Cuyahoga Valley National Park has an interesting beginning. It was not on the radar of many at the turn of the century to become a national park; in contrast, it was quite the opposite. The area surrounding the park was booming with growth and industry, and the Cuyahoga River had caught fire 13 times because of pollution. Tragedy was the catalyst that propelled this area into national park status.
When you arrive, you might be surprised. Cuyahoga is within small towns and has homes dotted throughout your drive around the park. You might not be entirely surrounded by nature here, but you are encompassed by reclaimed land and a restored pristine river full of life!
Pro Tip: Visit the brand new Boston Mills Visitor Center to familiarize yourself with the area and grab a map of all the trails.
Virginia Kendall Ledges And Loop Trail
701 Truxell Road, Peninsula, Ohio 44264
“The Ledges” is what the locals call this popular hiking trail within Cuyahoga Valley. Once you start your hike on this trail, you will know why. If there is an adventure within this national park that calls my name over and over, this is the one. Every time I start down the path and enter into the woods, a magical feeling envelopes me as I step further in and head toward the towering ledges.
While this trail is considered moderate, I found that it is a rugged 2-mile hike, loaded with stunning rock formations and winding tree roots. Ambling along the route, you will come across wooden bridges over ravines, the icebox cave, and a few other surprises along the way
If you are only here for the view and are not comfortable on long hikes, you can take a short walk to the ledge at sunset to catch a glimpse of one of the spectacular Ohio evening skies. You won’t be disappointed with the expansive view as you gaze over the sprawling valley. You will be able to easily access this area on foot.
Bathrooms are available, and parking is best in the early morning.
Pro Tip: Wear sturdy shoes that are intended for hiking; flip flops or open-toed shoes are not recommended.
Brandywine Falls And Gorge Trail
8176 Brandywine Rd, Northfield, OH 44067
Considered one of the most famous sights within the park, Brandywine Falls never disappoints. The falls cascading down 65 feet into the water below is always majestic; however, if you want astounding sights of the roaring water, come after a good rainstorm. The sounds of the water throwing itself over the edge is incredible, and I find myself entranced as I watch nature’s power on display!
Accessibility to Brandywine Falls has been well thought out. If you have a wheelchair, you can use the wooden boardwalk to the upper observation deck, where you can see excellent views of the falls. Please be aware that the wooden walkway can be slick after a rain or overspray from the falls. After you are finished, you will return to the parking lot the way you came.
If you are up for more of a challenge and are the adventurous type, you can explore the gorge trail accessible off the boardwalk. Here you will venture into one of the enchanted areas within the park. Surrounded by dense forest and stately geological rock formations of sandstone and shale, you are transported into a hidden space within one of the busiest park areas to explore. As you experience the trail, you will cross Brandywine Creek, where you don’t have the luxury of a bridge. Pick your way across via rocks or cross over by walking through it. Use caution and plan accordingly.
Bathrooms and water fountains are available, and parking is a challenge in the summer, so come early in the morning or later in the evening.
Pro Tip: Located near the falls is the Inn at Brandywine Falls. It was built in 1848 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. However, it has been renovated since then and made ready for guests to enjoy the Greek revival charm. It is the perfect place to stay while visiting Brandywine Falls.
Ohio And Erie Canal Towpath Trail
Canal Exploration Center, 7104 Canal Road, Valley View, Ohio 44125
Start your hike at the Canal Exploration Center, where you can learn about the canal system, enjoy the hands-on exhibits, and check out the restored building that was once a store and tavern.
After your educational time, take the towpath trail running beside the Cuyahoga River, which will take you through the park in a memorable way. Why is this so special? The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs with the canal path, and you can hike between stations to board and depart as much as your hiking heart desires! Hop aboard the train to start and stop as you go along and then ride the train back to your vehicle! It is a unique way to hike this 19.5-mile flat crushed limestone trail.
You’ll find this path is perfect for all levels and is wheelchair accessible. Watch for cyclists on your trip, and always keep to the right as you hike because the path is heavily used.
Trailheads lead off of the towpath to other fantastic hikes within the national park.
- Station Road trailhead: This trail is a great place to enjoy birding in the spring and in the summer, and you will find plentiful wildflowers.
- Old Carriage trail: This is a moderately trafficked 5.5-mile loop trail located in an urban area; please stay on the marked trail and enjoy this delightful walk.
- Hale Farm Connector Trail: If you’re looking for a more moderate and difficult trail while on the towpath, this offshoot takes you to views of the farm and will give you a workout.
Pro Tip: This excursion will take you all day. Pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the picnic tables while you wait to board the train to your next starting point.
Bridal Veil Falls
Gorge Parkway, Bedford, Ohio
If you are short on time but want to grab a quick hike, Bridal Veil Falls will be just the ticket. Hop out of your car for this 0.4 mile out and back trail. While this is a quick hike, it is not accessible for everyone. It is a dirt trail with wooden steps leading down to Bridal Veil. You’ll notice the shale face of the falls giving it a veiled look, which is how this waterfall got its name.
After seeing Brandywine Falls, this one might seem small, but it is a nice cascading 20-foot fall! I’ve enjoyed quiet moments here since it is not as busy as many other sections of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, making this one of my favorite waterfall hikes.
Tree Farm Trail
2075 Major Road, Peninsula 44264
While this 2.8-mile trail does not have a water feature or stunning overlook, it will take you into a feeling of Narnia as you walk into the densely forested woods. You’ll quickly realize how the trail got its name as you see the lines of trees that were once a tree farm. Tree Farm Trail is considered easy, however, it can be muddy and wet all year long. Waterproof hiking boots are recommended and take along some bug spray because you might attract a few mosquito buddies along the way.
This is another moderately hiked trail, so you will most likely see wildlife as you explore. Birding along here can be delightful, and you can catch glimpses of Ohio’s state bird, the cardinal, or flittering sparrows. One special treat I have seen as I quietly walked the woods is a stately pileated woodpecker knocking away at a snag on the forest floor. Imagine the quiet of the woods and the sound of the hungry woodpecker ringing out — it’s incredible.
Hiking with your Dog in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
You can bring your dog to Cuyahoga Valley National Park! However, there are a few things you should know. You must keep your dog on a leash no longer than six feet. Hiking with pets means you need to pick up your dog’s waste and carry it out. There are not always water facilities at all the trailheads, so bring everything your pet needs: a bowl, water, and a snack.
Pro Tip: Cuyahoga Valley National Park doesn’t disappoint if you know what to expect. Plan to stay for a few days to experience everything that there is to see here. Know that you will run into traffic, see urban areas throughout the park, it is not like Yellowstone or the Great Smoky Mountains, and start your adventures early in the morning to beat the crowds.
Parks and recreation areas in Ohio are numerous and should be explored: