Road Trip! Destination: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Tell friends you’re planning a visit to a national park, and the automatic assumption is that you’re making a long trek to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades or one of the other big-name wilderness locations.
Most would be surprised to know there is a national park within 113 miles of Pittsburgh.
Located in Ohio between Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an easy two-hour drive, directly accessible from I-80 that runs right through the park.
The park’s 33,000 acres extend along 22 miles of the Cuyahoga River that winds through forests, rolling hills and open farmland.
It’s a national park with an urban accent, offering all the secluded nooks, plant and wildlife refuges and scenic vistas while remaining within a few miles of big-city conveniences such as motels.
The park offers opportunities for bird-watching, paddling, biking and hiking as well as some unexpected national park activities such as golfing and theatergoing.
The National Park Service offers an abundance of planning tips, directions, background and activity suggestions online at nps.gov/cuva/index.htm
When you arrive at the park, check in at the Boston Store Visitor Center. It’s a convenient place to pick up trail maps and learn about scheduled events and places to visits. You also can update yourself on trail conditions and closures that may have changed recently and ask to see the short park video.
Take a few minutes to examine the building that was erected around 1836 to “store” objects. It later became a post office and a private residence before it was re-purposed as a visitor center. Exhibits provide background and history on the canal boats that operated nearby.
Details: 330-657-2752 or nps.gov/cuva/index.htm
A variety of options await those looking for overnight accommodations.
Inside the park, rooms are available year-round at the Inn at Brandywine Falls (330-467-1812 or innatbrandywinefalls.com), a six-room bed and breakfast in a Greek revival house that overlooks Brandywine Falls, and at Stanford House (330-657-2909), which is accessible to park trails.
Those who prefer something even closer to nature and inside the park will find five primitive campsites available to Towpath Trail and backcountry trail users from Memorial Day weekend through Oct. 31. Details: 330-657-2909, ext. 119.
Two trails are easily accessible to almost anyone.
The 19.5-mile Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail passes by the door of the Boston Store. Designed for walking, hiking and biking, it’s wheelchair- and stroller-friendly.
Originally, the pathway for the canal that runs parallel to the Cuyahoga River, it extends the length of the park and beyond and offers connections to other trails and historic sites in the park.
A short detour from the Towpath Trail takes you to Beaver Marsh. This 1.5- mile wetland boardwalk is designated as an Ohio Watchable Wildlife Area. You’re likely to spot beavers, otters, muskrats and water birds. It’s suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.
For those looking for more direct access to the marsh, parking is located at the Ira Trailhead, 3801 Riverview Road, Peninsula.
With more than 125 miles of hiking trails to choose, it’s easy to find one that challenges fitter, more experienced hikers. Sections of the Buckeye Trail offer 5.6- and 7-mile segments with elevation changes between 200 and 250 feet. Consult a map for one that suits your abilities, then check with park rangers about current conditions that might require crossing water on stones or other obstacles.
Seated but scenic
If hiking and biking is not your idea of a vacation treat, you can view the park’s scenery through the window of a train run by the Cuyahoga Scenic Railway.
Vintage trains run through the heart of the park as they travel from Akron to Independence or Canton and back.
Those desiring the best of both worlds can bike the Towpath Trail in one direction, then return by train. The train can be flagged down at boarding stations by waving both arms. Trains run Wednesdays to Sundays from April through October, with additional special excursions throughout the winter.
Ticket booths are at Rockside Station, 7900 Old Rockside Road, Independence; Peninsula Depot, 1630 Mill St., Peninsula; and Akron Northside Station, 27 Ridge St., Akron.
Details: 800-468-4070 or CVSR.com
This national park offers more than tales around the campfire to engage and entertain visitors.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is adjacent to both the Blossom Music Center and the Porthouse Theatre Company.
It can hold more than 19,000 people with 5,700 seated in the pavilion and 13,500 more in spaces on the lawn. It also features a restaurant, an art gallery and picnic areas.
From July 4 to Labor Day, it’s the summer home for the Cleveland Orchestra for its Blossom Music Festival of weekend concerts.
In addition, Live Nation uses it as a venue for rock and metal festivals such as Ozzfest and solo performances by singers such as Broadway star Idina Menzel, who will close the Live Nation season Sept. 19.
Also located on the grounds of the Blossom Music Center is Porthouse Theatre (330-672-3884 or www.kent.edu/porthouse). Now in its 47th season, Porthouse Theatre stages a trio of musicals during its three-month summer season. “Hairspray,” the season’s final production, runs through Aug. 16.