Cuyahoga Valley was officially made a National Park in 1974 when local citizens and their representatives sought to preserve this scenic green space nestled between the industrial cities of Cleveland and Akron, Ohio.
The 33,000-acre park sits within the boundaries of the Ohio & Erie Canalway, a National Heritage Area dedicated to preserving and celebrating the story of the canal that helped Ohio and the country grow. 20 miles of the canal’s historic route can be found in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. A section of the drive is a part of America’s Byway, which ends at the Great Lakes and is one of the most scenic drives in the United States, especially in the fall.
Cuyahoga Valley is a unique area because it encompasses public, private, and government-owned entities that include but are not limited to farmers, music venues, the National Park Service, Cuyahoga Falls Historical Society, Ohio & Erie Canalway, Cleveland Metroparks, and Summit Metro Parks.
- Admission: There is NO FEE to enter the park. The park is used regularly by locals.
- Accommodations: A small hostel is located within the park with 1 room with access known as the Stanford House. Only a few campsites exist within the park and none have access modifications. Cleveland and Akron are about 20-30 minutes away with smaller towns in between with accessible accommodations, like Macedonia.
- Visiting Seasons: May through October are the most popular months to visit, though the summer is the hottest and most humid; the end of July tends to be the peak. Thunder and lightning storms are expected during the peak summer travel season too. Winter is cold and snowy with the heaviest fall often occurring in the northern part of the park.
- Wildlife: Here forests, wetlands, and meadows merge for a diverse display of wildlife. Some of the park’s most cherished wildlife creatures include bald eagles, otters, turtles, great blue herons, beavers, frogs, deer, coyotes, and more. Otters and turtles can be seen at the Beaver Marsh along the towpath across from Howe Meadow at the Ira Trailhead. The blue herons have nests in the tops of trees right off the road at Heronry Wayside and the best viewing times are February-June. One plant species that visitors should be aware and cautious of is poison ivy, which is found throughout the forests.
- Gasoline: All gas stations are located outside of the park, see map for locations.
- Food & Water: The two restaurants in the park are located at the Peninsula Depot Village, which is the Winking Lizard and Fisher’s Café & Pub. Both have access to parking but the buildings are old and have not been updated too much; the nearest restroom with the best access is at Peninsula Depot Visitor Center. Grab-and-go items, snacks, locally made ice cream, and beverages can be purchased at the 2 Trail Mix stores located across from the Boston Visitor Center and at the Peninsula Depot. More dining options are located on the park’s border. At the edge of the park’s northern border is Lock 39 or the Thornburg Station where you will find a fine-dining restaurant called the LockKeepers with inside and outside seating along the river.
- Accessibility Information: A little information is provided on the park’s website but no access is noted on park maps. Designated parking with access was common everywhere though van accessible parking was scarcer; often a spot would be van accessible though the sign did not indicate this. Even with regular accessible parking spots, a van could back up into one for more ramp space.
- Gift Shops: Boston Visitor Center, Canal Exploration Center, and Peninsula Depot Visitor Center at Lock 29 are the major ones but items may also be purchased at places to eat and neighboring stores.
- Nearby Attractions: For attractions nearby, please visit the park website.
Nature, Visitor, and Conference Centers
- Peninsula Depot Visitor Center is located in the central part of the park right across from Lock 29. Only a couple of parking spots have designated access in this area. You can ask questions about the park and get park literature. This visitor center is mainly a gift shop with a few snack options for purchase. Access to a nice, wide modified bathroom is available. No automatic doors were installed. 1 modified, pentagon picnic table was located right in front with space for 1 wheelchair.
- Boston Visitor Store is located centrally in the park, about a ten-minute drive from the Peninsula Depot Visitor Center with just a couple of accessible parking spots. This visitor center has a small museum and information desk for questions, but no automatic doors. Just outside the main building is a paved pathway that leads to the bathroom, which has an accessible stall (with lowered hooked in women’s stall), a roll-up sink and outside is a modified drinking foundation.
- Canal Exploration Center is located in the park’s northernmost region where you get a good look at a vital of the canal’s operational infrastructure. A paved pathway leads to a viewing site. This visitor center has a few parking spots designated for access. No automatic doors have been installed but once inside you will find access to all areas of the museum, including the second floor via a lift. This visitor center also has a gift shop and access to a large unisex bathroom.
- Brecksville Nature Center is located between the Boston and Canal Visitor Centers. One designated accessible parking is closest to the building and a couple of others are located not too far away in the surrounding picnic area. At this parking spot is access to a modified picnic table. A scenic, paved loop trail takes visitors around the center. A single door is commonly open and may be too narrow for some but the adjoining door can be opened for wider access. Inside is a small museum and no bathroom.
- Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center is located between Riverview and Akron Peninsula Road in the southern part of the park along the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail. Access to a paved designated parking spot is located just across the street, watch for traffic when crossing. A short ramp leads visitors inside to a small room of exhibits.
- Environmental Education Center is a rental facility a short drive north of the Hunt Farm Visitor Center. Here you will find access to handicapped parking. Inside the facility, one will find access to the ground-level dormitory bedrooms as well as a modified bathroom with a roll-in shower. Commonly used for children’s education programs.
- Hines Hill Center is not really accessible. Handicapped parking is at Hines Hill but the buildings themselves other than the Hines Hill Barn are not handicapped accessible. The Hines Hill Conference Center requires 12 steps to the second-floor meeting/event area. The Stone Cottage could be accessible because it does only one step to get into the building. This would require assistance from another person.
- Happy Days Lodge is a venue for rent. 6 out of the 18 spaces are handicap accessible. There is 1 handicapped accessible in the restrooms. The doors do not need to be widened because they are double doors that open wide.
- A. Seiberling Nature Realm is a part of the Summit Metro Park system on the southern border of the Cuyahoga Valley. This nature center provides access to bathrooms and a museum inside via automatic doors. A few parking spots with access are closest to the entrance. One unnamed, paved trail circles the perimeter for about 0.25 miles and is relatively flat. A few smaller trails with a rough surface can be spotted along this trail.
Amenities, Activities, and Attractions
- The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has a car with a lift. A few family-friendly special events take place throughout the year with the train, including a visit from Thomas the Train and the Polar Express. To request seats call 800-468-4070 FREE ext. 1. The train only runs at specific times and days, so please check the schedule. Train stations are at the Rockside, Brecksville, Boston Mills Ski Resort, Lock 29, Hale Farm & Village, and Botzum.
- “Canalway Questing” is where you follow a series of clues that lead to a treasure box while educating the “questers” about the park’s environment. Each “quest” weaves a story about what makes the place special. There are over 20 adventures within the national park and more beyond—a few are wheelchair accessible.
- Archery is at the Hampton and Silver Creek Archery Ranges and the Coventry Oaks Pavilion (indoor range), managed by the Cleveland Metroparks. For those without their archery equipment, you can register for a FREE 1.5-hour-long seminar.
- Fishing is possible at a few locations but the one with the best access is at Goosefeather Pond, a short drive south from the Peninsula Depot, where you will find designated parking in a paved lot. A paved asphalt pathway with a slight slope (less than 5 degrees) leads to the fishing pier but first passes a large unisex restroom (the only building in the area). The dock is a wooden boardwalk, completely level, and more than 3 feet wide. No other access modifications have been made to the pier.
- Station Road Bridge and Everett Covered Bridge are the park’s two most popular bridges, though another one is at the Canal Exploration Center (on the way to the train station) and more are found along the Ohio & Erin Canalway Towpath Trail. The Everett Covered Bridge is one of the most photographic landmarks in the national park system. This area has not been modified but most will be able to access it because the pathway is short, flat, and firm with crushed rock loosely laid on top. The parking lot is about the same but with a slight ticker and bigger crushed rocks and since there is no designated parking, position your vehicle to prevent being blocked. The Station Road Bridge, on the other hand, has serval designated accessible parking spots on a paved asphalt lot—none were set up specifically for van access. 1 picnic table with a slightly extended end is right off the parking area and is nearly level. A path from the parking lot leads over railroad tracks (watch for gaps) and across the Station Bridge to the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail. The pathway on the bridge itself is wooden bricks or cobblestones and may slow some down. Once at the towpath, to the left of the trail is made up of finely crushed rock with a firm, stable foundation, and to the right the trail is smoothly paved asphalt.
- Hale Farm & Village is a historic multi-use property managed by the Western Reserve Society with the oldest building dating to 1826. It is a living history experience within the park boundaries where kids can learn about the farm lifestyle and even participate by making butter. Hale Farm & Village is located just south of the Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center and the Everett Covered Bridge and just above Ira Road.
- Frazee House is one of the oldest brick homes in the area that was built during the construction of the Ohio & Erie Canalway. Inside are exhibits about the architecture of the home as well as of the Frazee family. It is partially accessible with a designated parking spot and a ramp to get inside but no access to the second floor. A steep but paved pathway leads from the house across the street to the actual canal and the Ohio & Erie Canal is the Towpath Trail. Just up the road from this house is Alexander’s Mill or Wilson’s Mill.
- Live music is a special feature of the park and comes in many forms and places. Howe Meadow doubles as a stage for musicians at the Countryside Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings and free Rhythm on the River on select Wednesday evenings from June to August. At the accessible Happy Days Lodge, Rhythm on the River runs during the summer months and the Cuyahoga Valley Heritage Series Concerts run from October to May. What is not listed on the park website is the Cleveland Orchestra’s summer concert series at the Blossom Music Center where some of the world’s finest musicians have performed since it opened in 1968. There are more than 38 wheelchair spaces in the pavilion, plus up to 3 companion seats, and a large open platform on the lawn area that has also been modified for wheelchairs.
- Porthouse Theater is an indoor theater operated by Kent State University and located on the park’s southern border below the Hunt Farm Visitor Information Center. Access modifications have been made to accommodate all guests, including parking, restrooms, and seats.
- Squire Rich Historical Museum is located in the Brecksville Reservation area and managed by the Brecksville Historical Society. Traveling up a set of stairs is required, so currently there is no wheelchair access.
- John F. Seiberling Gallery is located right next to the Hines Hill Center. The gallery features pieces by local artists that can be purchased. The gallery is open to the public and is free of charge. Access to parking and a ramp to get inside is available.
- Sarah’s Vineyard is a winery on the southern border of the park. It has a tasting room and also a restaurant with a woodfired oven that’s open for lunch and dinner. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. Fully accessible restrooms are available inside. NO designated parking was set up in May 2015, and the owners were not friendly when suggesting the accommodation.
- Snow Activities also occur within the park, like wintertime skiing at Boston Mills and Brandywine Ski Resort as well as sledding and tubbing at the top of Kendall Lake. No modifications have been made for the sledding/tubbing equipment but there is access to parking and bathrooms.
Commonly seen at nearly every major trailhead is an informational kiosk or stand for the trail, including maps. Sometimes these maps are colored handouts you can take. No wheelchair access details were specified on any map found in the park.
OHIO & ERIE CANAL TOWPATH TRAIL (20 miles within the park—85+ miles total)
- Description: Paralleling the Ohio & Erie Canalway is the Towpath Trail. Voted the best bike trail in Ohio by readers of Ohio Magazine, the Towpath is popular so expect crowds. This scenic trail is an excellent option for those with access needs because it is wide, firm, and for the most part flat; but since it is so long (not looped), route planning is recommended. (Hint: use the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.) The Station Road Bridge area, the Boston Store Visitor Center to Lock 29 (Peninsula Depot), the Ira Trailhead by the beaver marsh, and around both the Hunt and Frazee Houses are all scenic places to explore the trail.
- Location: Runs along the park’s valley floor paralleling the Ohio & Erie Canal and railroad tracks. This trail extends past the park’s boundaries.
- Makeup: Stabilized firmly-packed dirt with crushed rock on top. A few areas are paved asphalt and a couple of segments are a wooden boardwalk of some kind.
- Width: More than 36 inches (3 feet).
- Slope: Most of the trail is relatively flat (2-5 degrees or less). The trailhead at Lock 29 is about 8 degrees in slope approximately two feet of that being slightly steeper. This section of the trail is particularly interesting because you can see an important piece of the canal’s original ingenuity that controlled water flow for crossing.
- Parking: Designated paved parking with access was found at the major trailheads. Van access is possible but not always available, so plan your parking to avoid a blocked ramp.
- Bathrooms: A couple of vaulted or pit toilets are found at trailheads along the way, but no bathrooms are found along the actual trail. Access to flush toilets is located at the Canal and Boston Visitor and Peninsula Visitor Centers.
- Drinking Fountains: Not observed at trailheads except by some public park buildings, like visitor centers.\
- Picnic Tables: Some of the main trailheads have access to a couple or several picnic tables, like at the Ira Trailhead, Station Road Bridge and Lock 29 at the Peninsula Depot.
HIKE & BIKE TRAIL (34+ miles)
- Description: The Bike & Hike Trail runs along the park’s east rim and is managed by Summit Metro Parks. Those with power-assisted wheelchairs will have no trouble with this trail, but those without will need to overcome many inclines. Sections of the trail may be possible to explore for some with a manual wheelchair. Monitor battery life with power assists. Following trail etiquette is publicly accepted, so be mindful of others.
- Location: Access points to this trail are located within and outside of the park.
- Parking: The map link above shows addresses for the parking lots. A number of these parking lots also serve as access points to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail within the park. Paved designated handicapped parking spots were seen at all the major lots, but others existed with no designated spots or pavement perks.
- Makeup: Paved assault.
- Width: One side of the two-way trail is about 3 feet.
- Slope: Sections of the trail are less than 5 degrees but there are numerous inclines 8+ to 15+ degrees.
- Bathrooms: Nothing along the trail but while within the park use the ones located at the visitor centers or at one of the following locations: Brandywine Falls, SR 303, Springdale, Silver Springs, and SR 91 lots.
- Drinking Fountains: Not observed at trailheads except by some public park buildings.
- Picnic Tables: Nothing was observed outside the park, but some were spotted nearby at the main visitor centers within the park and varied in accessibility.
BRANDYWINE FALLS (0.04 miles)
- Description: A small portion of this trail is accessible for most and leads from the parking lot to a viewing area for Brandywine Falls. Brandywine Falls is one of the park’s most visited attractions and is approximately 65 feet tall. Early spring and late fall are the best viewing times of the falls when tree foliage is minimal. Park rangers work to keep this viewing area cleared at all times but is not always possible. The accessible portion of this short trail ends at a wide, level platform. Visitors who can walk continue down a set of steep stairs.
- Location: In the middle, eastern edge of the park right by the Hike & Bike Trail. The Brandywine Falls Inn is within feet of the falls. The trail is about a 10-minute drive from the Boston Visitor Center and the Stanford House.
- Parking: The entire parking lot is paved asphalt. 4 designated parking spots with access were observed and 3 of those spots were capable of being van accessible. A trailhead for the Hike & Bike Trail can be accessed at this parking lot, though this section may be too steep for some manual wheelchairs.
- Makeup: The paved parking lot leads to a short section of the trail that is also paved asphalt. The main portion of the accessible section is a boardwalk with handrails.
- Width: The boardwalk is about 5 feet wide.
- Slope: The first part of this boardwalk trail has a slight downward slope of less than 5 degrees. A small section of this initial slope is between 5-8 degrees but the majority of wheelchair users (manual or power chairs) will have no trouble accessing this trail. The trail does level out and ends at a completely level viewing platform of the waterfall.
- Bathrooms: A 5×5 feet accessible stall with grab-bars for both men and women is available at the trailhead. A 1-2 inch transitional lip was noted in the bathroom but won’t be a barrier for most—proceed with caution.
- Drinking Fountains: None.
- Picnic Tables: Yes, right at the trailhead in the parking lot which includes a paved path to it with clear wheelchair access at the end of the table. No other modifications. A trash can is also nearby.
TREE FARM AT HORSESHOE POND (0.04 miles)
- Description: Access to this short and lovely trail stretches around a section of Horseshoe Pond that leads up to a small covered picnic area. The majority of the accessible section of the trail is shaded by trees. From the parking lot, the trail first leads to a large viewing platform where trees boarded the lake. During the fall this area is particularly scenic (color reflections on water) though spring is beautiful as well. A couple of benches are placed along the trail but did not have space for a wheelchair.
- Location: Off Major Road just south of the Peninsula Depot.
- Parking: Access to 2 designated parking spots are closest to the trailhead.
- Makeup: The first section of the trailhead is paved. The majority of the trail is a boardwalk and the last section is finely crushed rock with a firm, stabilized foundation which takes visitors to the picnic area.
- Width: 36 inches wide, but the last few feet to the picnic area is about 2 feet wide.
- Slope: From the parking lot the trail slopes downward towards (less than 5 degrees) then levels out for a few feet followed by a small incline (around 5 degrees or more) to the picnic area. A landing pad in the middle of this section is recommended.
- Bathrooms: Yes, one accessible unisex pit (vaulted) toilet is located at the parking lot and trailhead.
- Drinking Fountains: None.
- Picnic Tables: Yes, 2 tables. Follow the trail to the left, up the small incline, and onto the narrow dirt pathway; though narrow, it can still be easily accessed. The picnic area has a roof with a paved asphalt floor that is completely level. One table has been modified with a slightly extended end on one side. Access to the cooking grill was not modified and was located on the border of the picnic area.
Some people, especially with power assistance, will be able to explore some of the many horse trails found within the park, use them with caution. Access to a raised, ramped platform to get on and off your horse can only be found at the Brecksville Stables (northwest section of the park).
The Cleveland Metroparks, also known as the Emerald Necklace, has a number of trails that have been classified as accessible and there are even more options with power assist due to hills and inclines, see here. In the Brecksville Reservation area, there is a scenic loop that starts at a parking lot and then travels through a meadow and past both the Harriet Keeler Memorial and the Brecksville Nature. At the meadow is a viewing platform with a ramp, but the top level of the platform has stairs and is where the informational board is located. Access to paved, designated parking was available at the closest location and right next to a fully modified picnic table. More picnic table options are available in this initial area and beyond.
Besides the overlook at Brandywine Falls, a few other overlooks exist in the Cuyahoga Valley. One is located at the rock ledges south of Boston Mills Road and Brandywine Falls. This view is best at sunset. The rocks partially hinder the view but can still see the sunset.
Off the road in the Bedford Reservation in the northeast section of the park. Operated by Cleveland Metroparks, a handicapped parking spot leads visitors onto a short boardwalk platform overlooking the Tinkers Creek Gorge. Handrails on each side are provided with ample maneuvering space at the end. The parking spot to the platform is only a few feet and is almost comply level (less than 2 degrees).
Another noteworthy overlook is in the Brecksville Reservation area on the border of the park along the Chippewa Creek Gorge. Designated accessible parking is directly in front of a boardwalk platform that overlooks a stone bridge where young rock jumpers often are seen taking dives. A picnic bench is also on the level platform. The trashcan is on the edge of the parking lot. A paved trail leads from the main road to the parking lot but is sloped (more than 10 degrees).
More Picnic Areas
You will find dozens of picnic table areas scattered throughout the park, many highlighted in the areas above. Some spaces are designated for groups and often require a reservation, but many picnic areas do not. Every major picnic area has options for shaded or partially shaded tables, though there are some with full sun exposure. At these Cuyahoga Valley picnic shelter areas you will also find access to paved parking spaces and vaulted or pit-style toilets. Many picnic tables have a raised cooking grill but not all. Many modified drinking fountains were observed at the major picnic areas. Smaller picnic table areas also exists and usually included access to parking but an accessible route to reach the tables was rare; many had barriers or required traveling over grass.
At the park’s northern tip in the Bedford Reservation area is a lovely picnic area at Viaduct Park near Tinkers Creek. This picnic area also has a small baseball field and a playground. Openings have been added to the playground to create more wheelchair access. Other scenic picnic areas are in the Brecksville Reservation.
Another noteworthy picnic area is on the eastern side of the park just below the Peninsula Depot and is called the Octagon Picnic Area. The name comes from the octagon shape of the covered shelter which overlooks an open meadow with surrounding trees. A few designated paved parking spots with access are across from the octagon with a wide paved pathway in between. A modified drinking fountain and bathrooms are accessible. A few tables are located under the covered shelter and others are located just nearby. A couple had an extended end for wheelchair access with a raised cooking grill nearby.
One other picnic area that is particularly nice and accessible is the Ledges Shelter. What makes this picnic area special are the two stone fireplaces under the shelter. A large grill is outside. Altogether there are about 15 picnic tables inside and outside of the shelter. Accessible parking and bathrooms are available for visitors.