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Guide to Visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park


two bikers along a trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

Hike: CVNP’s 125 miles of secluded and densely forested hiking trails prove Ohio is more than a flyover state. A web of hilly, wetland and woodland trails ranges from easy to challenging. The shortest hikes require no more than 15 minutes. Longer treks reach up to 37 miles, where the Buckeye Trail, a 1,444-mile loop around Ohio, winds through the park’s most rugged terrain. Leashed dogs are allowed on more than 110 miles of the trails. Find pet stipulations, as well as background on flora, fauna and history, at trailhead kiosks. Grab a paper map for a guide-to-go, although most trails are well marked with directions and mileage.

Don’t miss the Ledges Trail, a moderate 2.2-mile maze through mossy sandstone cliffs and geologically mesmerizing caves. You’ll think you’re in Oregon, not northeast Ohio.

The valley has more than 100 waterfalls; the most popular in the park is the 60-foot Brandywine Falls, visible via boardwalk or the 1.5-mile Brandywine Gorge Trail. Craving seclusion? Follow Spring Creek for a 1.2-mile hike to the trickling and less crowded Blue Hen Falls. From here, cross the shin-high creek for even more beauty at the cascading Buttermilk Falls. All in all, this out-and-back waterfall route requires roughly two hours.

Go for a train ride: Soak up CVNP’s best scenery on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Macko’s favorite “windshield tour” of the park barrels along freight tracks from the 1800s that wind along the rushing Cuyahoga River. Trains run southbound and northbound mornings and afternoons, with rides averaging two to three hours.

You’re likely to see wildlife. “When the train is running in the spring, it’s not uncommon for people to see bald eagles at their nests,” Macko says.

The Scenic Railroad goes all in on the seasons, from the Fall Flyer ride for autumn foliage to the Polar Express, a holiday journey inspired by the hit children’s book, with Santa meet-and-greets along the way.

Bike through history: History abounds across Cuyahoga Valley’s Towpath Trail, an 87-mile jaunt along the former Ohio and Erie Canal. Floods may have decimated this economic staple in 1913, but more than 2 million visitors now use the trail regularly — and bicycling is the best way to do so. “The trail is flat, easy to ride, and under the cover of trees for most of the way,” says Kevin Madzia of Century Cycles, a CVNP bike shop. “There are many historical sights of interest, like the old canal locks and a visitor center with information about the early inhabitants of the area.”

The trail passes natural highlights, including the wildlife-abundant Beaver Marsh and charming Peninsula, as it winds through the park and beyond. Pack two park adventures into one with the Scenic Railroad’s “bike aboard” special. Bike one length of the park’s Towpath Trail, then flag down the train at a boarding station for a ride back.

Rent bikes, including e-bikes, year-round at Century Cycles in downtown Peninsula.

View wildlife: Ohio may not have grizzly bears and mountain goats, but the park’s beavers, birds, coyotes and foxes impress just as much. The Beaver Marsh is your best bet for all-in-one wildlife sightings. Beavers, otters, turtles and great blue heron thrive in these 70 wetland acres — but it wasn’t always that way. Until the 1980s, this marsh was an old salvage yard. Grassroots groups removed junk cars and scraps; at the same time, beavers — long absent from Ohio — returned to the valley and made a home in the former junkyard.

Bald eagles are another Cuyahoga Valley comeback story. In 2006, the valley saw its first nesting bald eagles in 70 years, and they’ve been nesting at Pinery Narrows in the park’s northern section every year since. Spring’s nesting season is the best time to see eagles and their babies.

Visit a farm: Cuyahoga Valley was farmland well before it became a national park, and nearly a dozen of these farms still operate. Under the National Park Service’s Countryside Initiative, farmers lease park land to preserve the valley’s fertile landscapes. The nonprofit Countryside organization, developed in 1999, runs events such as the Countryside Farmers’ Market all year. Try Ohio-fresh produce such as sweet corn and plump tomatoes, with stands galore at Old Trail School and the adjacent Howe Meadow in the park’s southwest end.

Purplebrown Farmstead, two miles south of Brandywine Falls, hosts classes, workshops and experiences, including cut-your-own sunflower excursions in late summer. Or pick blueberries under the summer sun at Greenfield Berry Farm in Peninsula.

Glimpse into Ohio’s agricultural history at the 90-acre Hale Farm and Village, near the Beaver Marsh in the park’s southwest corner. See farm animals, stroll through heritage gardens and take in blacksmithing and glassblowing demonstrations.

Go skiing: Perhaps surprisingly, CVNP has 18 trails across 88 skiable acres. Boston Mills and Brandywine are side-by-side ski resorts in the heart of the park with interchangeable lift tickets and season passes. Slopes vary from beginner bunny hills to difficult black diamonds, with a peak vertical drop of 264 feet. Ski facilities rent equipment rentals and sell food and alcohol but don’t offer overnight accommodations.

Cross-country skiing trails run the gamut from the beginner-friendly Bike and Hike Trail (a flat, 10-mile course along the park’s eastern border) to the tricky Boston Run Trail, an advanced 3.5-mile path across steep terrain and thick woodlands. The 20-mile multipurpose Towpath Trail attracts cross-country skiers with level terrain, minimal elevation and scenic snow-dusted forests. Rent cross-country skis and snowshoes from the Winter Sports Center at Kendall Lake from December through February.

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