Cuyahoga Valley National Park: The Complete Guide

 Small waterfalls Cuyahoga Valley national park with yellow and red autumn trees on either side

Henryk Sadura / Getty Images

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Address
Ohio, USA
Phone +1 330-657-2752

Since its establishment in 2000, Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park has routinely been ranked in the top 10 most visited national parks in the entire U.S., welcoming nearly 3 million visitors on an annual basis.

Once inside, it's easy to understand why the park is so popular. The serene setting features rolling hills, sprawling forests, and a wandering river that has carved the Cuyahoga Valley over the millennia. All of this gives the park an incredibly tranquil feeling, which is especially surprising considering its proximity to major urban areas like Cleveland and Akron. But that has only enhanced its appeal as a place to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life for a while.

Whether you're going for just a day or plan on staying a bit longer, this is everything you need to know before you go to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Things to Do

As with most national parks, there is plenty to see and do inside Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Most travelers will only spend one day in the park, although there are certainly enough activities and attractions to warrant a multi-day outing. This is especially true for hikers who may want to explore as much of Cuyahoga Valley's 125 miles of trails as possible.

In addition to hiking, there are a number of mixed-use trails that allow biking—including some surprisingly fun mountain bike routes. The Park Service has even designated some trails for horseback riding and paddling along the Cuyahoga River is a great way to take in the sights. During the winter, many of the trails are also accessible for cross-country skiing too, making this a year-round destination.

After you've hiked or biked a few miles, you can catch your breath and rest up aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The historic train follows the path of the river and takes riders deep into the surrounding wilderness where they have the chance to spot wildlife along the way. It is not uncommon to see bald eagles, whitetail deer, beavers, and other animals while riding the rails. The train ride lasts about two and a half hours and runs all year long.

A 60-foot tall waterfall topples down a rocky ledge at dusk
Kat Clay / Getty Images

Best Hikes & Trails

Between the waterfalls, gorges, fall foliage, and other scenic outlooks, there's plenty to enjoy while hiking through one of the many trails inside Cuyahoga National Park.

  • Brandywine Gorge Trail: Hike to the stunning Brandywine Falls, which is a 60-foot waterfall that is located along a scenic boardwalk. The full trail is a 1.4-mile loop and it's an easy hike that should only take about an hour.
  • Blue Hen Falls: The 1.5-mile hike to Blue Hen Falls is spectacularly beautiful, especially in the fall. This hike is also a small part of the much larger Buckeye Trail that loops around all of Ohio.
  • Towpath Trail: This trail is the main artery of the park and runs through all of Cuyahoga for 19.5 miles. There are several points throughout the park to enter and exit the trail, so you don't have to hike the entire length. One of the most popular parts of the trail is around Beaver Marsh, but it can get very crowded during peak times.
  • Ledges Trail: To escape from the crowds, this off-the-beaten-path trail is on the east side of the park and reaches a scenic overlook. The 2.2-mile trail is rocky, but even in the summer, you're sure to find some solitude in this area of the park.

Where to Camp

Sadly, the Park Service no longer allows any camping within Cuyahoga Valley National Park, although Ottawa Overlook campground is located just outside the boundaries and close enough that you can hike in. This is backcountry camping and there aren't many facilities available, but you can also sign up for a guided trip that is geared toward teaching campers the ins and out of backcountry camping. Camping in Ottawa Overlook is free, but you do need to request a permit.

Where to Stay Nearby

Because Cuyahoga Valley is so close to Cleveland and Akron, most visitors to the park end up staying in one of those two cities. Still, there are a few options for anyone who wants to stay inside the park itself.

  • The Stanford House: This historic house inside the park is open for guests to spend the night. It's just steps away from the Towpath Trail for easy access to hiking and overlooks the Cuyahoga River.
  • Inn at Brandywine Falls: The name tells you that this historic inn has unbeatable views of Brandywine Falls, making it an ideal choice for romantic getaways inside the park. The Greek Revival building is on the National Register of Historic Places and has an antique feel—but with modern amenities for a comfortable stay.
  • Cleveland Hostel: Hostels bring to mind cheap lodgings with lots of people, but the Cleveland Hostel offers the social backpacker vibe with the ambiance of a boutique hotel. You can choose a shared room for a real hostel experience or a private room for more intimacy. The national park is less than 30 minutes away by car.

For more options of places to stay, read up on the best hotels in Cleveland.

How to Get There

Unlike some national parks that require hours of driving to reach, Cuyahoga Valley is extremely accessible. Located just 20 miles south of Cleveland and 8 miles north of Akron, the park is sandwiched between two sizable metropolitan areas. That makes planning a visit very easy, as there are plenty of local hotels and restaurants in close proximity.

From Cleveland, head south on Interstate 77 to Miller Road (Exit 147), following the signs while en route. If you're coming from Akron, take state highway OH-8 to West Hines Hill Road in Boston Heights and follow the signs to the national park, which is very easy to find.

A rocky cliff face is lit up by the autumn light passing through colorful leaves.

PapaBear / Getty Images

Accessibility

Apart from most of the hiking trails, which are rocky and steep, many parts of the park are fully accessible for all visitors, including all 19.5 miles of the Towpath Trail. Other popular attractions, like the Brandywine Falls, have wooden boardwalks to allow visitors in wheelchairs or those with strollers to get up close. All visitor centers are accessible as well, and the scenic railroad includes a car with a lift for wheelchairs to get aboard.

The park also offers a variety of services for visitors with hearing loss or vision impairment, such as audio guides, pamphlets in Braille, and scripts to accompany audio messages in the park.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park is open year-round and free to enter, with trails accessible to visitors even during the winter. Despite some areas closing at dusk, much of the park is open 24 hours per day, opening up opportunities for late-night adventures.
  • The busy summer travel season brings larger crowds to the park, sometimes creating traffic jams and long waits as a result. The more popular attractions—including Beaver Marsh and Brandywine Falls—draw the bulk of the attention, while some of the longer and more remote trails are left fairly empty.
  • If you're looking to avoid crowds but still enjoy warmer weather, mid-April to mid-May and mid-September to mid-October make great times to visit Cuyahoga Valley.
  • The autumn colors usually hit their peak around mid-October, making the first few weeks of that month an especially good time to be in the park. Be aware, however, the crowds are especially large at those times, too, particularly on the weekend.
  • Cold weather warriors will find the park all but deserted in the winter. If you have the outdoor gear and experience to go winter hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing, you'll often find that you'll have the place almost entirely to yourself.
  • The weather can change rapidly inside the park and it is important to dress appropriately for the season. Winters can be cold and harsh, while the summer months are warm and humid. Bring layers that can be added or removed as needed, providing protection from the elements.
  • Food and drinks are not always easily accessible throughout the park, so be sure to bring some with you. Do not drink from the rivers, streams, or ponds. Instead, bring a water bottle. Remember to stay hydrated, even during the winter.
  • The conditions in the park are constantly changing, so be sure to check the Cuyahoga Valley NP website for updates. Park rangers often post information about road and trail closures, river conditions, and even the size of crowds.
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Cuyahoga Valley National Park: The Complete Guide