For my very first National Park review, I started with one from home. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located in Northern Ohio near Cleveland. It is a beautiful park to visit for hikes, biking, and family fun. I have been to several of United States National Parks, so I do have a little bit of information that I can compare with as far as which National Parks are the best and why. There is a bit of background information required. I went to the park on February 22, 2018. I went to the park for 1 day (about 5 hours). The temperature was between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit and it was very rainy the entire day. It had also been rainy that entire week so trails were muddy and the water was flowing & high. I want to dig right into some tips for the park, some information that might be useful to you, and the trails that I hiked:
-Hours & Admission: The Park is open 365 days a year. Some of the trails close at dusk and others are accessible 24 hours a day. Visitor centers and shops have different hours depending on what season it is. This park is FREE to visit.
-Weather: If you are not familiar with Ohio, the weather is not always consistent with what season it is. Ohio has 4 seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter) and on most days, you’ll experience a bit of every season. The weather channel is almost never right. You can count on one thing, it’s probably going to be a crappy (weather) day, so prepare for the worst and hope for the best! I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, I just want ya’ll to be prepared. From November through April, your day will likely be gray with rain or snow. With the right amount of snow, it’ actually very beautiful in Ohio if you enjoy a wintery hike. Every once in awhile we get a beautiful, sunny day during these months but it’s very rare. From May through October, you are much more likely to get a beautiful day in Northern Ohio with temperatures ranging from 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Ohio does still get rain a lot during these months, so I would still suggest preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
-What to wear/pack: I would suggest packing/wearing pants, shorts, t-shirt, rain jacket, & sweatshirt no matter what season you come. If you plan on visiting during the winter months, I would suggest layers, snow boots, rain boots, rain jacket, snow jacket, gloves, hats, & scarves. The hikes can be quite enjoyable as long as you’re dressed for them. As far as shoes go, I would recommend hiking shoes, tennis shoes, or even a hiking sandal. The trails are not difficult so as long as your feet will be comfortable walking and riding your bike, then you’ll be good to go! There are designated picnic areas, so I would recommend bringing snacks along with you for your hike. There are a few campsites available if you like to tent camp, so that might be something else you’re interested in bringing.
-Dangers: Being in Ohio, there are not too many natural dangers to be concerned about. It’s probable that you will see deer and squirrel. The only slight concern is the coyote population but that’s certainly not much of a threat compared to grizzlies and mountain lions. Fortunately, Ohio doesn’t get hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, flash floods, or tornadoes like other states do. The worst you’ll get is a thunderstorm with some hail & lightning or snow 12 inches deep. One thing I will caution ya’ll about is the waterfalls/rocky areas. A lot of the parks I’ve been to have fencing up everywhere so that it’s slightly harder to make a stupid decision. At Cuyahoga Valley National Park, they do have some fencing but it’s not very hard to get around. This is preferable to me because I want to take awesome pictures, but it also could be a dangerous move. Currently, the website has an alert out cautioning visitors about accidents resulting in injuries and death due to climbing on rocks and over the fences near Brandywine Falls, so this is one danger that you should try and avoid.
-Pets: Pets are permitted in almost all areas in Cuyahoga Valley National Park with a few exceptions including park buildings (except service dogs) and on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Train.
-Sleeping: There are a few options for lodging/camping at Cuyahoga Valley National park including sleeping at the Stanford House, the Inn at Brandywine Falls, or tent camping in one of the primitive campsites. Camping spaces are limited and there are no camp spots for recreational vehicles within the park. There are several campgrounds, hotels, and motels located right outside the park, though, so it shouldn’t be very challenging to find a nice spot to sleep near the park.
-Driving: One thing that was slightly confusing for me is that one minute you’re driving ‘in’ Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the next minute you’re driving right out of it. It’s hard to tell when you’re ‘in’ the park unless you’re on a specific trail. This is definitely different than many National Parks I’ve been to such as Yellowstone, where you drive ‘into’ the park and can drive for 4-8 hours before coming back ‘out’ of the park. Added to this confusion is the fact that Cleveland Metro parks and Summit Metro parks are extremely close and all the parks almost merge into one big beautiful area of parks. The Bedford Reservation and Brecksville Reservation are a part of the Cleveland Metro parks, while Brushwood Area and Deep Lock Quarry are a part of Summit Metro Parks. This doesn’t make a huge difference in any way, the entire area is gorgeous and this just means more hiking trails to walk along. I almost find it more convenient because you don’t have to worry about gas, food, or lodging. I noted that it’s a very residential area around the park, not very built up commercially but you can still find everything you need in the area. Driving or traveling to each trailhead is relatively easy and quick. For instance, two of their most popular destinations are Blue Hen Falls and Brandywine Falls, to get from one to the other, it takes 12 minutes by car (5.6 miles), an hour if you’re walking (3.1 miles) and 25 minutes if you’re biking (3.1 miles). They offer a lot of very safe walking/biking paths. I’m a big scaredy cat when it comes to biking next to traffic, so I was impressed to see bike paths that weren’t ride next to the major roads. For an RV: there are some windy and hilly roads but for the most part it won't be challenging to get around. I’ve been in some National Parks where RV’s aren’t allowed on certain roads, but you won’t get any of that in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The parking areas are a bit small, though, so I would be prepared for that. There are 5-10 parking spots for some of the smaller destinations and up to 50 parking spots for the more popular destinations such as Brandywine Falls. There is not any kind of Park public bus system (I add this in because I’ve seen bus systems in other parks and I love it when a park has buses taking you to all the popular destinations).
-Activities: There are many activities that you can do within Cuyahoga Valley National Park including hiking all the beautiful trails, biking the five major bicycle trails, sledding, ice fishing, regular fishing, canoeing or kayaking the Cuyahoga River, a scenic train ride through the park, ranger activities for children, bird watching, downhill skiing, picnic shelters/areas, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, horse riding paths, and/or snowshoeing. The parks website offers a calendar of events and activities if that’s something you’re interested in. Another activity located near the park is Boston Mills/Brandywine ski resort (2 different ski resorts) where you can go tubing, skiing, or snowboarding. Personally, I went to a few of the trails and I really enjoyed myself just walking and taking pictures. I went to their website, clicked ‘hiking’ in the ‘things to do’ section and then followed their link to the recommended hikes. Just to clarify, I’m not 100% sure that all of these hikes were considered Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails (vs Cleveland Metro parks trails) but I don’t really care because all of the hikes I went on were fun and easy. I walked through Blue Hen Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Brandywine Falls, and tried to find Linda Falls all within 5 hours. My thoughts on each trail:
Brandywine Falls: This is more than likely the park’s most popular destination (and for good reason). Located at 8176 Brandywine Road, Sagamore Hills 44067 with a 1.5 mile loop trail. There’s plenty of parking and restrooms available. The walkway is obvious and simple. Very nice walkway with stairs and extremely accessible. The waterfall is absolutely beautiful and well worth going to the park for this alone! If you’re only here for a limited time, make sure to include this walk in your plans.
Linda Falls: On my journey to find Linda Falls, I parked at Alexander Bike Lot & Trail Head, Alexander Rd., Walton Hills 44146 and took the “all purpose trail.” It was paved at first then at the little Linda falls trailhead I went down a dirt hill and hiked around on an unpaved path for awhile just looking at beautiful things. I don't know if I ever found Linda falls. I don't think I did but I still saw really pretty stuff including a waterfall. Linda falls was not easy at all with very little signs pointing you to the direction of the falls. There were blue markers on trees and that was what I was following.
Blue Hen Falls: Easy to find with signs pointing you in the direction and an obvious spot where you can clearly tell that it’s the waterfall you’re supposed to be looking at. There's a fence but you can get around and climb down to the falls. BE SAFE and do this with caution. Blue hen falls was a very easy walk down, easy access if you want to get close to waterfall, dirt path for a portion, kind of paved path for a portion, bit of an incline at the beginning of the trail, no steps. Tiny dirt area for parking but additional parking across the street. Trailhead location: 2001 Boston Mills Road, Peninsula 44236. About a 0.5 mile walk.
Bridal Veil Falls: Very easy to get to at 2.5 Miles east of Dunham Rd. on Gorge Parkway, Walton Hills 44146. Park at this location then walk across the street to get to the walkway. There's a nice walkway with stairs and a perfect overlook spot to admire the falls. 0.5 miles roundtrip walk. Simple & Sweet destination!
-Random Tip #1: There is plenty of food located all around the park and there should be no problem finding some good eats. Winking Lizard Tavern, Creekside Restaurant & Bar, and Ken Stewart’s Lodge are just a few delicious options.
-Random Tip #2: Cell service is consistent while driving and on trails. I go through a company called Net10 (LOVE THEM). I usually only have trouble when I’m in the middle of nowhere and honestly at most National Parks I don’t have service. Which why would I want service anyway? Well, because I like using Google Maps to find trailheads, posting my Instagram pictures of the newest waterfall I just saw, and calling my husband when I get lost. Any who, I had service on the trails and while driving to each trail head which was great because, like I said, I almost never have service while in National Parks.
-Random Tip #3: I enjoyed my hike and the weather was actually pretty good for February but if you want to get the most beauty out of this park, I would recommend going in a different month. I believe the best time to go would be July when all the leaves are back and green, on a sunny day, after a recent rain so that the waterfalls are not dry (could I be any more specific?). I would also recommend going on a nice day during the fall (preferably September) because Ohio’s falls are quite beautiful with all the falling leaves. Take a coffee, a light jacket, and your camera!
-Random Tip #4: The one perk of going in February was that not many people were congesting the parks. Summer is likely the parks busiest time of the year, so try to go early to get some good parking spots.
-Random Tip #5: I know when I was planning my National Park trips I was always concerned with how long I should spend at each park. Will I be able to see everything within 1 day or do I need 2 days? I know some people will recommend staying at parks for up to 2 weeks (or else, they fear, you won’t fully experience the park). I tend to lean more towards quick trips. I come, I see, I take pictures, I leave (Blunt, I know). Depending on what your plans are, I would say one full day is more than enough time to see the most popular destinations if you are driving to each of them. If you are hiking the paths or biking to the destinations, I would give it two full days. Also, you can certainly always extend your trip as long as you’d like and I’m sure giving yourself a whole week in the area would be very relaxing and enjoyable.
-Honest Review of the Park: For each National Park, I want to include my honest review. Cuyahoga Valley National Park is not the best park in the whole world, but it does the best with the beauty that’s around it. In all honesty, Ohio is not the prettiest state around and does not have awe-inspiring, jaw dropping views that some of the other states are blessed with. There are not snow-capped mountains, ocean fronts, or 300 ft. tall trees in Ohio. The Grand Canyon is an unbelievable sight to see, so of course the park would be considered ‘unbelievable’ as well. Ohio has to work with what Ohio has to offer and let me tell you, this National Park is the best that Ohio has to offer! If you’re an outdoorsy person and are looking for natural beauty, I would recommend going to Cuyahoga Valley National Park while visiting Ohio. It might not be jaw dropping, but it is still beautiful, serene, and relaxing. There are tons of physical activities to get involved in and the park is very family friendly because of how safe of a state Ohio is. This park is also FREE, which is a huge difference compared to parks that are seeing rising costs in 2018 as high as $70 for a weekend pass. Another perk is that this National Park is not nearly as congested as many of the more popular parks. Yeah, the views might be jaw dropping at Yosemite, but sitting in a 2 hour long traffic jam just to get into the park isn’t very fun, not to mention any picture you try to get has 50 people walking through it. So that perfect, jaw dropping view you were trying to capture on camera now has 5 different screaming children in it, as well. The roadways are nice and it’s easy to get to all of the destinations. Plus, it’s very close by to Cleveland which has tons of fun things to do!
I’m a huge supporter of all National Parks and this is true for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well. I hope you stop in and give the park some love if you ever find yourself traveling through Ohio. Good luck on your travels and thanks for reading!