National Parks Counter: 19
Hello Adventurers! Situated in a decidedly not “national parky” spot edging Akron and just 20 minutes or so south of Cleveland is a nice little piece of nature called Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This is a park that has an unusual history! This whole area is settled and dotted with small towns, homes, and farms along the Cuyahoga River and an old canal called the Ohio and Erie Canal. The history of the Cuyahoga in the modern times is one of pollution. The river famously CAUGHT FIRE many times due to the extreme level of pollution flowing through it. Fun fact, only in the last couple years has the fish in the river been deemed safe to eat! The last time it caught fire was in 1969 and that spurred into action the creation of the EPA. Saddled with this, residents in what is now the area encompassed by the national park started a movement to protect the area from development. One resident, John Seiberling, was elected to congress and eventually was able to get legislation passed to designate the area as a National Recreation Area into the National Parks system. Seiberling is also instrumental in effectively doubling the size of the national parks system.
My trip was of the wam bam variety. I flew into Cleveland on Saturday morning, picked up the rental car, and made line straight for the park about 25 minutes away! My first stop was the visitor center to get my National Park Passport Stamp. I then discovered I left my passport at home! D’oh! But I got the stamps anyway and have just stuck them on! Anyway after that brief visit I was HANGRY. Encompassed with in the park boundaries is a town called Peninsula…there is not to my knowledge any such geological feature there to warrant that name..but whatever, I found restaurant in the town called The Winking Lizard. I love that name! They had some solid beer and a crazy long list of available brews! The burger I got was solid as well. The outdoor balcony allows for watching the tourist train as it makes its way along the river. I did not take the train, but if that’s your thing, they do have a train ride through the park!
Anyway, I didn’t come here to sit and watch a train, so I got on my way and did my first hike! The trail is called the Ledges. The trail itself is super well marked, about 2.5 miles and is fairly easy going, but you will need non slip shoes for sure! Again, it is a loop, but the convenient part is the loop encompassess the parking area so there are plenty of side trails to take you back to the car if needed. As the name indicates there are many ledges! Most of the good stuff is right at the beginning of the hike as well, or can be right at the end, however you want to do it! There is a cave and all kind of little nooks and crannies you or a little one can get into! I found a good little spot to stop for a tasty local brew from the Great Lakes Brewery, a delicious IPA called Commodore Perry! The back end of the trail allowed for some very small wildflowers and a pretty decent overlook over the valley!
After finding my lodging for the weekend I found myself in a cute little town along the river called Cuyahoga Falls. I did a small amount of hiking along the “falls” which is actually just the spillway of the damn on the river here. This was a part of the Metro Parks system in the area which is a nice nature escape for the locals. This park system seems to be quite large in the area and the national park itself is pretty intertwined with this park system as well. I made a brief stop at two of the local breweries along the river here. The first is a Brewery/Pizza Joint called HiHo Brewing Co. Their stout is VERY good. A short while later I found myself at Missing Mountain Brewing Co. for a tasty flight and a bit of grub. My server here explained to me that the owners love Ohio and that it’s only missing mountains. Ok, good to know!
The following day was my main day exploring the park! It was quite chilly when I got up, but no bother, I got myself up to the first trail a little after sunrise. First up was the Brandywine Gorge Trail. I was mainly interested in this one for the large waterfall it is named after! The trail itself is 1.5 miles or so loop and the waterfall can be found right at the start of the trail actually which is convenient! If you want to get down to the lower part of it though, the only way is via stairs off the boardwalk. If you don’t like stairs or cannot do them, there boardwalk in this area does provide an overlook from higher up! Of interest is that there used to be a bonafide town that was centered around the falls as a power source. The town has since be lost to history, other than the ruins of an old factory and one old house that is still around. The rest of the trail goes through the woods and has a couple steepish spots, but nothing major. This trail also links up to another trail that can add many miles if you choose, but I did not, as I already had my eyes on the next trail.
The Blue Hen Falls Trail was my next trail. It’s a 3 mile plus out and back starting at the Boston Mills Visitor Center. There is a pretty steep ascent right off the bat, and then not too far in there is very steep set of stairs (87 I think…I did count -I generally hate stairs!) followed by another good ascent back up. As I mentioned earlier, this is not a park out in the middle of nowhere, and in fact the interstate is close enough to hear which is a drawback for sure, and the trail eventually parallels a road that you do need to cross. When you do you are close to the falls, but there is another pretty steep descent coming and the bottom of that area is where you can find this pretty small, but pretty, waterfall. The good Commodore and I sat down for a minute and then it was back to the car. This trail took me just a little more than an hour.
At this point it was nearly 10:30 and my stomach was reminding me that lunch time was near, so I started making tracks in that direction. But first I stopped by another visitor center on my way out…it was closed for the season, despite what the parks website said…ah well. One thing to note here though, is that there is quite a lengthy parth all the way through this park that runs along side the river/canal. This is what they call a tow path, and is where the mules or horses pulled the barges through the canal locks. It is a pretty busy trail with joggers and bikers. The trail itself it very flat, and quite wide, so good for those activities! According to the internet it is 80 plus miles long, if you are into that kind of thing! I drove down the road a bit and actually did a portion of this tow path near Beaver Marsh. The marsh itself is the former site of a junkyard! And, as the name implies, beavers actually flooded the whole area by damming the canal here! Little buggers! I did not see any beavers sadly.
I then proceeded to make a trip into downtown Akron to get a bite to eat and a brew from Akronym Brewing. I got in just a smidge after 11, it was pretty empty so I sat inside for a very tasty and most certainly unhealthy brunch bagel sandwich! It hit the spot and it was back into the park! The entrance/exit of the park I used here was only 10 minutes or so from downtown Akron, so super accessible to the local residents!
The last hike I did in the park was The Furnace Run, a moderate 2 mile loop. The parking area for this one was extremely packed and I had to park off road. There is a very close by covered bridge and it is a big draw. The hike can either end or start at the bridge. I started it there and headed on my way. The start of this trail as I did it, had a pretty serious incline right away as well before leveling off. The reason I chose this trail was for the chance to see some color and there were more wildflowers and blooming trees along this trail than I came across on the others! The trail itself is easy to follow, but there are a few side trail options and connections to other trails that are not quite so well marked and it could be easy to get onto one of them without intending to do so.
Overall impressions: Pros: Super accessible to the locals and anybody visiting Cleveland. This one has stuff that is very family friendly: easy biking, a train, some neat history, very doable trails for most anyone short of people with health problems. It’s a great park to go in, do some hiking, come out, get lunch and a beer, and come right back in without any hassle Cons: I feel like the wildflower scene, which I was very interested in seeing, was a little underwhelming, whether I was not at the optimum time or just had unrealistic expectations, I do not know. There is really no “awe” factor in this park. You will never be away from road noise.
The Adventurer Final Word:
3.5 stars. I actually really enjoyed this trip, but it was dirt cheap for me and as checkoff visit, it was great. I really cannot ever see any reason to come back here again, and I don’t really know that this is a spot that would ever be considered the “main” draw to most people to come do. But if you are in Cleveland, yes, stop by!