Cuyahoga Valley National Park
15610 Vaughn Road
Brecksville, OH 44141
In the backyard of Cleveland and Akron is Cuyahoga Valley National Park, centered on the historically and ecologically significant Cuyahoga River. While the river runs directly into the suburbs of both Cleveland and Akron from the Cuyahoga Valley, the park feels like a world away from these cities. The Cuyahoga, named by Native Americans, translates as "crooked river."
Entrance fees: Admission is free.
Visitor centers: Canal Visitor Center is open daily. Happy Days Visitor Center is open Wednesday through Sunday year-round. The Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center is open daily from June to August and on weekends from September to May. Peninsula Depot is open daily from May to August. All visitor centers are closed on January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25.
Other services: Two museums and a wilderness information center
- Cuyahoga Valley HI-Stanford Hostel. Open year-round. 330-467-8711.
- Inn at Brandywine Falls. Open year-round. 330-467-1812.
Visiting Cuyahoga Valley National ParkThe only national park in the state of Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley has remnants of the old Ohio & Erie Canal, a scenic railroad, golf courses, ski resorts, a music center, and entire towns. Perhaps because of its location between two major cities, the park attracts more than three million visitors each year. Almost 33,000 acres along the banks of the Cuyahoga River comprise this unusual national park. More than 900 species inhabit its deciduous forests and wetland habitats.
A scenic railroad line allows visitors to cover a lot of territory quickly, while frequent excursions permit them to explore the park's historical sites in depth. There are also miles of trails to hike, bike, and horseback ride. On the next page, we'll go into more depth about the sights to see and the things to do at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Sightseeing at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
At the center of activity at Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the twisty Cuyahoga -- "crooked river" in the regional Native American tongue -- which winds its way through floodplains, valleys, and ravines on its 22-mile journey through the park. Nearly 200 miles of streams feed the river.
The ecology of Cuyahoga Valley National Park is diverse. Two distinct geographic regions intermingle -- the Appalachian Plateau and the bordering Central Lowlands -- as well as some of the only remaining wetlands environments in Ohio.
The valley's 1,200 wetlands acres help support a diverse wildlife population, with white-tailed deer being the park's most visible resident. Cuyahoga supports nearly 200 species of birds, as well as numerous invertebrates, fish, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles. Beavers, coyotes, turtles, and wild turkeys are just a few of the park's wild denizens.
The rich soil of the Cuyahoga Valley supports a mosaic of flora, more than 900 plant species in all. There are forests rich in oak, hickory, and maple. Today the Park Service authorizes a number of sustainable agricultural operations within the boundaries of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, including a vineyard and an herb farm.
Many park visitors see the sights from the comfort of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The trains offer various trips, including some longer excursions that include disembarking to tour the village of Peninsula or the Canal Visitor Center. Other outings include visits to Hale Farm and Village, Stan Hywet, Akron Zoo, Quaker Square, and the Hartville Marketplace.
Cuyahoga Valley National Photo Opportunities
The unusual conglomeration of pioneer villages, wilderness, and the historical structures allow sightseers an array of photographic options. Architecture buffs will be interested in the Western Reserve style of the handsome Frazee House, while bird lovers won't want to miss the Bath Road Heronry. Here's a look at some of the park's best photo opportunities:
- Brandywine Falls: In historic Brandywine Village, the Brandywine Falls once powered a sawmill and a grist mill. Today the structures are gone, but the 60-foot falls still flow over sandstone and shale -- and with a stunning effect.
- Bath Road Heronry: Located on Bath Road between Akron-Peninsula and Riverview roads, the heronry is a great place to photograph the great blue heron. This magnificent bird has a 70-inch wingspan, a blue-gray back, and a white crown and face. The herons nest in colonies where they mate, raise their young, and often times roost for the year.
- The Ledges Overlook: The Ledges are a series of sandstone banks in the southeast part of Cuyahoga Valley. From this spot, hikers can gaze at the lush leaf canopies that stretch over the valley below.
Long before this region was established as a national park, the Ohio & Erie Canal snaked through the lands. On the following page, you can read about the history of the canal and the surrounding area.
The History of the Cuyahoga Valley
The history of the Cuyahoga Valley revolves around the Ohio & Erie Canal. The canal provided Ohio residents with waterways south to the Ohio River and north to Lake Erie, creating essential links to the eastern agricultural markets.
Construction of the canal began in 1825 and was completed seven years later. The canal became the main means of transportation of wheat to the eastern states, and at its peak, included more than 1,000 miles of main line canals, feeders, and side cuts.
The introduction of railroads and poor management of the canal caused its decline in the late 1800s. In 1913, when a great flood struck, the canal was abandoned. Today, Towpath Trail in Cuyahoga National Park follows the route of the former canal as it once traversed the park. As visitors follow the trail, they can stop at these historical sites to learn about the once-vital canal:
- Zimmerman's Tavern: Once a rowdy bar frequented by boat crews, Zimmerman's Tavern eventually catered to the passing pleasure boats, earning a more respectable reputation.
- Lock 39: One of the 44 locks along the Ohio & Erie Canal, Lock 39 once lifted or lowered boats nine feet.
- McMillan Dry Dock: Operated by John McMillan, the dry dock was used to service boats until the canal closed in 1913.
- Hell's Half Acre: Most recently, this 1820s structure was used as a general store. Before that, it served as a tavern and a residence at various times. The tavern/store/home had a dubious reputation and was dubbed "Hell's Half Acre" by canal travelers.
- Alexander's Mill: Built near Lock 37, Alexander's Mill capitalized on the spillway water from the lock, utilizing the water's power to grind flour and later feed.
- Station Road Bridge: An old iron truss bridge built in 1881, Station Road Bridge now supports hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.
- Peninsula Feeder: A free-standing stone bridge was constructed to bring water from the Cuyahoga River to the canal. Today all that remains are the stone walls.
Village of Peninsula: When Peninsula was established, the site was on a peninsula formed by a horseshoe bend in the Cuyahoga River. The quaint village is no longer on a peninsula because mill owners re-routed the river to utilize its power. Today antique shops, art galleries, restaurants, and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad depot can be found in Peninsula.
Many other locks and historic sites pepper the Towpath Trail, recalling 19th century life along the Ohio & Erie Canal. The trail can be navigated by foot, horse, or bike, so travelers can enjoy the sights at their own pace.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique in many ways. It is located near two major cities and has thriving village communities and a golf course. At the same time, the park houses lush wilderness. It's a combination that three million travelers per year come to see.©Publications International, Ltd.