Cuyahoga Valley National Park isn’t like any of the other national parks you will find around the country with trails to keep you busy for weeks and panoramic vistas that go on for miles.
But just because this national park doesn’t have limitless options and dramatic features, it doesn’t mean that it is not worth visiting.
In fact, what Cuyahoga Valley lacks in astonishing views it makes up for with historic significance, peaceful waterfalls, easily accessible highlights, and small-town charm.
So even though this is not the kind of national park that will have you reaching for your camera every other minute, it is the place you go to if you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
There is no denying the serene feeling of walking a trail within a national park without another soul in sight or sitting by a massive lake surrounded by nothing but the sounds of singing birds.
Check out this list of the ten best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park to see what I mean and get prepared to be blown away by its simplistic beauty.
Table of Contents
- 1. Visit Brandywine Falls
- 2. Hike the Ledges Trail
- 3. Bike along the Ohio and Erie Towpath
- 4. Hop aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
- 5. Admire the views from the Tinkers Creek Gorge Overlook
- 6. Take a short walk to Bridal Veil Falls
- 7. Hike to Deer Lick Cave
- 8. Visit Blue Hen Falls
- 9. Relax by Kendall Lake
- 10. Dive into history at the Everett Covered Bridge
1. Visit Brandywine Falls
One of the most popular things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is to visit the 60-foot waterfall known as Brandywine Falls.
There are a few different ways to take in its beauty but the easiest way to visit is by parking in the designated lot and taking the short boardwalk trail right up to its gushing water.
Although this trail is extremely short, some parts do require the use of stairs so it may not be easily accessible to all.
However, those able to climb a few stairs will be treated to a grand waterfall that would normally require a strenuous hike in other parks.
And if those limited to wheelchairs or lugging strollers would still like to get a glimpse of this beauty, there is always the option of staying on the main level of the observation deck for a bird’s eye view.
People who make it to the lower observation deck will be treated to the misting thanks to its close proximity to the falls and the trail continues on past the falls to create a loop.
Most people head right back up the stairs after admiring the falls, so making the full loop is a great option if you have the time and would like to spend some quality time with nature away from the crowds.
You will even get to walk through a long tunnel that makes for an awesome photoshoot!
Because this waterfall is so close to civilization, it can get pretty crowded regardless of the day so try to arrive early to beat the crowds and always remember to avoid littering.
2. Hike the Ledges Trail
Coming in second for the most popular things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Ledges Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes in the national park and its short distance makes it easy for just about everyone to enjoy.
The trail is a total of 2.6 miles roundtrip with a minimal amount of elevation gain at about 300 feet but you won’t even realize it as you are mesmerized by its everchanging views.
You start in a quiet wood and quickly are welcomed by sandstone rocks covered in bright green moss that will make you want to stop to take photos every couple of minutes.
As you slowly make your way down into these moss-covered rocks, you will begin to understand why they are called the Ledgers with their rugged structures and flat tops.
Soon everything around you will be coated with green and thanks to sediments from ancient glaciers, you will also notice the occasional spots of white and turquoise.
Walking along these cliffs is an amazing feeling and if you pay close enough attention, you will find a small opening that leads to a unique version of a slot canyon.
This is easily the coolest part of the hike so don’t be afraid to ask a fellow hiker if you have a hard time finding it. It is located right after the enclosed bat cave but before the opening that appears to be filled with large fallen boulders.
Another beautiful feature on this trail is the stone staircase that takes you back up above the cliffs for one more view overlooking it all before heading back to your car.
3. Bike along the Ohio and Erie Towpath
Running right through the heart of this famous national park, going for a bike ride along the Ohio and Erie Towpath is one of the best ways to experience what Cuyahoga Valley has to offer.
While you are riding along this well-maintained path, you can imagine what it was like for people transporting goods with the use of mules on this very road back in the mid-1800s.
Feel free to wake up before sunrise or keep pedaling past sundown since this famous towpath is open 24 hours a day for your convenience.
Spend the day traveling the full twenty miles that make up the national park’s section of the path or use it as a way to make quick getaways to popular spots like Brandywine Falls and the Ledges.
The path will take you through some of the most serene parts of the park and over picturesque bridges overlooking its many creeks and streams.
4. Hop aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Another fun way to explore Cuyahoga Valley National Park is aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and tickets cost as little as $15 a person.
The $15 ticket will get you a roundtrip ticket which includes a tour through some of the most beautiful parts of the National Park with the option to stop for lunch in the fun town of Pennisula.
However, for just $5 more, you can get an all-day pass that lets you hop on and off the railroad at any of its stops to make navigating throughout the park a breeze.
Not only are you getting to experience a part of history, but you can enjoy the convenience of taking in all of the park’s many sights without the worry of driving from one destination to another.
Sit back and relax but make sure to keep an eye out for some of the frequent wildlife that makes appearances on the route like deer, eagles, herons, and more.
5. Admire the views from the Tinkers Creek Gorge Overlook
Known as a National Natural Landmark, you do not want to miss the opportunity to take in the views of the breathtaking Tinkers Creek Gorge Overlook.
Tinkers Creek runs nearly thirty miles before it reaches its impressive 220-foot drop that stretches out over two miles before finding its way to the Cuyahoga River.
This constant flow of water has caused centuries of erosion that eventually led to the creation of the dramatic walled gorge that everybody can’t get enough of.
The overlook is located right off of the main road and is accessible to all which makes it a great stop on your way to other attractions like the nearby Bridal Veil Falls.
The view from the overlook is breathtaking at any time of year but there is nothing quite like visiting in the fall season when all of the trees are at their peak foliage.
You can spend hours just taking in the views of the rushing water along the stunning gorge and the panoramic views of the valley that surround it.
6. Take a short walk to Bridal Veil Falls
Often left in the shadows of the famous Brandywine Falls, Bridal Veil Falls is a great alternative for visitors looking to take in the sights of a waterfall with less of crowds.
To be fair, Bridal Veil Falls is only a third of the size with a whopping height of 20 feet but its overall width makes it just as impressive as Brandywine if not more.
And similar to Brandywine, the trail that leads to Bridal Veil is relatively short and can easily be completed by all skill levels. Although, it is not wheelchair accessible.
It only takes about five minutes to reach these breathtaking falls but you can easily find yourself spending hours taking in its serene beauty.
Consider packing a picnic with you so you can enjoy lunch with a view as you listen to the constant sounds of rushing water on sandstone.
7. Hike to Deer Lick Cave
Although Deer Lick Cave is not actually a cave, it sure does look like one and this strange phenomenon is part of what makes this hike one of the best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Centuries of water erosion have created an overhang of rock that looks undoubtedly like the mouth of a cave and it is amazing to think about how this geological formation came to be.
Since Cuyahoga was once a vast ocean, salt from its waters has become embedded in the sandstone and white-tailed deer will occasionally lick it to maintain necessary sodium levels.
So now that you understand how this place got its name, let’s talk about some of the details that go along with making this hike.
The trail is just a little more than four miles round trip but an elevation gain of about 500 feet and rocky terrain has landed it with a moderate rating.
But if you pace yourself, this trail can easily be completed within a few hours and takes you off the beaten path to see highlights like the Deer Lick Cave as well as a few streams and small waterfalls.
8. Visit Blue Hen Falls
Currently closed for routine maintenance, make sure to keep a close eye on the national park website for alerts about when this special gem will re-open to the public.
Although the falls are not the tallest nor the widest in the park, they have scored themselves the title for most picturesque thanks to the way they flow over jutted-out pieces of sandstone.
And like most of the falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, it only takes a few minutes to reach this natural wonder but those feeling more adventurous can continue down an additional two miles to Buttermilk Falls.
9. Relax by Kendall Lake
Known as the largest lake in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your time while taking in the views of Kendall Lake.
The lake stretches near 15 acres and has become a hot spot for paddlers and fishermen looking to get out in the water in Northeastern Ohio.
Developed in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Kendall Lake has become more and more popular as time has gone by but it somehow manages to maintain a feeling of serene tranquility.
Take your kayaks out for a peaceful paddle, spend the day fishing for bluegill and catfish, or simply sit along its shore and enjoy a scenic picnic before moving on to your next big adventure.
10. Dive into history at the Everett Covered Bridge
Ohio was once known as the state of covered bridges and over 2,000 of these bridges had been constructed all over the state, but now the Everett Covered Bridge is the only one that remains.
Another reason this covered bridge is particularly interesting is because of its uncertain history with many different stories revolving around how and why it came to be.
The only two things we know for certain is that it was built in the late 1800s and the purpose of the build was to aid in the transportation system of the early 19th century.
Either way, the Everett Covered Bridge is a breathtaking sight and the Furnace Run creek that flows beneath it only adds to its scenic beauty.