Cuyahoga Valley National Park is Ohio’s only national park (by the way, it’s pronounced “kaya-hohga” like “kayak”). It’s around 2 hours north of Columbus and half an hour from Cleveland, making it a popular weekend getaway from the big cities.
The park is fairly small, so you can visit the most popular parts in a day, though there are plenty of trails to keep you busy for longer. Here’s how my family and I spent two half-days in the park on a fall weekend.
Things to Do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
1. Hike the Ledges Trail
The Ledges Trail is an easy hike at around 2 miles with 200 feet of elevation gain. You’ll find impressive layered rock structures that make you feel like you’re no longer in the Midwest.
There are two entrypoints to the trail. One starts past the building to the right of the parking lot, and the other starts after the field in the top left corner of the lot. The traditional start is the first, as it ends at a scenic overlook, where people often come to watch the sunset.
Personally, I found the view at the overlook so-so, as the trees obscured the skyline, but the hike itself was quite nice. The best part was finding a chicken of the woods mushroom at the start of the trail! I’d been looking for one for years.
The trail is well-marked, but there is a fork where it can be easy to go the wrong direction down the Happy Days trail. Keep an eye out for that, and you’ll be just fine.
2. Visit Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls is a 65-foot cascade that can be viewed up-close from an observation deck. You can choose to do a 1.4 mile hike around the falls (Brandywine Gorge Loop), or simply access it via a short walk from the parking lot. There are a bunch of stairs leading down to the falls, so be ready for a bit of a workout on the way back up. If you want a longer hike, you can start from the Boston Mills Visitor Center for a 5-mile roundtrip or Stanford House for a 4-mile trip.
Another popular waterfall is Blue Hen Falls, which is accessible via a 3-mile hike round trip. Blue Hen is a much smaller waterfall but is still pretty charming. The trail has been closed since May 2021 and is scheduled to reopen in November 2021. In the meantime, try Tinker’s Creek, which has similar small waterfalls (a ranger recommended it to us, but we didn’t get the chance to go).
Once the Blue Hen Falls trail opens, I recommend the Boston Store near the trailhead for any snacks or souvenirs. It’s this old white building near an old gas station that has ice cream, sandwiches, t-shirts, and more. They even had a good vegan selection, which was cool!
3. Stop at Szalay’s Farm & Market
Szalay’s has a festival-like atmosphere in the fall. You can buy massive (or not-so-massive) pumpkins, get classic American street food, wander the corn maze, or buy fresh produce. When we were there on a Sunday morning, they even had a live band playing.
In other months, I imagine it’s a bit calmer, but it’s still a quaint place to stop by. The fresh corn we got was delicious, as were the banana peppers!
4. Spot wildlife at the the Beaver Marsh Trail
While we didn’t see any beavers at Beaver Marsh, we did see a heron or crane and lots of turtles. You can reach Beaver Marsh via a short, flat walk along the Erie Canal Towpath, starting from the Ira Trailhead. The boardwalk is about half mile in, and you can continue your walk down the towpath if you want more exercise.
There were a few more popular things that we didn’t get a chance to do that you might consider:
- Oak Hill Trail—an easy 1.4 mile walk that can be extended with the Plateau Trail, which is 4.4 miles long.
- Cuyhoga Valley Scenic Railroad—a 3.5 hour roundtrip through the park. Tickets range from 10-$35. We didn’t go because we were short on time, and reviews seem to actually be so-so. There are some interesting event ticket options though, including Murder Mystery.
- Bike along the towpath—the Erie Canal Towpath follows the historic route where mules pulled boats in the 19th and 20th century. The towpath is 87 miles long and runs all the way through the park and beyond, with the start and finish in Cleveland and Zoar. Some folks like to rent a bike and do some riding, then take the scenic railway back.
Where to Stay in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
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There are 2 places to stay within the park itself: Stanford House and the Inn at Brandywine Falls. Both of these book out early, especially for the weekend, so aim to reserve at least 2 months in advance to be safe.
We stayed at Country Inn and Suites in Macedonia, Ohio, as the stays in the park were booked. It was a pretty standard accommodation with a comfortable room, pool, and continental breakfast. While it wasn’t anything fancy, it was pretty convenient for exploring the part of the park we were in. It was only a 10-15 minute drive from Brandywine Falls and the Ledges Trail, for instance. There are also a bunch of restaurants in the area. We ate dinner at Zuki Sushi House, which had a good veggie options.
Unfortunately, camping is no longer allowed in the park, and you can’t stay overnight in parking lots.
What to Bring on Your Trip
The trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park are all pretty mild, so I wouldn’t say that hiking boots or poles are necessary, but good walking/athletic shoes would be helpful. I also always recommend bringing a reusable water bottle and rain jacket.
There is no entrance fee to the park, so you won’t need to purchase a pass or anything, but you may want to bring cash if you’re planning to shop at any farmer’s markets like Szalay’s.
Let me know if you have other favorite things to do in the park, and happy exploring!
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