5 Things to do at Cuyahoga Valley National Park (In One Day)

I ventured into Cuyahoga Valley National Park by accident and in doing so, put myself in a position where I could only spend a few hours there. And so, tight on time, I decided to find as many things to do there as possible.

To be honest, I actually managed to accomplish quite a bit in that short time frame, but considering how large Cuyahoga Valley National Park is, and what else I learned I could check out there, the other activities would have to be left for next time.

However, if you’re reading this now and is considering taking a trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, let me share 5 things you absolutely need to do there. Best of all, most if not all of them can done in a single day while you’re there (or over several).

Here are the 5 things to do at Cuyahoga Valley National Park:

  1. Start with Brandywine Falls.things to do at cuyahoga valley national park 01
  2. Explore Kendell Lake.
  3. Do the Ledges Trail.
  4. Kayak across Cuyahoga river.
  5. Take the train ride across Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

How I accidentally ended up in Cuyahoga Valley National Park:

It was the second day of my road trip to Minnesota’s North Shore. The day before, I started in NYC, went through Finger Lakes and stayed in Eerie, Pennsylvania.

My original plan on the second day was to visit Hocking Hills State Park, which is also in Ohio, but considering I had to travel to the north western end of Michigan State and get there by 11:30 p.m. (to Traverse City) to pick up my friend (who would join me on the road trip), I couldn’t venture too far.

And unfortunately Hocking Hills State Park was way too south to reach. And so, I decided to look around at what parks were available for me to explore as I ventured west. I actually ended up visiting Hocking Hills on my way back from the North Shore.

Anyway, to my surprise, Cuyahoga Valley National Park turned up on the GPS, and I literally had no clue that Ohio even had a national park to begin with. But this presented an opportunity, to visit it for a few hours, see what I could, and then continue north west to reach Traverse City.

And so I went. But without knowing the area, or what to see first, I just randomly selected the nearest spot that was east of the park. I figured I’d start there and then ask around for what else there was to do.

While making a stop at a gas station, I browsed images of this park and was amazed at how I’d never heard of it before, as the images were certainly stunning and I wanted to make sure I could actually see those places for myself to make that visit worthwhile.

And once I got to the first stop, so began my tour:

1) Brandywine Falls:

cuyahoga valley national park Brandywine Falls 03

This was the first major stop on my visit to this park.

The good news is that it’s very popular (maybe that’s the bad news), has a large parking lot and the trail to get to the actual waterfall is pretty short and easy to reach (it’s called Brandywine Gorge Trail).

It only took me 5 minutes to get to the overlook of the waterfall, which was pretty awesome to check out.

I didn’t stay long and continued to look around at what else was possible to check out nearby.

The only thing (and this may be something you can do) is that there is a bike trail available across the park that you can take and it crosses over the top of this waterfall.

Otherwise, if you enjoy simple trails (and crowds), then checking out Brandywine Falls is a pretty good way to start your visit to this park.

There is a gorge area underneath it and I don’t know if it’s possible to reach, but that could be dangerous, so I wouldn’t do it.

2) Kendell Lake:

cuyahoga valley national park kendell lake 02

My next stop would be to Kendell Lake, located further south in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I had to browse many blogs, images and do a lot of quick research to learn about this place, and that most of the amazing pictures I saw of this park were located near it.

After figuring this was the next place to do, I took my car and traveled there. Luckily, the road was easy to drive on, and the parking lot to this lake was also pretty wide.

This area of the park wasn’t as filled with tourists, was very peaceful and was a great spot to go fishing, or just meditate. But in my case, I had no time to do any of that and needed to go to the next destination.

Luckily as I found out, there were 2 hikes near Kendell Lake which just so happened to be exactly what I sought to discover in this park in the first place:

3) Take the Ledges trail (the most beautiful trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park):

cuyahoga valley national park ledges trail boulders 09

If you see pictures of amazing looking trails in this park, odds are it’s the Ledges Trail you’re looking at.

In my case, I left my car parked at the Kendell Lake parking lot and proceeded to head to a different trail which intersected with the Ledges Trail (it’s called Pine Grove Trail). Sadly, the Pine Grove Trail was pretty boring to explore and I spent about 30 minutes running the 2 mile loop.

But it does cross into the Ledges Trail and just so you know, you can actually park right by the Ledges Trail itself (I only later learned this). Anyway, the Ledges trail is a loop hike you can take which in my opinion will show off the best stuff this park has to offer, from beautiful boulder structures, to the hike itself being out of this world.

I made sure to take my time on this trail, as it does take you to a giant field, and “famous” overlook area which I didn’t find all that interesting.

Overall, for me, the Ledges Trail was the most beautiful thing I saw in the entire park that day, and the boulder areas which are pretty much across the entire loop are what’s worth looking at most.

4) Kayak the Cuyahoga river:

cuyahoga river kayak

This and the next activity are what I didn’t have time to do, but only later learned this was an available activity.

In this case, there is a very long river you can kayak across which goes through the park and has you seeing great views.

Even if I had the time, I wouldn’t be able to do this alone as I would need a ride back to my car from wherever I started.

But overall, if you’re into kayaking and water sports, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has that opportunity for you to check out and there’s a lot to see while you kayak here.

5) Try the train ride across Cayuhoga Valley National Park:

cuyahoga valley national park train ride 04

One of the main attractions of this park is the train ride which takes you through the deepest parts of it which I believe is also parallel to the river. It’s available for tourists and I recall hearing it many times as I hiked across the Ledges Trail.

This particular activity is awesome for families and people seeking to just sit back and enjoy this park’s beauty. It will take you through very scenic areas from what I saw and is highly recommended.

Again, for me, this was not something I had time to do, but in the future will. I do know in hindsight that this is one of the most popular things to do when you visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Can you do all 5 of these things in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in one day?

Absolutely. Considering you begin early and don’t wait on any particular activity too long, as well as go with others so they can pick you up if you do the kayak or train ride, then you should be able to do that.

Of course, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has much more to explore than just these 5 things, but by starting with this list, you will be checking out some of the most popular (and beautiful) parts of this park.

Overall, I was very happy that I stumbled onto this place on my road trip, and in hindsight, it just gave me another opportunity to explore another gorgeous spot.

More related articles: If you’re wondering if Hocking Hills State Park is better than Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I have a comparison up for you to check out.

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