Cuyahoga Valley National Park 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 really 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 at full-strength or 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 just be best! 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 the best of CVNP in one day! If it’s summer and you have lots of daylight, you could do it! 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!
We were coming from out of town, so we chose to spend 2 days in the Cuyahoga Valley. We were also traveling with young children and little legs tire easily! This allowed us to have a rest at the hotel and be start anew the next morning.
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 park runs right next to the Towpath Trail, however, no bikes are permitted on the Quarry Trail.
Virginia Kendall State Park Historic District – The Ledges
Southeast of Deep Lock Quarry is The Ledges. This was my favorite of the favorites. If you’re looking for a place to wow the kids or overseas visitors, I would take them here. The little ones were sleeping so my husband stayed back and Jackson and I did a shortened version of the trail. So worth it! The Civilian Conservation Corps did much of the works 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 since been back to Cuyahoga Valley National Park Ledges. Check out my guide to visiting the Ledges with kids.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Waterfalls
Boston Store Visitor Center/Blue Hen Falls/Brandywine Falls
This is technically three areas, not one, but they are all within a short drive.
We began our first day at the Boston Store Visitor Center. The Center will provide you with a park map, Rangers are on staff to answer questions, and they have a small display on some of the Ohio-Erie Canal history (a better one is at the Canal Observation Center). From the Boston Store to Blue Hen Falls is a short drive and the Blue Hen Falls hike is less than one mile. This trail is hilly and unpaved, but you could do it with a jogging-type stroller. I saw a woman push her son in a wheelchair (you go, momma).
2021 UPDATE – BLUE HEN FALLS TRAIL IS CURRENTLY CLOSED, THERE IS NO OTHER ACCESS TO THE 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 three 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 here 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 was chockablock full of tourists but still worth the stop. My favorite part was the walkway TO the falls- the boardwalk is suspended from the stone cliffs.
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 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!
Last on my list of favorite spots is Bedford Reservation which is managed by the Cleveland Metroparks. (For another hike in Cleveland Metroparks, click HERE).
Our family hiked the short route to Bridal Veil falls and also visited the overlook to Tinkers Creek Gorge. This was an easy hike for the kids because the way to the creek is a large wooden staircase, not a steep hill. That said though, leave the stroller behind! It was difficult to see much from the Overlook, as every tree is full of green foliage. I’d make a point to come here in October and enjoy the fall colors.
Get thyself to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Grab some water bottles, some good shoes, and take the kids or your grandma. You won’t regret it.
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(similar to ours). We did use the stroller at the Canal Observation Center because it provided some shade and rest during the Lock Demonstration.
Because of the ages of our kids and our driving time of 2 hours, we broke our visit into two days and stayed one night in the Akron area at the Residence Inn by Marriott Fairlawn. I’d stay a night if you know little legs will tire easily!
We love Residence Inns because they have a separate bedroom and living area and offer a free hot breakfast.
The Towpath Trail runs through the heart of CVNP and is a biker’s dream. Bikes can be rented in Peninsula and can also be taken on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park website HERE