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The Ultimate Guide to Cuyahoga Valley National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park brings in over 2.2 million visitors yearly, with an unexpectedly diverse array of things to see and do in this sometimes-overlooked park in the Ohio Valley. After decades of restoration, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is now setting the standard for reviving and protecting lands. Here’s our guide to everything about the park.

How To Get to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Where Is Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is in northeastern Ohio between the cities of Cleveland and Akron. This park consists of nearly 33,000 acres of protected land that runs along the Cuyahoga River.

This national park has towering waterfalls, a historical canal towpath, and miles upon miles of trails just waiting to be explored.

Nearest Airports to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

There are 2 airports that are commonly used by those visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Each of these airports is located in a city close to the park.

Akron-Canton Airport (CAK)

Akron-Canton Airport is located in North Canton, Ohio, just 30 minutes from Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

This airport serves Allegiant, American, Breeze, and United and offers nonstop flights to 16 major U.S. cities, over 150 single-stop flights, and flies to over 99 international destinations. Akron-Canton Airport has a rental car kiosk to help with a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE)

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is another popular option for flying to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This airport is just a 25-minute drive from the park.

CLE provides nonstop flights to over 53 destinations. This airport has service from 9 major airlines, including Air Canada, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United.

Once arriving at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, you can rent a car to make your trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Driving to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

There are multiple entrances to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and several ways to arrive, depending on where you are coming from. The main interstates that will get you to the park include I-271, I-77, and I-80. The National Park Service has a helpful website of addresses to help you plan your arrival at the park.

Taking the Train to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Amtrak is an excellent option for getting close to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Sit back and enjoy the sights and scenery and let someone else do the driving. The closest Amtrak station to Cuyahoga Valley National Park is in Cleveland. From the station, it is less than a half hour to the park entrance by car.

Taking a Bus to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

A great way to arrive at Cuyahoga Valley National Park with little driving of your own is by Greyhound. There are several Greyhound Bus stations close to Cuyahoga Valley, but the easiest to access is the station in Cleveland. From the station, it is just a 25-minute drive to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Getting Around Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Hiking Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Hiking Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Image Credit: Ally Griffin via Unsplash

Driving and parking are never issues for tourists at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The park has several entrances and excellent parking facilities at major attractions. The most popular way to get around in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is to use a personal vehicle.

Hiking and biking through the park are also popular ways to explore. Exploring the Cuyahoga Valley by scenic train is another unforgettable way to tour the park. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad takes visitors on a ride that showcases the Cuyahoga Valley and many attractions in and near the park.

Hot Tip: The National Park Service has printable and interactive maps available for guests to plan out their itinerary for a visit to Cuyahoga.

What To See and Do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park has a rich cultural and natural history with plenty to see and do. Let’s explore the activities and sights at Cuyahoga Valley National Park to ensure you have everything planned out for your itinerary.

Boston Mill Visitor Center

Boston Mill Visitor Center
Boston Mill Visitor Center. Image Credit: Ted Toth via NPS

Boston Mill Visitor Center is an excellent place to begin your day at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This visitor center is housed in a historic building that was the general store for the Cleveland-Akron Bag Company in 1905.

Today, the visitor center is staffed with park volunteers and park rangers who are eager to help you plan the best Cuyahoga Valley National Park experience.

Boston Mill Visitor Center also has many exhibits that teach about the cultural and natural history of the park. A store is also available in this visitor center where guests can purchase maps, guides, newspapers, brochures, and souvenirs.

Hot Tip: Young visitors will especially enjoy Boston Mill Visitor Center as this is where they can get their Junior Ranger activity cards to help them become Junior Rangers.

Canal Exploration Center

The Canal Exploration Center is another excellent starting point for your Cuyahoga Valley National Park Experience. The Canal Exploration Center is located at Lock 38. Many visitors say it is a must-do while visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The historic building has been used for many purposes in the past, including a tavern, residence, and store.

Today, the Canal Exploration Center had interactive maps and games that teach why canals were essential as America began to grow. This center has so much to discover, including outdoor exhibits that teach about the site’s history and regularly scheduled events and demonstrations.

Hiking Trails

Hiking is one of the most popular activities at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Several trails wind throughout the park for all ages and abilities.

Some top trails at Cuyahoga Valley National Park include the Ledges Trail, the Brandywine Gorge Loop, the Blue Hen Falls Trail, and the Towpath Trail. These hikes range from 30 minutes to 2 hours and showcase some of the park’s most stunning features and areas.

When hiking through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, tourists will see ravines, waterfalls, rolling hills, striking rock formations, and breathtaking landscape views.

Historic Attractions

Everett Covered Bridge
Everett Covered Bridge. Image Credit: Jeffrey Gibson via NPS

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is thriving with history, with several attractions that can be explored during a visit.

Some of these sites include the Canal Exploration Center, the Stanford House (one of the only lodging options inside the park), and the Everett Covered Bridge, built in the 1800s. These areas have a rich history and are great places for photography, including getting a glimpse of what life was like in earlier times.

Junior Ranger Program

The Junior Ranger program is an excellent program offered at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This program provides children ages 3 and up opportunities to earn Junior Ranger badges.

Children can obtain a Junior Ranger handbook or Junior Ranger activity cards at the Boston Mill Visitor Center. There are several different activities to complete while touring Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Once the activities are complete, the handbooks and activity cards can be turned in at the visitor center or mailed back to the park. Children will receive a badge that declares them as Junior Rangers.

Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail

One of the most popular trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. This trail traverses through the heart of Cuyahoga Valley National Park and can be accessed by bicycle or on foot.

This historic route is a path that mules used to tow canal boats as they transported goods and passengers. Today, this trail connects several historical and natural sites and offers access to Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Taking this trail during a Cuyahoga Valley National Park trip will help tourists learn more about the history of the parklands.

Scenic Train Ride

Scenic Train Ride
Scenic Train Ride. Image Credit: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a popular tourist excursion in partnership with Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The park is the only one in the country with a nonprofit railroad operating within its boundaries.

The railroad has a vision of preserving and renovating historic railcars so visitors can learn and experience this mode of transportation. This excellent outreach program is dedicated to educating tourists and providing them with a memorable experience like no other.

Best Times To Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park

A trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park is fantastic no matter which time of year you visit. However, if you are seeking a specific experience, such as seeing the fall foliage or avoiding the crowds, there are better times to plan a visit than others. Let’s explore some of the best times to visit this national park.

Best Time To Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park for Fall Foliage

Fall in Cuyahoga Valley is a spectacular sight to behold. October is the best month to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park to view the vibrant fall foliage. Typically, the third week of October is the ideal time to visit, but this can change from year to year.

Best Time To Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park To Avoid the Crowds

A trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park can be a calm, quiet experience. If you are planning a visit and want to avoid crowds, visiting in November is best. The park is much less crowded, and the temperatures are relatively comfortable.

Hot Tip: In November, there is also a possibility of enjoying the fall foliage that may still be hanging around before winter.

Best Time To Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park for Wildlife

If you hope to see the wildlife at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the best month for this is May. While the months from March to May are excellent for spotting wildlife, May has the most comfortable temperatures and less chance of rain than the others. Many animals will be just emerging from hibernation.

Cheapest Time To Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Traveling expenses can really add up quickly. If you are looking for a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, planning a trip after the peak summer season, from mid to late September, is a great option. Flight and accommodation rates tend to be lower during this time of year.

Annual Events in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

There are dozens of events that take place in and near Cuyahoga Valley National Park each year. Whether you love races, music festivals, or craft fairs, you will surely find something that piques your interest while visiting. Let’s look at some popular events in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and see if one is calling your name.

Burning River Endurance Run and Relay

Burning River Endurance Run and Relay takes place each year in July. This event takes runners through Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Summit Metro Parks. There are relays as well as a marathon for this event. Burning River Endurance Run and Relay have been operating for 17 years.

Cuyahoga County Fair

The Cuyahoga County Fair is a 5-day event that takes place each August, just 19 miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The fair has been taking place for 126 years. It features an impressive list of activities, contests, flea markets, rides, and guest speakers. This fair is a must if you plan to visit in August.

Winter Hike: Nature-inspired Upcycling Art

This is an event for artists and art enthusiasts each February. Participants set out on a hike through Cuyahoga Valley National Park and capture photographs that will later become a work of art made out of upcycled materials. A local artist instructs and guides participants through the process.

Where To Stay in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is in a premier location for lodging both in and near the park. Many small towns and busy cities surround this park, so finding a place to set up a home base will be easy.

The park has 2 lodging options inside of its boundaries, so let’s explore those and some of the surrounding cities to see what will work best for your national park vacation.

Inside the Park

There are 2 options for lodging inside Cuyahoga Valley National Park, with each being a historic element of the park. Let’s take a look at the 2 possibilities for lodging inside the park and see which one sounds good for your national park vacation.

Stanford House

Stanford House
Stanford House. Image Credit: Ted Toth via NPS

Stanford House is located near the small village of Boston in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This remodeled home from the 1800s is not only a popular attraction in the park, but it’s also an option for lodging.

Visitors can stay overnight in Stanford House while visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This lodging option with rustic decor and ambiance features 9 bedrooms and a self-service kitchen.

The location of Stanford House is ideal, with access to many picnic areas, an outdoor fire pit area, and nearby popular attractions. Stanford House is open year-round and makes an excellent choice for those who want to stay in the park.

Staying at Stanford House is a fantastic way to get the full experience of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Step back in time and experience Cuyahoga Valley by setting up a home base in this historic home.

Inn at Brandywine Falls

Inn at Brandywine Falls is open yearlong and offers an excellent place for lodging. This beautiful inn is a bed and breakfast that was originally built in 1848.

Not only is the Inn at Brandywine Falls a charming feature of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but it’s also featured on the National Register of Historic Places. This gorgeous home has been renovated and modernized for a premium stay while showcasing its historic Greek revival appearance and character.

The Inn at Brandywine Falls serves visitors breakfast daily, has stunning living and sleeping areas, and offers complimentary Wi-Fi. The location of this inn is perfect for those who want to spend their time hiking and biking, as it provides access to many surrounding trails.

Towns Near Cuyahoga Valley National Park

There are several towns near Cuyahoga Valley National Park. These surrounding towns would make an excellent place to set up a home base while visiting this national park.

The nearby towns range from 5 minutes to 30 minutes from the park (by car) and vary from small quiet towns to larger bustling cities. Let’s look at some of the most popular places to stay near Cuyahoga Valley National Park and see what they can offer you for your national park vacation.

Akron, Ohio

Akron is just 15 minutes from Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This city has some exciting attractions, lodging options, restaurants, and plenty of activities to enjoy.

There are plenty of options for accommodations in Akron, including well-known chain hotels, cozy inns, and charming bed and breakfasts.

Food enthusiasts will enjoy Akron as it’s an excellent place for both fine dining and more casual fare. This city has everything from authentic Mexican cuisine to Asian fusion restaurants to old-fashioned diners serving tried-and-true dishes. Visitors enjoy the nightlife in Akron and can take advantage of the nightclubs, lounges, and bars.

Akron is also known for its visual, musical, and theatrical arts. Some must-see attractions include the Akron Zoo, the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, and dozens of art museums and galleries.

The city is an excellent choice and a convenient option for those visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It’s perfect for lodging, sightseeing, and learning about the rich history of the Cuyahoga Valley.

Brecksville, Ohio

Brecksville is just 10 minutes from Cuyahoga Valley National Park and is in Cuyahoga County. This town has several attractions, lodging options, and great dining establishments.

The area has many inns, bed and breakfasts, and some chain hotels. Whether you are looking for a unique experience or a traditional establishment, you will find a perfect place to rest your head in Brecksville.

There’s an assortment of options for dining in Brecksville, including steakhouses, taverns, gourmet delis, and cafés. Most restaurants are locally-owned and family-run.

Several major points of interest in Brecksville make great stopping points during your national park vacation. Brecksville Nature Center, Station Road Bridge, and the CountyLine Saloon are just a few places tourists enjoy visiting. There are also plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure, including hiking and biking trails, an archery range, and a ski area.

With its proximity to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and excellent accommodations, activities, and restaurants, Brecksville is ideal for a home away from home during your national park trip.

Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland, Ohio
Image Credit: DJ Johnson via Unsplash

Cleveland is a bit further than the other options listed, but it’s still relatively close, being just 30 minutes to the park. This famous U.S. city has many well-known attractions, restaurants galore, and numerous accommodations. Cleveland is an excellent choice for visitors who want to experience the excitement of a city and still be close to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

There are hundreds of places to choose from when lodging in Cleveland. From luxury resorts to chic downtown hotels and everything in between, Cleveland has something for every traveler.

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat when visiting Cleveland. This city has several restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. From home-cooked meals to ethnic dishes, your hardest decision in Cleveland is deciding where to eat.

If you want to explore this fantastic city, there are plenty of options for recreation. The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Cleveland Zoo are 3 places you won’t want to miss when visiting.

Bottom Line: If you are hoping for some city energy during your Cuyahoga Valley National Park vacation, staying in Cleveland is a solid option.

Hudson, Ohio

Hudson is less than 10 miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  There are several options for lodging in Hudson, from bed and breakfasts to cabins to Airbnbs and contemporary hotels.

There are dozens of restaurants, including pizza parlors, Mediterranean restaurants, authentic Mexican eateries, and restaurants serving all-natural, organic dishes. There are several taverns and lounges for those who enjoy a nice drink and socializing at the end of a long day.

Hudson has many recreation opportunities, including shopping, historic home tours, and home-and-garden events. For those looking for relaxation, several local spas and salons specialize in pampering.

Hudson is an excellent option for visitors looking for a quieter place to stay near Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Peninsula, Ohio

Peninsula is the closest town to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It is only a 5-minute drive to Peninsula from the park entrance. This small town makes an excellent choice for setting up a base nearby.

While there are fewer lodging options than in some nearby towns, the available options are high quality. Lodging in Peninsula consists primarily of charming bed and breakfasts and quaint family-run inns. There are also luxury overnight accommodations and historical options in the downtown area.

While dining establishments are a bit more scarce, there are still several options, including locally-owned taverns, diners, and gourmet restaurants.

This small town has much to offer for recreation, including a historic downtown area, a river that runs through town, and trails for hiking and biking. There are several historical sites, and walking tours that teach about the background of the town. Visitors who enjoy art can visit The Peninsula Art Academy and attend artist workshops.

Where To Eat in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

There’s no shortage of excellent dining establishments near Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Many of the nearby restaurants have received awards for their outstanding menus. Let’s explore some of the top-ranked restaurants near Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Country Maid Ice Cream

There’s no better way to top off a great day at the park than with a heaping scoop of homemade ice cream. Country Maid Ice Cream is a wonderful place to stop for a sweet treat after visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

This family-owned business has been churning out delicious homemade ice cream since 1948. Customer favorite flavors include black raspberry and “White House” cherry. Country Maid Ice Cream is only 3.5 miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Creekside Restaurant and Bar

Creekside Restaurant and Bar is in Brecksville, just 3 miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This restaurant is ideal for a fine dining experience.

The menu features classic dishes with a contemporary twist made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Customer favorites include Mediterranean pizza, crabcake po’boy, honey pecan chicken, and Delmonico steak.

Creekside has a happy hour menu featuring handcrafted cocktails, cold draught beers, and a fine wine selection. The bar and lounge have a relaxing ambiance with a fireplace to enjoy while sipping a favorite drink.

Fishers

Fishers is less than 4 miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park and is a favorite restaurant for locals and visitors alike. Fishers has been serving guests for 65 years and the family-owned restaurant is open daily, serving brunch, lunch, and dinner.

There are specials for game day and happy hour, as well as a rotating list of pub go-tos. Fishers has something for every palate, whether you’re in the mood for spicy hot wings, loaded french fries, or fresh seafood.

Whitey’s Booze N’ Burgers

Whitey’s Booze N’ Burgers is an incredible restaurant that’s 5 miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This restaurant is open daily for lunch, dinner, late-night meals, and desserts.

The restaurant serves a menu that features famous chili, juicy burgers, cold beers, and other comfort foods and drinks. This restaurant has been proudly serving its recipes since 1953. The combination of great food, cold drinks, and sports on the TV makes Whitey’s an excellent choice for refueling after a day of exploring the park.

Winking Lizard Tavern

Winking Lizard Tavern is a top-rated restaurant in Peninsula, less than 4 miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This relaxed tavern serves a menu of classics like wings, pizza, burgers, and beer. Winking Lizard also has numerous TVs so you won’t miss any of your favorite sports events. 

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Facts

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Nature
Image Credit: Ally Griffin via Unsplash

1. A (Relatively) New National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park was first declared Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in December of 1974. Later, on October 11, 2000, the recreation area became Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

2. What’s in a Name?

The word Cuyahoga comes from a Native American word meaning “crooked river.” Much of the park runs along the Cuyahoga River.

3. Original People of the Park

Some of the earliest people of Cuyahoga Valley National Park were Paleoindian hunters. They came to the area in search of caribou and other large mammals approximately 13,000 years ago. Since then, many tribes have made their home in this area, including the Hopewell and Whittlesey groups and the Seneca, Ojibwa, and Mingo tribes. Cuyahoga Valley National Park has a rich history that continues to have its stories shared with park visitors.

4. Diverse Wildlife

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is home to an impressive list of animals. Over 250 species of birds, 20 types of reptiles, 18 kinds of amphibians, and 41 mammal species live in this park. Mink, coyotes, foxes, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, and beavers are just some animals you can see when visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

5. National Register of Historic Places

Several places in Cuyahoga Valley National Park have made their way to the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these locations include the Inn at Brandywine Falls and Station Road Bridge.

6. A Host of Habitats

Cuyahoga Valley National Park has many different habitats within its boundaries, which may be surprising since urban areas surround it. This park has field, river, wetland, and forest habitats that provide for the needs of the diverse wildlife.

7. Miles and Miles of Trails

There are over 125 miles of hiking trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The trails range in difficulty from easy to strenuous and take park visitors through the forests, wetlands, and fields around the park.

8. Camping Is a Thing of the Past

Camping used to be permitted in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Today, there are no developed or primitive campgrounds or campsites. Camping is prohibited in this national park.

9. Restoration of the River

The Cuyahoga River, at one point, was the most polluted river in the U.S. This river was so polluted that it caught on fire 13 times since the 1860s. Today, efforts are made to keep this river clean and protected. The dire state of this river helped in the establishment of the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency.

10. A Gorgeous Waterfall

Ohio’s tallest waterfall is located in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Brandywine Falls stands 65 feet tall and is a must-see attraction when visiting Ohio.

11. Ready for a Close-p

Generations,” a made-for-TV documentary that features Cuyahoga Valley National Park, aired in 2009. This documentary features interviews of local community members, stories, and relics of the past.

12. Lots of Visitors

Many visitors make their way to Cuyahoga Valley National Park each year, but in 2020, this park received a record number of tourists. In 2020, nearly 2.8 million visitors came to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

This record high meant that it was number 7 on the most visited national park list that year. Most people believe this high number was due to the pandemic and the park’s relatively accessible location.

13. National Heritage Area

Congress established the Ohio and Erie Canalway National Heritage Area to preserve and commemorate the landscapes, towns, rails, trails, and sites first established along the canal.

This canal was essential in the early growth of America. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway, the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, and National Scenic Byways showcase this beautiful historic area.

14. Abundance of Plants

There are 943 documented plant species in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This park has several habitats represented, so naturally, each of those habitats comes with an abundance of plant life. From trees, like maples, beech, and spruce, to fields of wildflowers, this park is sure to take your breath away with its variety of beautiful plants.

Final Thoughts

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a fantastic park filled with history, wildlife, and natural and historic sites. From historical landmarks to scenic train rides, you will find something for everyone at this national park.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many days should I plan to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Cuyahoga Valley National Park isn’t as large as some of the other parks in the U.S.. It would be tough to see everything in just a day, so planning a 2- to 3-day trip is recommended.

How much does it cost to enter Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Unlike many other national parks, there is no cost to enter Cuyahoga Valley National Park. There may be fees at some of the attractions, but general admission is free of charge.

Can I bring my dog to Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Dogs are welcomed at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. There are expectations for pet owners, such as keeping dogs on a leash and cleaning up after pet waste.

What is the weather like at Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

The weather varies throughout the year at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Summers are warm, and winters are cold and snowy. Temperatures range from the mid-80s in the summer to teens and below in the winter.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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