I recently spent a week visiting my brother in Ohio and I won’t lie – I wasn’t super excited about it at first because, well, Ohio. But adventure is what you make it and after a 7 year boycott, I owed my brother and the state another visit. So I snooped around Pinterest, TripAdvisor, and the Weird Ohio website and got busy making a list of the weird and wonderful to be found in the Buckeye State. Turns out there’s plenty of stuff to see and do, all outside of museum walls – including the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
I originally found this park while looking up distances from my brother’s place to another attraction on Google maps, but once I saw the words “National Park,” there was no doubt we were visiting! A bit of research brought me to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which runs through the park itself, and which pretty much sold my dad and brother on the adventure. (smile)
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located a short distance from Akron and Cleveland, Ohio. The area is named for the Cuyahoga River, which is unique in that it flows both north and south in a large U-shape – hence the name Cuyahoga or “crooked river.” The park itself is just over 20,300 acres and was formally established as a National Park in 2000.
The park has seen much use through the years – a portion was once part of the Ohio – Erie Canal, the railroad was used commercially, and there was even a superfund site! The canal has been dismantled although you can still see parts of the locks along the Towpath Trail, which is a multi-purpose trail that runs through the park along the river. We walked along a part of this path and it was absolutely gorgeous! There were several trailheads that connected to the Towpath as well as historical information signs. Bicycles are hugely popular along the trail, so if on foot stay aware!
The railroad began operations in 1880 transporting coal and people. After a decline in demand for both freight and passenger services, the line was renewed in 1972 as a scenic excursion route through the park. It’s a great way to see the park from a different angle and a ticket allows you hop-on-hop-off access throughout the day. There were both conductors and park volunteers aboard, all of which were more than happy to share their knowledge of the park and surrounding area. We got on at the Akron Northside Station (ironically the most southern stop) and made the round trip in just about 3 hours. The railroad has different options and programs, which entitle you to seats in different cars. You can buy tickets ahead of time through the website, at the station, or once aboard the train. If you’re going on a particularly busy day, I definitely recommend purchasing them ahead of time to ensure a seat.
The National Park Service acquired the Krejci Dump in 1985 to include as part of the recreation area. After an EPA analysis of the site revealed extremely toxic materials, the area was designated as a superfund site and closed in 1986. Cleanup began in 1987 and is ongoing, although most of the area has been restored to its original state as wetlands.
Overall, I found the park to be very…different than most of the National Parks I’ve visited. It’s small, irregularly shaped, and closely intertwined with surrounding civilization. Along the rail you could clearly see homes that back up to the park; a couple of the stops are in real towns (as opposed to those created specifically for park visitors); and there’s clear evidence of past industry throughout the area. However, once you’re in the actual park, you feel as though you’ve been transported to a different place entirely! Everything was so green!! Although I would definitely love to see it in the fall – all the colors – I was pretty happy with the green break from my brown desert. (smile) There were tons of animals frolicking about and on the whole, it was an incredibly peaceful place. There’s no admission to the park, just the rail fee if you choose to ride (coach tickets were $18/adult). I could totally see this being the perfect place to escape from the nearby urban jungles for a relaxing weekend by the river… If you ever visit, I encourage you to throw all expectations out the window and just enjoy. It’s not Yellowstone, but the Cuyahoga Valley is, in its own way, just as beautiful. (smile)