Brandywine Falls at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio

While everyone has heard of Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, and The Smoky Mountains amongst others, many are unaware of the more off-the-beaten path national parks in our country. One of these such places is Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. Located just 20 minutes outside of Cleveland, a trip to this park can easily be incorporated into any visit to the city. Compared to more isolated national parks, the close proximity to the city means you will have plenty of restaurants and attractions to enjoy in Cleveland before and after your park visit.

History of Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park sign at the Boston Mill Visitor Center

This park lies on the Cuyahoga River in between the cites of Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. About 2 million people visit the park each year with about 20% traveling from outside of the state of Ohio. Despite being located so close to a major city, the rustic natural setting makes this park feel so far away from the hustle and bustle. In 1974, the park was founded as a national recreation area. In 2000, it became a national park.

The park’s 33,000 acres consist of forests, rolling hills, and farmland. The Ohio and Erie Canal was constructed as a means of cheap transportation in the 19th and 20th century . Today, you can bike, walk, or take a train ride that runs parallel to the canal. While the park scenery isn’t as jaw dropping spectacular as the iconic national parks, it’s a place where city dwellers and tourists can come back to time and time again. From hiking, to wildlife watching, to bike riding, Cuyahoga Valley provides a wonderful setting to escape our modern hustle and bustle, if only for a few hours. As an added bonus, it’s one of the few free national parks.

Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail

Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath bike path at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

One of the highlights of the park is a 20 mile long section (87 miles in total) of the beautiful Ohio and Erie Canal trail. This trail follows the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal, once used as a means of transportation from Cleveland to Portsmouth. While not overly scenic, many lush trees line the trail. It’s a great place for any type of exercise especially biking and long distance running.

Leafy views along the Erie and Ohio Canal Towpath trail
Serene views along the Erie and Ohio Canal Towpath trail

One unique aspect of this trail is the Bike Aboard (Hike and Run Aboard also) program. By biking, you can receive a discount ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Bike out to your comfort level and then enjoy a scenic relaxing ride back. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a bit of nature, fitness, and relaxation all-in- one in a beautiful natural area.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

One scenic and relaxing means of exploring the park is via a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic railroad. The train runs through the park, from Independence to Akron, Ohio. There are 3 convenient boarding stations. In addition to regular sightseeing rides, there are a number of specialty events throughout the year. These include a Murder Mystery ride, the North Pole Experience, Ales on Rails, amongst others. The best time of the year to plan a ride is during leaf peeping season via the Fall Flyer train.

If you are biking, hiking, or running through the trail or park, you can flag down the train at any station. Bikers, hikers, and walkers can enjoy a ride back for a reduce fee. This is a great deal as the ticket is just 5 bucks, compared to the regular starting price of $16. However, if you prefer to just take the train, it’s a relaxing means to enjoy the park’s scenery. The National Park Scenic Excursion is a relaxing 2.5 hours round-trip journey. Various seating options are available, from a basic coach at $16 to a premier executive lounge at $36. The glass dome car is a great choice for photographers.

Check the CVSR website for dates and more details.

Brandywine Falls: The Gem of Cuyahoga

60 foot tall Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio

With over 125 miles of hiking trails to choose amongst, there is something for everyone at Cuyahoga. One of the more popular and beautiful hiking trails here is the Brandywine Gorges loop, an easy 1.6 mile loop trail to a mesmerizing 60 foot waterfall. With just 160 foot of elevation gain, this is a nice choice for casual walkers and families. A beautiful boardwalk offers a wonderful viewing point of the falls. For a closer look, yo have the option of walking 80 steps down to a lower viewing deck.

The beautiful boardwalk to Brandywine Falls at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The beautiful shady boardwalk
Views of Brandywine Falls from the upper deck at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Views from the Upper deck

For more of a workout, there are several alternate routes to the falls. The Stanford Trail to Brandywine Falls is wonderful moderate 1.5 mile out-and-back trek to Brandywine. It takes a little bit longer, so you get to spend more time in beautiful nature before arriving at the falls. This trail features beautiful wooded scenery along with tranquil views of the creek. It’s not that difficult, although there are numerous steep staircases to go up. The trail is easy to follow with adequate signage. A few views:

Beautiful greenery along the Stanford Trail at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio
Forested views along the Stanford Trail to Brandywine Falls at Cuyahoga Valley NP
The trail to Brandywine Falls at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio
Lush greenery along the Stanford trail at Cuyahoga Valley National park in Ohio

This waterfall is at its’ best during the rainy spring season. Also, the gorgeous fall foliage makes it a beautiful leaf peeping trail.

Tips for a great hike

Set out early in the morning, especially during the hot and busy summer season.

Bring with water. There is no water at the trailhead.

Enjoy breakfast at your hotel or in Cleveland before your visit. There are not many dining options in the vicinity. The Cleveland Bagel Company offers delicious bagels and a variety of schmears.

Check the website for construction/trail closures.

Plan for a stop at the Boston Mills Visitor Center after your hike. Lots of cute merchandise available, plus a bit of history on the park. It’s located just minutes from the Stanford Trailhead. National Passport Booklets and stamps available.

Wear appropriate hiking shoes and bring with a stick for more traction. It will come in handy during the stair climbing section.

Check out my full list of the best things to do in Cleveland