cuyahoga valley national park

With the North Carolina state park challenge over, it seems that we need a new project. Should it be national parks? There are 61 official “national parks” in the United States (although there is a movement in the park community to disregard the 61st park, established by President Obama, as it is entirely man made). This number doesn’t include everything managed by the National Park Service (national monuments, national historical parks, etc), which is over 400 locations.

We’ve expressed a tentative interest in the national parks, without tying ourselves down to a firm deadline. Traveling all over the country, not to mention Alaska, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, is really more of a lifelong endeavor than an annual goal.

That said, we found ourselves in the vicinity of a national park on our recent trip to Canada, and couldn’t resist stopping there! We visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, just a half hour south of Cleveland. Cuyahoga is definitely one of the lesser known parks (we had never heard of it), and there’s nothing huge like geysers or volcanoes there, but we were still excited to officially visit a national park.

The name is pronounced C-EYE-AH-HOE-GA, by the way – and thanks to my sister Mary for graciously pointing that out after we accidentally butchered it.

We arrived at Cuyahoga Valley on a rainy afternoon and went straight to the “must-see” brand-new Boston Store Visitor Center. It’s basically a dream visitor center. Giant wall murals, 3D topographic maps of the area, an entire floor for fun kid activities, comfy window seats for pondering park factoids, and friendly park staff ready to sell you overpriced national park merchandise.

Everything is lovely except the parking lot, since it was being remodeled by this local service, so it could not be used at the time. Fortunately a long walk in the rain from our car didn’t dampen our spirits!

Having thoroughly reviewed the park information ahead of time, we had selected a fabulous list of things to do, and then crossed off everything that isn’t available in November (more than you’d think, considering this place is in northern Ohio). We started by hiking down to Brandywine Falls with Mary to see the park’s biggest attraction. The waterfall is fantastic! It was the best one we have seen yet.

We considered staying at the Inn at Brandywine Falls but ended up with a historic home in Brecksville, the “Fitzwater House.” This house was originally built in 1868! It was huge, and very comfortable. Joyce, our host, had it stocked with robes, slippers, pillow mints, and tons of breakfast supplies. Highly recommend!

We signed up for a “full moon walk” led by a Cuyahoga park ranger at 7pm that evening, and just in time, the steady drizzle outside turned into snow. We bundled up our berries and headed out with the group for a very chilly walk down the Towpath Trail, one of the most historically significant parts of the park (it follows the Ohio & Erie Canal). Pros: hearing an interesting talk about the Buffalo Moon, hiking at night for the first time; cons: not seeing the moon at all because of the dense cloud cover, carrying a very sad berry who wanted to be in her crib.

Back at our house, we turned on the fireplace and watched the first part of “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” It’s a deep dive into the history of our park system, starting with the discovery of Yosemite Valley in 1851. A perfect way to warm up and relax.

The next morning, Greg made an early run for coffee at Joe Maxx and then we ate egg sandwiches in the solarium, looking out a completely frozen world. It was 27 degrees with 4″ of snow on the ground. We bundled up (again) for a visit to The Ledges, another of the park’s main features. Greg mapped a route that took us north from the parking lot and out to the Ice Box Cave (which unfortunately is closed due to an epidemic of dead bats). We ended up inside the ledges corridor climbing around on giant boulders sprinkled through the area! The kids, wearing an embarrassing mix of sneakers and rain boots, did amazingly well. They absolutely loved the trail and begged to go further. I’ve learned that when everyone’s having fun and wants to keep going, that’s the time to turn around! By the time we get back they’re ready to stop. 

After a snack, we hiked out to the ledges overlook. It started snowing heavily as we started out, and after a few minutes we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. Probably the closest I’ll get to being caught in a blizzard! Exciting and a bit scary. But we made it to the overlook and back!

What an experience! The snow was a new challenge for us. It wasn’t an easy trip but we have great memories (and pictures) to remind us of Cuyahoga Valley.


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