Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland, Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley National Park may not have the grandeur of Yellowstone or the breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon, but is worth the visit! While most national parks are expansive preserves in rural areas, Cuyahoga Valley National Park lies between two of Ohio’s largest cities, Akron and Cleveland.
I think much of its appeal is that the park is easily accessible from many major roads and highways…and you’re never more than 20 minutes away from a Starbucks or McDonalds. #Merica. 😉 It often feels like you’re in someone’s backyard, not out in the middle of nowhere.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is also one of the newest National Parks – it was only established in the year 2000! In 1974, Gerald Ford named the park a National Recreation Area, but it wasn’t until 2000 that it earned full National Park status.
There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and birding throughout CVNP. Your interest in these activities may determine what time of year you will visit the park!
When is the best time to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
Summer and Fall are the best seasons for hiking in Ohio! Summer can be humid, but you’re most likely to find Brandywine Falls cascading at full strength or have the weather to enjoy a warm evening hike. Fall foliage in this area is exquisite! Want to see the best orange and red leaves? Usually mid-October is best!
If you enjoy cold-weather pursuits, winter may be the best time for a visit! If you’re hiking in winter, make sure you have spikes for your boots, as shaded areas will be covered in ice.
Our favorite time to explore Cuyahoga Valley has always been summer! Make sure you bring bug spray!
How long do I need to spend in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
It’s possible to hit our favorite spots in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in only one day! This is easiest in summer because you’ll have lots of daylight I’d start my morning at Brandywine Falls before the parking lot gets overrun. Then I’d head to the Ledges Trail – at a minimum, you’d have these two highlights in before mid-day! There are picnicking spots at both Brandywine and the Ledges area, so pack a lunch!
If you’re coming from out of town, allow for two days in CVNP. If you are traveling with children, this will give you time to rest, instead of fitting all of the hikes into one day.
Our favorite places in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Deep Lock Quarry
Located within the National Park jurisdiction, but managed by the Summit Metro Parks, Deep Lock Quarry is named because the park contains the deepest lock on the Ohio-Erie canal. The early quarry provided rocks for the canal locks, later this sandstone was used to make millstones to remove the outer hulls of oats (i.e. Quaker Oats).
I’m a sucker for history, so I enjoyed the walk, thinking about how things would have been back when the canal and the milling were open for business. We did use our stroller on the trail, but we only walked back to the quarry steps and turned around, we didn’t make the full loop.
The Deep Lock Quarry runs right next to the Towpath Trail, and bikes are allowed on the paved portion to access the Towpath.
Virginia Kendall Park – The Ledges
Southeast of Deep Lock Quarry is The Ledges. This is definitely my favorite spot at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. If you’re looking for a place to wow the kids or overseas visitors, I would take them here.
The Civilian Conservation Corps did much of the work here in the 1930s and the way they made things blend into nature- I swooned over this sandstone staircase.
Kids (and adults) will love exploring the moss-covered rocks and ancient rock formations. I felt transported to somewhere mysterious like Angkor Wat, the jungles of far-off lands seemingly placed in Northeast Ohio.
We’ve now been to The Ledges a couple of times and I have a pretty good feel for the easiest portion of this hike. Check out my guide to visiting the Ledges with kids.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Waterfalls
Boston Store Visitor Center
This is technically three areas, not one, but they can all be accessed from the same general parking area.
We begin our first day at the Boston Store Visitor Center. The Center will provide you with a park map and Rangers are on staff to answer questions. and they have a small display of some of the Ohio-Erie Canal history (a better one is at the Canal Observation Center).
From the Boston Store, you can hike to Blue Hen Falls. This hilly trail is over 2 miles roundtrip.
Blue Hen Falls
Blue Hen Falls isn’t massive, but it’s pretty. There’s a park bench overlooking the waterfall and if I didn’t have four kids – one trying to convince me to hike down into the falls, one trying to jump off every rock in the vicinity, and one trying to climb the barrier fence- I’d totally sit and contemplate life. Ha!
Next is the park’s showstopper, Brandywine Falls. With a 60-foot drop, Brandywine is the second-largest waterfall in Ohio. This area is typically full of tourists, but still worth the stop. My favorite part is the walkway TO the falls- the boardwalk is suspended from the stone cliffs.
Need more info? Here’s my guide to visiting Brandywine Falls
Everett Covered Bridge
Everett Covered Bridge is the only remaining bridge in Summit County. At the time of its original construction, there were over 2,000 covered bridges in Ohio. The bridges played an important role in getting local goods to the Ohio-Erie Canal.
The Everett Covered Bridge is located along the Furnace Run Trail and Perkins Bridle Trail. This 3.9-mile loop trail is considered easy. We chose to just skip rocks under the bridge and enjoy the shade, as the kids were getting tired!
Station Road Bridge
The Station Road Bridge Trailhead is a great spot for birding and biking. The original wrought-iron bridge was constructed in 1882 across the Cuyahoga River and provided access to the Ohio & Erie Canal. Now, visitors to this area can access the Towpath Trail, the Cuyahoga River Water Trail, and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway.
There is a connector trail to Brecksville Reservation, a Cleveland Metropark.
Canal Exploration Center
The name gives it away, but this is the spot along the Towpath Trail where you can stop and learn all about the Ohio-Erie Canalway. I’ve visited old locks at places like Blackhand Gorge in Licking County, yet this museum helped me to realize how absolutely NOTHING I understood about the canal, how the locks worked, or even the role of the canal in shipping goods from NYC all the way to the Mississippi River. OOPS!
We made it a point to stop in during a lock demonstration, and they even let our boys help out. Check the National Park Service event guide to see when these demonstrations are happening- the volunteers do a fantastic job!
Another favorite spot within Cuyahoga Valley NP is Bedford Reservation, which is managed by the Cleveland Metroparks. Bedford Reservation follows along the Tinkers Creek Gorge, which was dedicated as a National Natural Landmark in the 1960s. Bedford Reservation is also home to Bridal Veil Falls and the Great Falls of Tinkers Creek.
The Bridal Veil Falls trail is an easy one to do with kids because it is essentially a boardwalk of 30 or so stairs leading down to the waterfall. After a short walk along a path, there is another boardwalk for viewing Bridal Veil Falls from a different angle. This hike would be best for kids 3+ that can easily navigate stairs, or easy for mom and dad if the little one is in a hiking carrier.
In the fall, visitors to Bedford Reservation must stop at the Gorge Overlook! The colors are spectacular! This is a spot where it is easy to pop out of the car and have a look because parking is adjacent to the overlook.
Another don’t-miss spot is Viaduct Park. Technically, Viaduct Park is not part of CVNP, but it’s less than 5 minutes from Gorge Parkway, so you should plan to visit! From the park, a short hiking path leads to the Great Falls of Tinkers Creek. Make sure to climb through the tunnel and be awarded with the most epic view of the waterfall!
Interested in visiting more waterfalls? I also have a list of 15 amazing waterfalls in Ohio.
So grab some water bottles, and some good shoes, and take the kids or your grandma to CVNP! I promise you won’t regret it.
Before you go to Cuyahoga Valley NP
As noted, most of these areas would be difficult with a stroller because of the rough terrain or numerous stairs. Try taking a hiking backpack (we love our versatile Lille baby). We did use the stroller at the Canal Observation Center because it provided some shade and rest during the Lock Demonstration.
You won’t be able to hit all these spots in one day unless you are super motivated, and your kids are teens! It’s a lot of walking and exploring. I recommend staying the night near Cleveland or Akron and planning your trip accordingly.
The Towpath Trail runs through the heart of CVNP and is a biker’s dream. Bikes can be rented in the town of Peninsula and can also be taken on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
The Cuyahoga Valley NP website is HERE
Looking for more hiking opportunities nearby? Check out my list of best hikes in Northeast Ohio. Whipps Ledges, part of Hinckley Reservation, is one of my favorite places in Northeast Ohio! Don’t miss it! Looking for more unique and awesome things to do in Ohio? Check out this list of unique things to see in Ohio.