Itineraries,  National Park Travel

How to Make the Most of One Day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
If you click, book, or buy from one of these links, I may earn a commission. Read more in my Privacy Policy.

When it comes to national parks, you probably have an idea in your mind’s eye: sweeping vistas, stunning natural wonders, and remote wilderness. Most national parks – especially those in the Western U.S. – fit that bill, but as you travel eastward, you can occasionally find yourself in what can only be described as an “urban” national park.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one such urban national park. Located just outside Cleveland – the city I currently call home – it’s a day trip for us Cleveland folk, and a particularly convenient park to visit if you’re trying to see them all. Whether you fly into the airport and rent a car (it’s a 25-minute drive from the airport to the park!) or are passing through on I-80 or I-90… you get the idea: visiting CVNP is easy! And do-able even if your short on time!

One Day in Cuyahoga Valley Hero

I’ve been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park a few times since we moved to Northeast Ohio in 2021; I’ve always done it as a day trip and think it’s easy to spend one day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and feel like you’ve “seen it.” (There is, of course, plenty more to do than you can fit into a single day – I simply mean that a day is enough to visit the main sites and appreciate what this park has to offer in the NPS system.)

As one of the most popular national parks (it’s typically in or very near the top 10 each year, with 2.86 million visitors in 2023!), Cuyahoga Valley is obviously worth visiting. Ready to explore Cuyahoga Valley National Park in a day – and maybe discover why you should spend a little longer if you have the time in my neck of the woods? Let’s do it!

Want a quick version of this story? Check out my video on Instagram!

Photos in this post were taken during my two trips to the park in autumn 2021 and again in winter 2024 (with Baby V strapped to me!); it was her first national park!

In this post, I promote travel to a national park that is the traditional lands of many the Erie and Kaskaskia peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

Tips for Visiting Cuyahoga Valley NP

One Day in Cuyahoga Valley - Roadside Sign

Before jumping into what to do during your visit to Cuyahoga Falls National Park, I want to cover the basics – I do this for all of my national park guides!

  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park is open year-round; fall is the most popular time to visit as the leaf-peeping lets you appreciate the “fruity pebbles” colors of the trees.
  • There is no entrance fee to visit CVNP! (The America the Beautiful Pass is still a good investment if you plan to visit other parks this year though.)
  • There’s plenty of parking throughout the park, so you most likely won’t have an issue finding a spot. Popular areas (like the Visitor Center and Brandywine Falls) may fill up on weekends, so start your day early if that’s when you’re visiting.
  • The primary roadside park sign (as far as I’ve ever found, pictured above) is located on OH-303 headed west from OH-8 toward the town of Peninsula. There’s another good sign for photos at the Boston Mills Visitor Center.

Have any other questions about the basics of visiting? The CVNP NPS site is the best place for that info – or you can ask in the comments at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to help.

What to Do for One Day at Cuyahoga Valley

Okay, let’s get into it: you only have one day to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park and want to make the most of it. Here’s what to do, in order; this is very similar to what I’ve done during both of my day trip visits.

Start at Boston Mills Visitor Center

As with all national parks, I recommend starting at the Visitor Center. In Cuyahoga Valley, it’s located in Boston Mills, right near the midpoint of this long, skinny park. Per usual, you can find park information, speak with rangers and volunteers about park and trail conditions and other activities, and browse the gift shop (be sure to collect your passport stamp or other souvenir to mark your visit!).

The Boston Mills Visitor Center is open year-round with varying hours, so it’s really worth visiting no matter which season you find yourself in the area.

Hike to Blue Hen Falls (Optional)

If all of your favorite national parks include good hiking trails, Blue Hen Falls is the trail that will satisfy you, even if it doesn’t have a ton of mileage.

It’s a 2.5-mile out-and-back with 500 feet of elevation change – but that change comes in the form of two hills you climb up and over (and thus return up and over). At the far end is a pretty little waterfall that makes up for the effort.

(I tried to do this hike in early 2024 with Baby V, but it was a bit beyond my ability while carrying her at that time – it’s definitely a good heart-pumping hike!)

Visit Brandywine Falls

Looking for the iconic photo in Cuyahoga Valley National Park? Brandywine Falls is the spot!

A short boardwalk stroll and a few sets of stairs give you a big payoff: the falls descend 60 feet into a pretty gorge, and it looks great all year, including in winter when the falls can partly or fully freeze depending on our Cleveland winter weather.

This is a great family-friendly stop, and definitely the place to take pics to prove you were really at the park. (In case you, like me, share those sorts of things with family, friends, and online strangers!)

Lunch at Fishers in Peninsula

When it comes to your midday refueling stop, there’s only one place I recommend (and go when I’m visiting the park): Fishers.

Located in the community of Peninsula, Fishers is a local spot that’s big enough – and has good enough food – to satisfy visitors. The menu features a wide range of American classics. I’ve tried the fish tacos, wings, and BBQ pulled pork sandwich; all were good, and their fries are fantastic.

Swing by Kendall Lake

Kendall Lake is located toward the southern part of the national park, and was created by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of a larger human impact on the area (including the bathhouse and many of the trees near the lake).

It has a nice set of trails in the area plus a little pier you can walk out on; fishing is also permitted. It’s an idyllic spot if you decide to pack a picnic lunch for your day in the park.

Hike the Ledges/Visit the Ledges Overlook

Hands down my favorite part of the park, the Ledges is the most naturally inspiring part of the park. I think of it as a rock peninsula: erosion and time have crumbled away parts of the landscape to leave a finger of land jutting above the rest – the resulting ledges around most sides are beautiful testaments to the geologic history of Northeast Ohio.

There’s a nice loop trail (1.8 miles in total, relatively flat but very uneven/technical for footing); be sure to step into Ice Box Cave on the west side of the loop, as it’s chilling (literally) and impressive to stand in the cracks between the giant slabs of rock.

One Day in Cuyahoga Valley - Ledges Overlook

The Ledges Overlook is also worth visiting if you’re already over here. The view itself isn’t particularly awe-inspiring – at least not if you’ve seen some of the vistas in Western national parks –, but it’s beautiful in the fall particularly and gives you a sense of the elevation and surrounding landscape.

Explore the Brecksville and/or Bedford Reservations

Cuyahoga Valley National Park incorporates and supports two Cleveland city parks (called Metroparks): Brecksville Reservation and Bedford Reservation. Both of these green spaces have sights to see, though they “feel” quite different than the federally-managed parts of the whole National Park.

In the Brecksville Reservation, there are a number of trails and spots to explore; here are some of my recommendations:

  • My Mountain Overlook – A short walk for a nice panoramic view, similar to The Ledges.
  • Chippewa Creek Gorge Overlook – A scenic view of small falls and a picturesque bridge.
  • Deer Lick Cave – An easy loop hike takes you to a “cave” that provides some diversity to the other natural aspects of the park.

And in the Bedford Reservation, here are some must-see spots:

  • Hemlock Loop Trail – Not to be confused with a trail of the same name in the Brecksville Reservation, this is a nicely forested 0.8-mile easy trail. (Most links take you to the other trail, here’s the one resource I found for this one.)
  • Tinkers Creek Gorge Overlook – A short stop with a good view.
  • Bridal Veil Falls – A set of pretty (but also pretty small) waterfalls.
  • Great Falls of Tinkers Creek – Another set of bigger falls.

Both of these areas are well worth visiting if you have the time and energy for a longer day exploring the northern end of the park.

Other Things to Do/If You Have More Time

You could easily fill a second day or more if you’re in the Cleveland area for a while and want to go beyond the main sights and trails I’ve mentioned. Here are some of the activities to consider instead and/or if you have more time:

  1. Rent and ride bikes on the Towpath Trail – Also running along the canal, the Towpath is a relatively flat, easy ride – but stretches some 20 miles within the park. There’s a bike rental shop in Peninsula if you’re up for the adventure.
  2. Ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad – This historic rail line follows the Ohio & Erie Canal. I’ve never ridden it, but it’s on my list and is a good family-friendly way to see a lot of the park.
  3. Explore Historic Sites – History buffs, unite! Cuyahoga Valley is home to several historic homesteads and structures, including Jaite Mill, Boston Mills (near the Visitor Center), Gleason Farm, Everett Covered Bridge, and Frazee House.

Where to Stay near Cuyahoga Valley

This one’s easy – my house! I’m kidding, of course; even though I call Cleveland home, I – like you – prefer to keep some privacy from the internet even though members of the V&V community are amazing folks.

Instead, here are some options for where to stay near Cuyahoga Valley National Park that are specifically designed for visitors, unlike my house…

  • Within the national park, you have two accommodation options: Stamford House and the Inn at Brandywine Falls. Check out all the basics on this NPS page.
  • Surrounding the park, you have many, many options – this is an urban national park, after all! There are a number of national chain hotels in various directions near the park (La Quinta to the northeast in Macedonia, Holiday Inn Express to the northwest in Brecksville, Super 8 to the west in Richfield, etc.).
  • For a slightly further drive, look at the community of Cuyahoga Falls. This is a cute little area with good restaurants, a nice waterfront park, and one of my favorite tiki bars, Tiki Underground. (I love tiki bars!)

Have any other questions about visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park or spending a day there? Let me know in the comments below! This is my “local” national park, so I love to help visitors discover it!

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

2 Comments

  • Janet Oppenheimer

    I am traveling to Cuyahoga Valley Nat’l Pk in a camper van this fall, and staying at the Streetsboro KOA. I’m looking to hire a guide who could pick me up at the campground, spend one day touring with at Cuyahoga and drop me back at the campground. Do you know if there are private guides like that available?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *