Families can explore this unique park in a one-day visit via a combination of bike and train.
This little-known national park provides a place of refuge for surrounding urbanites and visitors alike. Cuyahoga Valley preserves 33,000 acres along 22 miles of the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron. Originally, the river was a vital transportation route for Native Americans. In 1827, the Ohio & Erie Canal opened, parallel to and partly watered by the Cuyahoga, and the valley boomed. But by the 1860s, the railroad had moved in, and the canal became obsolete; some remnants of the canal still remain.
Today, visitors explore this park along the same route as the Ohio & Erie Canal, only using a different, more family-friendly form of transportation: bike. Cost: Free!
KidTripster Tip: Stop at the Boston Store Visitor Center to pick up your child’s Junior Ranger book. Also ask to watch the park movie upstairs, so you’ll have a better understanding of the human history that makes this area significant.
What to do?
Hands down, the best way for a family to experience Cuyahoga Valley is part bike, part train. The paved bike towpath and the tracks of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad run the entire length of the park, just shy of 20 miles. For most families, that’s probably an ambitious ride. And for most families, a slow-moving train that stops often isn’t much fun.
The solution? I’d recommending starting at the halfway point of the park, Boston Store Visitor Center. While you can choose to ride north or south, I like the route south to Botzum Station, which is about nine miles; if you have novice riders, you can choose a closer station as your endpoint. Take your time. If you’re riding south, make the 1/3-mile detour off the Towpath Trail to see Everett Covered Bridge on Everett Road; it’s a nice spot for a picnic. And for the best wildlife viewing - beavers, otters, and herons - stop at Beaver Marsh along the towpath.
When you’ve biked far enough, hop of the train and ride back to your starting point. (Make sure to check the train schedule at the visitors center before leaving to time your ride appropriately.) The train is equipped to hang bikes. Cost: Cyclist (3 & up) $3/one way.
After you return to Boston Store, head to picturesque Brandywine Falls about five miles away and off the towpath, if you have time.
Where to stay?
Located ten miles east of the Boston Store Visitor Center, you’ll find Streetsboro/ClevelandSE KOA (187 State Route 303, Streetsboro). In addition to the usual KOA amenities, the park has a small pool overlooking a fishing pond, where campers do fish. While there’s a number of long-term residents here, the park is good for a one-night stay. Cabins, RV sites with hook-ups, and tent sites are available.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a 30-minute drive south of Cleveland.
If you’re driving an RV, note that the visitor center parking lots are very tight here and don’t have designated oversized vehicle spaces. At Boston Store Visitor Center, park in the grassy field just east of the paved lot.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels to national parks with her husband and two sons. She’s logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family’s RV.