One of the items on my “fall bucket list” was to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. Although I had hoped to visit earlier in autumn to see the leaves in all their colorful glory, it unfortunately didn’t work out. However, the last Saturday in October turned out to be one of the warmest, sunniest, and most pleasant days ever so perhaps it was for the best. While originally I had plans to stay overnight somewhere in the vicinity of the park (in order to maximize our time there), I altered these plans after I booked our trip to Miami (save a little money where you can). Since it was only about a 100 minute drive from home, it was definitely doable to visit in a day.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located within Ohio’s, you guessed it…Cuyahoga Valley (if you’ve ever been to the eastern part of the state you will see the name Cuyahoga pop up in numerous places). The park is located right off of the turnpike, making it extremely easy to get to. Located along the Cuyahoga River (see?) between the cities of Akron and Cleveland, the park is massive, around 40,000 acres of pristine rural landscape. I don’t want to bore you with a whole “here’s a history of the park” summary (not that it’s boring, but if you do want to read up on it, click here). I’d rather give you an itinerary on how to make the best of a half day’s visit there.
Mid-late morning-Countryside Conservancy Farmers’ Market (30 minutes to an hour)
Start off your visit by stopping at the Countryside Conservancy Farmers’ Market in Peninsula, Ohio. When I say it’s basically located within the park, it almost is (well, it’s not on park land but for how close it is to everything it might as well be). I first learned about the farmers’ market on the CVNP’s website and I am so glad I did. The market runs on Saturdays from 9 AM to noon (we arrived after 11 AM and everything was still in full swing). They had everything from fresh prepared foods to an vast array of produce (I saw turmeric, as in right from the ground turmeric, which was very cool), to condiments and salsas to beautiful crafts. While we would have liked to try a little of everything, we made do and loved what we did sample. D got a bowl of the “breakfast soup” from McCoy’s Custom Catering. We got a container of the hot salsa from Sidekicks Salsa. I bought a jar of “lavender honey cream” from Brighton Wool and Honey Company (after trying some on a pretzel stick I was sold). A bag of deliciously amazing kettle corn from the newly established Miller’s Old Time Kettle Corn. To eat, we split a plate of three pierogis from the stand Pierogis of Cleveland (these were incredible, the chicken paprikash to die for). Our only regret was that we hadn’t brought a cooler to get some to go as they offered more flavors for ones that were already frozen. As tea lovers, we naturally purchased a bag of chocolate peppermint loose tea from Storehouse Tea. We also bought a mini load of pumpkin bread and I purchased a pack of handmade greeting cards where the design was a pressed flower. When I say you should stop here, I truly mean it!
NOTE: The Countryside Farmers’ Market only operates from early May to the end of October (it is Ohio after all). There is a winter farmers’ market that operates at a building in Akron, Ohio. It’s not a far drive from the national park but not as convenient or near as the one in Peninsula.
Late morning to early afternoon-Beaver Marsh (an hour or more)
After dropping some serious dough on the many great offerings to be had at the farmers’ market, turn right onto Riverview Road and continue down it for a couple of minutes until you see a sign for the Ira Trailhead, then make a left. Beaver Marsh is, you guessed it, home to beavers. Although the beaver population was nearing extinction, in more recent times it has rebounded. Supposedly there is other wildlife here too, like otters, muskrats, and water fowl along the wetland boardwalk but unfortunately we didn’t see anything. The closest was hearing an extremely loud splash in the water off in the distance, but it happened so quickly we weren’t able to spot anything and naturally it didn’t do it immediately again. Binoculars would be useful here. However, the area was quite serene and peaceful to sit in. The landscape greatly made me think of those one would find in the rural American South.
Beaver Marsh is also along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail which allows for incredible walking and biking opportunities, especially since it’s all flat. I found some of the bicyclists we encountered to be a bit “rude” (the typical mantra of “I’m on a bicycle so I’m superior to you pedestrians” aka get out of my way) but overall people were friendly and polite. In addition to the pretty and unique landscape, you can also see the remains of the former canal. For anyone not historically inclined, before the invention of the train, canals were the “next best thing.” Transporting goods on a canal was a whole lot faster and more efficient than doing so by horse and wagon. At the time canals were “big” and gaining in importance, Ohio was the West in America, the frontier if you will. It was fascinating to imagine the canals in operation, especially after seeing the locks that raised and lowered boats through elevation changes.
With the trail going on for miles, you can spend as little or as much time here as you want. It’s about a 10 minute drive to your next stop.
Early afternoon-Quick stop at the Boston Store Visitor Center
The visitor center is on the way to your final destination in the park, so it’s worth taking 10 or so minutes to stop here. There are actual restrooms (still on the rustic side but sinks, flushing toilets and all) and the Boston Store (a Federal style house that dates from the early 19th century) is home to a small exhibit about canal life and the town’s earliest residents. Head back in the car for your final stop of the day, one that will be less than a 10 minute drive.
Early afternoon-Brandywine Falls (as little or as much time as you want)
Parking is somewhat limited here; you will either have to wait for a spot or make your own in a non-designated one (well, this is more if it’s a gorgeous day and everyone is at the park). I think for most people who visit the park, the stunning Brandywine Falls is at the top of their list. This magnificent natural attraction is the tallest waterfall in Ohio and is located amongst absolutely beautiful scenery. It’s a relatively easy and quick walk from the parking lot (there are some steps involved so plan accordingly). You will have some terrific photo opportunities here, so make sure your phones and camera batteries are charged as a boardwalk takes you to upper and lower observation platforms which overlook the falls head on.
If you have some extra time, you can also do the 1.5-mile hike around the Brandywine Gorge Trail starting from the upper observation platform. This trail lets you explore the deep gorge cut by Brandywine Falls. When you’re all finished, hop back in the car and the drive to the Ohio Turnpike is only about five minutes away from the Brandywine Falls parking lot.
So there you have it, a quick yet pretty varied half day spent in the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park. There’s tons more to see and do but this will at least get you started!