Five Fun Ways to Experience the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

May 8, 2015
Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Low on Tech, High on Fun

by Lexi Robinson-Hotchkiss

That swift rush of pride you feel when reach the summit of a daylong hike. Or, the serene calm you experience when gently bobbing in a kayak on a lake.

Somewhere along the line, we all forgot that vacations are meant to help us escape from the everyday humdrum of life, mind-numbing computer screens and your constantly pinging smartphone.

Located approximately 20 miles outside of downtown Cleveland sits one of the country's most treasured slices of natural escapism: The Cuyahoga Valley National Park [CVNP].

The national park, which encompasses more than 33,000 acres of federally protected land, can keep you busy for days.

Whether you're a sucker for camping under the stars or someone whose bucket list includes bird watching in a National Audubon Society designated Important Bird Area, the CVNP is ready to provide that respite from the insanity of your day-to-day life.

Here are five fun ways to explore the CVNP:

1. Hiking

Some people consider a jaunt around the block to be a hike. Others keep their hiking boots and outdoor gear next to the front door.

Anyway you like it, CVNP has more than 125 hiking miles. So, the chances of you finding one that fits your interests and experience level are rather likely.

Click here to find hiking maps online. Or, simply check out some of these recommended hikes.

Before long, you'll be witnessing the gorgeous Brandywine Falls, standing on the overlook at Tinker's Creek Gorge or exploring the ancient rock formations at Ritchie Ledges.

2. Canalway Questing

So, you've probably heard of geocaching. Well, CVNP in conjunction with the folks at the Ohio & Erie Canalway, offer a unique, fun and easy way to explore the national park - detective style - without having to figure out GPS devises and other techy gismos. (Remember, we're trying to avoid technology on this vacation?)

It's called "questing" and it only requires these three low-tech items:

1. A pencil

2. A brochure from the series

3. Comfortable shoes

Easy enough, right?

In short, participants use the brochure to follow rhyming clues and a curious map to help them locate and log into a hidden box. This hidden box contains a stamp for your questing map. When you're done using the stamp, you simply replace for others to find.

Available April 15 - Nov. 15, questing provides an incredibly easy way to explore various parts of the CVNP.  There are almost 40 different questing adventures to follow taking you through the park's natural and cultural gems along the way. This is great for newbies who just don't know where to begin their explorations.

3. The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail

If you're in the middle of planning an adventure trip to Cleveland, you probably keep hearing about the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. What's all the hubbub about?

This multi-purpose trail, which runs more than 85 miles between Akron and Cleveland, offers runners, walkers and bicyclists an incredible opportunity to combine physical activity with miles and miles of natural beauty.

The Towpath follows the Ohio & Erie Canalway, which is once where mules pulled goods between two metropolitan cities. And, about 20 miles of the Towpath are through the CVNP.

Biking is particularly popular on the Towpath, although surfaces and terrain can vary a bit. Many enjoy walking, while others enjoy the areas that permit horses. Click here to learn a bit more.

There are 48 trailheads throughout the Towpath. That means you won't have a hard time finding a place to enter. But, it's always a good idea to map your plan of action in advance.

If you're looking for something a little unique, considering biking the trail within the CVNP in one direction, then pick up the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for a ride (with bike in tow) back to your original location.

4. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

While there's all that crazy active stuff you can do to explore the national park - we admit - there are some of us who just want to see nature from inside a temperature-controlled motorized vehicle.

Enter: The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Board this vintage train (ADA accessible) for incredible vantage point of a national park as you zip through meadows and valleys with onboard guides pointing out natural gems, interesting wildlife and other information along the way.  Honestly, it's a pretty great experience offering an uncanny perspective.

The train line was constructed in 1880 when steam engines transported coal from Canton, Ohio to Cleveland. While trains between the two cities are no longer needed along this line, the railroad still exists.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers a bevy of tours and special offerings. Some of our favorites include Bike Aboard!, which allows bicyclists on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail to board the train with their bikes for a ride back to their original departure stop.

Others include the Ales on Rails and Grape Escape excursions that offer unique beer and wine tastings while riding the train.

And, for the kids, be sure to check out the Polar Express during the holiday season, as well as A Day Out with Thomas the Tank Engine.

5. Summer Events at CVNP

Having a national park right in your backyard doesn't simply mean great hiking all year round (although, that's a pretty sweet advantage if we do say so ourselves). CVNP offers all sort of fun events and activities for the whole fam this summertime. Wanna do 108 sun salutations in a gorgeous open meadow? Done. Feeling like dancing to live salsa, merengue, mambo and Latin jazz music in a national park? Check. Chef prepared farm-to-plate dinner on a berry farm? Got it Visit a series of free art exhibitions within the Cuyahoga Valley? Yep, that too.

Check out the park's special events this summer - giving you all sorts of new and interesting way to experience a true national park.

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