A lake surrounded by bright fall foliage and an historic train station on the far side of the water in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Visiting Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Learn about the unique history and significance of Cuyahoga Valley National Park in our guide, along with the best things to see and do. The most popular sights and trails, along with a hidden gem or two. We've covered everything you need to know for your visit.

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If you’re familiar with the Cuyahoga River there’s a good chance that’s due to it famously catching on fire (multiple times) and the pollution that plagued its banks for much of the 20th century. However, in the 50+ years since the 1969 river fire, Cuyahoga Valley has become a transformational success story, leading to the establishment of the National Park, which recently claimed position as the ninth most visited in the country.

With its storied history of water and air pollution, along with its location nestled among industrialized urban centers, you may be wondering: is Cuyahoga Valley National Park worth visiting? The answer is yes! Cuyahoga is an area rich in history and full of hidden natural gems. 

We’ve spent multiple trips exploring the Park and have put together a guide on exactly what you should see and do there. We’re breaking this guide down into the best trails in the Park, the top attractions to see, and information on where to stay during your visit. 

We’re also including a bit more history on the area to help frame the cultural significance of Cuyahoga Valley.

History of Cuyahoga Valley

Cuyahoga Valley National Park now protects 22 miles of the waterway between Cleveland and Akron, but it didn’t achieve that status until 2000. In 1974 the area was designated a National Recreation Area. 

The infamous fire of 1969, which received national media attention despite it being relatively minor, helped inspire Congress to establish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the consequential Clean Water Act of 1972. The path toward a healthier river valley and the National Park began to be paved and, since the fire, billions of dollars have funded the efforts.

A woman wearing flannel and a wide brim hat stands on a rock in a creek and gazing off toward the golden fall foliage in the distance

So, how did the Cuyahoga River become so polluted that it was once called the river that “oozes rather than flows”? Because of its access to Lake Erie the river has long been an important natural feature. As America expanded west and cities such as Cleveland and Akron developed, industry found a use for the Cuyahoga. 

By the mid 1800s a canalway was built, connecting the eastern coast all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, by way of the Great Lakes and Ohio River. The Cuyahoga River was an important part of that canal. 

In 1880 the railroad arrived in Cuyahoga Valley, making the canal obsolete and further shaping the culture and economy of the surrounding area. But a century of industrialization led to factory waste and sewage being dumped into the waterway.

Now, Cuyahoga Valley National Park preserves layers of the ever-changing cultural and economic influences that shaped this part of the country and the nation as a whole. Visitors today can walk, run or bike the same towpath trail that was used for transporting goods across the nation. They can ride on the same rails that would later replace the canal towpath, walk through a historical village where residents once lived and worked right along the canal, and paddle waters once heavily polluted, but now teeming with fish and other wildlife.

Hike the Top Trails in Cuyahoga Valley

The Ledges

If you had to choose only one hiking trail to do in CVNP, we would recommend The Ledges. It’s a 2.3 mile loop trail that winds through some incredible rock formations that you don’t want to miss. You can also shortcut the trail from the parking lot and head straight to the Ledges Overlook, which we’ll discuss a little later.

A woman sits up on a high rock ledge in a forested area of Cuyahoga Valley National ParkTall sheer moss covered rock faces in a forested area on the Ledges Trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail

The Towpath Trail makes up a 20 mile long section through CVNP of the 87 mile long Ohio & Erie Canalway. This historic trail is the same route where mules were used to tow canal boats laden with supplies and passengers in the 1800s. It offers scenic walking, running, and biking opportunities alongside the river 24 hours a day. You can find more information on the numerous trailheads at the National Park Service website here and a detailed map here.

Fog rests over a field next to a large arched concrete bridge with fall foliage visible in the distance

Blue Hen Falls Trail

A popular sight in CVNP is Blue Hen Falls, a 15 foot waterfall located 1.5 miles from the Boston Mill Visitor Center. You’ll want to be prepared for some moderate elevation changes on the way to and from these falls, but the view is worth it in our book.

The trail also underwent some restoration work in late 2021, so it should be in great shape for hikers.

A small waterfall cascades down onto a rock face below leading to a creek with a large tree trunk laying across it

Beaver Marsh

One of the more unique trails to visit in Cuyahoga Valley is the Beaver Marsh, especially for wildlife lovers. Actually a one mile stretch of the Towpath Trail, this section takes you across a boardwalk and through a wetland area where you can spot birds, turtles, and of course, beavers.

The Marsh offers not only great views, but a perfect example of Cuyahoga’s comeback story. The area was previously drained for the towpath to come through. At one point an auto repair shop was situated here, with piles of old junk vehicles, parts, and pollution.

Following clean up efforts, the beavers, who had been missing from the area for over a century, returned and built their lodges, causing the area to once again flood and return to its natural state, as a habitat for a diverse variety of wildlife.

A woman stands resting her hands on a wood railing along a boardwalk through the Beaver Marsh in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Plateau and Oak Hill Trail

From the same trailhead you can choose to do the longer, 4.4 mile Plateau Trail, or Oak Hill Trail, which is just 1.4 miles. Both are popular for hiking as well as snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

Discover the Best Things to See in Cuyahoga

Brandywine Falls

Arguably the most popular attraction within CVNP, Brandywine Falls measures in at 60 feet tall and has multiple viewing platforms that are a short distance from the parking area. Just be prepared for a few sets of stairs to reach the lower overlook.

If you choose to do the entire 1.4 mile loop trail you’ll head down into the gorge before climbing back up to the top of the falls, crossing over Brandywine Creek, and returning to the parking area.

Because Brandywine Falls is both very popular and easily accessible, plan your visit for earlier in the morning if possible, when crowds will be thinner.

Looking over the shoulder of a woman wearing a red jacket and beanie who is looking at a sheet of water coming down at Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National ParkLooking up at a woman walking up a steep set of stairs during fall in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Ledges Overlook

The Ledges Overlook provides a naturally flat and bare rock viewing area over the protected forestland of Cuyahoga Valley. The wide view, which faces west, makes this location a terrific spot to catch sunset and it’s a popular spot for photography. Visit here during peak season in the fall to really maximize the experience.

Kendall Lake

A peaceful spot to sit and relax by the water or go for a short 1 mile walk is Kendall Lake. If you wanted to enjoy a longer hike you could connect here to either the Ledges Trail (2.3 miles) or Salt Run (3.8 miles).

Everett Covered Bridge

According to the National Park Service, Everett Bridge dates back to the 1870s, but was reconstructed after extensive damage that occurred in 1975. It now stands as a faithful representation of one of the thousands of covered bridges that used to exist throughout Ohio.

A woman sits on a white fence gazing up at the red and white historic Everett Covered Bridge in Cuyahoga Valley National Park


Located directly in the heart of CVNP is the Village of Boston, which still offers a glimpse into the history of towns along the canal. From Boston you can hop onto numerous trails, stop into the Boston Mill Visitor Center for information, or board the Scenic Railroad.

A white cinder block building with a garage door and vintage gas pumps in front that has M.D. Garage painted across the top in large white letters
Close up on a red and white vintage gas pump that says Pure Diesel FuelThe front of a white cinder block building with an open garage door that says M.D. Garage across the top

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

The Scenic Railroad offers visitors a unique method of transportation and also keeps alive the historic legacy of trains in the Valley. 

From multiple stations throughout the Park you can hop on and use the Railroad either as a sightseeing excursion, or even as a one way shuttle - hike, bike, or paddle your way along the Towpath Trail and then use the train to return to your starting location.

CVSR holds special events throughout the year, including the “Steam in the Valley Excursion”, when a historic steam locomotive is brought in from the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society.

Another fun option is attending a Friday evening event. Themes include “Ales on Rails”, “Murder Mystery”, and “Trivia on the Train”. Check the CVSR website here for upcoming dates and information.

A woman in flannel and a wide brim hat sits on a bench in a historic train station and leans forwardA historic passenger train coming down the tracks surrounded by fall foliage in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Where to Stay Near Cuyahoga Valley

There's no shortage of accommodations surrounding Cuyahoga Valley being as it's located between the metropolitan areas of Cleveland and Akron. A mere 20 minute drive from the heart of Park will put you in range of plenty of hotel and rental options.

Unique stays are just as much a part of the experience for us as the destination when traveling, so we've done the work of rounding up the best places to stay in Cuyahoga Valley. All of these options have excellent reviews and are located in close proximity to hiking and sightseeing.

For an even more adventurous visit that keeps you immersed in nature, we've included a couple of camping options. Unlike many National Parks, there are no official NPS campgrounds inside Cuyahoga Valley, but these selections will get you as close as possible.

Boutique Stays Closest to the Park

The Inn at Brandywine Falls | This historic house was built in 1848 and sits adjacent to one of the Park's most popular destinations, Brandywine Falls. Six guest suites are available between the main farmhouse and carriage house. Breakfast is served daily in the main dining room. A true B&B experience inside the Park.

Stanford House | A great overnight option for a large group, family reunion or other large gathering. This two story house dating back to 1843 has nine bedrooms right in the heart of the Park. 

Interesting Airbnbs

Winding River Barn | A modern yet rustic cabin experience with secluded outdoor spaces, including a hot tub and patio seating. Centrally located in Peninsula. Ideal for a private getaway for two.

The Green Door House | The modern minimalist aesthetic is perfectly executed in this guesthouse. Quaint outdoor seating on an elevated deck. Easy access to the northern area of the Park in Brecksville.

The Italianate of Peninsula | Another historic home that was recently restored. An elegant place both inside and out. There's plenty of room for everyone with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Walking distance to the Towpath Trail in Peninsula.

Camping or Glamping Options

Valley Overlook | A new glamping option (soft opening in spring/summer of 2023) with furnished canvas tents, located on 62 wooded acres with a scenic view towards Cuyahoga Valley. Tent sites and cabins are also available.

Brecksville Reservation | Park and hike 3 miles to a backcountry camp site. Restrooms and potable water are available at a picnic area ¼ mile from sites. Backcountry camping permits are available for $5 at least two days in advance.

We hope this post has shed some light on the significance of Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the history surrounding it. The restoration of what would become CVNP is just one great example of the original purpose of our National Parks - that is “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and…leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Just a few decades ago the Cuyahoga Valley was at the center of public outrage concerning the protection of our natural resources and today it’s enjoyed annually by millions of visitors. While most won't immediately think of an Ohio river valley when they consider the US National Parks, you can see that Cuyahoga has plenty to offer and enjoy for many decades going forward.

Need some Ohio travel inspiration? Follow us on Pinterest for more.

A woman in flannel and a wide brim hat stands on a rock in a creek and looks off toward the golden fall foliage with text overlay that says What to Do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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A waterfall surrounded by large boulders and colorful fall foliage
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