lady and dog sit at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park sign

Tips for Visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park Trails

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Last Updated on February 23, 2021 by Michelle Moyer

lady walking deep in the woods in cuyahoga valley national park
Walking through Cuyahoga Valley National Park

First time visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

I have lived here near Cleveland, Ohio all of my life and I am ashamed to admit that this was my first hike on the Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails.  It is a sprawling national park that follows the Cuyahoga River between areas of Cleveland to Akron in the Buckeye State of Ohio. Perhaps they need to get the word out more about their excellent park system, trails, and wildlife… or maybe they don’t and they can keep it as pristine as it is for the few of us that now know about it!

Our experience hiking Cuyahoga Valley National Park Trails

My friend and I went to hike the Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails on a beautiful sunny weekend at the end of September.  I took my pup because this is a very pet-friendly park.  We saw a lot of beautiful fall foliage and nature.  We tested out the hikes and trails, saw the main sites, and…. used the Ranger Emergency Response to call an ambulance.  All in a day’s trek.  But the emergency was not the fault of the park.  The emergency response was actually perfect, so let’s take a look at all the sites and I will get to the catastrophe when it happened.

History of Cuyahoga Valley National Park

river running through trees
The twisty Cuyahoga River

The great Cuyahoga River twists and turns its way through a valley from Akron to Cleveland toward Lake Erie.  The Cuyahoga Valley National Park was established in 1974 in the valley to protect the waterway and provide a natural area of fields, green valleys, and forests for the river to run through and thrive. Nowadays, visitors travel to this National Park for all the plentiful outdoor activities and nature that it has to offer.

How Many Days do you Need in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

It is often referred to as a park for locals, however, in our brief visit, we were definitely the minority car in each parking lot with our Ohio plates.  You can spend a day touring this park, or even a week and you will not run out of hiking trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. There are miles and miles of paths with beautiful scenery for you to admire on the way.  Not a hiker?  There are still other great activities for you to choose from including biking, kayaking, and riding the rails…. the list is very long!

Top Sites to See at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

What to See at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

BOSTON MILL VISITOR CENTER

6947 Riverview Road, Peninsula 44264  MAP

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Visitors Center

Start your visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park with a stop at the new Boston Mill Visitor Center.  There is ample parking, restroom facilities, a gift shop, and rangers on staff to help you plan your hikes and visit through Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  The gift shop sells plenty of informational books, guides, and souvenirs. There are also many displays set up in the Visitor’s Center to educate you about the wildlife and nature in the park.

exhibits Inside the Visitors Center at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Exhibits Inside the Boston Mill Visitor Center

The Visitor Center has some indoor exhibits to familiarize visitors with the heart of Cuyahoga Valley National Park: the canal.  The Ohio & Erie Canal was a 19th-century transportation creation that connected the Ohio River to Lake Erie and therefore essentially connected Ohio to the rest of the nation.

Tips for Visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park Trails 1 old gas station in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Old Boston Visitors Center and Towpath Trail Sign in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Behind the Visitor Center is Boston Village.  There are a few historic buildings and an old-time gas station that are worth some Instagram pics.  Behind THAT is the old Visitor Center, a beautiful old home that grew to be too small to house the visitor center, so it was relocated.

This whole area is a great place to walk around.  There are a lot of very scenic walks, bridges, and overlooks. It can take you a good hour or longer to walk around and see everything here… and that’s before you hit any of the trails.

There is also a trailhead to the Towpath trail located right behind the Visitor Center.  

TOWPATH TRAIL

If you mention Cuyahoga Valley National Park to someone that has been there, they will undoubtedly refer to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.  This is what Cuyahoga Valley National Park is known for.

The trail was formed centuries ago in the 1800s when mules pulled boats filled with goods and passengers along this path for the Ohio and Erie Canal that ran alongside it.  The historic trail was born and loved immediately.  The 19.5-mile Towpath Trail winds around the park and is very popular with hikers, cyclists, strollers, joggers, and in some sections horse riders.  In the winter, the trail is not plowed, to allow cross-country skiing.  It is a very flat and hard-packed trail, so a smooth ride for all.

bikers inthe towpath trail in cuyahoga valley national park trails
Beautiful day for a ride on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail

Along the trail, you will find nature, forests, wetlands, and wildlife.  The old locks that raised and lowered the boats to different levels in the canal are still there, as well as the mile markers that measured those historic miles.  You will also have views of the epic Cuyahoga River itself, the main waterway winding through the national park.

BRANDYWINE FALLS

8176 Brandywine Road, Sagamore Hills 44067  MAP

Brandywine Falls is the park’s main attraction, leading to large crowds at peak hours.  Get there early or late and avoid mid-day since the limited parking lot is jam-packed from 10 – 3 pm on nice days. 

view from high above brandywine falls in cuyahoga valley national park
Brandywine Falls from the upper overlook

Brandywine Falls is a 60-foot waterfall that is reached by a short boardwalk that enters the woods from the parking lot and follows along the gorge with an upper and lower viewing platform.  The upper platform is wheelchair and stroller accessible and takes you to an overlook above the falls.  It is sometimes difficult to get good photos of the falls from here when there is still a lot of foliage in the trees.

There is a set of stairs to descend to the lower platform which takes you to a closer view of the falls and provides a better location for capturing the beauty.

brandywine falls at cuyahoga valley national park
Brandywine Falls from the lower deck. Source: Commons Media

Forgotten village of Brandywine

information sign for the forgotten village of Brandywine

There was once a village of Brandywine located here, providing a namesake for the falls.  The city took advantage of the water power of the Cuyahoga River by building a productive sawmill.  The thriving community eventually took a hit with the creation of the Ohio and Erie Canals and railroad for shipping goods and became deserted.  One of the original mills has been restored and now serves guests as the Inn at Brandywine Falls.

BUTTERMILK FALLS

I saw some posts about Buttermilk Falls, so we were anxious to try to find it.  After parking our car, we questioned one of the rangers.  He told us that Buttermilk Falls sits on private property and is not accessible to visitors in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. So, we struck out on seeing that.

BLUE HEN FALLS

6947 Riverview Road, Peninsula 44264  MAP

Our visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park was after a long dry-spell.  It hadn’t rained for a few weeks and the Blue Hen Waterfall was down to a few little tinkles. How many waterfalls are in Cuyahoga Valley National Park? Quite a few! For this one you need to hike one to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails.

small waterfall
Blue Hen Falls after a drought

There is no longer any close parking to Blue Hen Falls.  You will need to hike 3 miles roundtrip to see this one.  The trail is winding and hilly. I imagine it could also be muddy after a rain-spell, but it was quite dusty and rocky during our drought.  In fact, the friend that I was hiking with lost her footing on some of the loose rocks at the end of the hike and took a tumble, breaking 3 bones in her ankle in that gymnastic maneuver.  The Rangers were right on top of things and got her taken care of and transported to emergency care in no time.  Thank you for your help guys!

rangers wheel hiker from the woods at cuyahoga valley national park
Emergency rescue by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Rangers

Now, here are photos of what Blue Hen Falls looks like in all its rain-fed glory.  Perhaps we need to go back after a few rainstorms for a revisit of this hike and the falls, ending with a better finale that doesn’t include the emergency room.

Blue hen falls at cuyahoga valley national park
Blue Hen Falls. Source: Commons Media

THE LEDGES

405 Truxell Road, Peninsula 44264 MAP

The Ritchie Ledges is a site that is one of the park’s absolute MUST-Dos.  The spectacular ledges and crevices were formed millions of years ago by the glaciers that once covered this area.  The rocky terrain and towering cliffs are an artwork worth seeing.  There is a 1.8-mile trail around the Ledges which winds around the sandstone cliff views of the rocky terrain.

The Ledges landscape at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Ledges

Ice Box Cave, on the far end of the Ledges, houses a roost for bats and is closed for their protection.  The Ledges are a very popular site, so it is typically crowded with hikers, dog walkers, and site-seers snapping selfies.  There are many picnic areas at the Ledges as well as a large grassy area adjacent to the parking lot that is great for throwing down a picnic blanket and relaxing with your sweetie after your long hike while you look up at the blue sky.

large open grassy area at the Ledges in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Ledges grassy fields and picnic area

BEAVER MARSH

3801 Riverview Road, Peninsula 44264  MAP

Access at: Ira Trailhead

The Beaver Marsh is filled with diverse wildlife.  The wildlife population not only includes beavers, but also muskrats, frogs, turtles, water snakes, and many others.  This is the best place in the park for bird-watching with over 50 species of birds in the marsh in various seasons.

trail over beaver marsh at cuyahoga valley national park
Boardwalk over Beaver Marsh. Source: Commons Media

Beavers Marsh Rebuilding

When the development in the 19th century began, the original wetlands were drained and an auto repair shop was located on this site.  In 1983 there was an organized cleanup that removed all the old car parts, bed springs, and trash.  It was during this time that the heroes of the marsh, the beavers, started returning.  Excessive beaver trapping for their fur had vanquished the animal from the area for over a century.  The returning beavers built a system of dams that restored the natural water levels and brought back the wetlands and the accompanying wildlife that makes this now such a diverse area.

description of how they fixed up beaver marsh

EVERETT COVERED BRIDGE

2370 Everett Road, Peninsula 44264  MAP

Everett Bridge crosses Furnace Run and is the only covered bridge left in Summit County, in a state that has over 150 wooden covered bridges.  The Everett Bridge had an important role in history as the access to crossing over the Cuyahoga River when the water levels rose, thus enabling more merchants entry to the Ohio & Erie Canal system.

red covered bridge surrounded by green trees in cuyahoga national park
Everett Covered Bridge at Cuyahoga National Park

SZALAY’S FARM AND MARKET

4563 Riverview Road, Peninsula 44264  MAP

Szalay’s Farm and Market began in the 1930s as a vegetable farm and has been passed down through four generations.  Nowadays you can stroll through this market for fresh fruits and vegetables picked straight from their fields and local home-made goodies that make your mouth water.

market building and pumpkins for sale in cuyahoga valley national park

The Szalay’s sweet corn market is open every day to provide fresh farm-grown produce to park visitors.  This market is especially full of activity in the fall, when in addition to the normal market, pumpkins, corn mazes, and hayrides are added.

hay ride and corn maze Activities in the fall at Szalays Market in Cuyahoga Valley
Lots of fall activities at Szalays Market

They run an eatery on the busy weekends.  Make this your lunch stop at one of their three outdoor huts for grilled sandwiches, roasted corn on the cob, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and ice cream desserts.

HALE FARM AND VILLAGE

2686 Oak Hill Rd, Peninsula   MAP

Hale Farm is located on the southern edge of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  Its signature building is a small brick house, surrounded by 90 acres of fields and farmland and in the 1930s the property was donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society.  The Village is now a living history museum with 32 historic buildings, farm animals, and historical interpreters depicting life in the 19th century and demonstrating the early American crafts of glassblowing, spinning, blacksmithing, weaving, candle making, broom making, and pottery.

blacksmith working over hot coals

HOW TO SEE CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

SCENIC RAILROAD

Rockside Station: 7900 Old Rockside Road, Independence 44131

Peninsula Depot: 1630 Mill Street, Peninsula

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train under bridge
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Source: Commons Media

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the only national park with a non-profit heritage railroad providing transportation throughout the park to thousands of visitors each year.  They also operate many educational programs that inform railway visitors about its history and natural environment that it contains through the park system.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a tourist excursion railway with many boarding stations throughout the park.  I left it off of the list of sites until now because not only is it an attraction, but it is also a great way to get around the park.  Hikers and bikers can purchase a cheap one-way ticket, ride the rails to a distant boarding station, and then take the park trails back to the original starting point.  Using the railroad’s BIKE ABOARD! program, the train staff can load bikes into the specialized storage train car to transport to the designated stops along the route.

TRAILS and HIKING

There are over 90 miles of trails throughout Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  There are some with varying elevations and some with flat level footpaths.  The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath is the most popular, most crowded, as well as the longest pathway.  It is a flat trail, pounded firm from years of mules transporting boats down the canal waterways.  Try some out! 

hikers on the towpath trail
Hikers and dog walkers on the Towpath Trail

How Many Trails are there in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

TRAIL NAMEMileageTrail Description
Beaver Marsh Boardwalk0.25crushed limestone, wood
Forest Point Trail0.5flat, unpaved
Furnace Run Loop1hilly, unpaved
Lake Trail1flat, unpaved
Oak Hill Trail1.5flat, unpaved
Pine Grove Trail2.2hilly, unpaved
Cross Country Trail2.5hilly, grass, unpaved
Tree Farm Trail2.75flat, unpaved
Stanford Trail3steep hills, unpaved
Salt Run Trail3.25hilly, unpaved
Boston Run Trail3.4hilly, unpaved
Plateau Trail4.5flat, unpaved
Wetmore Trail4.5hilly, unpaved
Towpath Trail19.5flat, crushed limestone

SHELTERS FOR SPECIAL EVENTS

While there are picnic areas located throughout the park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has two shelters that can be reserved for large get-togethers like a reunion or birthday party.  They are both next to the Ledges, hiking trails, and a large field for activities.

Ledge Shelter

701 Truxell Road Peninusula

The Ledges Shelter has 8 picnic tables inside, 8 picnic tables outside, and can accommodate up to 75 people.  It has a large outdoor grill for cooking your meals and two fireplaces for warmth.

Octagon Shelter

801 Truxell Road Peninusula

The Octagon Shelter is also located by the Ledges and can accommodate up to 50 people.  It has 7 indoor picnic tables and an outdoor grill.

PETS AT CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Along the pet-friendly Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails, you must keep your pet restrained on a maximum 6-foot leash at all times.  Pets are allowed on all walking trails and must remain on marked trails.  Please clean up after pets at all times.

lady and walk walk on a path near railroad tracks at cuyahoga valley national park
Hiking near the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad tracks on the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Trails

WHERE TO EAT AT CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

The best place to eat at Cuyahoga Valley National Park is at The Ledges.  There are plenty of picnic tables and a large grassy lawn to enjoy.  Pack your lunch and relax in this beautiful setting before you head out on your next hike.

large open grassy area at the Ledges in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Szalays Farm and Market runs an eatery on the weekends, so you can grab a grilled sandwich and roasted corn there.

If you aren’t a picnic-type person and you want to eat out, I can recommend Dilly’s Drive-In.  You pull right in and flash your lights for service.  Like the old-days of car-hops, they come to your car for your order, deliver your food, and attach it to your window.  They have burgers, hot dogs, and fries galore.  They also have milkshakes which I REALLY wanted to order, but was absolutely too full from my cheeseburger.

full view of dillys drive in restaurant with cars parked in front
dog with head out the window ready to order at dillys drive in restaurant
Order Up!! at Dilly’s Drive-in near Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Dilly’s Drive In

4280 State Road, Peninsula 44264

WHERE TO STAY AFTER HIKING THE CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK TRAILS

The National Park is located between Cleveland and Akron. A great base for park visits would be areas of Cleveland. If you are looking for some nice Airbnb rentals for your visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, check out my post for HOW TO FIND THE BEST AIRBNB CLEVELAND OHIO for some great rentals.

Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park soon for a great hiking, biking, and all-around nature-loving experience.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails are plentiful with many sites worth visiting for a day, a weekend, or even a longer vacation. I hope you were able to plan your activities and hikes with this helpful guide. Let me know which sites were your favorites.

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Cathy

Looks like a beautiful part of Ohio! I am usually traveling through Dayton.. Maybe I will take a detour next time. I especially like the waterfalls! I hope your friend is ok? that’s a terrible end to a great day of hiking..

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