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One thing that surprised me on our fall road trip was Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It’s not my favorite park by a long shot but it did exceed my expectations and it should definitely not be skipped on a midwest road trip.
While I’m sure there are tons of things to do here, I’m going to just be telling you how to spend one day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. One awesome jam packed day though. It’s going to cover the park highlights and include lots of hiking. (Don’t worry. If you don’t like hiking, I’ve got you covered, too.)
I would recommend starting this day pretty early, like maybe at 8, 9 at the latest because both hikes will take 2-3 hours and there is just under 40 minutes of driving if you see them in the order I’ve suggested.
Where is Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. It’s about 30 minutes to the visitor center from Cleveland and about 20 minutes from Independence where we stayed.
It’s what I like to call a city park because it’s basically in a city. It’s spread out with tons of farms and houses and stuff in the park. As you drive around the park, you’re on residential streets. It’s not a remote “in the middle of nowhere” park like you normally think of. Other parks I consider city parks are Hot Springs and Indiana Dunes.
Best things to do with one day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Here we go, the best way to spend one day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I mapped everything out to make sure I had everything in the most efficient order and what I have here is 38 total minutes of driving. You can switch Brandywine Falls and the visitor center and the time is the same, it’s just two more miles of driving.
Stop at the Boston Mills Visitor Center
First up is the visitor center. You could also switch this and Blue Hen Falls because they’re at the same spot. Stop in here to get your postcards and stickers before learning a little more about this urban park and how it came to be.
Fun fact: this is the only national park visitor center I’ve taken a picture of. The buildings here are so pretty and the sky was perfect! If you want and have time, you can wander around the little street to the left of the visitor center (if you’re facing it.)
Hike to Blue Hen Falls
Next up is the three mile hike to Blue Hen Falls! The trailhead is right across the street from the visitor center so you can stay parked there while you do the hike.
While you will have interstate noise most of the hike, it was a very enjoyable trail through the glowy woods (the woods in this park really do glow) to a nice waterfall. We only saw a few people at the falls and along the way there. This is a moderate hike so if you just want an easy one, the Ledges is a better choice.
See Brandywine Falls
A short boardwalk with a lot of stairs takes you down to check out Brandywine Falls. This is a must-see in the park but I thought it was just ok. There are plenty of other waterfalls I liked more. It’s still worth seeing though.
There is also a boardwalk that goes to the right (stairs go to the left) that is flat but takes you to a higher view of the falls. If I cut one thing out of this list, it would probably be this. I was really excited to see it but it felt underwhelming to me.
Hike the Ledges
If you only do one thing in Cuyahoga, DO THIS! I absolutely loved this trail and will sing it’s praises all day. This is a pretty easy 1.8 mile trail through the woods along amazing glowing mossy rock formations and witchy woods. If you can manage this in the middle of the day I would recommend that for the best lighting.
If you want to see this but are short on time you can just hike along the rock formations at the beginning of the trail without doing the whole loop. Happy Days is a nice 0.5 mile addition to this trail, either the full loop or just the part along the formations plus Happy Days.
Stop at the Everett Road Covered Bridge
This is a nice quick stop. I put it in maps on my phone (Apple Maps, I think) and it took us way out of the way but to the wrong side of the bridge so we had to back track. Don’t do what I did. Put Everett Road Covered Bridge parking lot into Google Maps.
If you just want to see the covered bridge, it’s a short walk from the parking lot, like less than half a mile round trip. You can continue walking on the other side of it or go see Furnace Run (the water under it) before heading back. We saw this in late afternoon/early evening and the lighting was really nice. I always think of Beetlejuice when I see this bridge.
Walk the Beaver Marsh Boardwalk
Finally we have the Beaver Marsh. This used to be the home of a car garage that left behind all kinds of car trash that had to be hauled out for the restoration. This will legit make you feel like you’re on a Florida boardwalk and you’ll be wondering where the gators are. Well, they’re not here.
This is a 0.5 mile round-trip walk from the trailhead along the Towpath Trail. If you want to bike in the park, you can do that along this trail and stop at the marsh along the way. It’s a nice place to end the day, watching the sun set and looking for wildlife.
What to bring to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Fall
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry! I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese. There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.
Cozy Sweatshirt – I have a few different Patagonia sweatshirts and love them all. They’re great for layering in cold weather. I have two Re-tools, a Better Sweater, and a Synchilla. Sometimes you can find them on sale on REI or Backcountry. I also like to keep an eye out for them on Poshmark (use code REDAROUNDWORLD for $10 off your first purchase) and Mercari (you can save $10 with that link as well!) I’ve found some really good deals on both.
Long sleeve shirt – I just have one that’s like Underarmour but not. I think I found it at TJ Maxx. I have two from Parks Project that I really like but they don’t make them anymore.
Tips for visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the fall
- Temperatures can change quite a bit throughout the day at Cuyahoga in the fall so be prepared with layers.
- The best time to catch the fall colors is about the third week of October. You can still catch some before and after but that’s usually the peak time.
- If you’re there on a weekend you might be able to catch a farmers market in the park!
- There are farms in the park and in the fall you can stop at some to buy pumpkins and other fun fall things.
- Mid-day is actually a nice time to hike here because you get the sunlight shining through the trees. If you go too late in the day it can just be dark and a little hard to photograph, if that’s what you’re there for.
Have you been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park? What did you think of it? If you only had one day there, what would you recommend not be missed?