Ohio is privileged to have a national park within its borders: Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Lying between Cleveland and Akron, CVNP sprawls over 33,000 acres and is considered an urban/suburban national park — and unlike many national parks, there is no entrance fee.
Most visitors view the park’s scenery and wildlife from their cars as they leisurely pass through. But if you’re looking for more than just a quick casual drive-by, there are ways to immerse yourself in all that CVNP has to offer. For instance, take a hike, ride a bike, or climb aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
“The park has over 100 miles of hiking trails, and a section of the 1,200-mile Buckeye Trail passes through it as well,” says Pam Barnes, a spokesperson for the park. “There are a variety of hiking opportunities, from a leisurely stroll along the level towpath trail, to trails with a moderate roll, to rocky and rugged trails. In other words, there are trails for every skill and ability level.”
The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail stretches the length of the park north to south — more than 20 miles — and is the main hiking, biking, running, and walking path through the park. The wide, packed-limestone trail is the original towpath walked by mules and their drivers as they pulled canal boats up and down the Ohio & Erie Canal more than a century ago. For wildlife watchers, the Towpath Trail crosses the Beaver Marsh just north of the Ira Trailhead. A boardwalk spanning the marsh is a great place for wildlife viewing, especially birds.
“Connecting to the Towpath Trail is the Bike & Hike Trail, nearly 16 miles of asphalt trail bordering the park, ideal for family bike rides,” Barnes says. “If you don’t happen to own a bike, we’ll rent you one.”
For a bit more of a challenge, try the East Rim Mountain-Bike Trail, a rugged 2.5-mile single track that alternates the direction of travel every other day to give riders a varied experience.
Free ranger-led activities are also available for those who would feel more comfortable in a group, rather than striking out on their own.
“One of our most popular is the Park-After-Dark night hikes held each Friday evening during the summer,” Barnes says. “Night hikes give visitors an entirely different experience of the park.”
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
If you’d rather sit back, relax, and let someone else do all the work, there are several train excursions. “We also have an all-day pass that allows you to get on and off the train as often as you’d like at various stops along the way,” Barnes says.
You can also do a Bike-Aboard experience, where for just $3 you put your bike on board the train — staff members load the bike on and off for you — and you ride one direction on the train, then bike back to your car on the Towpath Trail, or vice versa. “The train runs year-round, but the Bike-Aboard option is only available spring through fall,” Barnes says.
Hike, bike, or ride? Of course, you don’t necessarily have to choose; make a full day of it and experience all three ways to visit Ohio’s National Park. To begin planning your visit or for more information, go to www.nps.gov/cuva.
W.H. “Chip” Gross (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Ohio Cooperative Living’s outdoors editor and is a member of Consolidated Cooperative.