Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a 33,000-acre stretch of forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands along the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. Two of its most popular attractions are the Towpath Trail, which follows the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal, and the 60-foot-tall Brandywine Falls waterfall.
Last year, Cuyahoga Valley National Park was the 7th-most-visited national park — drawing 2.8 million visitors. Part of its appeal is that the park is only 22 miles from Cleveland, 113 miles from Pittsburgh, and 129 miles from Columbus, Ohio. It’s also 230 miles from Cincinnati.
The combination of so many sights to see and possible activities, plus proximity to numerous metro areas and subsequent crowds makes planning a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park challenging. The staff at the National Park Service (NPS) understand that complexity and want to make your trip planning easier. That’s why the NPS has released its “Top Ten Tips for Visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park,” written by the rangers who work there.
“Before you come, be sure to plan like a park ranger,” the rangers write. “Read on for our top tips for visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park.”
1. Know Before You Go
Since there is so much to see and do at the park, rangers encourage visitors to plan their trip ahead of time. The first step, they explain, is to visit the park’s website. Then they recommend continuing checking the website to stay up-to-date about alerts, events, and recommendations — as well as being informed about construction projects and changes in the park.
You can check the park’s website here.
Pro Tip: Rangers also suggest downloading the NPS App, which provides interactive maps, tours of park places, and on-the-ground accessibility information about more than 400 national parks. Rangers explain that you can also use the app to help navigate around the park.
The free app can be downloaded through the App Store and Google Play.
2. Make Reservations Early
Cuyahoga Valley has two picnic shelters for large groups. Rangers suggest making reservations early if you plan to use one of the shelters. The same holds true for lodging at the historic Stanford House, which was built in 1843.
Built during the Great Depression out of American chestnut and locally quarried sandstone, the rustic Ledges and Octagon shelters can be booked up to a year in advance. You can learn more about the shelters here and make reservations here.
Managed by the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Stanford House has beds for up to 30 people — making it ideal for vacations, a small team’s retreat, or even family reunions, the conservancy explains. You can learn more about Stanford House here.
3. Avoid The Busiest Times
“Many of our parking lots fill up around midday on warm, sunny weekends,” rangers explain. “Avoid the crowd by coming on weekdays, in the mornings, or later in the day.”
You can find more tips for avoiding crowds at the popular The Ledges, Brandywine Falls, Blue Hen Falls, and Towpath Trail here.
4. Check The Weather
“If you plan to be outside, watch the weather forecast and plan accordingly,” rangers explain. “Being close to Lake Erie, our weather can change quickly. Use your favorite app or visit our weather page for a snapshot of the local conditions.”
Pro Tip: If there have been storms in the vicinity, rangers recommend checking the park’s website for possible alerts regarding trail and road closures. And remember: “Never drive through floodwater,” the rangers caution.
5. Bring Water
“It’s always a good idea to bring water,” the rangers note. “Then keep sipping throughout the day and refill your water bottle at every opportunity.”
Pro Tip: You can find the park’s drinking fountain locations on the NPS App, which is another reason to download the app.
6. Stop At The Visitor Center First
Rangers explain that the Boston Mill Visitor Center — a historic building that once was the general store for the Cleveland-Akron Bag Company — should be visitors’ first stop. While there, you can pick up a copy of the Cuyahoga Valley Park Brochure, which includes a driving map. Copies of the Valley Guide newspaper and trail maps are also available at the visitor center.
You can learn more about the Boston Mill Visitor Center here.
7. Get Your Junior Ranger Materials Early
If you have kids or grandkids with you on your trip to Cuyahoga Valley, you’ll also need to stop at the Boston Mill Visitor Center to pick up free copies of the Junior Ranger Handbook (for ages 7 and up) and Junior Ranger, Jr. Activity Cards.
The rangers suggest that kids or grandkids can take as much time as they need to complete the activities. In fact, rangers recommend allowing up to 3 hours for the activities.
You can learn more about the Junior Ranger program here.
Pro Tip: “If you run out of time, don’t fret,” the rangers explain. “You can mail the completed book to us after you get home.”
8. Safety Is First, Second, And Third Priority
“Whether you’re visiting for an hour or a week, keep safety top of mind,” rangers advise. “If you’re planning to paddle the Cuyahoga River, be aware of the conditions and know how to keep yourself and others safe. Whatever type of adventure you’re planning, always be prepared!”
Pro Tips: If you want to canoe or kayak the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, you’ll need to take your own equipment.
Secondly, the National Park Service does not maintain the river for recreational use. If you plan to canoe or kayak the river, keep in mind that you are responsible for your own safety, rangers note.
9. Leave No Trace
When visiting national parks, it’s always a good idea to “Leave No Trace” by “packing out whatever you pack in,” rangers note. Also, if you’ll be visiting Cuyahoga Valley with a pet, rangers remind everyone that “Owners must clean up pet waste and throw it in a trash can.”
You can learn more about pet regulations here.
Pro Tip: The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace are:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
You can find more details about the principles here.
10. Visit Other Nearby Parks
“We’re not the only national park in northeast Ohio!” rangers note. “Be sure to also read the ‘Top 10’ lists from our friends at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor and First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton.”
If you have time, the rangers also recommend exploring other National Park Service sites around the state of Ohio. You can use the National Park Service website or the NPS App to learn more about those parks.While you’re planning your trip, be sure to also read all of our Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Ohio coverage since you’ll be in the area. You can find all of our national parks coverage here.