
The building houses a gift shop and fantastic exhibits to learn more about the area. Regular hours are 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.
Adjacent to a train station, Boston Mill Visitor Center is a hub of activity, buzzing with energy. During summer and early fall, you will typically see additional rangers outside offering guidance to visitors. We found the rangers helpful, as they quickly answered our questions and provided suggestions to help us make the most of our experience.
We were fortunate to visit on a beautiful, warm autumn day. Boston Mill Visitor Center came to life with blue skies above and colorful wildflowers blooming on the outskirts of the grounds.
People excitedly waited for the train by the pale yellow station. Many visitors, us included, eagerly posed for photos by the Cuyahoga Valley National park sign. Smiles abounded as everyone prepared to find adventure.
Although you will receive information at Boston Mill Visitor Center, more importantly, it sets an exciting tone for your day.
Everett Covered Bridge
I am still determining what it is, but I love covered bridges. Weathered bridges remind us of a simpler time, to appreciate nature, and to respect perseverance. Discovering a covered bridge in our national park was a pleasant surprise.
The beautiful red overpass was built in the 1800s and is the only remaining covered bridge in Summit County. It is a great photo opportunity and another homage to our history. The viaduct crosses Furnace Run and sits along a lovely wooded area, perfect for a short walk or a picnic.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Wildlife
A wide variety of animals inhabit Cuyahoga Valley. Birds include eagles, hawks, Peregrine falcons, great blue herons, wood ducks, geese, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, goldfinches, and rusty blackbirds.
Mammals like white-tailed deer, coyotes, red and gray foxes, chipmunks, squirrels, and bats call the park home. You can also find frogs, salamanders, snakes, and turtles.
Beaver Marsh is a great place to observe wildlife. Any of the hiking trails offer ample opportunity as well. We encountered white-tailed deer a few times during our various hikes.
While driving through the park, a red fox darted across the road ahead of us. Be alert while exploring, and you will likely spot a variety of wildlife during your visit.
Station Road Bridge
Visit the crossroads. The area around Station Road Bridge once served as a crossroads where people from Cuyahoga and Summit Counties shipped goods and produce by train.
Now, it is a crossroads for park visitors. It is a popular area for hikers, bikers, runners, paddlers, and rail passengers.
You will find the Brecksville train station and a large parking lot here. The Station Road Bridge Trailhead provides access to the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, the Cuyahoga River Water Trail, and the CVSR.
Brecksville Reservation is accessible by a connector trail. The Buckeye Trail and the Valley Trail both pass through Brecksville Reservation.
Beyond the area being a crossroads, the Station Road Bridge provides excellent photo opportunities. You have views of the beautiful bridge from the train tracks and a smaller overpass.
If weather conditions cooperate, you can capture the bridge’s reflection in the water. We saw a faint reflection, but clouds and wind prevented us from getting our ideal shot. Either way, Station Road Bridge is a great area to visit.
Virginia Kendall Ledges
Hiking the Ledges Trail is one of the most popular things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park for a good reason. It is gorgeous.
The area is part of Virginia Kendall Park. Its name comes from a plateau in the prominent rock ledges of the park’s uplands.
You will find the Ledges Trailhead at the plateau. The Ledges Trail is a beautiful 1.8-mile loop around the table. Along the wooded trail, you will observe stunning views of the forest, mossy rock surfaces, sandstone cliffs, and other various rock formations.
The trail includes a section of stone steps and is generally rugged. Your overall elevation gain is about 80 feet. The hike is not strenuous, but we recommend sturdy hiking shoes due to the terrain.
We spotted birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer during our hike. The setting is beautiful and peaceful, making for an enjoyable walk. Take a little time to enjoy the view from the top.
Although part of the Ledges Trail, the Ledges Overlook deserves a special mention. You do not need to hike the Ledges Trail to reach the overlook. It is a short walking distance across an open field from the parking area.
The Ledges Overlook is a natural viewing platform over the Cuyahoga Valley. It is exquisite.
The view is excellent anytime, but it is even more remarkable when autumn paints the trees in scarlet, orange, and gold hues. Sunset is spectacular from this vantage point year-round.
Note that this is a popular area for sunset, so try to arrive early. Your reward is an unforgettable view. Sunset at Ledges Overlook is one of our fondest memories at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Tree Farm Trail
In the past, I only recall people talking about Brandywine Falls and Ledges at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. When it comes to hiking, the park has much more to offer. Tree Farm Trail is often overlooked but is a delightful experience.
The 3-mile trail takes you along the lovely Horseshoe Pond and through a beautiful forest of deciduous and coniferous trees. You will walk along the perimeter of a Christmas tree farm during your journey. The refreshing scent of pine and spruce fills the air.
We loved Tree Farm Trail. It is an easy hike with a beautiful view of the tranquil pond surrounded by forest.
We spotted squirrels and a few white-tailed deer feeding in the woods. If you seek a nature walk with great views and a chance for wildlife sightings, check out Tree Farm Trail.
Oak Hill Trail
An underrated hiking area, Oak Hill Trail passes through woodlands consisting of oaks, hemlocks, cherries, maples, and hawthorns. The location was once farmland. In some sections, you can see distinct rows of trees in a perfect line.
Oak Hill Trail is an easy 1.8-mile hike through the woods. In autumn, the area is a beautiful landscape of colors as squirrels scamper about gathering nuts.
We were too early for peak foliage but encountered many squirrels and birds in the peaceful forest. Like Tree Farm Trail, it offers a leisurely nature walk with lovely scenery.
If you seek a more challenging hike, Plateau Trail is accessible at Oak Hill Trailhead. Plateau Trail is a 5-mile hike that descends to the valley floor before returning to the top. You get more of a workout and a great view.
Go on a Quest
Follow a strange map and rhyming clues to discover hidden quest boxes. You collect a unique stamp at each box, sign a logbook, and return it for others to find.
It is a bit different from geocaching. You do not need a GPS, nor do you exchange trinkets.
The questing season typically runs from April 15 to November 15 and is a fun way to explore and learn about the area. Visit the Ohio and Erie Canalway questing page for details.
Bath Road Heronry
Around Valentine’s Day, male great blue herons return to Bath Road Heronry each year. The females follow shortly after that.
Bath Road Heronry is a nesting colony for hundreds of great blue herons. What makes Bath Road Heronry so unique is the fact that it is close to the highway.
The breeding season runs through June and offers ample opportunity to see the beautiful birds. You can watch courtship displays and the great blue herons raising their young.
Julie and I, like many others, I suspect, were unaware of Bath Road Heronry. We plan to return to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to observe the great blue herons. It is a unique opportunity that we cannot wait to experience.
Canal Exploration Center
At one time, the Canal Exploration Center was a rest stop on the Ohio and Erie Canal. It now serves as a place with hands-on exhibits to learn about the Canal Era, 1825 to 1876.
You will better understand what life was like during this time and the canal’s importance. Mules get their due respect as well.
The center houses an actual lock. On summer weekends, park staff members give lock demonstrations so you can see a lock in action.
You have access to the Towpath Trail and can catch the CVSR here.
Admittedly, seeing a farmer’s market in a national park was odd. Szalay’s was bustling with people shopping for produce, eating food, navigating the corn maze, and searching for the perfect pumpkin.
Szalay’s Farm and Market is typically open from June through October. They offer fresh produce, seasonal activities, and a weekend eatery. It is an excellent place if you are traveling with kids or want a leisurely activity after hiking, biking, or riding the train.
Now that you know the best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, let’s cover what else you need to know.
What to Expect
Cuyahoga Valley National Park does not have an iconic natural wonder that will blow you away. If you seek something beyond your imagination, like the Grand Canyon, it will not happen here. You will not find a setting as beautiful as Yosemite National Park or Redwood National Park.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park has a unique hodge-podge, unlike any other national park. It offers open spaces, natural beauty, history, and outdoor recreation.
You will find wooded areas, a peaceful marsh teeming with wildlife, beautiful rock ledges, cascading waterfalls, farmland, small towns, historic canals, scenic railways, and extensive hiking and biking paths through history and nature. As a whole, the experience is fantastic and one you should not miss.
More than anything, the park pays homage to the Ohio and Erie Canal, for it genuinely put Ohio on the map. Before the canal, our wonderful state was so overgrown with vegetation that transportation, trade, and tourism were not even a thought. The channel changed all that by connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River, opening up Ohio as a vital part of the country.
Location & Directions
Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s 33,000 acres snuggle between Cleveland and Akron in northeast Ohio. The physical address for Boston Mill Visitor Center is 6947 Riverview Road, Peninsula, Ohio 44264.
Visit the park’s address page. It contains the addresses for over fifty points of interest and is an excellent resource. Julie and I found it to be perfect for finding our way around.
Fees & Passes
Park entrance costs $0. That’s right: it is free!
You will find a few metroparks that overlap and connect with the national park. Entrance is also free to those metroparks.
Operating Hours & Seasons
More good news, Ohio’s only national park is open year-round.
Spring is usually warm and rainy, welcoming beautiful wildflowers across the landscapes. Summers are hot and humid and range from 49 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Autumn can have wild swings from below freezing at night to more than 70 degrees during the day. Located near Lake Erie, winters are generally cold, with temperatures anywhere from the mid-30s to below freezing.
What to Wear
We recommend dressing in layers so you can adapt quickly according to conditions. Base your footwear on your planned activities. If you plan to hike trails such as Virginia Kendall Ledges, wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots to traverse safely along the rugged terrain.
Comfortable gym or running shoes are perfect for walking or biking the Towpath Trail and riding the train.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is pet friendly. You may take leashed dogs on hiking trails and the Towpath Trail. Service animals only are permitted on the train and in park buildings. No animals are allowed on the East Rim mountain bike trails.
We had no issues with cell service throughout the park during our visit. You should find service better than most national parks.
The visitor centers do not offer WiFi.
How to Get Around
You have a few options to get around the park. Going from point to point by car is likely the most accessible and flexible option.
Riding a bike along the Towpath Trail may take longer, but it allows you to experience the park entirely. The walking and biking path runs the entire park, providing access to trailheads and points of interest along the way.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park provides a service that I love. If you bike, hike or run the Towpath Trail in one direction, you can catch the CVSR Explorer at any train station and ride the train back in the other direction.
Paddlers, or kayakers, can also take the CVSR Explorer. Go to a train station and flag down the train by waving both arms over your head.
The CVSR season typically runs from June through October. If you bike, hike or run aboard, the fee is $5 one way. To kayak aboard will cost $10 one way.
You can ride the train without biking, hiking, running, or kayaking aboard. Round-trip and all-day passes are available. Fees vary based on seating.
Note that the train runs on a set schedule. Visit the CVSR site to verify the train schedule, seating options, and prices.
How Many Days Do You Need?
For most visitors, one to two days will be sufficient. You can see all the highlights we outlined in two days. If you prefer to focus on five or six things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, you can likely accomplish that in one day.
Where To Rent a Bike
If you do not have a bicycle, do not fret. Century Cycles in Peninsula has bikes for rent. Bikes are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Where To Stay
You cannot camp inside the park, but Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers two lodging options within the park:
- Stanford House
- Inn at Brandywine Falls
Camping is available in various communities surrounding the park.
Many hotels are available near the park. Julie and I use Expedia as our go-to resource for hotels.
Wrap-Up: Best Things To Do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Although it does not have an iconic natural wonder, there are many wonderful things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It offers beautiful scenery and honors Ohio’s history. Whether you prefer to walk, run, ride a bike, or train, the Towpath Trail will lead you to fantastic adventures in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
About the author
Scott McConkey is a nationally syndicated travel writer and the founder of Miles with McConkey, where he provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, and inspiration. His travel articles have been seen in The Associated Press wire, ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, MSN, and many more. He and his wife, Julie, left the corporate world after nearly 30 years for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year has evolved into a second act. She creates visual content while he utilizes the written word. Their goal is to create content inspiring others to travel more and live their best lives now.