Cuyahoga Valley National Park
For our second anniversary, we decided that we wanted to take our long weekend off from work and go away. As many of you know by now we love to travel and we have added to our bucket list the goal of visiting all of the National Parks in the continental United States. A majority of the National Parks are in the Western half of the United States, but there are a mere few within a days drive from central PA.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located in northern Ohio, sandwiched between Akron and Cleveland. Being that this park is only a 4 hour drive from us, we decided that it would be the perfect destination for our anniversary weekend away and a chance to get another stamp in our National Park Passport (it’s a book that you can purchase and at every National Park you can get the stamp).
A few things for you to know about this national park. First, it is definitely not a natural wonder. When I hear National Park, I think of the mountains in Glacier, or the lake shore of Acadia, or some other natural beauty…nope, not here. It’s pretty, but it’s not breathtaking. The park itself is intertwined with urban sprawl, it’s actually kind of hard to know when you are in the park and when you are in just the residential area. Because of this, one advantage to the park, there is no entrance fee! A majority of the tourist stops all had very large parking lots, which is also another benefit (and if you have been to many national parks, you know that parking can sometimes be miserable to find).
The best way that we can think to describe this national park, is simply to call it a park. There is nature, there is hiking paths, there is some culture, and history, and that is pretty much the park. One of the main features of the park is a number of waterfalls that have hiking paths around them so that you can view them. We hiked to Brandywine Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Brandywine Falls is one of the main tourist stops, and because of this, there were a ton of people around and on the trails, which made it somewhat hard to enjoy the view. I personally really enjoyed hiking to Bridal Veil Falls (and all of these are fairly short hikes). There were only a handful of other people on the trail, most likely because a torrential thunderstorm went through while we were in the parking lot, but it still allowed for fewer people to be around. The Bridal Veil Falls also seemed more undeveloped. A simple path, a wooden bridge here and there, and then the falls.
We also went and hiked the Ledges Trail. The Ledges are essentially large rock formations all in one spot, and at one point you work your way up to being on top of them with a not so spectacular view. The trail was confusing, the ledges were interesting, and the view at the end was mediocre. One of our favorite parts of the trip (yes, we did actually enjoy the trip) was spending time on the Ohio and Erie Canal/Scenic byway. The entire canal way towpath is over 70 miles, but 20 miles of it goes directly through the park. The towpath has mostly lacked ground/cracker dust surface. The northern end is muddy and somewhat rough. Some stretches are paved and then turn back in to the packed dirt. It is not flat and straight like typical “rail trails”, it has curves and slight elevation changes, which I personally really enjoyed. Along the towpath is a train track that is still operational as a passenger train and it stops at numerous places throughout the park along the towpath. We started at the southern end of the park, biked 20 miles north, to the northern end, and then rode the train back down the 20 miles to our car. Along the way we biked through an area called the Beaver Marsh, a few small towns, the visitors center, and the Canal Exploration center. Some of the stops along the way do have water fill stations which allowed for us to not have to carry extra water with us, which was nice.
We stopped at the Canal Exploration Center, which is located in the northern end of the park. This was extremely well done and interactive. I personally sometimes get bored in museums, yes Jonathan knows this about me and is still trying to embrace that I’m not the biggest history fanatic, and I even enjoyed this museum! They are also in the process of building a new visitor’s center which seems like it will be very nice once it is done.
Out side of the park, we spent a majority of our free time exploring the town of Hudson. It is an extremely cute and quaint little village nestled close to the national park. It is a very historic town and they have tried to keep that feel. All of the buildings are brick, the landscaping is well done, and it’s very clean. We loved both of the restaurants that we ate at and just exploring the shops in this charming little town!
To wrap up our impression of Cuyahoga Valley Nation Park…it is a visit to a national park that can be done in a day or two. We would definitely go back to bike the towpath and ride the scenic railway. We also loved Hudson so we would plan to go back there for meals and to explore the town. It is not your typical national park but if you are looking for a short get away from central PA, especially one that involves biking, this is an excellent option for you!