Located just 30 minutes outside of Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the perfect escape for residents and visitors to the metropolitan area. Here you will find secluded trails through tree-covered hills, gorges to explore, farmland to enjoy, and a multitude of critters, birds, and wildflowers.
Visitors can ride a scenic railroad, hear a symphony concert, attend an art exhibit, play golf, or ski in winter. Cuyahoga National Park is quite unlike any other in the National Parks system. It may not meet everyone’s expectations for a National Park, but that doesn’t tarnish the appeal of its rewards.
This article is going to highlight a few of the things to prepare you for your visit. It really is a peculiar park. We learned some things so we’ll highlight them here, as well as some of the features.
There is a MAP of popular Cuyahoga Valley National Park attractions at the bottom of the article.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is arranged differently from most other National Parks. Here’s a MAP to give you an idea. The National Park has no primary entrance, and exists amongst neighborhoods, city parks, private attractions, highways, even interstates.
Most National Parks have a feeling that “You are in the Park,” and it is clear what you are doing there. Cuyahoga National Park feels more like wandering through a beautiful community. As you explore the pockets of the sprawling park you will likely be surprised at the variety of beauty to be discovered.
This was our favorite experience in Cuyahoga National Park and one of our favorite short hikes we’ve done in the USA. The Ledges trail (photo below) circles a plateau of striking rock formations and provides stunning views along the way. The trail is a easy-to-moderate 1.8 mile loop with 80 feet of elevation change and takes about an hour to complete. While the walk begins unremarkably, once you drop into the conglomerate cliffs you’ll quickly recognize you are in a special place.
Cuyahoga National Park has a little bit of everything, so of course there are waterfalls. The three most popular are Brandywine Falls, Buttermilk Falls, and Blue Hen Falls. All three are beautiful, we’re told.
Brandywine Falls was closed when we were visiting. Blue Hen Falls had no parking. Buttermilk Falls was off our radar. Major Bummer. When we return we will hopefully visit all three.
Around 400 million years ago, CVNP was covered by an ancient saltwater sea, full of enormous fish and sharks. Over time, pieces of shell, mud, and sand settled to the sea floor, where enormous pressure compressed those particles into bedrock. This continued for many millions of years, until an ancient river began to carve out the original Cuyahoga Valley.
The Ice Age began around two million years ago and ended just 10,000 years ago. As they moved into Ohio from the north, the glaciers completely buried the Cuyahoga Valley with silt, sand, and clay.
At the end of the last Ice Age, the Cuyahoga River appeared as a way for all that melting water to make its way out of Lake Erie. And for the past 4,000 years, the Cuyahoga River has spent its time washing out glacial sediment, re-carving the original Cuyahoga Valley, and cutting through bedrock to expose ancient history.
Everett Covered Bridge is the only remaining covered bridge in Summit County. When it was built in the 1800s, it was one of over 2,000 in the state. During that period, Ohio led the nation in covered bridge construction. This bridge played an important role in the transportation system of its time. Local histories emphasize the role of the Ohio & Erie Canal. With the canal, farmers could ship products to Cleveland and beyond. But to get to the canal and other local destinations, people needed functional roads.
Cleveland is a city on the upswing. The downtown is clean and has some beautiful parks. One of the best art museums in the U.S. is here, as is the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. A few miles away you’ll find Cedar Point, the nation’s largest roller coaster park.
Not only do you get to visit the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but you’ll be treated to other amazing things — In Cleveland! — Only 30 minutes away.
Check out our recent article, Four Reasons to Get Excited About Cleveland for more information.
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The National Park Service has documented over 1,500 wetlands at Cuyahoga National Park. Roughly 90% of wetlands in Ohio have been eliminated, so it is good that those here are protected.
The Beaver Marsh (photo above) is among the most diverse natural communities in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The area had been a farm, and later a junkyard, which was cleaned up by the community. Here you can learn about the wetlands and the kids can enjoy a multitude of wetland critters.
There are over 125 miles of hiking trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. These trails range from nearly-level to more challenging, and pass through various habitats including woodlands, wetlands, and old fields. Some trails require you to cross streams with stepping stones or log bridges, while others, including the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, are nearly level and are accessible to all visitors. A portion of the state-wide Buckeye Trail also passes through the park.
Some of the most popular are: The Ledges, Brandywine Gorge Loop, Kendall Lake Loop, Blue Hen Trail, Deer Lick Cave, and the Tree Farm Trail.
In the NW corner of the park we found a wonderful playground / picnic area called the Harriet Keeler Memorial Picnic Area. This was a great place to let the kids run wild and launch themselves off the swings. Down a short path from the parking lot is the Brecksville Nature Center, part of the Cleveland Metropark System, a wonderful place for the kids to learn about the nature around them. A few miles down the road is the iconic Station Road Bridge.
In the 1960s, local citizens and public officials became concerned that commercial and residential development was threatening the scenic Cuyahoga River Valley, with its villages, quiet byways, and forests.
In 1974, Congress passed a bill creating a National Recreation Area, administered by the National Park Service. The park began acquiring private land within the designated 33,000 acres, as well as working out cooperative agreements with developments already in place, such as Cleveland and Summit County metropolitan park districts and Blossom Music Center, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra. Eventually, confusion about the meaning of “recreation area” led supporters to call for full national park status.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a beautiful place to hike around and see a variety of natural features. The hiking is pleasant and occasionally fantastic. It is not hard to see why the greater Cleveland residents wanted to protect it from development.
What prevents this park from “can’t miss” status is the abnormal, sprawling layout and lack of a dazzling feature or landscape. This is a good-looking location that has enough small features to impress, yet falls short of dazzling. If The Ledges were larger in scale then Cuyahoga Valley National Park would have a defining feature to “hang it’s hat on”.
If you would like to learn more about things to do in Cleveland, check out this article.
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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