Raise: CVNP’s 125 miles of secluded, densely forested hiking trails prove that Ohio is more than a state of flyover. A network of hilly, wet and wooded trails ranges from easy to difficult. The shortest hikes do not require more than 15 minutes. Longer hikes reach up to 37 miles, where the Buckeye Trail, a 1,444-mile loop around Ohio, winds through the park’s most rugged terrain. Dogs on a leash are permitted on over 110 miles of trails. Find pet-friendly arrangements, as well as information on flora, fauna and history, at the kiosks at the start of the trails. Take a paper map as a guide, although most trails are well marked with directions and mileage.
Don’t miss the Ledges Trail, a moderate 3.5km maze through mossy sandstone cliffs and geologically fascinating caves. You will think you are in Oregon, not northeastern Ohio.
The valley has more than 100 waterfalls; the most popular in the park are the 60-foot Brandywine Falls, visible via a boardwalk or the 1.5-mile Brandywine Gorge Trail. Want isolation? Follow Spring Creek for a 1.2 mile hike to the less traveled Blue Hen Falls. From there, cross the creek at shin height for even more beauty at the cascading Buttermilk Falls. In total, this round-trip cascading route takes around two hours.
Take a train ride: Soak up some of the best CVNP scenery on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Macko’s favorite âwindshield tourâ of the park’s barrels along the 1800s freight lanes that meander along the Cuyahoga River. Trains run south and north in the morning and afternoon, with journeys of two to three hours on average.
You are likely to see wildlife. âWhen the train runs in the spring, it’s not uncommon for people to see bald eagles in their nests,â Macko explains.
The Scenic Railroad adapts to the seasons, from the Fall Flyer ride for the fall foliage to the Polar Express, a vacation trip inspired by the bestselling children’s book, with encounters with Santa Claus along the way.
Cycling through history: History abounds through the Cuyahoga Valley Towpath Trail, an 87 mile jaunt along the old Ohio and Erie Canal. Flooding may have decimated this economic staple in 1913, but more than 2 million visitors now use the trail regularly – and biking is the best way to do it. âThe trail is flat, easy to walk, and covered with trees most of the way,â says Kevin Madzia of Century Cycles, a CVNP bicycle store. “There are many historic sites of interest, such as the old canal locks and a visitor center with information on the area’s first inhabitants.”
The trail traverses natural sites, including the wildlife-rich beaver marsh and the charming peninsula, as it winds through the park and beyond. Pack two park adventures in one with the Scenic Railroad’s âbike on boardâ special. Cycle a length of the park’s Towpath Trail, then hail the train at a boarding station for a return.
Rent bikes, including e-bikes, year round from Century Cycles in downtown Peninsula.
See wildlife: Ohio may not have grizzly bears and mountain goats, but the park’s beavers, birds, coyotes, and foxes are equally impressive. The Beaver Marsh is your best bet for all-in-one wildlife sightings. Beavers, otters, turtles and the great blue heron thrive in these 70 acres of wetland, but it wasn’t always so. Until the 1980s, this marsh was a former salvage yard. Grassroots groups removed unwanted cars and garbage; at the same time, beavers – long absent from Ohio – have returned to the valley and made their home in the old dump.
Bald Eagles are another Cuyahoga Valley comeback story. In 2006, the valley saw its first bald eagles nesting in 70 years, and they have been nesting at Pinery Narrows in the northern part of the park every year since. The spring nesting season is the best time to see eagles and their babies.
Visit of a farm: The Cuyahoga Valley was farmland long before it became a national park, and nearly a dozen of these farms are still in operation. As part of the National Park Service’s Countryside Initiative, farmers lease land in the park to preserve the fertile landscapes of the valley. The non-profit organization Countryside, established in 1999, organizes events such as the Countryside Farmers’ Market all year round. Try fresh Ohio produce such as sweet corn and plump tomatoes, with stalls galore at Old Trail School and Howe Meadow adjacent to the southwest end of the park.
Purplebrown Farmstead, two miles south of Brandywine Falls, hosts classes, workshops and experiences, including sunflower cutting trips in late summer. Or pick blueberries in the summer sun at Greenfield Berry Farm on the Peninsula.
Take a look at Ohio’s agricultural history at the 90-acre Hale Farm and Village near Beaver Marsh in the southwest corner of the park. Observe farm animals, stroll through heritage gardens, and watch blacksmithing and glassblowing demonstrations.
To go skiing: Surprisingly perhaps, the CVNP has 18 trails on 88 skiable acres. Boston Mills and Brandywine are side-by-side ski resorts in the heart of the park with interchangeable lift tickets and season passes. The slopes vary from rabbit hills for beginners to challenging black diamonds, with a maximum drop of 264 feet. The ski facilities rent equipment and sell food and alcohol, but do not offer overnight accommodation.
Cross-country ski trails range from the beginner-friendly Bike and Hike Trail (a flat 10 mile course along the eastern border of the park) to the challenging Boston Run Trail, an advanced 3.5 mile trail through steep terrain. and thick forests. The 20-mile multi-use towpath attracts cross-country skiers with flat terrain, minimal elevation, and scenic forests sprinkled with snow. Rent cross-country skis and snowshoes at the Kendall Lake Winter Sports Center from December through February.