Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: July 2023
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is situated in northeastern Ohio along the Cuyahoga River. The Ohio and Erie Canal travelled through the Cuyahoga Valley in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which helped put Cleveland on the map. The park provides plenty of opportunities to learn more about the history of this human-made waterway and contains several hiking trails to enjoy the scenery.
While visiting Cleveland, we planned a day trip to Cuyahoga Valley. It was the ninth most visited national park in the United States last year. As such, we got an early start in an effort to beat the crowds. The forecast was also calling for thunderstorms early in the afternoon, so we knew our trail time was limited.
We arrived at the northern entrance of the park just before 7:30am and drove towards Bridal Veil Falls. Along the way we pulled over at the Tinkers Creek Gorge Overlook. There’s a short boardwalk that leads to a viewing platform that overlooks the valley. The views were a bit hazy from all the recent wildfires in northern Ontario and Quebec, but thankfully the air quality wasn’t too bad. It was just very hot and humid.
We then drove to Bridal Veil Falls where there’s a short trail through the forest that leads to a waterfall. After crossing the road, the path follows a boardwalk and winds down several steps to the shore of the river. From the bridge, it’s a short stretch to reach Bridal Veil Falls. While the trail keeps going, we turned around as we had other items on our itinerary.
We headed towards Brandywine Falls, the most iconic waterfall in the Cuyahoga Valley. From the parking lot we followed the boardwalk through the forest and down some steps to a viewing platform overlooking the falls.
The trail continues onwards as part of the Brandywine Gorge Trail (2.3km loop, easy). After passing Brandywine Falls, the path leads through some ruins. In the early 1800s, a sawmill was built here to harness the power of the falls, which helped attract more settlers to the area. While the small village that once stood here is long gone, there are still some signs from the mill, along with a house that once belonged to the family that built the mill. It is now the Inn and Brandywine Falls, a small bed and breakfast.
The path crosses a bridge, passes the Inn at Brandywine Falls and continues to wind through the forest, all the while following along the edge of the gorge. As the sun climbed further in the sky, it became noticeably more hot and humid. Even the mosquitoes seemed affected by it and lazily floated by, seemingly uninterested in us humans. We crossed back over the creek and headed towards the parking lot.
We figured we might as well get the rest of our hiking over and done with and made a beeline for the Ledges Trail (3.7km loop, rated moderate). From the parking lot, we passed a picnic pavilion and restrooms, before arriving at the official trailhead with a map of the trail. The path weaves through the forest and follows a plateau of interesting rock formations and rock ledges.
Several trails and connector paths intersect with the Ledges Trail. While the path isn’t signed with blazes or markers, there are signposts at every junction to help with navigation. We followed a short detour to the Ledges Overlook, which is reputed to provide a panoramic view of the Cuyahoga Valley from a natural rock platform. Perhaps it does in the fall and winter when all the leaves have fallen, but the viewpoint when we visited was obstructed by all the surrounding greenery.
We reconnected with the main path and continued to weave deeper through the forest and among the towering rock walls. There are even a few spots where you can walk between the rocks for a closer view. The trail also passes by the Icebox Cave, a bat cave located within the ledges. It’s been blocked off, but it was worth taking a peek through the metal gate to feel the cool breeze on our faces.
Once we circled back to the parking lot, we took a break to eat a snack and drink some water. We then drove to the Everett Covered Bridge. It was built in the 1800s during a time when Ohio was leading the nation with over 2,000 covered bridges. It was damaged during a storm in 1913, which ultimately closed the Ohio and Erie Canal, and again in 1975. Due to local efforts from the community, the bridge was rebuilt.
Darker clouds were starting to roll in, but we figured we’d have time for one more short hike to the Beaver Marsh. Starting at the Ira Trailhead, we followed the Towpath Trail for a few hundred metres to the wetlands. The path is wide, but it’s extremely popular with hikers and cyclists. The trail leads to a boardwalk that passes through a marshy area.
These wetlands underwent a lot of change over the past century. A lot of the water was drained for development purposes and the area was once owned by an auto repair shop, which used to dump old cars in the marsh. Restoration efforts were underway in the 1980s and beavers slowly returned to the Cuyahoga Valley.
The timing of the rain worked well as shortly after arriving at the Canal Exploration Center, it started to rain. We explored the grounds first as it was only lightly sprinkling outside. The Ohio and Erie Canal was built during the 1820s and early 1830s in Ohio. Once it was completed, the entire canal system was just under 500 km (or 308 miles) long and contained 152 locks, which were used to lower and raise water whenever there was a significant change in elevation. Just outside of the Canal Exploration Center you can see a reconstruction of Lock 38.
We then headed inside the Canal Exploration Center to learn more about the Ohio and Erie Canal and the impact it had on the neighbouring towns and villages.
It continued to rain for the rest of the afternoon, so we changed out of our hiking shoes and headed into Cleveland.