Cuyahoga is small – small and young, as National Parks go, since it was only established as a Park in 2000. Of course, knowing that it is not your typical vision of a national park and experiencing it for yourself are two different things. I knew Cuyahoga was small – I’d looked into it beforehand and discovered that it didn’t even support a developed campground, let alone more than one to choose from, as many other parks do. I expected it to be mostly trails and a few old buildings, and for us to have some decent hikes. Because I hadn’t researched it too thoroughly, though – being distracted by tidbits of information on the more well-known parks, as well as the goings-on of my host family and kids in France – I didn’t expect it to be quite the juxtaposition of worlds that it is.
Not one, but two highways pass above Cuyahoga Valley. And since it is a valley, I do mean above. The overpasses seem incredibly high from within the valley, and are visible from quite a few of the trails – the Valley Bridle Trail, in a segment we hiked in the morning, goes directly underneath one of them. Another section of the same trail parallels the highway, so turning to one side you see concrete and traffic while the other affords you a view of a wide prairie and forest.
Being from the Midwest, the forest we hiked through felt extremely familiar – the oaks and maples dominating the deciduous parts of the forest and the pine forests with their beds of needles underfoot reminded me of many trails I walked growing up. This familiarity was a bit odd at the beginning – a National Park that felt much like home wasn’t exactly the wilderness I’d been expecting.
The highlight of our visit to Cuyahoga was the Brandywine Falls, cascading sixty feet down a cliff of rock dating back hundreds of millions of years. After getting thoroughly lost on our morning hike, we were careful to get directions from a knowledgeable and helpful ranger before setting out on the 4-mile round trip trail to the falls. The hike itself was uneventful, but the falls were pretty.
Overall Cuyahoga Valley is probably only worth a visit if you live in the area. It seems like it’s great for locals to have someplace to cycle and hike on well-maintained forest paths, and a walk out to the falls is easy enough that even with kids it would be a nice activity on an empty afternoon, but if getting there means going hours out of the way, it might be better to visit a different park. Our day there was pleasant for the most part, but we left feeling we’d definitely seen most of what the park had to offer and could easily move on.
See you (at least virtually) on the road!