What Is So Special About Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

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If you’re a national park enthusiast, you’ve likely heard of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. But if you’re just a typical RVer who camps at local parks, you might not have heard of this eastern park.

You’ll probably know names like Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Grand Canyon. But today, we will tell you why Cuyahoga Valley National Park is worth visiting and what you need to know. Let’s dive in!

Where Is Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Located just south of Cleveland, Cuyahoga Valley National Park sits in northeastern Ohio. It’s easily accessible from Akron and Cleveland along I-77.

I-80 also runs directly south of the national park, so if you’re traveling from New York or Indiana, you can conveniently stop for a day. 

When Did Cuyahoga Valley National Park Become A National Park?

This part of Ohio was first established as a national recreation area in 1974. However, in 2000, it was elevated to national park status, the only national recreation area to ever receive this distinction.

This park covers almost 51 square miles and is best for biking, hiking, waterfall viewing, and scenic driving. The fall colors here are spectacular!

The entrance sign to cuyahoga valley national park.

What’s So Special About Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

In 2022, Cuyahoga Valley National Park was the ninth most-visited national park in the U.S., with almost three million guests. May through October are the busiest months because of the prime weather in northeastern Ohio.

The park protects the region’s natural beauty and the Cuyahoga River, which was in danger of environmental degradation due to factory waste, sewage, and fires in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

This preserved landscape includes forests, rolling hills, ravines, and wetlands, but the most iconic feature of this park is its waterfalls. There are approximately 100 throughout the park, the most popular being the 65-foot-tall Brandywine Falls.

The history and heritage of this region is also important. This park preserves the Native American culture and early farming lifestyle. Guests learn more about rural living at the Hale Farm and Village and the early native tribes along the Towpath Trail.

Jason walking up stairs looking up at the steep jagged rocks next to him.

When you travel to northeastern Ohio, you’ll find regional parks, native reservations, small towns, and heavily trafficked roadways within the boundaries of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It’s a unique destination with plenty to do. Here are our top three suggestions!

1.   Hike the Trails

There are over 125 miles of hiking trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park with varying difficulties. The Brandywine Gorge Loop and the Ledges Trail are the two most popular.

The Brandywine loop is a 1.5-mile hike with a 160-foot elevation change that provides stunning views of Brandywine Falls. The Ledges Trail circles a plateau of rock formations for a 1.8-mile loop. It also provides beautiful views along the way.

2. Bike the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail

You can bike or walk the 20-mile Towpath Trail, which follows the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal and runs parallel to the Cuyahoga River.

There are three visitor centers along the path, which you can stop in and peruse. Century Cycles, Outspoken E-Bike Rentals, and Valley Blimp City Bike & Hike offer rentals if you don’t have a bike. This is a great way to experience the history of the Cuyahoga Valley.

Rae sitting on a rock with lush green fern and trees on the background at cuyahoga valley national park.

3.  Ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Finally, a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park isn’t complete without a ride aboard the scenic railroad. This is an excellent opportunity to see a large portion of the park and spot wildlife along the ride.

Visitors can sit and enjoy the entire route or get on and off at various stations. During Christmas, kids love journeying to the North Pole aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Departure times vary based on the season, so check the website for the most up-to-date information and to purchase tickets.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss other national sites in Ohio. Make sure to read How Many National Parks Are in Ohio?

Visit This Hidden Gem In Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Have you ever heard of canal questing? From April 15 to November 15, visitors can participate in a treasure hunt in the Ohio and Erie Canalways.

Printed quests are available at the Boston Mill Visitor Center, or you can download the various maps online. These fun, self-guided hikes help you explore the Ohio and Erie Canalways by following clues to hidden boxes. Each location offers impressions of hand-carved stamps you can collect.

Best Place For Camping Near Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Camping is not allowed in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but because of its location between two large metropolitan cities, there are plenty of campgrounds and RV parks nearby. The nearest RV park is Stow Silver Springs Campground in Stow, Ohio.

It’s only a 15-minute drive to the park from here. This city park campground is $18/night for non-residents and includes access to the Silver Springs Park amenities like fishing at Heritage Lake, hiking, the SOAR playground, the Bow Wow Beach, tennis and basketball courts, and more. The campground is adjacent to the Metro Parks’ Bike and Hike Trail.

There are no hookups at Stow Silver Springs Campground, so if you prefer electricity, water, and sewer, you’ll need to drive to the Streetsboro/Cleveland SE KOA. It’s only about 20 minutes from the national park and features all of the amenities the KOA collection of campgrounds is known for.

Jason sitting on a rock with steep broken rock sheets behind him in cuyahoga valley national park.

Is Visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park Worth It?

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the most underrated national parks in the country. It’s a fee-free park, which means you can enjoy the scenic beauty and outdoor recreation here for free. Plus, it’s one of the dog-friendly national parks, with many trails permitting pets on a leash.

From viewing wildlife at Beaver Marsh to paddling the Cuyahoga River Water Trail, there’s something for everyone at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Have you ever visited this national park? Do you have something you’d add to our top three attractions?

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