NPS Spotlight: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

When I tell people in Connecticut that I went to Cuyahoga Valley National Park the response is something along the lines of, “come again?” No one’s heard of it. Except, evidently, they have; Cuyahoga Valley NP was the seventh most visited national park in 2020. It beat out some big hitters including Yosemite, Glacier, and Bryce Canyon. It was just a hair behind the Grand Canyon, which came in at sixth most visited with 2.9 million visitors to Cuyahoga’s 2.8 million.

Part of this, of course, is because of Covid. With the 2020 shut down the numbers for visitation will obviously be off the norm. Many parks, especially less accessible ones, saw a drastic drop in numbers from 2019 to 2020 simply because they were closed, or had limited access, at popular visitation times. Cuyahoga, however, actually saw an increase; 2.8 million in 2020 compared to 2.2 million in 2019. And in that last “normal” year Cuyahoga was still the 13th most visited national park.

A large reason for this is accessibility. Cuyahoga Valley NP is about 30 minutes from Cleveland. You can accidentally drive in and out of the park and not even know it (and I did).

The Rundown

Main Visitor Center: Boston Mills

Any National Park goer knows that there’s often more than one visitor center. I have to admit, trying to figure out the “main” visitor center always seems way too hard; the official NPS website never specifies the differences. Especially the larger parks with multiple entrances. But making the visitor center my first stop into any park is always a must for me.

The blurry pictures you get when you’re balancing your phone on a stand

Top Attractions

  • Brandywine Falls
    • While there are multiple waterfalls within the park, Brandywine Falls is the one it’s known for. It’s a 65 foot waterfall just a short stroll from the parking lot with viewing platforms.
  • The Ledges
    • A popular area for it’s rock formations that have eroded into ledges and fissures wide enough to walk through.
  • Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail
    • Generally considered the park’s most popular attraction, The Towpath Trail runs 20 miles north/south through the park. It follows a route that was used pre-railroad to transport goods using mules.
Brandywine Falls

Lodging

There are two lodging options inside the park if that is the route you choose to go. However, this is definitely a park where you can save money by not staying in the park itself. There are several cheap and reasonable options in the surrounding towns.

Pets

Allowed. CVNP is one of the National Parks that does allow you to bring your pets. I happily met several pups in my short time at the park!

Things To Do

Biking

Biking is a top activity in CVNP. With the 20-mile Towpath Trail being the most popular attraction in the park, subsequently, biking it becomes a popular option. Bike rentals are available so no need to bring your own.

Hiking

There are roughly 125 miles of trails available throughout the park. The full list of trails can be found on the official website but I find that leads to information overload. The newspaper guide at the visitor center will give you a shorter list of trails with what they’re known for a difficulty rating. Some of the most popular hikes to hit are:

  • Beaver Marsh Boardwalk – 0.25 miles. Teeming with life and wheelchair accessible.
  • The Ledges – The standard route 2.2 miles but can vary depending which route you take. There are several connecting trails in the area.
  • Brandywine Gorge Trail Loop – 1.4 miles. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot if you just want to see the falls but you can do the full 1.4 mile loop or even a larger one via other connecting trails as well.
  • Blue Hen Falls via the Buckeye Trail – roughly 3 miles out and back
  • Towpath Trail – 19.5 miles. If biking isn’t your bag you can hop on and off and walk any portion of this easy, wheelchair accessible path.

Canoeing/Kayaking

Canoeing and kayaking is allowed within the park however the NPS does not maintain the river for recreational use. Translation: you are responsible for everything including your safety, the logistics of getting on and off the river, and acquiring and transporting necessary equipment.

Music

Yes, you read that correctly. CVNP has partnered with the Cleveland Orchestra and has summer concerts at the Blossom Music Center.

Scenic Train Ride

Certainly a different and interesting way to experience a park! This also opens up the possibility of taking the Towpath in one direction and the train back to your starting point.

My Take

CVNP has more of a state park vibe to it. It doesn’t have the “wow” factor that some of the major parks like Glacier or Zion have. But, without a doubt, it’s beautiful. It’s certainly worth the stop, especially given it’s accessibility. It can easily be done in a day or two and is perfect to pair with other attractions.

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