Explore The Outdoors / Explore The Parks

A Day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

I had no idea there’s a haven of lush forest and a vibrant railroad history paralleling the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron until I spent a day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I knew there are beautiful rolling hills covered with forest near Cleveland, but what I wasn’t expected was beautiful waterfalls, picturesque serene spots, and the beauty of the tiny towns in and around the park that are reminiscent of villages you would find in New England. Cuyahoga is an Indian word for crooked. The Cuyahoga River snakes along for 90 miles.

My buddy Darrel was my tour guide to this national park near his hometown. Our first stop in exploring Cuyahoga Valley was in tiny village of Peninsula.  We started with breakfast at Fisher’s Cafe & Pub.  Peninsula is nestled inside the park and the canal town is a national historic district.  Much of the village’s history is linked to the Ohio Canal dating back to when the first boats passed through the canal from Akron to Cleveland on July 4, 1827.  Peninsula had 14 taverns, 5 hotels, and would be a bustling town of sandstone mines, mills, and cheese factories for years until the railroad became the main mode of transportation connecting Akron and Cleveland.  Fisher’s is a third-generation family-owned cafe founded in 1958.  It was built on the site of a former Model “T” Ford dealership.  I went for eggs, hash browns and toast with coffee – not fancy, but so good.

A highlight of our stop in Peninsula was watching the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train go roaring by.

After breakfast, we headed over to the Countryside Farmers’ Market. We scored some frozen pierogis that easily traveled back to Denver. It was a great way to take a taste of Cleveland home.

We stopped at the Boston Store Visitor Center so we could map out day in Cuyahoga and enjoy a little time sitting in the rockers on the porch. The store was built in 1836 with 13 boarding rooms on the second floor for workers in the area. The building would go on to be a post office and then private residence before becoming a visitor center.

Our next stop was at the second highest waterfall in Ohio. Brandywine Falls are 60 feet high and are a “bridal veil” cascade falls. We walked along boardwalks and up and down stairs for different views of the falls. I found it interesting that in the middle of a fairly flat valley are scenic falls, similar to Chagrin Falls, which I had explored on a previous visit, but Brandywine Falls are much bigger. In 1814, George Wallace built a sawmill to take advantage of the waterpower from the falls. With a whiskey distillery, gristmill, woolen mill and a dozen houses built over the next decade it grew to a bustling village. The Wallace Brothers Company thrived into the 1850s. You can still see some of the foundation remains from the Village of Brandywine.

Next we headed over to Kendall Lake. The manmade lake was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1935. It’s the largest lake in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I found it to be a picturesque spot for a leisurely stroll or to do a little birdwatching while sit on one of the benches. You might even spot some turtles like we did.

Our last stop was at Station Road Bridge. From the bridge you can see the Pinery Narrows, where the Cuyahoga River is narrower and straighter. The higher bridge is the Brecksville-Northfield High-Level Bridge along Ohio Route 82. That reinforced concrete bridge was built in 1931 to replace the 1881 wrought-iron Station Road Bridge.

As we were leaving I was wishing for more time to hike to the Ledges or to try to spot some beavers and other wildlife in the Beaver Marsh. Guess I’ll have to spend another day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Author Jennifer Broome has visited all 50 states and is on a quest to visit all 419 national park sites. Enjoy more park stories in the Explore the Parks section.