Cuyahoga Valley National Park: A User's Guide

QUICK TRIP: The lower viewing area offers the best angle of Brandywine Falls, which can be reached via a short hike. (Photo: Miriam Poling/Flickr.
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Cuyahoga Valley National Park — a swath of green river valley stretching from Akron north to the southern edge of Cleveland — is Ohio’s only national park and serves as a very big backyard for a megalopolis. There are natural delights such as the thundering Brandywine Falls (above) and the elegant Blue Hen Falls. And you’ll find fragments of living history such as the Everett Road Covered Bridge and the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail once used by barge-towing mule teams and now used by hikers, runners, equestrians and cyclists.


President Gerald Ford signed a bill creating Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area on Dec. 27, 1974. The name was changed to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2000.

Things to do

About 20 miles of the 81-mile Towpath Trail runs through Cuyahoga Valley National Park as a level, hard-packed, crushed limestone. The Towpath Trail follows the path where mules from 1827 to 1913 pulled canal boats loaded with people and cargo up and down the Ohio & Erie Canal. The Towpath Trail is open to all non-motorized uses.

There are a number of family friendly hikes that are not too long and have a big payoff. It’s just a 30-minute roundtrip to Brandywine Falls, at 65 feet the second highest falls in Ohio. Putting together sections of the Haskell Run Trail and the Ledges Trail takes you along the base of the 105-foot high sandstone Ritchie Ledges to Ice Box Cave. While dark and cool, Ice Box Cave isn’t a true cave, but a deep, narrow slit in the rock. It’s still an adventure for the pre-teen set.

Bridge along bike path at Cuyahoga

Be sure to bring your fishing gear. Horseshoe Pond, a popular spot for bass and bluegill, features a fully accessible fishing pier. There is also fishing along the Cuyahoga River and at a number of ponds in the park; however, eating fish from the river is not recommended because of poor water quality.

Why you’ll want to come back

The newly renovated Stanford House opened this spring. The nine rooms that can sleep 29 people, with exclusive whole house booking for large groups, or individual room booking starting at $50 per night with a continental breakfast included.

Flora and fauna

Water means life and with 22 miles of the Cuyahoga River winding through the park there is an abundance of wildlife found here despite being surrounded by urban development. More than 900 species of plants provide food and cover for 194 species of birds and 32 mammal species. This portion of the Cuyahoga River contains 43 different kinds of fish.

Beavers — once extirpated from the valley — are again thriving. River otters have been observed back in the park, too. As many as 150 coyotes now live in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Visitors may also spot whitetail deer, woodchucks, raccoons and an assortment of different squirrels.

Birders will be able to spot eastern meadowlarks, bobolinks and Henslow’s sparrows in the grasslands where the Richland Coliseum once stood.

In the fall, monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico stop to feed on goldenrod and New England aster.

By the numbers:

  • Website: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
  • Park size: 32,855 acres or 51.3 square miles
  • 2010 visitation: 2,492,670
  • Funky fact: No poisonous snakes have been found in the park, although the northern copperhead and Massasauga rattlesnake have been identified in nearby counties.

This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States.

Inset of Twin Oaks Bridge, one of three steel bridges along the along the Old Carriage Trail: Cuyahoga jco/Flickr