Who says that the adventures in Cuyahoga Valley National Park have to end in the winter? In fact, winter may be the best time to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park (also known as CVNP)!
Why? There are far fewer crowds around, meaning you’ll have popular spots all to yourself. Plus, the snowy forests make for the dreamiest landscape to explore on a crisp winter day.
Convinced to pile on your warmest clothes and head to CVNP in winter yet? We’re here to give you all the details.
Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Winter
Planning to visit CVNP this winter? The park IS open, but note that there are some partial closures that are ongoing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On busy weekends and holidays, park staff may close parking areas and trailheads if they become overcrowded. So having a back-up hike in mind is always recommended! Learn more here, or call 440-546-5960 before your visit to check for the latest closure information.
1. Hiking in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Winter
Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s 125+ miles of trails are open all year long for hiking adventures. And in the winter they are pretty empty! This means that you can go to more popular places that are crowded in the summer (i.e. the Towpath Trail and Brandywine Falls) and enjoy peace and quiet on a wintry day.
Some spots to consider visiting include the aforementioned Brandywine Falls, Blue Hen Falls, Great Falls of Tinker’s Creek in the Bedford Reservation part of CVNP, the Ledges for incredible icicles, and Kendall Lake for more winter sports.
If the weather gets cold enough and you want to look for some beautiful frozen waterfalls, we have a whole post to help you out!
Just keep in mind that the hiking trails in CVNP are generally not cleared of snow or treated for ice – so you’ll definitely want to go prepared with proper hiking boots, and perhaps a set of Yaktrax to help with traction on slippery trails.
Northeast Ohio averages anywhere from 30-60 inches of snowfall per year, and with Cuyahoga Valley National Park inside of the Lake Erie snowbelt, there is bound to be a good amount of fresh powder throughout the winter.
With that brings the chance for winter snow sports like snowshoeing! You can go snowshoeing pretty much anywhere in the park except for the Ledges and Brandywine Falls trail systems. Other than that, you can strap on those shoes and get going!
If you don’t have your own snowshoes (or just want to try it out), you can rent snowshoes at the Winter Sports Center located at 1550 Boston Mills Road in Peninsula for $5* (cash or check only). It is open on weekends in December-February and March (if the weather permits) from 10 am-4 pm (weather permitting).
Snowshoes are also available to rent at the Boston Mills Visitor Center at 5793 Boston Mills Rd in Peninsula during the week (though not this season because of COVID).
The Winter Sports Center also rents skis as well, which leads us to the next winter activity in Cuyahoga Valley National Park!
* For the 2020-21 season it is free, but they won’t be renting until sometime in January.
3. Cross-Country Skiing
You can also go cross-country skiing in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the winter! Rentals are also located at the Winter Sports Center in normal years, though in 2020-21 there will be no ski rentals.
While you can pretty much go cross country skiing on all the trails in the park, here are a few recommended by the National Park Service:
- Boston Run Trail (challenging and 3.5 miles long)
- Oak Hill Trail (fairly easily and 1.5 miles long)
- Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail (easy and 19.7 miles long)
- Tree Farm Trail (fairly easily and 2.75 miles long)
The snow requirement for both skiing and snowshoeing is usually 4 inches of snow (or more) on the ground.
4. Downhill Skiing/Snowboarding
Did you know that you can go downhill skiing and snowboarding in northeast Ohio? While this area isn’t mountainous, there are a few hilly parts within Cuyahoga Valley National Park to go skiing. Here are the two main spots to go skiing or snowboarding in Cuyahoga Valley National Park:
- Boston Mills Ski Resort located at 7100 Riverview Road in Peninsula
- Brandywine Ski Resort located at 1146 West Highland Road in Sagamore Hills
Rentals and lessons are offered here, too. Find out more info here.
You can also go snow tubing at the Polar Blast Snow Tubing Park next to Brandywine Ski Resort.
These resorts are really unique in that they’re within Cuyahoga Valley National Park!
5. Sledding in CVNP
Kendall Hills near the Kendall Lake area off Quick Road is available for sledding. There are separate areas for sleds and toboggans – and you’ll have to bring your own!
6. Ice Fishing
If you have a fishing license, there are plenty of fish to catch under the ice in CVNP lakes and ponds. Just be careful, as the ice can be thin in places and the national park service doesn’t monitor ice thickness.
You can fish for 65+ species of fish in the Cuyahoga River and in numerous ponds throughout the park. Popular fishing spots can be found here. Catch-and-release fishing in encouraged within the national park.
Need a fishing license? Head over to the ODNR.
7. Hand-feed chickadees
A unique winter activity the whole family can enjoy is hand-feeding chickadees and other non-migratory birds at the Brecksville Nature Center in Brecksville Reservation. Brecksville Reservation is managed by the Cleveland Metroparks, but is technically within the national park boundaries.
The “Hand Feed a Chickadee” program has been a tradition at the Nature Center since the 1940s, and runs each winter from December through the end of February.
When the weather is cold and snowy, the birds are extra active and in search of food, and will land right in your outstretched palm to eat black oil sunflower seeds.
8. Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad*
There is a train system that runs through Cuyahoga Valley National Park and allows you to stay nice and warm while admiring the winter wonderland that surrounds you!
For families during the holiday season, they offer the “Polar Express” train ride inspired by the movie where you’ll be delighted with caroling, greetings from Santa and his elves, and other holiday entertainment. Be sure to wear your pajamas for this ride!
They also offer many other themed rides from “Ales on Rails” to “Murder Mystery” and more throughout the season.
*Rides may be cancelled or altered during the 2020-21 winter season due to COVID-19. Visit the CVSR site for more info.
Tips for Hiking Safely in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Winter
If you plan to go hiking in the winter at CVNP, you’ll want to follow some basic safety tips first.
- Consider purchasing Yaktrax for your hiking boots to give you more traction on the trails. Trails can be slippery in places with ice and snow.
- Avoid standing under areas with icicles (for obvious reasons). Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Don’t climb on rocks and avoid getting too close to bluffs to prevent slipping.
- Know where you’re going ahead of time, or have maps on you if you aren’t familiar with the trails.
- Let a trusted person know where you’re going ahead of time and when you plan to be back.
- Pack plenty of layers to stay warm including gloves, thermal layers, jackets, ear muffs, etc.
- Drinking water is also important, even if it is cold outside.
- Always yield to cross country skiers, and don’t walk on ski tracks.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Weather in Winter
When it comes to planning your Cuyahoga Valley National Park visit in winter, it is important to know the typical weather for your visit!
December is the warmest month during the winter, with daily highs averaging around 37ºF and lows averaging 25ºF. The park also receives an average of about 12 inches of snowfall in December.
January is the coldest month of the year, with daily highs averaging around 33ºF and lows are around 19ºF. Snowfall is also at its highest, averaging 13 inches.
February’s average daily high temperature is 36ºF and the low is 21ºF. The average snowfall is about 12 inches.
While these are averages, keep in mind how unpredictable northeast Ohio weather can be, especially in the snow belt where CVNP is located. Temps can range anywhere from the 50s to well below 0ºF, so always be prepared and check weather conditions prior to visiting.
Where to stay near Cuyahoga Valley National Park in winter
*Note: There are affiliate links in this section, meaning if you book through a link we’ll earn a commission (at no extra cost to you).
If you’re coming to northeast Ohio solely to experience the state’s sole national park in the winter, then chances are you’ll want to stay somewhere nearby!
There are not any official national park lodges or campsites IN the park, but there are several options within a short drive.
Some places to consider include:
- Inn at Brandywine Falls – This historic bed and breakfast is located within the national park, just yards away from the Brandywine Falls waterfall. It’s known for its excellent breakfasts.
- Shady Oaks Farm Bed and Breakfast – Located just outside of CVNP, this bed and breakfast has warm hosts and period touches and antiques throughout the house.
- Hampton Inn Stow – Prefer hotel stays? This Hampton Inn is top-rated in Stow, just a short drive from the southern end of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
- La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Cleveland Macedonia – Located in the town of Macedonia, this highly-rated hotel is a short drive to CVNP’s ski areas and hiking trails.
Looking to rent a place on Airbnb instead? Here are the best options:
- The Woods Store in Peninsula – Located above an art gallery in the heart of the village of Peninsula, this 2-bedroom apartment makes a great base for exploring the national park. It’s within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and the Towpath Trail.
- Cuyahoga Valley Inn Parlor Rooms – Located in the Richfield Historic District, this Italianate Victorian-Style bed and breakfast is an excellent choice. Right now, you can rent out an entire floor for a great price to keep things low-contact.
- Cozy Cottage in Akron – This cozy getaway with fireplace sits on 4 acres of land just a short drive away from the national park. It’s perfect for a couple, or for a solo getaway.
Look for more Airbnbs near CVNP here:
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is always a beautiful place worth visiting during any trip to Cleveland. In the winter, however, this place really shines.
If you’ve wanted to peer out over a winter wonderland, partake in winter sports like snowshoeing or skiing, or have a frozen waterfall to yourself, then a visit to CVNP in the wintertime is perfect for you!
Would you visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the winter?
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Kat is a Cleveland transplant and has lived here for over 4 years. She loves to eat, drink, and explore the gems 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.