Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park (+ a one day itinerary!)

Visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio? In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before visiting, plus the best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Despite both of us visiting Cleveland, Ohio multiple times, we had only ever stuck to the city and had never been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. So on our drive to New England this past fall, we made it a priority to visit the park, making it our 40th US National Park that we have visited.

Before planning our one day in the park, we had seen some photos of waterfalls in the park, but were honestly a bit clueless as to what there was to do there. After some research, we were surprised to learn more about its interesting history, unique activities, and fun hikes, which quickly got us more excited to visit.

Watch us explore Cuyahoga Valley National Park

We spent one full day in the park, exploring by foot, bike, and train and it was one of the best surprises of the year and definitely one of the most unique national parks. We had so much fun seeing the park via different modes of transportation, stopping at a local farm, seeing a waterfall, walking through some cool rocks, and learning a lot about the area. We didn’t expect to enjoy our day here as much as we did!

And we’re excited to share more about this park with y’all, that way you can plan your own visit and experience its uniqueness for yourself!

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located in Northeastern Ohio and unlike many national parks, which are remote and hours away from a major city, Cuyahoga Valley is close to both Cleveland and Akron, making it a very accessible park. And not only that, the park is also home to many accessible activities for all ages and abilities, with shorter trails and options of things to do for those who do not enjoy hiking. The combination of this, plus its history, make it a very special park to explore!

Before Cuyahoga Valley became a national park in 2000, the area that now makes up the park had been explored for thousands of years, starting with different Native American tribes, who referred to the river as Cuyahoga, which translates to “crooked river.”

Starting in the late 1700s, settlers from New England made their way to the area and by the 1830s, the Ohio and Erie Canal ran through the Cuyahoga Valley on its way to connect the Ohio River with Lake Erie. This canal created an inland water route between the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, which helped fuel westward expansion, with many goods being transported through this canal. 

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=507197

By 1850, largely due to the canal and the people it brought, Ohio was the third most populated state. But once the railroad arrived in the 1880s, the canal became less used and in 1913, a flood damaged the canal and it was too expensive to repair. 

Over time, the Cuyahoga River gained a slightly negative reputation for pollution and having many fires, but after much improvement, the Cuyahoga Valley became a National Recreation area in 1974 and the Cuyahoga River became an American Heritage River in 1998, before being upgraded to a national park. It is currently the only national park to have started as a national recreation area first!

Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors. 

How to get to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located less than 30 minutes from both Cleveland and Akron, and is also close to other cities in the US, making it a very easy park to visit!

Flying to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

If you plan to fly to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the largest airport nearby will be the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), which offers many nonstop flights on Air Canada, Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, jetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, Sun Country Airlines, and United. 

Akron is also home to the Akron-Canton Airport (CAK), which has nonstop flights from quite a few cities on Allegiant, American Airlines, Spirit, United, and Breeze, which is a new airline. If you can get a decent flight to Akron over Cleveland, this airport totally works too!

Driving to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Besides being close to larger cities in Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is also close to many major highways that go through the Midwest and East Coast, so it’s convenient to many other major cities, especially if you’re on a larger road trip.

Here’s how long you can expect to drive from nearby destinations:

Pittsburgh, PA: 1 hour, 45 minutes (112 miles)
Columbus, OH: 2 hours (129 miles)
Detroit, MI: 2.5 hours (175 miles)
Buffalo, NY: 3 hours (198 miles)
Indianapolis, IN: 4.5 hours (302 miles)
Chicago, IL: 5 hours, 15 minutes (349 miles)

Note: Many highways in this area have tolls, so if you do not want to take a toll road, make sure to turn off tolls on Google Maps. The times above include if you do take the toll road, which can be worth it depending on where you’re coming from and how much time it saves.

How to get around Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

For a more urban park, it’s pretty large at around 33,000 acres, which means that some activities are spread out. And since Cuyahoga Valley National Park does not have an official park shuttle, you will need some mode of transportation to get around, but unlike many parks, there are quite a few options!

Car

The easiest way to get to and around the park is driving your own car (or renting a car), which will give you the most freedom to see the top sights. You could Uber or Lyft from Cleveland or Akron, but it may be pricey. 

Bike

However, instead of driving to the park, you can bike TO the park along the Towpath Trail, which starts in Cleveland and goes through Akron. This would be a very long bike ride (~20ish miles each way), but would be a fun way to get there!

You can also drive to the park and then bike around the park. We will share more about this below, but it’s a really fun way to explore the park and is a must-do in our opinion!

Train

Another way to get around the park is by train! This will limit what all you get to see, as you’ll be restricted to areas in which the train stops, but it is a very unique (and relaxing) way to see the park. We will share more about the train below, which you can ride in its entirety or hike/bike/kayak onto it for just a portion of the route!

When to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Ledges Trail Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is open year round and since it is close to many cities, it gets visitors any time of the year. However, each season provides a different experience in the park and here is what you can expect depending on when you visit!

Winter

Cleveland gets an average of 60 inches of snow per year, so if you visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the winter, you can expect a winter wonderland, with snowy trails and icy waterfalls, plus fun winter activities like cross country skiing, tubing, and sledding. This is a great time to avoid crowds too!

Spring

Once the snow melts, the waterfalls in the park flow at a very high rate, making the spring the best time to visit the park to see the waterfalls! If you avoid spring break time and visit on weekdays, you should be able to avoid crowds.

Summer

Summer can bring large crowds and humid, warm weather, but with no snow on the trails, a full train schedule, and farms open, it provides the most activity options. To beat the crowds in the summer, we recommend starting early and going on a weekday.

We visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park just after Labor Day and on a weekday, starting at sunrise, and it wasn’t too busy at all!

Fall

For beautiful temperatures, fall foliage, and less crowds (especially on weekdays), visit in the fall! If it has rained a lot, you may be treated to more rushing waterfalls than the summertime as well.

Note: Peak fall foliage tends to be in mid to late October and some activities, like the train and farms, close after October, so we would suggest visiting before the end of October if you’d like to visit in the fall.

For this guide we’re focusing on things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park for the  summer and early fall, when the majority of activities are open.

How much time do you need at Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Ledges Trail Cuyahoga Valley National Park

We spent one full day at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and for what we wanted to see, we felt it was the perfect amount of time to see the major highlights, including hiking, biking, and riding the train. We will include our exact one day itinerary at the end of this guide!

However, if you want to go at a slower pace, 1.5-2 days would be a great amount of time as well. And make sure to set aside some time to visit Cleveland too!

Where to stay at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Due to its location, there are many options when it comes to places to stay to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park, both right by the park, as well as in the cities nearby. 

In our opinion, the best spot to base yourself to explore the park is in Cleveland, which is a cool city that offers a lot to do on its own, plus some great food. We assume that many people are visiting the park in conjunction with Cleveland or visiting the greater area, so this would give you a great home base not too far from the park.

However, there are many options in the smaller towns right by the park, as well as in Akron, especially for hotels and Airbnbs. Below are options for a variety of areas, as well as a variety of lodging types.

Hotels

Cleveland

Akron

Airbnbs

Cleveland

The Industrial Pinterest Loft (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): While a tad outside of the main downtown area, this industrial loft is really neat, with cool design features and spacious feel.

The Twin Homes (2 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This townhouse is in our favorite area of Cleveland, with tons of great restaurants nearby. But if you don’t feel like going out, this Airbnb has a great outdoor patio with a grill, plus a fully stocked kitchen.

Urban Cottage (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This cottage has such a cool vibe, with exposed ceilings, brick, an industrial looking kitchen, and a beautiful bathroom. Located a bit south of downtown Cleveland, it’s even closer to the park!

Cuyahoga Valley

Cozy Cottage (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This super cute cottage is only 5 minutes from the park!

Farm Guesthouse (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This guesthouse is on a great property and is walkable to Brandywine Falls!

Peninsula Farmhouse (3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms): This farmhouse is located on a beautiful farm, right by the park and super close to some restaurants, bike rentals, and the train!

Akron

Bohemian Chic Penthouse (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This apartment is beautiful inside and is walkable to different sights and restaurants.

Northside District Loft (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms): This loft is super nice inside and has a gorgeous soaking tub! 

Modern Dutch Colonial (4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms): This is a great option for a larger family!

Campgrounds

There isn’t a campground inside of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but there are a couple RV parks and campgrounds really close to the park, such as the Silver Springs Campground (open April 1-October 31) and the Streetsboro/Cleveland SE KOA Holiday (open May 1-October 31).

These would both be the best options if visiting Cleveland or Akron as well, which being cities, don’t have tons of campgrounds nearby.

Boondocking

We really struggled to find a free place to stay overnight before exploring Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but both times we have been in the Cleveland area in the van we have slept at the Cabela’s in Avon, Ohio for one night, which allows overnight parking (as of writing this) and is only 45 minutes from the park. We have always had other boondockers with us here, which makes us feel safer.

Things to know before visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The park is FREE!

Unlike most national parks, which have an entrance fee, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is FREE to visit! This, plus how close the park is to cities and the variety of activities, truly makes Cuyahoga Valley the most accessible national park we have ever visited.

Dogs are allowed! 

Another big perk of the park is that dogs are allowed on trails, as long as they are on leash. Kona enjoyed getting to hike to Brandywine Falls with us.

RV parking is limited

If you’re in an RV, beware that most parking lots at Cuyahoga Valley do not offer designated RV parking. There are a couple places in the park where RVs can park, such as at the visitor center, Canal Exploration Center, and a few trailheads, but for the most part, the parking lots are designed for regular vehicles, although our 22.5 foot Sprinter van was able to fit okay.

What to Bring to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Since your time at Cuyahoga Valley National Park will likely be filled with hikes and outdoor activities, you’ll want to bring plenty of outdoor gear and clothing. To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit. 

Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

There are many things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, including hikes, historical and educational sites, different modes of transportation, and quick stops. Below are our top suggestions of things to do while in the park.

And while there are more things to do and trails in the park than what we have listed below, this is what we’d suggest if it was your first visit and you want to see the biggest highlights of the park.

Brandywine Falls

One of the most popular things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is to see Brandywine Falls, which is a 60 foot waterfall that is accessed by a 0.2 mile walk (one way) on boardwalks and down some stairs. There are a couple different overlooks along the way to see the falls from different angles. 

During our visit, the falls were mostly a large trickle, but still beautiful. However, when there is a lot of water, it looks extra gorgeous!

After visiting the boardwalk overlooks, you can also hike the 1.5 mile Brandywine Gorge Trail, which takes you along the gorge and down to the creek.

Ledges Trail

Miles (roundtrip): 2.3
Elevation Gain: 209 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

The Ledges Trail is a must-do hike in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and feels like walking through a fairytale at times, with a beautiful forest, sandstone cliffs that tower over you, green moss, and narrow passageways.

While we enjoyed the main trail, the best part in our opinion were the offshoot trails that take you to mini slot canyons and nooks surrounded by giant rocks. It had a magical feeling and was very different from most trails we have hiked!

Note: When you turn onto the loop portion of the trail, we went to the right at this junction and did the loop clockwise. We enjoyed this way because we saved the best part (the really cool rock nooks) for last! But either way works!

Benjaminlehmanphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Blue Hen & Buttermilk Falls

Miles (roundtrip): 3.9
Elevation Gain: 620 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions

To experience two waterfalls in one hike, hike to Blue Hen and Buttermilk Falls! Along the trail, you’ll first come to Blue Hen Falls, which is a 15 foot tall waterfall that flows over a sandstone cliff, with an alcove behind it. It is said to be one of the prettiest falls in the park!

After seeing Blue Hen Falls, continue on the trail to Buttermilk Falls, which is double the size of Blue Hen Falls at 30 feet and cascades down a tiered rockface. Just beware, if you visit in the summer, both of these falls may not be flowing too well.

During our visit, this hike was closed, so we definitely will be returning to hike to both of these falls!

Beaver Marsh

The Beaver Marsh is a perfect example of how a place can be restored from junk. Before the land was developed in the 1800s, this was a wetland, which was drained when the railroad came through. Parts of it were then used as a dairy farm and then right before the park service came along, it was littered by an auto shop with worn out parts and old cars. 

In 1984 it was cleaned up and car parts, bed springs, and accumulated trash were hauled away. Around the same time, beavers started returning to the valley. They had been absent from the area for over a century due to fur trapping. And when they returned, they helped restore the natural water levels and plants began to return, allowing more wildlife to call the marsh home. 

Visiting the Beaver Marsh is a very quick stop along the Towpath Trail (but can be accessed by parking here) and has a boardwalk you can walk or bike across, some signage to read, and lots of plants, lily pads, and if you’re lucky, wildlife to see.

Everett Road Covered Bridge

The Everett Road Covered Bridge is a red covered bridge from the 1800s and is the only remaining covered bridge in the county. This is just a super quick photo stop, but if you love covered bridges (like us!), make sure to swing by here!

Indigo Lake Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Indigo Lake

Indigo Lake is a small lake near the Towpath Trail and is also right at a railroad stop.  This makes for a great place for a picnic, with a few tables and plenty of grass to sit on. We enjoyed some delicious goodies we grabbed from a farm here while biking the Towpath Trail and had it all to ourselves!

You can also go fishing here, but make sure to read the park rules in advance, including license requirements!

Visit a farm

One of our favorite things about Cuyahoga Valley National Park is how many farms are in and near the park. It’s really neat to be able to drive or bike up to a farm and purchase some local treats to enjoy while you explore the park.

During our visit, we went to Szalay’s Farm & Market, which is located right off the Towpath Trail. It started in 1931 as a vegetable farm and is now a sweet corn farm and has a market with a wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies. And on the weekends they even have roasted corn and ice cream to buy! 

A couple other farms to visit are Greenfield Berry Farms for blueberries and Countryside Farmers Market (Saturdays) to support many vendors!

Keep in mind that these farms are only open in the summer through early fall, so make sure to check their hours before visiting!

Bike the Towpath Trail

The Ohio and Erie Canal played a big role in this area’s history and today you can experience part of the canal by going on the towpath trail, which is an 87 mile pathway, with 20 miles going through Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The Towpath Trail takes you along the same path that mules walked as they towed canal boats loaded with goods and passengers back in the 1800s and is accessible by foot, bike, stroller, or wheelchair. 

We rented bikes from Century Cycles in Peninsula, which cost $10 per hour.  We biked about 5.5 miles on the trail, stopping at Szalay’s Farm & Market, Indigo Lake, and the Beaver Marsh, before taking the train back to Peninsula (we will explain how we did this next).

It was a BLAST and if you feel comfortable on a bike, we highly recommend riding on the Towpath Trail and doing the route we did!

Ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Since 1880, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has been going through Cuyahoga Valley and today you can experience the train through various types of rides, including a 3.5 hour scenic ride through the park and themed rides during other times of the year (like a North Pole adventure).

Or you can take advantage of a unique offering where you can bike, hike, or kayak aboard, which is what we did! What this means is that you take your preferred method of transportation one way and then the train the other way.

This costs $5 per person for hiking and biking aboard or $10-$15 to kayak aboard depending on the type of kayak. Cash is preferred and you do not need to book in advance, you’ll just pay when you get on the train and they’ll load the bikes on for you!

For our bike aboard adventure, we biked from Peninsula down to the Indigo Lake station (with some other stops) and then took the train back to Peninsula. It was only about a 15 minute ride, but SO much fun and was one of our favorite national park experiences. It was such a unique way to see the park and we wish more parks had something like this!

Important note: One thing to note is that some stations, including Indigo Lake, are not main boarding stations, so the train does not normally stop unless you wave it down. So when you see the train approaching, make sure to wave your arms so they know to stop for you!

Also, if you are renting a bike, make sure to look at the train schedule to ensure you’ll be back to Peninsula in time to return the bikes before they close. During our visit, we took the 3:30 PM train from Indigo Lake, which was the latest time that would work for us. Worst case, you can bike back if you miss the train.

Boston Mill Visitor Center

Boston Mill Visitor Center

One thing we always love to do when visiting the national parks is to stop by the visitor center so we can get our patch for the park, which we collect, as well as see any interesting exhibits they have.

The Boston Mill Visitor Center is in a historic area of the park that boomed with the Ohio & Erie Canal and was home to boat yards, a lumber mill, a brickyard, and a warehouse. It’s a cool area to walk around for a bit and see some of the old buildings.

And the visitor center itself is in a historic building from the early 1900s, which was once the Cleveland Akron Bag Company building, which was a paper mill that made roofing paper and bags to hold flour. 

Canal Exploration Center

The canal had a huge impact on the area and to learn more about the history of the canal, visit the Canal Exploration Center! The Canal Exploration Center is in a former tavern and store building from the mid 1800s and today you can see interactive exhibits, artifacts from those who lived in the area and worked on the canal, and learn more about locks.

Make sure to check the hours for the Canal Exploration Center, as it varies throughout the year.

Hale Farm & Village

If you enjoy living history museums, make a stop at Hale Farm and Village! This village shares what 19th century life would’ve been like on the farm through demonstrations, gardens, animals, and 32 historic buildings. There are also costumed interpreters to learn from as well, which we always think is a fun touch and a good way to get more immersed in a different time.

Note: Although this museum is located in the national park, it is run by the Western Reserve Historical Society and has an additional fee of $12 per adult ($6 for kids).

One Day Itinerary for Cuyahoga Valley National Park

This itinerary is similar to what we did during our one day at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but with a couple stops we missed. We loved our day here and think it was the perfect mix of activities and gave us a good feel for what the park is all about!

  1. Start the day at Brandywine Falls! We highly suggest getting here around sunrise to have plenty of parking spots to choose from and to enjoy solitude on the boardwalks. This is a very quick stop and takes no more than 30 minutes.
  2. Head over to the Boston Mill area and hike to Blue Hen and Buttermilk Falls. This 4 mile hike will take 2 hours or so.
  3. Visit the Boston Mill Visitor Center and grab any souvenirs, if you’d like!
  4. Head to Peninsula to start your bike ride on the Towpath Trail! If you need to rent a bike, this is where Century Cycles is located. The Towpath Trail has a parking lot here, but if that is full, we parked here, which had a LOT more space.

    While on the Towpath Trail, we suggest biking to the Everett Road Covered Bridge and then to Szalay’s. At Szalay’s, grab some food items to take to Indigo Lake for a picnic, before biking to Beaver Marsh. You can either continue on and pick up the train at the Botzum station or do what we did and go back to Indigo Lake for the train.

    Once back in Peninsula, return your bike (if applicable), before one final hike!
  5. Last, but definitely not least, hike the Ledges Trail! This 2.3 mile trail took us a little over an hour, so as long as you have enough daylight left, it’s not a long hike!

If you have an extra half day or full day, we suggest adding the Canal Exploration Center, Hale Farm & Village, bike more of the Towpath Trail, or take a longer train ride!

Ready to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Pin this guide with the best things to do in the park to plan your own adventure!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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