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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Cuyahoga National Park - Ohio

First Impressions:  Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the most confusing National Park I have ever been to.  I am up for our beautiful country taking a special plot of land, putting it in the National Park System, and preserving and protecting it for years to come (especially one so accessible, close to I-90 and the city).  But after visiting at least 10 National Parks in the last few years, ranging from the amazing canyons of Zion in Utah to the rocky shoreline of Acadia in Maine, I was just confused about this park in the middle of the two in Ohio. 

For starters, the National Park kind of blends in with the town.  There was no grand "National Park" entrance sign that I love to pose with, commemorating my trip to another National Park.  There weren't even signs within the town directing you to the park.  It kind of felt like, wait, there is a National Park here? Oh, I guess this is it?

The visitors center was not this grand building at the entrance of the park, but instead, in an old historic house.  While I love the history of the building and its location in the park, it wasn't that inviting COME ON IN and learn about how beautiful our park is.   The park boundary lines are not well defined, instead following the Cuyahoga in patchy sections that mark traveling through the park confusing and difficult.  I went in with low hopes after hearing a few people's opinion of Cuyahoga (well, from a few Ohio natives now living in SLC).  They said its pretty and all, but it really should just be a state park.  And after spending time in Utah's Mighty Five, I could see their point. 

Environmental Movement: I don't mean to be negative, but I was really excited to see Cuyahoga for myself. The Environmental Scientist in me knew how important this river was to American Environmental conservation and legislation. It was the fact that this river was once so polluted it was catching on fire, that drew our attention as a country to our need for environmental protection.

"The river between Akron and Cleveland was dangerously dirtied by a century of dumped factory waste and sewage from cities. In the summer of 1969 a floating pile of oil-soaked logs and other trash caught fire on the river in Cleveland. The Cuyahoga River became known as the river that burned.Now, there is a 22 miles section of the beautiful Cuyahoga River that runs down the center of Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) like a spine. The "river so polluted it caught on fire" was the spark in the environmental movement, with repercussions like the Environmental Protection Agency being created and legislators passed pollution control and clean-up laws. The fire even helped inspire the first Earth Day in 1970. To this day, the river is on the mend but still faces pollution issues like unhealthy amounts of sewage.

Address: Boston Store Visitor Center: (330) 657-2752
1550 Boston Mills Road, east of Riverview Road
Peninsula, Ohio 44264
(81° 33.512' W) (41° 15.803' N)

Visitors Center: The visitor center is a good place to start your visit at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Meet park staff, get questions answered, and learn more about park scheduled events and places to visit. There is a short park video available upon request. You can pick up relevant brochures, maps, passport stamps, purchase park-themed merchandise, and America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes.

Hours:  Fall, Winter, and Spring: Daily, 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Summer: Daily, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Fees: Entrance to the park is free! 

Pets: There are over 110 miles of hiking trails and 20 of the Towpath Trail in the park where pets are permitted. Pets are permitted in the Stanford Campground.  Pets Are Not Allowed In any park building, with the exception of service dogs or on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Train

Camping in the Park-- Primitive Campsites - Five primitive campsites are available to Towpath Trail and backcountry trail users from Memorial Day weekend through October 31.

Required Reservations Begin May 2
Contact the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Reservation Office, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., at 330-657-2909 ext. 119.

Walk-up Campers
Check campsite availability at the Stanford House Office, daily, 4 - 7 p.m.

Fees are $25 per night, per campsite, six-person limit. Group rental is $100 per night for all campsites. Camping is limited to 10 nights per season. For more information call 330-657-2909 ext. 119 or visit

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR) operates regular excursions and special excursions from Rockside Station in Independence to Akron Northside Station.
During Summer/ Fall: Train Runs Wednesday- Sunday

All Day Pass - Enjoy a roundtrip ride on the train, or get off and explore the park and then return on a later train.

Fee: Includes the Voices of the Valley audio Tour
Adult Coach: $18, Child Coach (ages 3-12): $13
Adult First Class: $23, Child First Class (ages 3-12): $18
Adult Dome Tickets: $28, Child Dome Tickets (ages 3-12): $23

Hiking in the park:  There are a variety of hiking trails in the park, though I will warn they are mostly scattered.  I will also warn that the climate on the intensely humid side, making hiking a little uncomfortable at times.  The good news, is that dogs are allowed on so many of the trails, and its refreshing to see a dog -friendly National Park.  I saw people walking their dogs on trails, and older couples walking the neatly paved trailed through the park.  While hiking seemed to take a back seat to paved walking trails and amazing biking lanes, there are plenty of trails if you can figure out how to navigate this park.  It was hot, humid, and I could not find any of the trailheads to save my life (grr hiss grr), so I stuck to a quick walk down to Brandywine Falls.  You can find a great list of trails can be found here

Brandywine Falls
Length: 1/8 Mile      
 Hiking Time: 20 minutes
Elevation Change: Minimal and wheelchair accessible to the first boardwalk overlook.- A spur off the main boardwalk has numerous steps.
Rating: Easy
Trailhead Location: On Stanford Road just west of Brandywine Road in Boston Heights, OH.

I had a 9 hour day ahead of me, driving my last leg of the journey to Connecticut when we decided to stop at Cuyahoga National Park.  We had gotten into the hotel late, so I woke up extra early so spend a little bit of time at Cuyahoga before heading out on the road for our last day of driving.  As I mentioned above, the park was so confusing, and this was about the only trailhead I found that I was looking for (I was trying to find the other two popular waterfalls as well).  Brandywine Falls is one of the most popular attractions in the park.  Its short hike along a boardwalk makes it an easy hike for anyone, and even allows dogs.  My favorite part was this little trail map (above) carved into the railing of the boardwalk.  It showed the path to the two different viewpoints, as well as the remnants of the old mill. 

Olive and I followed the boardwalk down the various viewpoints until we came across the beautiful Brandywine Falls surrounded by lush green trees, wildflowers, bugs and humidity. 

While the falls are beautiful, make sure you enjoy the view from a far as there have been a few injuries (and even deaths) of people getting too close to the top of the falls.  We enjoyed the views from this lovely deck and overlook, while reading about the history of the area. 

Brandywine Falls is a 60' waterfall with rock layers that can be "read like a book" formed 300-400 million years ago. The waterfalls are known as the "bridal veil" cascade. While the falls call the National Park home, a village used to surround the fall. A sawmill was built in 1814 to harness the water power of the river. Over the next decade, the mill was joined by whiskey distillery, grist mill, woolen mill, and houses. One of the houses built is now home to the Inn at Brandywine Falls.  You can see remnants of the old mill at the end of the hike past the waterfall.  


  1. Interesting...I've definitely heard of this NP before, but didn't realize how small and un-grand it is. Seems like the only worthwhile stop is to Brandywine Falls. Good info for if I ever drive by here. - Alicia @

    1. I am sure there are other great spots, I just had a really hard time finding them! Its not laid out like your typical national park where you enter the boundaries and stay within them. Its like a National Park throughout a town! My opinion was, worth a stop if you are in the area but not something I would go out of my way for ;)

  2. So much great information for visitors. It looks like a very relaxing place to be.

    1. Thanks for reading Mary! It was a very relaxing place! While it wasn't your typical National Park, I loved how it was so dog friendly and loved seeing all of the people out enjoying the walking trails!


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