When you think of the National Park Service and its 59 unique Parks, Cuyahoga Valley is likely not the first image that forms in your brain. I note that each Park is unique in this particular case because Cuyahoga Valley is one of the few that people are allowed to inhabit. Established in 2000, it is one of the newer Parks in the system, but has been a popular recreation destination since the 19th Century.
Cuyahoga Valley is wholly unlike every other National Park I have visited, in that the surrounding areas are largely populated. Spanning a vertical stretch of land between Cleveland in the north and Akron in the south, the presence of this pristine natural preserve amidst so much modern industry and population centers seems borderline impossible. For my readers familiar with Chester County, PA, this Park seems very reminiscent of that area, at first. Winding wooded roads, beautiful deciduous trees, rolling hills and valleys, and a rich history dating back hundreds of years call this comparison to mind. However, look a little deeper below the surface and you’ll discover why this area deserves its National Park status.
Gorgeous waterfalls and various other water features lie sprinkled throughout the Park, exposed bedrock outcroppings litter the landscape, and the sheer breadth of hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and other recreational trails earn Cuyahoga Valley a top spot on the list of Midwest vacation destinations.
I only dedicated one day to the Park, having spent my previous day in north-central Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and decided to spend it on two different trails near the center portion of Cuyahoga Valley: Brandywine Falls and The Ledges.
From the Stanford House Trailhead, the Brandywine Falls trail is about 5 miles roundtrip (depending on which portions of the loop you take), and is a moderately difficult hike. I was taken a bit by surprise as to the amount of elevation change on the trail, with a number of steep inclines and declines along the path through the forest. The calm, quiet, leafy trail culminates at the eponymous Brandywine Falls, over which very little water flowed that day but were quite beautiful nonetheless.
The Ledges Trail, though a good bit shorter than the aforementioned Brandywine Falls Trail, is one of the most famous trails in the Park, and actually took me longer to complete, given the amount of times I stopped to admire the scenery. This trail gets its name from the exposed bedrock along the lower portion of the loop hike that, in autumn when multicolored leaves scatter the landscape, offer a visually stunning backdrop for a manageable 3-mile trek. Encountering mostly retirement-aged hikers on the trail, and few of even them, the hike was an excellent opportunity for solitude and reflection in a location much less dramatic, but no less impressive than the towering Rockies I’d left out west just over a week prior…