It’s prime hiking season again and time to get out and explore our local park! Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of many National Park Service sites in Ohio, but the only national park in the state!
Cuyahoga Valley National Park (or CVNP as the locals call it) is quite large at 32,572 acres or 50.9 square miles. It begins just south of Cleveland and ends just north of Akron, making it a fun day trip destination from either city.
As a frequent visitor of the national park, and having hiked most trails within the park, I have the perfect 1 day Cuyahoga Valley National Park itinerary to help you get the most out of this place in a short amount of time!
1 Day Cuyahoga Valley National Park Itinerary
From waterfalls to beautiful views, this how to spend just one day in CVNP!
1. Blue Hen Falls Hike
Kick off your 1-day CVNP itinerary by parking at the Boston Mills Visitor Center and hopping on the Buckeye Trail.
From there, you’ll continue on until you reach the lovely Blue Hen Falls. The scenic waterfall makes this hike well worth it, and you get the chance to hike on the Buckeye Trail, one of the longest trails in the US, as it goes all over Ohio!
This is about a 3-mile hike round-trip and has an elevation gain of 580-feet. Plan to spend around 1-2 hours on this hike and at the waterfall.
You could make this more challenging by starting at the Jaite Trailhead and hiking longer on the Buckeye Trail. This would be about an 8-mile hike round trip, and takes about 3.5-4.5 hours to finish.
Blue Hen Falls may not be as popular as the iconic Brandywine Falls, but it’s usually a lot less busy and definitely a gorgeous waterfall addition to your Cuyahoga Valley National Park itinerary!
2. Explore the Visitor Center
After a morning of hiking to Blue Hen Falls, it’s time to go and explore the park’s main Visitor Center! Get your National Parks Passport stamped, learn more about the national park, and ask a ranger any questions you might have at Boston Mills Visitor Center.
3. Lunch in Peninsula
Once you’ve had your fill of the Visitor Center, head into downtown Peninsula, an adorable town in the midst of the park. From here you can grab some lunch at a local favorite like Winking Lizard or Fisher’s Cafe & Pub.
Both places have outdoor seating, perfect for a nice day! Expect tasty pub food at both locations, including wings, burgers, fries, and more.
Once you’ve fueled up, be sure to check out the Trail Mix Peninsula store next door to the Winking Lizard. This shop has so many great Cuyahoga Valley National Park shirts and memorabilia, as well as locally made products.
4. Brandywine Falls
Note: The Brandywine Falls parking lot, upper section of the Brandywine Gorge Trail, and a section of the Summit Metroparks Bike & Hike Trail are closed until September 30, 2022 as the NPS upgrades the restrooms here. The only way to access the waterfall this summer will be to park at Boston Mill Visitor Center and hike the Stanford Trail (5 miles round trip).
Okay, I couldn’t have you come all the way to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and NOT see this famous waterfall. This is easily one of the most popular spots in the national park to visit!
So after lunch, to continue on with your Cuyahoga Valley National Park itinerary, you’ll definitely want to stop by this 65-foot cascade. It is pretty active year-round, meaning you’ll have gorgeous views of the rushing waterfall and creek anytime you visit.
While you could easily take the stairs down to the falls from the parking lot, there is a fun trail you can hike to admire the scenery of the area, too.
The 1.4-mile hike should only take about an hour to complete, and it has an elevation gain of 140 feet. You start at the Stanford Road Trail from the parking lot and turn onto the Brandywine Gorge Trail. It’ll then merge onto the MetroParks Bike and Hike Trail heading east until you reach the falls.
Spend some time at the falls to admire and take photos before beginning the next part of your CVNP itinerary.
5. Szalay’s Farm & Market
The national park is more than just great hiking. There are adorable spots to check out in and around the park, too! Szalay’s is a must-visit in the summer and early autumn months.
This farm and market is a favorite among locals in the area, as they sell some delicious fresh produce and snacks that are perfect post-hike fuel! On summer weekends (Friday-Sunday), you can also get things like roasted sweet corn and ice cream at Szalay’s.
And if you visit in the fall, they have ample pumpkins to choose from and even a corn maze!
If you have extra time during your day, you could also hop on the Valley Bridal Trail near Szalay’s to the trail that crosses the charming Everett Covered Bridge. On hot days, you’ll spot many people taking a dip in the nice, chilly creek below.
6. Virginia Kendall Ledges Trail
After all that, it’s time to explore one of the more popular hikes in CVNP: the Virginia Kendall Ledges Trail.
Definitely one of the best trails in the park, this relatively easy hike offers incredible views throughout! You’ll pass by beautiful sandstone “ledges” covered in moss with many little narrow passageways between them.
You can wander between them and peer down the ledges before continuing on your hike. The main star of this trail, however, has to be the overlook. On a nice day, you can see out across miles of forest.
It definitely makes for a beautiful sunset spot, or a gorgeous place to admire fall foliage.
The Virginia Kendall Ledges Trail is 2.2 miles long and only has about an 80-foot elevation gain. It also only takes about an hour and a half to complete. This makes it an easy hike after a day of exploring the national park.
7. Celebratory Beers
After a full day of hiking and exploring the great sights in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, it’s time to do as many people like to do post-hike: grab a beer.
As you may know, Cleveland, and northeast Ohio in general, has a fantastic brewery scene. While you could go back up to Cleveland and celebrate at one or two breweries like Masthead or Great Lakes, there are plenty nearby in Akron too!
R Shea, located in Cuyahoga Falls, has some great local beer like The Three Legends New England IPA or, if you’re here in the fall, the Twitchy B*tch Imperial Stout.
Missing Mountain is also not too far away and has lovely views of the Cuyahoga River with a lot of great hazy IPAs.
HiHo Brewing Company also is in a pretty spot along the river, and they have a large food menu, making it great for dinner!
No matter what you choose to do, definitely celebrate all the magnificent hikes, views, and waterfalls you’ve managed to squeeze into your perfect day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park!
If You Have More Time in CVNP
If you have more time to spend in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, don’t worry! There is so much more to do!
For starters, you could take the opportunity to hop on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad to admire more beautiful places in the park.
Another great option is to walk or bike along the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail, an 87-mile trail that stretches from downtown Cleveland to Tuscarawas. It passes through Cuyahoga Valley National Park and is a fun and flat trail. Plus, you can spot plenty of wildlife and canals along the way!
There are also other cool areas of the park to explore like Brecksville Reservation or Tinkers Creek Gorge in Bedford Reservation. Both of these areas are part of the national park as well as the Cleveland Metroparks system.
Brecksville Reservation has beautiful spots to explore, including Deer Lick Cave, and Tinkers Creek Gorge has a stunning overlook – another great place to admire fall foliage in the autumn months!
I also can’t forget to mention Oak Hill, which has beautiful ponds and towering pine trees to admire!
When to Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Honestly, you can visit CVNP year-round. From the frozen waterfalls and fewer crowds in the winter to hikes made cooler under the trees in summer, there really isn’t a bad time to visit.
However, if you prefer to hike when the weather is nicer outside, I’d recommend visiting in late spring through fall, (May through October). After that, the weather can be cold, snowy, and sometimes a bit treacherous with ice.
Just note that it definitely can be crowded on more popular trails in the summertime and on weekends versus in the middle of winter!
Where to Stay Near Cuyahoga Valley National Park
While there aren’t many places to actually stay in the park, there are hotels aND B&Bs nearby! Some places include Cuyahoga Valley Inn, located in Richfield, Shady Oaks Farm Bed & Breakfast with its own trails, and The Inn at Blue Hen Falls in Peninsula.
However, you could also stay in one of many hotels around Cleveland as it isn’t far from the park.
What to Bring For Your Cuyahoga Valley National Park Trip
Here are some essential things to bring for your time hiking and exploring Cuyahoga Valley National Park in a day:
- Plenty of water
- Trail snacks
- Bug repellent
- Tick Key to pick off those pesky creatures
- Map (you can get this at the Visitor Center)
- Lots of layers
- Hiking shoes/boots
- Hiking socks
Essential Information For Your Time in CVNP
Price: Free to visit
Boston Mills Visitor Center Hours: Daily 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
What would you most like to do during your 1 day Cuyahoga Valley National Park itinerary?
Kat is a Cleveland transplant and has lived here for over 5 years. She loves to eat, drink, and explore all across the city, and has made it her personal mission to find the best breweries and pizza in Northeast Ohio. She also runs a couples travel blog and podcast called World Wide Honeymoon.