Cuyahoga Valley National Park has an interesting start. It was not on the radar of many at the turn of the century to become a national park; on the other hand, it was quite the opposite. The area surrounding the park was booming with growth and industry, and the Cuyahoga River had caught fire 13 times from pollution. Tragedy was the catalyst that propelled this region to national park status.
When you arrive, you might be surprised. Cuyahoga can be found in small towns and has houses dotted throughout your journey through the park. You might not be fully surrounded by nature here, but you are surrounded by reclaimed land and a restored virgin river full of life!
Pro tip: Visit the brand new Boston Mills Visitor Center to familiarize yourself with the area and grab a map of all the trails.
Virginia Kendall Ledges and Loop Trail
701 Truxell Road, Peninsula, Ohio 44264
“The Ledges” is what locals call this popular hiking trail in the Cuyahoga Valley. Once you start your hike on this trail you will know why. If there is one adventure in this national park that calls my name over and over again, this is it. Every time I start the path and enter the woods, a magical feeling envelops me as I step forward and make my way to the towering ledges.
Although this trail is rated as moderate I found it to be a rugged 2 mile hike loaded with great rock formations and winding tree roots. As you walk along the course, you will come across wooden bridges over ravines, the Ice Cave and a few other surprises along the way
If you are only here for the view and are not comfortable on long hikes, you can take a short walk to the Corniche at sunset to catch a glimpse of one of the spectacular night skies. from Ohio. You won’t be disappointed with the stunning views as you gaze out over the sprawling valley. You can easily access this area on foot.
Bathrooms are available and it is best to park early in the morning.
Pro tip: Wear sturdy shoes intended for hiking; flip-flops or open-toed shoes are not recommended.
Brandywine Falls and Gorge Trail
8176 Brandywine Road, Northfield, OH 44067
Considered one of the park’s most famous sites, Brandywine Falls never disappoints. The 65-foot cascading falls in the water below are still majestic; However, if you want breathtaking views of the roaring water, come after a good rainstorm. The sounds of the water rushing over the edge are incredible, and I am mesmerized as I watch the power of nature spread out!
Accessibility to Brandywine Falls has been well thought out. If you have a wheelchair, you can use the wooden boardwalk to the upper observation deck, from where you can enjoy excellent views of the falls. Please note that the wooden walkway may be slippery after heavy rain or fall spray. Once you are done you will return to the parking lot as you came.
If you’re up for a challenge and are the adventurous type, you can explore the Gorge Trail accessible from the boardwalk. Here you will venture into one of the enchanted areas of the park. Surrounded by dense forest and majestic geological rock formations of sandstone and shale, you are transported to a hidden space within one of the busiest park areas to explore. As you experience the trail, you’ll cross Brandywine Creek, where you don’t have the luxury of a bridge. Choose your way through rocks or cross by crossing it. Be careful and plan accordingly.
Bathrooms and water fountains are available, and parking is a challenge in the summer, so come early in the morning or late at night.
Pro tip: Located near the falls is the Inn at Brandywine Falls. It was built in 1848 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. However, it has since been renovated and prepared so that guests can enjoy the Greek Revival charm. This is the perfect place to stay when visiting Brandywine Falls.
Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath
Canal Exploration Center, 7104 Canal Road, Valley View, Ohio 44125
Start your hike at the Canal Exploration Center, where you can learn about the canal system, enjoy the hands-on exhibits, and see the restored building that was once a shop and tavern.
After your learning time, take the towpath along the Cuyahoga River, which will take you through the park in a memorable way. Why is it so special? The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs alongside the Canal Path and you can hike between stations to get on and off as much as your backpacking heart desires! Board the train to start and stop as you go, then hop back on the train to your vehicle! It’s a unique way to hike this 19.5 mile flat crushed limestone trail.
You will find that this path is perfect for all skill levels and is wheelchair accessible. Watch for cyclists on your trip and always stay to the right when walking as the path is very busy.
Trails lead from the towpath to other fantastic hikes in the national park.
- Station Road trailhead: This trail is a great place for bird watching in the spring and summer, and you will find plenty of wildflowers.
- Old Carriages Trail: This is a 5.5 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located in an urban area; stay on the marked trail and enjoy this delicious walk.
- Hale Farm Connection Trail: If you are looking for a more moderate and difficult trail on the towpath this offshoot takes you to farm views and gives you a workout.
Pro tip: This excursion will take you all day. Pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the picnic tables while you wait to board the train to your next departure point.
Bridal veil drops
Gorge Parkway, Bedford, Ohio
If you’re short on time but want a quick hike, Bridal Veil Falls will be for you. Get off your car for this 0.4 mile round trip trail. Although this is a quick hike, it is not accessible to everyone. It is a dirt road with wooden steps leading to Bridal Veil. You will notice that the shale face of the falls gives it a hazy appearance, hence its name.
After seeing Brandywine Falls this one might seem small, but it’s a beautiful 20ft cascading waterfall! I enjoyed quiet times here as it’s not as busy as many other sections of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, making it one of my favorite waterfall hikes.
Tree farm trail
2075 Major Road, Peninsula 44264
While this 2.8 mile trail does not have a body of water or a great viewpoint, it will give you a feeling of Narnia as you hike through the densely forested woods. You will quickly understand where the name of the trail comes from when you see the rows of trees that were once an arboreal farm. Tree Farm Trail is rated as easy, however it can be muddy and wet year round. Waterproof hiking boots are recommended and pack bug spray as you might attract a few mosquito friends along the way.
This is another moderately traveled trail so you will most likely see wildlife as you explore. Bird watching here can be delightful, and you may spot the Ohio State Bird, Cardinal, or Fluttering Sparrows. One treat I saw while walking leisurely through the woods is a majestic tall woodpecker hitting a snag on the forest floor. Imagine the calm of the woods and the sound of the hungry woodpecker echoing, it’s amazing.
Hike with your dog in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
You can bring your dog to Cuyahoga Valley National Park! However, there are a few things you should know. You must keep your dog on a leash no longer than six feet. Hiking with pets means you have to pick up your dog’s droppings and carry them around. There aren’t always water points at all trailheads, so bring everything your pet needs: a bowl, water, and a snack.
Pro tip: Cuyahoga Valley National Park doesn’t disappoint if you know what to expect. Plan to stay a few days to see all there is to see here. Be aware that you will encounter traffic, see urban areas throughout the park not like Yellowstone or the Great Smoky Mountains, and start your adventures early in the morning to beat the crowds.
Ohio’s parks and recreation areas are plentiful and worth exploring: