19 Awesome Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2024

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Although Cuyahoga Valley National Park is relatively young, it is one of the most popular in the Parks system since it is so easy to access from nearby cities like Cleveland and Akron.

You can get a lot out of a short visit to this park, even exploring in just one day, but dig deeper and you will find so many more things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

We love stopping to explore and hike the trails at Cuyahoga when we are passing through, as we do often! It’s a great spot to get out and stretch your legs, as most of the trails can be divided into short sections no longer than a few miles.

You might not even realize as you’re driving through that you are surrounded by a national park. Cuyahoga is tucked away in an area with significant urban sprawl, which does turn some visitors off. We’re just happy to have a national park with some great trails to get out and explore within driving distance! We can’t wait to share our favorite spots with you.

Best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) is open year-round for visitors. Many of the things we’re sharing can be enjoyed year-round, but a few are seasonal.

We hope you are able to use this list as inspiration and a starting point when planning your Cuyahoga itinerary.

Without further ado, here are some of the best things to do and places to see!

1. Begin your visit at the Boston Mill Visitor Center

This visitor’s center can easily be the hub for most of your activities, especially if you choose just a one-day visit to CVNP. Here, you can learn about the history of the park, it’s importance in restoring the health of the land, pick up your park souvenirs, and get your passport stamp.

From Boston Mill, you can begin multiple hikes, catch a glimpse of the Cuyahoga River, choose a quest, or hop aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (more on these later).

Make sure you chat with a park ranger here regarding trail conditions and special events happening during your visit. We’re always pleasantly surprised by the ranger-led activities and learn cool things every time we participate.

2. Chase beautiful waterfalls

Brandywine Falls has a wooden boardwalk leading to a viewing platform very close to the falls, which is one of the most popular things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Though it is said that CVNP is home to over 100 waterfalls throughout the park, there are only two with dedicated hiking trails.

Brandywine Falls is the larger and more popular of the two at over 60 feet tall. The falls have a boardwalk-style path leading to multiple viewpoints.

This most popular attraction does get extremely busy during peak times such as weekends and holidays, so we recommend visiting early or late in the day, during the off-season, or on a week day if you can.

If the parking lot is full and you only have one chance to visit Brandywine Falls, you can choose to hike from the Boston Mill Visitors Center to reach these falls and explore the gorge, as well. This hike covers about 5 miles roundtrip and shows off some beautiful scenery in the gorge if you’re up for the hike.

Blue Hen Falls is the other great waterfall to explore in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. To get to these falls, park at the Boston Mill Visitors Center, head across the road, and hike along the Buckeye Trail. The hike covers about 3 miles, round trip.

Blue Hen Falls is about 15 feet tall, less crowded than Brandywine from our experience, and nestled in a serene wooded setting.

Smaller and lesser known, Blue Hen Falls is still a beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park waterfall.

3. Hike the Ledges Trail

As part of the Virginia Kendall Unit of the park, the Ledges trail is another extremely popular area to explore. Also known as Ritchie Ledges, this land has been a park since the 19th century.

The actual trail only covers about 2 miles around the rock formations, but the paths weaving in and out of the nooks can easily extend the hike.

We usually plan about 30 minutes per 1 mile when allotting time for our hikes, but you can easily spend 3-4 hours exploring the Ledges if you’d like.

There are also multiple connectors to other area trails if you’d like to extend your hike to other terrains.

One of the best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is visit and explore the rock formations on the Ledges Trail. A woman in a blue hat and jacket walks on a path covered in leaves next to the giant rock formations of the Ledges Trail.
We love exploring the Ledges Trail and visit often.

Aside from the rock formations themselves, special features of this trail include Ice Box Cave and the Overlook.

The overlook area offers a view of the Cuyahoga Valley but can be quite busy. Wait your turn, snap a few photos, and then we’d recommend moving on.

A hiker stands contemplatively on a rocky outcrop of the Ledges overlook, with a view of the colorful autumn foliage in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, views that are among the many things to do in the park.
Taking in fall colors at the Ledges Overlook

The Ice Box Cave is not accessible to explore as it is home to bats that have been significantly affected by the fungus-causing White-Nose Syndrome brought in by unknowing visitors. You can still view the entrance to the cave, but this is a quick stop.

The entrance to the large bat cave in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, surrounded by mossy rocks and autumn leaves, on the Ledges Trail.

After hiking and exploring the trail, shelters and picnic tables are available near the parking lot to stop, take a break, and enjoy a snack.

A hiker ascends the natural stone staircase flanked by lush moss-covered rocks within Cuyahoga Valley National Park, highlighting hiking as one of the many engaging things to do in the park's landscape.
Old stone stairs along the Ledges Trail

4. Search for wildlife at Beaver Marsh

Depending on the time of year you visit, you will be treated to different sights! This marsh restoration area, which just prior to its acquisition by the national park was an auto repair shop and junkyard, has something for every season.

You may be able to catch a glimpse of the namesake beavers who make their home here, or other creatures including muskrats and otters.

The beavers do retreat to their dens for much of the winter, but they do not hibernate. Sometimes, they come out to feed, so you might get lucky and spot one enjoying its dinner.

Beaver Marsh is also a great place for birdwatching, and you may see anything from ducks to orioles to cardinals here.

Turtles and snakes like to bask in the summertime sun, and frogs may serenade you during warm evenings.

5. Explore a less popular area, such as the Tree Farm Trail

With 125 miles of hiking trails in the park, there are plenty of areas to explore to get away from the crowds at places like Brandywine Falls and the Ledges. A fun, short hike you could explore is the Tree Farm trail.

You’ll see views of the rows of evergreens waiting to mature and be selected as featured holiday decorations.

This hiking trail covers a 2.75-mile loop with a short side path to Horseshoe Pond.

Cross-country skiing is available here in the winter when the trail is snow-covered, as well, so you can explore during all four seasons.

6. Visit the Hale Farm & Village

For a perspective on historical life in the Cuyahoga Valley, visit the Hale Farm. Previously a functioning produce and dairy farm, it was donated and converted into a living history museum beginning in the 1930s.

The farm is open to the public typically from June through October, and the exhibits are managed by the Western Reserve Historical Society. Special events do happen occasionally throughout the rest of the year.

Tickets are required for entry. Adult tickets for anyone 13 and older cost $15. Children’s tickets can be purchased for $8.

Tours here are typically self-guided and best enjoyed at your own pace. Demonstrations of glass blowing, pottery, and other crafts are scattered around the grounds. Take the time to wander and enjoy the beautiful grounds!

Now, 34 buildings make up this village where you can both learn and shop. The market sells handcrafted goods, many made on site. These include glass, pottery, textiles, and candles, as well as other local goods like maple syrup, honey, and wine.

7. Learn About the Historic Ohio & Erie Canal

The Ohio & Erie Canal is appropriately named, as it was historically used to transport goods between the Ohio River and Lake Erie.

One of only 49 designated National Heritage Areas in the US, it is about 110 miles in length.

A nearly 20-mile-long segment of the canal weaves its way through CVNP.

For another perspective on historical life in the Cuyahoga Valley, visit the Canal Exploration Center. The park has done a great job with the Center, recreating what life was like during the Canal’s peak operations. The Canal Exploration Center is interactive and appropriate for all ages.

During the warmer months, a demonstration of a working lock happens in front of the Center. It’s a great working history demonstration!

Historic lock structure at Cuyahoga Valley National Park with dark, calm water reflecting the cloudy sky, a wooden footbridge in the distance, showcasing the park's rich history as one of the diverse things to do when visiting.

8. Hike or Bike the Towpath Trail

Historically, the Towpath was a trail along a canal where horses or mules would literally towboats and barges up the canal. They were extremely important for transporting goods before boat engines and trains were developed.

This extremely slow method of transportation has long been replaced, but the historic trails remain. Many have been converted to multi-use hike and bike trails. This one is no exception.

About 20 of the almost completed 101 miles of this trail cross through CVNP.

There are 11 trailheads with parking areas along the park’s portion of the Towpath Trail, so you can cover as much or as little of the trail as you’d like. Interpretive and informational signs are placed along the trail to provide the history of points of interest and an excuse to take a break!

This trail is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

A cyclist enjoys a peaceful ride on the multi purpose towpath trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, flanked by green grass and vibrant autumn leaves reflecting in the calm canal waters, highlighting cycling as a popular activity among the things to do in the park.
Biking the Towpath Trail in the fall is one of our favorite times to visit.

9. Ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

There are two different options for hopping aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

For a leisurely ride through the Cuyahoga River Valley, choose the National Park Scenic Ride ticket.

From January to April, the ride is 2.5 hours; during the summer and fall, it is expanded to a 3.5-hour ride. For this option, ticket prices range from $18 to $38 per adult and $13-$33 per child, depending on seating locations.

The other option for experiencing the railroad is to hop on the train with your bike!

For $5, you can purchase a one-way “Bike Aboard” ticket and ride the other way on your bicycle along the Towpath Trail. We’d suggest riding the train to the end and then biking back, so you don’t have to worry about hurrying or timing a pickup at the end of your ride.

The Bike Aboard option on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a great way to experience both aspects of the park without repeating the exact same scenery (either out and back on the train or bike path).

It’s also a great way to be able to see the whole Towpath trail on a bike without the intimidation of biking 40 miles. Plus, the $5 price tag per ticket is a great bonus!

10. Drive the scenic Riverview Road

If hiking or biking is not your style, or a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad isn’t in your budget, travel Riverview Road!

The road follows right along the railroad tracks from Peninsula until it meets Merriman Raod.

About 15 miles of this road pass through National and Metro Parks land.

Riverview Road also provides access to many points of interest and trailheads. Explore many of the other activities on this list at your own pace!

11. Get your adrenaline pumping on the East Rim Mountain Bike Trail System

Over 7 miles of trails have been completed for mountain biking in CVNP. Most of the trails here are for those considered intermediate biking ability, but more trails are in the works.

Three trails are currently completed: the East Rim Trail (2.3 mi), Lamb Loop (4.7 mi), and Post Line (short and technical).

Check the trail conditions and status of the trails on their dedicated Twitter page for the East Rim MBTS before you head out. Riding on extremely wet trails can cause significant damage that is very time-consuming to repair.

Access from the East Rim Bike & Hike trailhead just a short distance from the Boston Mill Visitor Center on Boston Mill Road.

These trails can also be used for hiking and trail running for those looking for a little challenge.

12. Head out on a “Quest”

For a family-friendly activity resembling a scavenger or treasure hunt, consider trying a “quest.” Pick one up at the Boston Mill Visitor Center or view the provided Ohio & Erie Canalway Quest list online to see the 30 options.

Clues are given to find a box, where you will find a log to sign. While this activity is similar to geocaching, it differs in that nothing is exchanged at the box, and you don’t need a GPS to participate.

Quests are available seasonally from April 15 to November 15. There are varying levels of difficulty and estimated duration.

Check out the list ahead of time and find one tailored to your available time and abilities. You may learn a little history about the area, see some beautiful sights, or at the very least get some exercise. Just enjoy solving the mystery!

A hiker descends a wooden staircase in a forest blanketed with fallen leaves in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, highlighting hiking experiences available as one of the many things to do in the park.

13. Canoe or Kayak the Cuyahoga River

Though the Cuyahoga River is historically famous for its pollution and catching fire, groups have made great strides to clean the area and restore recreation and wildlife through extensive work over the last 50 years.

Flowing in a unique u-shape through northeast Ohio, it is separated into five zones. Maps of each zone are provided by the Cuyahoga River Water Trail organization.

The CVNP section can be found mostly in zone 4. There are no rental facilities available in the park, but there are rentals available just outside the park or bring your own.

Prior to your trip, check the Cuyahoga River Water Trail website for access to current water levels and hazards you may encounter on the stretch of river you desire to paddle.

14. Fish in the Cuyahoga River or one of the park’s many lakes and ponds

Fishing is permitted in many of the bodies of water and is one of the things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park that can be enjoyed by all ages.

A valid fishing license is required. Catch and release fishing is recommended as none of these bodies of water are stocked. The park tries to maintain the natural predator-prey relationships in these waters.

Try your luck in the Cuyahoga River for steelhead or bullhead. Just don’t eat too much of your catch from the river; the water quality, though greatly improved over the years, still isn’t the best.

Fishing is also acceptable in nine lakes and ponds for various species including bass, bluegill, and crappie.

Here is a list of these lakes and ponds in alphabetical order:

  • Armington Pond
  • Brushwood Lake
  • Coonrad Farm Pond
  • Goosefeather Pond
  • Horseshoe Pond (ADA accessible)
  • Indigo Lake
  • Kendall Lake (ADA accessible)
  • Meadowedge Pond
  • Sylvan Pond

There are quite a few rules for fishing in the National Park, including those regarding bait. No chemicals, foreign substances, or fish products may be used as bait. For more details regarding fishing rules in the park, check out the full list of fishing rules provided by CVNP.

15. Visit Everett Covered Bridge

For a quick stop when wandering around CVNP, stop at the Everett Covered Bridge.

The only covered bridge left in Ohio’s Summit County, it was one of over 2,000 standing in 19th-century Ohio.

Legend has it that the bridge was built in response to a tragedy, but the bridge was also the best way to cross Furnace Run to get goods to the Ohio & Erie Canal.

In the past, the Everett Covered Bridge has been on lists of top photography locations on public lands. Visit any time of year for a few quick photos. The red colors of the bridge really pop out when the surrounding ground is covered in winter white!

There are also a few hiking trails you can enjoy beyond the bridge.

Snow-covered landscape in Cuyahoga Valley National Park with the historic red  Everett covered bridge in the background, offering a picturesque winter scene for photography and scenic walks, a peaceful thing to do in the park during the colder months.
We loved exploring the Everett Covered Bridge in winter. The red bridge up against the white snow really “popped.”

16. Bring your horse and hit the bridle trails

You must have your own horse to experience this activity, but a great way to see the park is on a bridle trail. There aren’t any guided trail rides or rental options in or near the park.

Seven different trails are designated as bridle trails, and are the only places horses can be taken in the park. Three additional trails are on the designated reservations, for a total of nearly 50 miles of trails.

The best place to park is the Station Road Bridge parking area. Large pull-through spots here are great for horse trailers and buses. The other parking areas could be difficult to navigate with horse trailers, especially on busy weekends.

17. Shop at Szalay’s

If you’re looking to experience a traditional country farm market, stop at Szalay’s in the town of Peninsula.

The farm has been family-operated for four generations and is open seasonally from June through October.

The market sells fruits, vegetables, and homemade goods. On the weekends, you can purchase sandwiches and fresh roasted corn on the cob.

From mid-September through the end of October, you can select your fall pumpkins for carving and wander through their corn maze.

18. Check out Boston Mills & Brandywine to spend some time on the slopes

In the winter, that is! Did you know that only 3 National Parks in the whole NPS have ski areas serviced by chair lifts?

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is in elite company in this category, joined only by Olympic and Yosemite National Parks! Backcountry skiing is plentiful in the NPS, but for those of you looking to experience more groomed terrain, Cuyahoga is the only place you’ll find this near the east coast.

Although the runs are much longer in the two western counterparts, the slopes in CVNP can provide plenty of enjoyment.

Boston Mills and Brandywine are two small but separate ski areas within the park. You’ll only need to purchase one lift ticket, which is valid at both locations.

Combined, there are 18 trails serviced by 16 lifts between the two hills. For those of you looking to get big air, there is a terrain park at each location.

Rental equipment is available for those who do not have or wish to bring their own, as well as lesson opportunities for beginners.

For a more mellow winter experience, Brandywine has a tubing hill for those 42″ in height and taller!

19. Cross-country ski or snowshoe snow-covered trails

If you love the cold white winter but enjoy a slower pace, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on some of the trails in the park are perfect ways to explore Cuyahoga in winter.

Snowshoeing is permitted on all trails except the Ledges and Brandywine Falls.

The Ledges Field, a flat field near the parking for the Ledges trail, is a great place for beginners to try out these activities or hone their skills.

The Towpath, Christmas Tree Farm, and Summit Bike & Hike Trail are other great places to explore on skis.

The Winter Sports Center near Boston Mill typically rents equipment at a reasonable price, but the snow must be 4-6″ deep. Unfortunately, we haven’t had long seasons where this has been possible in the last couple of years!

A note on snowshoeing and hiking in winter: if you see cross-country ski tracks on the trails, take care not to step in them. Those footsteps in the ski tracks can be dangerous for skiers!

FAQs Before Visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Where is Cuyahoga Valley National Park located?

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) comprises of over 33,000 acres, situated in northeast Ohio. The land sits just between Cleveland and Akron along the Cuyahoga River.

With its close proximity and easy access to many larger cities, it has consistently been one of the 10-15 most visited National Parks in the US.

What is Cuyahoga Valley National Park famous for?

To start, it is the only national park located in Ohio! While there are a few great National Historic Sites and Monuments throughout the state, this one is in a category all on its own.

There are unique geological formations, beautiful waterfalls, and tons of miles of trails. History is an important part of this national park, so be sure to stop and learn a few things about the region along the way.

CVNP is also known very much as an urban National Park. Roadways wind through the park, and traffic can be heard from the beginning of many hiking trails. Don’t let this deter you from visiting, though!

How many days do you need to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Even in one day if you’re ambitious, you would be able to see the highlights, including Brandywine Falls, Blue Hen Falls, the Ledges, and the Towpath. Though it would be a busy day, it could be done.

This park is perfect for a weekend visit, and we’ve enjoyed plenty of weekends exploring here! 2-3 days would be the perfect amount of time to explore some of the less popular areas, as well, or to catch a ride on the train.

Getting To and Around CVNP

This National Park is easily accessed from both Cleveland and Akron in northeast Ohio. Both of these cities have airports for those of you out of driving distance.

Once in the area, a car is important to get around and see many of the points of interest in the park.

Though bicycle trails and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad can get you to many important stops, the best and most efficient way to get around is by car.

You can drive between most sites in the park in half an hour or less.

Plan your rental car when visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park!

Where to stay while visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Compared to other parks, overnight accommodations are not very convenient or accessible within this park. We’d say the best option is to reserve something on Airbnb or VRBO, as you’ll most likely be closest to the park this way.

We’ll lay out all the options for you, though.

Camping in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Honestly, camping here is currently very limited compared to many other National Parks. Options are being explored to expand their offerings.

Primitive Camping

Even if you are backpacking the Buckeye Trail, which travels right through the park, there is currently no overnight camping option in CVNP. You will have to hike to the neighboring Metro Parks for campsites along the trail.

The closest is the Ottawa Overlook on Brecksville Reservation, which can be reserved online. There are 3 tent sites at this location, each with room for up to 4 people. Permits are free to obtain and are required from Memorial Day weekend through the end of September.

There are also a few primitive sites at Heritage Farms, some of which include a 3 sided shelter. Located near the tree farm trail, you may get a first-hand look at the Christmas trees growing from your site.

Modern Camping

Two campground options sit within about 10 miles of the park. Each offers different amenities at different price points.

For more modern options from a very recognizable name, including water and sewer hookups, check out the Streetsboro/Cleveland SE KOA. Here, you will find sites for both tents and RVs as well as a few cabins and “glamping tent” options.

Silver Springs Campground in Stow is the other option from April through October, weather depending. This campground is owned by the city of Stow and is located in the city park. With this being said, it can be quite busy with locals just out to enjoy the day.

The cheaper option at $22/night for non-Stow residents, it does not offer any water or sewer hookups at its 27 sites. There are also no showers at this campground, but they do have flushing toilets at the ball field.

Cabins in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The Inn at Brandywine Falls

There are not a ton of options to actually stay within CVNP, but this is one of them. Situated a mere 100 yards from Brandywine Falls, the Inn has six rooms available to reserve. Four are located in the main house and two in the onsite carriage barn.

Enjoy easy access to hike and bike trails for your adventures, as well as the peaceful retreat upon your return. Breakfast is also provided here.

 Stanford House

An old farmhouse just a short hike from Brandywine Falls, this house would be a great option for a large group. There are 9 bedrooms and space for up to 30 people.

Access to the Towpath Trail is quite easy, right in front of the house.

Reservations for the Stanford House do open up 2 years in advance, so staying at this one might require quite a bit of advanced planning or a little bit of luck. Check out dates in their online reservation system.

Vacation Rental Homes

VRBO offers options to get lodging close to the park, which we found extremely convenient. This is the route we would recommend when looking at lodging options near Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

About 15 miles from the park (a 25-minute drive), you can stay in a beautiful Cabin in the Woods. Equipped with queen bedrooms in a secluded setting, this is a great place to relax for the night. There is room for 6 guests. There is even a sauna you can use!

Book the secluded Cabin in the Woods here!

Want to stay in a small lakefront cabin with a hot tub? Here is your chance! It’s less than 10 miles from some parts of the park and sleeps 4 people.

Book the Lakefront Cabin with a Hot Tub!

Unfortunately, some of these options come with a pretty steep price tag.

The perks of using one of these options are a discount if staying for an extended period of time (a week or more) and better accommodations for larger groups (which would make the higher costs more reasonable).

Hotels near the Park

Within 10 miles, a few options exist for hotels in Macedonia and Richfield. Some of these are more budget hotels, and sometimes, you get what you pay for.

We’d recommend staying at the Staybridge Suites in Stowe. The suite-style rooms give you plenty of space, and it’s a 6-minute drive from the park!

For more extensive options and a little further drive, consider Akron, 15-20 miles south, or Cleveland, 15-20 miles north.

Is it Worth Visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Yes, we think so! There are beautiful spots to see, and it is easy to access from Cleveland and Akron. In the fall, the leaves are beautiful, and frozen waterfalls in winter are otherworldly.

You’ll just need to manage your expectations when you do visit Cuyahoga. This park is not a remote, secluded paradise. You will see other people. You will hear traffic.

Appreciate this park for the preservation and restoration work that they have done in an area so close to major urban development.

How much does it cost to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

The short answer? Nothing! There are no entrance fees to get into this National Park. Most of the hiking trails and main attractions are free to access.

The exception to this is the Hale Farm and Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. There are multiple ways to ride the train, each at different price points, but you must purchase tickets for these activities.

Wrapping up: Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Although Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the smallest National Parks, coming in at 55 on the list of 63, it is packed with a huge variety.

Experience a leisurely day of history and sightseeing or an adventurous weekend full of outdoor activities.

Hopefully, this list helps you to plan all of the things you’d like to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park on your next trip.

What is your favorite thing to do or site to visit in this National Park?