Fun fact: There’s a National Park in Ohio.
Okay, so maybe you already knew that. But on the other hand, maybe you were like me and had absolutely no idea that there was a National Park only a two hour drive from Pittsburgh in our neighboring state of Ohio. When I think of “National Park,” I think Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Well, it shouldn’t take me to tell you that if you go to this park expecting something equivalent to any of those previously listed you will be highly disappointed.
Unfortunately the main attraction of the park, Brandywine Falls, does not have a parking lot that accommodates weekend crowds (even during a pandemic) so we were not able to see the falls. The 60+ foot high waterfall is the tallest in the park and is easily accessible from the main parking lot… if you can access the main parking lot. Perhaps I would have liked this park better had we been able to access Brandywine.
Also, I’ll mention that the layout of this park is completely bizarre. Cuyahoga Valley only became a National Park in 2000 so I can’t really blame the National Park Service for the random communities and neighborhoods that split up areas of the park. One minute you’re in the park, the next you’re in a neighborhood with schools and churches, and the next you’re in a Cleveland Metro Park. Like I said, bizarre…
STOP 1: Bradford Reservation Cleveland Metro Park
Let’s begin with our first stop of the day, which was also my favorite: Bradford Reservation Cleveland Metro Park. Okay, okay, I know that this is not *technically* in the National Park, but in my defense I’ll say that my favorite thing about Cuyahoga Valley is that it’s right next to this Metro Park… Seriously though, this little piece of land NOT owned by the National Park Service was the best part of our trip. It’s less than a mile drive from National Park land and is a must if you’re traveling here!
So the number one weird thing about Cuyahoga NP and the Cleveland MP is that there’s no signage… anywhere. We pretty much pulled into this parking lot on a whim and just started walking. Along the main highways in Ohio there was never a sign for the nearby National Park and even when you’re in the park it’s like they don’t want to tell you where you are. America is all about posting signs everywhere, so what’s the deal here?
Bradford Reservation looks like a parking lot with a small pavilion from the main road but if you walk back to to the trails along the woods you’ll find a steep cliff that drops into Tinkers Creek. If you’re facing the overlook, take the left trail path along the cliff and down into the woods. On our first attempt we tried walking the extent of the trail to the right where we were met with a caved-in section of the trail about a half mile in. Hiking the left side of the trail though, you’ll meander your way down into the woods and it will eventually lead to Tinkers Creek.
There were only two other people near the creek when we arrived, probably because its a very steep trail getting down to the waters edge, but it’s oh so worth the journey! The water was perfectly clear and there are plenty of rocks to sit on and take in the view. Honestly, sitting next to the water I would never think that I was in Ohio. Little did I know, this would be the best stop of the day. Had I known that we definitely would have set up camp next to the creek and stayed a while.
STOP 2: Tinkers Creek Overlook
If you live in the Pittsburgh area you can probably look out your backyard window and see a view very similar to this overlook: a hill with trees. Yep, that’s all there is to it. Oh Ohio…
I guess this is quite the sight to see for visitors from flat areas of the country? I don’t know, maybe I’m just hard to impress.
STOP 3: Bridal Veil Falls
So now to the first official stop in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Bridal Veil Falls. I don’t know if it’s because there hasn’t been much rainfall or if the “falls” are always like this, but this waterfall was missing water. Basically, it was a steep shale-rock slope into an empty cavern, no water to be found. I think that maybe in the spring after a snowmelt there might be a waterfall here, but in July there’s just an empty creek bed.
Other than the missing waterfall, there was a bridge with some photo op potential and a part of the creek that was holding some water. After a few minutes here we continued onto our next stop.
STOP 4: Brandywine Falls
Haha, just kidding! We drove by the Brandywine Falls parking area twice and were not able to find a place to park. The road it’s along is in the middle of a community with many houses so it’s not like you can just pull over on the side of the road and start walking. We stopped a National Park worker and asked about parking and were told we could try to find a space at Boston Mill Visitor Center and walk the two miles back to the waterfall. Just an FYI, it was 92 degrees outside the day we were here and we weren’t really up for a brisk walk through the sun. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, this waterfall is the main attraction of the park so we missed out on the highlight.
STOP 5: Boston Mill Visitor Center
This was probably the most crowded part of the park and for good reason. The visitor center is an old general store surrounded by what appears to be a very small community along the old railway that runs through the park. Today there is an information center, public restrooms, the National Park store, and some refreshment and quick bites. Of course, this is also the location where you’ll find the official National Park sign which was a must photo-op for me. After a quick stop for the photo, we were back in the car and off to the small town of Peninsula, Ohio for some lunch.
STOP 6: Peninsula, Ohio to pick-up lunch from Winking Lizard Tavern
Anyone who has travelled with me before knows that I’m a total planner. Well today, I had planned for us to get take-out from Winking Lizard Tavern and take it to our stop #7, Kendall Lake. Luckily I chose to order our lunch ahead of time online because when we got to the restaurant to pick it up there was no parking and a line of 10+ people outside of the door waiting to get in. After only a five minute wait in the online-order pick-up parking space we had our food and were on our way to Kendall Lake. If you’re planning on stopping for lunch while in Cuyahoga I would definitely recommend ordering online from Winking Lizard. The food was very good and it was certainly faster than had we chosen to eat in the restaurant (which Ohio is now allowing after having their restaurants closed for a few weeks due to COVID-19). I ordered the fried chicken sandwich marinated in a honey mustard sauce with steak fries.
The town of Peninsula looked like it would be a cute tourist site had there not been hundreds of people walking the streets (umm, social distancing and masks anyone?) but we didn’t stick around to check it out. The main street was lined with multiple shops in old houses that made for a quaint and charming feel. We didn’t have the chance to stop and take pictures but I did manage to find a painting of one of the cute shops in the town on Pinterest.
STOP 7: Kendall Lake
Kendall Lake was probably the calmest spot in the National Park with only a few other families there with us. We decided to lay out some picnic blankets and eat our lunch under a tree to get some shade. The lake seemed to be a popular fishing spot with the few others that were there. There is a main building near the lake that looks like it may be used for functions such as receptions and parties. Unfortunately it didn’t look like the grounds around the building were very well kept. This was a good picnic spot so I would recommend pick up some food or packing a picnic lunch and spending some time here before heading back to the main sites in the park.
STOP 8: The Ledges
And so we ended our day in Cuyahoga at The Ledges, a short hiking trail loop around a wood full of boulders with perfect splits in the middle of them. This was a rather unique area and was a really great hiking trail. The rocks made for fun exploration into and around the crevices and we only encountered one other party during our trek through the area.
There are many other hiking trails throughout Cuyahoga Valley but we only managed to do this one this time. If you only I have the time for one hike, I would recommend the Bradford Reservation first followed by The Ledges.
After The Ledges I had planned two more stops in Cuyahoga before heading back home, Blue Hen Falls and Beaver Marsh, but we decided to cut our trip short. The hot temperature certainly got to us and we were honestly kind of over this park and were ready to get back to PA. While this park is a part of the National Park Service I have to say that there are so many PA state parks with waterfalls, swimming holes, and historic sites that I would much rather go to and I feel are more natural areas than Cuyahoga. With the many housing developments and communities that you have to drive through to get from place to place in the park, I never really felt like I was in a natural, protected area.
So, is my review of Cuyahoga Valley National Park a fair one? No, probably not considering I didn’t get to see the main attraction of the park, Brandywine Falls. However, before I even traveled to Cuyahoga I created this blog post as a draft and titled it “24 Hours in Cuyahoga Valley National Park,” and I think it should be mentioned that if you only have a day to allocate in the park there’s a chance you might not get to see Brandywine Falls. My advice: Arrive to the waterfall early. We got there around 1 p.m. and were told the parking was full. If Brandywine Falls is a priority for you then wake up early to get there or maybe try to go in the afternoon when the crowds thin out. During the summer and peak times though, you may have to accept that you won’t be able to park in the Brandywine Falls parking to access the waterfall.
Overall I wasn’t expecting much from the park because, well, it’s Ohio. But like I said before, I’m glad I went because I’ve never been to a National Park and, in my opinion, any future visits to National Parks have to be better than this one in terms of natural protection and points of interest. I do think that Ohio needs to better promote the park as I had no idea it even existed. If my state were to have a National Park I’d think that the PA Tourism Agency would market the hell out of that location to residents and surrounding states.
Will I ever go back to see Brandywine Falls? If I’m being honest: No, probably not. Ohio isn’t a “revisit destination” for me- Been there, done that. Now the question is, “Which National Park should I go to next?” So many choices! 61 of them, in fact. I’d love to make it out to California to see some of the parks out there or do the three in Washington State. The next closest parks to me as far as location would be Shenandoah in Virginia and then Indiana Dunes in Indiana so maybe I can make a drive out to one of those in 2020. Any suggestions on what my next National Park visit should be is greatly appreciated! I’m excited to continue my National Park adventures as I happen to believe that the National Park Service is one of America’s best ideas.