Cuyahoga Valley National Park- An Unexpected Journey
By Lisa Travis, Girls Who Hike Ohio Ambassador
With only 58 National Parks in the country, it may seem like a surprise to find one nestled between the cities of Cleveland and Akron in Ohio. In fact it's fairly easy to drive right through bits of the park and never realize you've crossed into it. But don't let the hustle and bustle of the roads deter you from visiting!
Hidden within this urban oasis are over a hundred twenty-five miles of trails that include waterfalls, gorges, meadows of wildflowers, lakes and stunning overlooks. There are around 100 different waterfalls in the park, and plenty of chances to see wildlife, from Beaver Marsh to the Blue Heron rookery. In an otherwise bustling landscape the Cuyahoga Valley National Park provides an escape from city life.
Now, if you come to the CVNP expecting to completely disappear from the world then you may be disappointed. We don't have the vast, undisturbed land, stretching for miles with no signs of people, but what you'll find instead is a vibrant community that lives, works and plays within the park. Cuyahoga Valley National Park was initially established as a National Recreation Area in 1974 but with some confusion from local residents about what this actually meant for the area, the park was re-designated as a national park in the year 2000. Only 4 other parks have been created since then!
If you're looking to camp this is the one thing that is severely lacking within the park. There are only five spots available, hosted by the Conservancy for CVNP, and are located behind the Stanford House. These are primitive tent sites, and are available by reservation only. No backcountry camping is allowed within the park, however, you will find numerous state and local campgrounds in the surrounding areas that allow RV and tent camping access.
When planning a trip to CVNP, there is so much more to the park than just hiking! Want to take a trip back through time? Stroll down parts of the Ohio and Erie Towpath Trail, and visit the Canal Exploration Center. Learn more about the 85+ mile trail stretching through Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark, and Tuscarawas counties that closely follows, and in some spots overlaps, the exact path where mules once pulled canal boats up and down the Ohio Erie Canal. The Towpath Trail is open 24 hours a day within the park, and during summer months, the Exploration Center offers demonstrations of canal life and Lock usage.
You may have heard of Brandywine Falls but did you know that just across the road there is the Boston Mills/ Brandywine Ski Resort? There are also plenty of sledding hills, and cross-country skiing & snowshoe trails. The park offers such a multitude of activities, including horseback trails and kayaking/canoeing. It even hosts a Marathon day each fall, with full, half and 10k options!
Another unique aspect of the CVNP is their special farming conservation program called the Countryside Initiative. This initiative includes 11 farms within the park that are committed to practicing sustainable farming, and promoting good land stewardship. Come visit with lambs, peruse the fresh produce, or pick your own apples!
You can also ride the Ohio Valley Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad through the park, which offers many weekly and special event rides through the park!
The train is great fun for all ages, offering beer and wine tasting trips for the grownups, and with many special trips for families! Meet Thomas the Tank engine, or ride the “Polar Express” to visit Santa at the North Pole!
Visit the Kent State Porthouse Theatre, founded in 1968, which has provided the valley with 50 years of outdoor theater productions. Enjoy a picnic dinner at one of their pavilions or picnic tables before the show! Also located within the confines of the park is Blossom Music center, a well-known outdoor music venue, hosting dozens of artists a year, and the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra!
Growing up within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park region, I never really fully appreciated the gem that we have hidden in plain sight. If you're looking for an Ohio experience that may be unexpected, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is for you.