Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio is truly a unique mixture of city attractions and rural life, where history is preserved in the midst of today’s hectic existence.
Take a scenic train ride through the valley to discover a river tamed almost 200 years ago, with locks and canal boats moving precious cargo to Lake Erie and on to the East Coast long before semis and airplanes came on the scene. Kayak the now clean waters that burned, not once but twice, from pollution years ago and wonder at the great blue heron who raise their young in this piece of paradise caught between two cities.
History of Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The early habitation of the Cuyahoga Valley included several Native American tribes, who moved in and out of the region. By the mid-1700s European explorers began to build trading posts in the area, eventually enticing New England settlers to spread throughout Ohio.
The settlements grew into productive cities, looking for a way to get their products to the markets back east. So, in the 1830s, the Ohio & Erie Canal was built, connecting Akron, Ohio with Lake Erie via the Cuyahoga River.
Within 50 years, as the industry grew in urban centers, city dwellers looked to escape to rural regions for their recreation. The land along the Cuyahoga River was just such a place. By 1880 the Valley Railway began bringing these “tourists” to the area for boat trips on the canal and carriage rides.
When Cleveland and Akron established their own parks districts, locals began to think about preserving the area between the two cities, limiting development there. In 1929, Hayward Kendall left 430 acres to be perpetually used for park purposes in the area, essentially beginning the formation of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
It took 45 years and a great deal of cooperation among cities, private attractions and the park service, but this unique national park gained official status in 1974. Today it combines metropolitan regions with historic waterways, forestlands, and wildlife, giving visitors an example of yesteryear in the midst of progress.
Why Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Your RV?
Cuyahoga Valley is unusual in that it lies between two urban areas and is crisscrossed by metropolitan attractions and amenities. RVs make a perfect home when parked in any of the nearby campgrounds. Then access the region by walking, biking or even riding the train through this unique national park.
Places to Go
Don’t miss out on any of these opportunities in the park:
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Let the engineer do all the driving while viewing the national park from the seat of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. A 2-1/2 hour trip will take riders past many of the highlights of the area while following the Cuyahoga River. Passengers can board and deboard at three different stops to do further exploring.
Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail
Hike, bike or run on the packed gravel Towpath Trail, which follows the old Ohio & Erie Canal. The 85-mile long trail runs from Cleveland, and when finished at 101 miles, will end in North Philadelphia.
One of the most popular attractions at Cuyahoga Valley National Park is this 65-foot tall waterfall. When the area was first settled a sawmill was built at the top of Brandywine, and later grist and woolen mills utilized the falls’ power.
Boston Store Visitor Center
As the park’s main visitor center, Boston Store has a gift shop, restrooms and exhibits showcasing canal boat building in the valley. Ranger-led tours leave from this location, as well.
Canal Exploration Center
Purchase goods from the Canal Era here, and try your hand at guiding a canal boat through a lock with interactive touch screens.
Kids will love the nature exhibits at Hunt House, and adults will be grateful for a rest break here. It’s a wonderful place to sit back and relax for a few moments before moving on to the next location.
Things to Do
There are several ways to enjoy the park. Here are just a few:
There are over 125 miles of hiking trails throughout Cuyahoga Valley. Many are accessible to all visitors, and several regional trails run through the park, as well, like the Ohio Buckeye Trail. Here are the different sections of the park, with links to maps for the trails within them:
- Wetmore Trails
- Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail
- Buckeye Trail North
- Buckeye Trail South
- Valley Trail North
- Valley Trail South
- Brandywine Falls Area Trails
- Ledges Area Trails
- Old Carriage Trail
- Kendall Lake Area Trails
- Tree Farm Trail
- Oak Hill & Plateau Trails
- Everett Area Trails
Ride along the Towpath Trail in either direction. If you tire, catch the Cuyahoga Train at any stop. Mountain biking is also popular on the East Rim Trail System.
The Cuyahoga River is home to numerous steelhead trout and bullhead, and catch-and-release is suggested to keep the fish population healthy. There are also many lakes and ponds throughout the area that offer bluegill, bass and crappy wherever you cast a line.
Canoeing and Kayaking
The national park does not maintain the river for recreational use, but it is open to anyone bringing their own kayak or canoe. There are four different access points throughout the park.
Cuyahoga Valley has ten different bridle trails within the park boundaries. Bring your own horse, as there is ample trailer parking at the Station Road parking lot.
Follow a map and clues to discover natural and historical gems throughout the park. No GPS is needed!
Grab some snowshoes at the Winter Sports Center at M.D. Garage, and wander the trails after a good storm has deposited at least 6” of snow.
When To Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The park is open year-round, and although some places close at dusk, everything else is open 24 hours a day. Autumn is a popular season for leaf peepers to watch the changing colors, and summer brings tourists and locals alike, anxious to explore the attractions throughout the park and enjoy hiking and biking the many trails.
Where RVers Can Stay
The national park only has a few backcountry tent sites, but there are four metro and state parks within the area that offer RV sites:
Getting To and Around Cuyahoga Valley National Park
From the south, the park is accessible 18 miles from Akron via I-77 and Highway 8, and from the north, travelers from Cleveland can travel I-77 south to Highway 21. The Boston Store Visitor Center marks the entrance to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and is located in the center of the park.
Once inside, there are numerous roads, as this park sits in the midst of several outlying towns and districts. There are many forms of transportation to see the public and private attractions within the park, such as bicycling, walking or riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
From Past to Future
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an anomaly. It is a collection of wilderness locales and historical locations protected from the encroachment of progress. One only has to trek a few miles from the city to travel back in time, viewing life as it was here 150 years ago. And yet, this park is looking far into the future, recognizing the need to preserve its heritage and natural habitat for the generations to come.
Have you been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park? If so, what’d you think? Leave a comment below.