Year Established: 1974
Annual Visitors: 2.2 million
Annual Pass Fee: $20-$80
Located in Northeast Ohio between Akron and Cleveland, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an expansive refuge for plants and wildlife situated between two large urban areas. The park uniquely features a variety of natural, private, and manmade attractions, including a dense road network, several small towns, 11 Summit Metro Parks, and four Cleveland Metroparks reservations.
Rolling hills, forests, ravines, and around 100 waterfalls dot the park, which provide habitats for diverse wildlife. Thirty-nine mammal species call the park home, including coyotes, which naturally returned to the valley after a long absence. The park is also home to red foxes, river otters, seven bat species, and bald eagles.
The park’s close proximity to urban areas means that some of its ecosystems have been negatively affected. However, concerted efforts have been made over the past few decades to recover the lower Cuyahoga River—a habitat and main water source for much of the park's wildlife—from heavy pollution, resulting in a much cleaner and more attractive place for animals to live and roam.
Both the park’s natural and manmade attractions bring millions of visitors each year. Some of the more popular attractions include Brandywine Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park at 65 feet. After checking out the waterfall, you can head over to The Ledges, a beautiful rock outcropping that provides a stunning view of the valley’s wooded areas. Both of these sites can easily be found by hiking along one of the park’s many trails.
Among Cuyahoga’s most well-known trails, the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail spans nearly 20 miles and will take you through and around most of the park’s major attractions. It also features 10 trailheads, so it’s easy to find, and it only reaches 135 feet in elevation, making it just as fun for beginners as it is for seasoned hikers.
In addition to hiking and biking the park’s trails, you can see its sights by boat, thanks to the Cuyahoga River that winds throughout it. Hop on a canoe or kayak and make your way down the river—just make sure to respect the rights of landowners, as some of the land along the river is privately owned. The park also hosts a variety of large ponds that are open to paddlers, but your canoes and kayaks must be properly registered with the park service.
During the colder months, you can exchange your kayak for a pair of rentable snowshoes or skis, and glide your way along the park’s boundless trails. You can also bring your sled and hit up Kendall Hills, which offers designated areas for safe sledding and tobogganing.
And if you want to rush down a hill a little faster, then head to the Brandywine Ski Resort, which offers opportunities for downhill skiing and snow tubing, including optional instruction and equipment rentals.
If you head to the park during the warmer months, not only can you take advantage of paddling, hiking, biking, and fishing opportunities, but you can also attend concerts. Both Howe Meadow and Happy Days Lodge, visitor centers within the park, offer outdoor concerts and jam sessions, often accompanied by yummy chef-made food.
Looking to spend more than a day at Cuyahoga? Then book an overnight stay at one of the park’s lodges, such as the Inn at Brandywine Falls. Built in 1848, the inn overlooks Brandywine Falls and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s been meticulously renovated and modernized without losing its historic charm, and it offers visitors plenty of amenities, including gourmet meals.
Speaking of gourmet meals, there are many dining options in and near the park thanks to its proximity to major cities. You can dine on everything from cajun cuisine to seafood and steak, depending on your cravings of the day. The Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau and Destination Cleveland are great places to explore the park’s many dining options.
Whether you choose to stop in for an afternoon at a waterfall or book a long stay at one of the park’s lodges, you’re sure to make many great memories at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
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