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Cuyahoga Valley National Park: Express trip to nature

Everett Bridge, Cuyahoga Valley National Park
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January 16, 2018 04:07 PM

Filled with beautiful waterfalls and accessible hikes, Cuyahoga Valley offers the natural respite you'd expect from a national park—but with a couple of twists: a scenic rail line that offers wine tastings and a tradition of live music performances.

Located in the northeastern part of Ohio within an hour of Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown, Cuyahoga is close to urban centers, yet it feels a world away.

Facts and figures

  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park encompasses about 33,000 acres
  • The park has more than 125 miles of hiking trails
  • Bald eagles returned to the area in 2006 after an absence of 70 years
  • One of the country's most-visited national parks, Cuyahoga Valley sees 2.2 million visits a year

History
Cuyahoga Valley has functioned as a kind of retreat for city dwellers since the 1870s. People came for boat or carriage rides along the Ohio & Erie Canal, and later for rides on the newly built Valley Railway. By the 1920s, a handful of regional parks had been created, but persistent concerns about urban sprawl stoked a campaign to protect the area further. Local groups and citizens, including the Lake Erie Watershed Conservation Foundation, the politician John F. Seiberling and the Cuyahoga Valley Association, led the effort, and the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area was established in 1974. After nearly three decades spent purchasing more land and restoring historic structures, the area's name was changed to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2000.

Things to do and see
At the Boston Visitor Center, originally built as a storehouse in 1836, you can get your bearings and find out what's happening in the park. Just down the road lies the trailhead to Blue Hen Falls, one of many short, family-friendly trails. You'll cross a wooden bridge over Spring Creek before arriving at one of the park's prettiest waterfalls on this half-mile excursion.

Beyond Blue Hen, the 65-foot Brandywine Falls is popular, as is the 30-foot Bridal Veil Falls, both of which have nearby parking and boardwalks from which to view the cascades. For a birds-eye view of the valley, check out the Ledges, a west-facing overlook point that is especially breathtaking at sunset. Warm evenings are also a good time to check out concerts at Blossom Music Center, an amphitheatre about 15 minutes from the Ledges that is the summer home for the Cleveland Orchestra and books all kinds of music performances, from classical to country to rock.

Your group won't want to miss a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which runs along a north-south route through the park. Operated by a nonprofit organization, the railroad's excursion options include a three-hour roundtrip ride and two-hour tours with wine or beer tastings.

If your group has fishing enthusiasts, try the 2.75-mile Tree Farm Trail, which indeed passes through part of a Christmas tree farm before ending near Horseshoe Pond, one of several ponds or lakes available for catching bass, bluegill and crappie.

Cyclists can hop on the train and ride one way along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which runs for about 20 miles within the park boundary, and bike the other way. The towpath is one of five major bike trails in the Cuyahoga Valley, making this a great destination for cycling enthusiasts.

The park's five tent sites are open from Memorial Day weekend through October 31, and reservations are required. Several non-affiliated camping spots are nearby, including Punderson State Park, Quail Hollow State Park, and Heritage Farms, a family-run farm dating back to the 1840s that is just two miles away.

Best time to go
The park is a year-round destination—during the holiday season, its rail line transforms into the Polar Express, an event that tends to sell out. But not surprisingly, summer is the season in Cuyahoga Valley, as well as early to mid-October when fall colors hit their peak. "Parking lots along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and at Brandywine Falls fill by mid-morning," says Pam Barnes, the park's community engagement supervisor. Visiting on weekdays and starting out early will help you beat the crowds during peak times.

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