Two Days in Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley, formed over many millions of years ago with the help of oceans, glaciers and rivers, is now a refuge for native plants and wildlife. Its rolling hills, dense forest, wetlands and open farmlands are home to the mighty Cuyahoga River. The park preserves natural features including its many waterfalls and sandstone formations, and provides a haven to historic attractions such as the Everett Covered Bridge, Canal Exploration Center and Stanford House. Hikers and history buffs alike will find their fair share of things to love within the 52 square miles of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Frequently mentioned as a top spot in the Midwest for fall foliage, mid-October is an exceptional time to visit.
Brandywine Falls (0.25 miles/100')
Canal Exploration Center
Bike the Towpath
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Ledges (2.3 miles/250')
Start your day off with a visit to the park's most well known feature, 65-foot Brandywine Falls along the Brandywine River. Used as early as 1814, as a power source for a saw mill owned by early pioneer George Wallace and later in a grist and woolen mills, Brandywine Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state of Ohio. Other than a short walk and a few flights of stairs to the observation deck, there isn't much required to view the falls. For those looking to hike to the falls, the 4-mile Stanford House to Brandywine Falls Trail is your best option. The Stanford House, a large farmhouse built in 1843 by crop farmer, dairyman and lumberman George Stanford, now serves as a reservable group lodging option accommodating up to thirty people per night.
After viewing the falls, head to the Canal Exploration Center to learn about the Ohio & Erie Canalway, a canal built in the 1820s and 1830s, and used to carry the vital freight of a growing nation. Here you'll find Lock 38, a working lock that park volunteers demonstrate during summer weekends when the water levels are right. Now a National Heritage Area, the Ohio & Erie Canalway is a reminder of what times were like many years ago. The Canal Exploration Center is open seasonally and hours of operation can be found on the park's website.
A great place to grab lunch and one of the area's many great craft beers is at Fisher's Cafe & Pub in the tiny village of Peninsula. The popular restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, and a menu catering to all. Across the street from Fisher's you'll find Century Cycles and Pedego, two stores that rent traditional bikes and e-bikes by the hour. Grab a ride and head south on the Towpath Trail for 3.5 miles to reach Szalay's Farm & Market for one of their famous ears of sweet corn and shop the farmer's market. In the fall, the farm opens up its popular corn maze and is very popular with children. Szalay's is cash only, but they have an onsite ATM in the back of the market. Continue another mile to reach Beaver Marsh and learn about its unusual history before heading back to Peninsula. Beavers, blue heron and bald eagles are all common in the area. It's also common to see black snakes sunbathing on the Towpath Trail in the warmer months, so keep your eyes peeled for them as well.
Next, make your way to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Rockside Station for a scenic train ride aboard the National Park Flyer. Several options are available including several themed rides throughout the year and range from 1.5 to 2.5 hours long. The ride is narrated by park volunteers who discuss the rich history of the park and railroad. Reservations are required and recommended to be made well in advance.
If you're in the mood to dine out for dinner, The Oak Barrel is across the street from the train station and has an excellent menu, especially the chicken tacos. If you'd like to drive a bit further north, Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood has some great options including Tremont Taphouse, Edison's Pub, Bourbon Street Barrel Room and The South Side. All are laid back spots with great food and all but Bourbon Street Barrel Room have dog friendly patios. If you're camping at Heritage Farms or staying at the Inn at Brandywine Falls, a great option is Boulevard Tavern fifteen minutes south of both in Cuyahoga Falls. They serve up Northeast Ohio's best perch dinner Tuesday through Saturday. It's pretty legendary, but call ahead to make sure they're open since they are known to close on days they're normally open.
Cap the evening off with a gorgeous hike of the Ledges, a 2.3 mile trail circling a plateau of rock formations created out of the Sharon Conglomerate millions of years ago. If there is one hike in the park that you don't want to miss, this is it. Sunsets from the top of the ledges are beautiful and worth the late stay if you have time.
Backcountry camping is not permitted in the park, but if you're interested in camping, Heritage Farms, a privately owned Christmas tree farm wholly inside the park, has primitive and sheltered sites located in their tree fields. Site 1 is an A-frame shelter, has a good amount of privacy and offers a great sunset view. For a cozier experience they offer a one bedroom apartment suite next to the farmhouse. Be aware that the Tree Farm hiking trail running through the property remains incredibly muddy well into summer and only recommended for use after long periods of dry weather and in the winter months as a cross-country ski trail. The Inn at Brandywine Falls is also a great option if you're interested in a bed and breakfast stay. The Greek Revival-style inn was built in 1848 by local saw mill owner James Wallace whose portrait hangs above the inn's dining room table. National Geographic listed its Granary Suite as one of the ten best stays in all of America's national parks. The rustic suite features a wall of floor to ceiling windows, wood burning fireplace, hot tub and more. If glamping is more your thing you can always check out Valley Overlook which offers canvas tent-style stays just outside of downtown Peninsula.
Paddle The River
Blue Hen Falls & Buttermilk Falls (3.9 miles/600')
Boston Mill Visitor Center
Wake up and drive fifteen minutes south to Blue Door Cafe & Bakery for a cup of their signature coffee and anything from their food menu. The local brunch spot with a blue door and no sign continues to receive national acclaim from food critics who call it the best brunch in all of Ohio. The pancakes, crepes, bacon sampler, chicken and waffles and turkey reuben are all excellent choices. Their online menu is only a fraction of the full in restaurant menu.
Just a few minutes away is Burning River Adventures, a local kayak outfitter offering a few different Cuyahoga River paddling options. The downstream option is more desirable, is very gentle and without rapids, and can be reserved on their website here.
After your paddle, head to the Boston Mill Visitor Center where you'll find the trailhead to Blue Hen Falls and Buttermilk Falls. Blue Hen Falls flows year round, while Buttermilk Falls, located about 0.75 miles past Blue Hen Falls, tends to appear after moderate rainfall.
Both falls are very photogenic and only Buttermilk Falls may require waterproof boots to stay dry due to its two creek crossings. The origin of Blue Hen Falls' name comes from the days of Prohibition when an illegal whiskey still nicknamed Blue Hen was operated nearby.
After your hike check out Boston Mill Visitor Center, a rehabilitated 1905 general store, to learn about the park's rehabilitation of the Cuyahoga Valley and its namesake river. The large parking lot can fill up quickly on weekends, but there is additional parking in nearby lots. After the visitor center walk across the bridge spanning the Cuyahoga to the Boston Store for a pint or cone of Cleveland's own Mitchell's Homemade ice cream.
And that's a great way to spend a few days in Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Have a blast and make some memories!