Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler eMagazine

Mother Nature carved a niche of artistry when the last ice age retreated, leaving us with Ohio’s only national park – Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Native American’s pronounced its name Ka-ih-ogh-ha. It’s meaning – crooked river. An aerial view of it looks like God created a 100-mile smile in the landscape. Its headwater or origin is east of Cleveland. Its waters run south and then north emptying its mouth into Lake Erie.

Certainly, this pleasant view from above can sometimes seem like heaven on Earth. So it was preserved as Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Although there are national historic sites, national historic parks, and memorials in Ohio, this is the only site recognized with the status of the national park, according to the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

The park’s valley spans 33,000 acres along a 22-mile section of the Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland. It offers forests, prairies, wetlands, gorges, historic towns, a canal way, and a scenic railway. Hiking opportunities abound. It is a biking paradise.

The entire park system is so bike-friendly you can pedal the distance along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. This path along the river and old canal is flat and has a hard surface making it handicap accessible as well. If you grow tired of walking, running, or pedaling, you can hop on the train. Pay an additional nominal fee to transport your bike with you. The Cuyahoga Scenic Railway has eight depots across the park and each depot has six boarding times regularly from Wednesday through Sunday from June through October. An all-day pass to hop on and off trains at will is available.

The heart of the park bustles around the Peninsula Depot. The historic town of Peninsula offers shops, galleries, and restaurants along with historic architecture. The depot itself was originally erected in 1879. Off the beaten path are three nearby waterfalls. Brandywine Falls is the most popular. A boardwalk cuts into the cliff and parts the trees to an overlook that delivers a vista of cascading water. So beautiful is this spot, just about any wedding photographer in the region worth his salt is sure to lure bridal parties there for stunning wedding pictures.

The walkway stretches to the top of the falls where the foundation and wall of an 1814 sawmill still stands. It is one of the few remnants of the old village of Brandywine – one of the first communities to flourish in the Cuyahoga Valley. Another survivor of this lost village is the Inn at Brandywine Falls built-in 1848. This luxurious property is renovated offering modern amenities like wireless Internet, but its rooms are decorated with Ohio antiques.

Other areas of the park system are not as easy as accessing trailheads near the Towpath but are gems just the same. One that should not be missed is simply known as The Ledges. The Ledges are just that – ledges of rock. Walkthrough the woods and you come to a ravine. The lookout point reveals a wooded valley with towering oak and hickory trees as far as the eyes can see. It takes little imagination to walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins at this point. But walk you will. A grand stone staircase descends to the bottom of the ledges where the real fun begins. Hikers will need to navigate boulders, slip between enormous cracks in the stone walls that jut up the cliff straight into the surrounding tree line. Mixed into the peculiar rock outcrops are hemlock and wildflowers. Don’t miss Ice Box Cave. How far can you go into it without a flashlight is the question?

Cuyahoga Valley National Park includes a matrix of hiking trails, including part of the statewide Buckeye Trail. Other highlights include plenty of fishing and picnicking areas, bridle trails, and Shady Oaks Farm bed and breakfast where you can stable your horses. Ranger-guided tours are available too. If you enjoy golfing, there are four public golf courses to choose from. Click here for complete details about Cuyahoga Valley National Park, including maps and visitor information. You may also contact the park by calling (800) 445-9667 or (800) 257-9477.