One day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is all the time you need to visit the highlights. With one day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, you can hike one or two short trails, spot wildlife in Beaver Marsh, visit a few waterfalls, and ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Quick Facts About Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. In 2019, 2.2 million people visited this national park, putting it 13th on the list of most visited national parks in the USA.
The Cuyahoga River runs north – south, forming the backbone of the park. The Ohio and Erie Towpath and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad run alongside this river.
This national park lacks the “remoteness” that you find in other parks in the USA. Houses, small communities, and markets share space with Cuyahoga Valley National Park, giving this park an urban feel. But that has its advantages. You will always have cellular service and it’s just a short drive to restaurants, or even back to your hotel, making this park very easy to visit.
Also, there is no fee to enter Cuyahoga Valley National Park and no park entrance booths, so you don’t have to worry about waiting in the dreaded long lines to enter the park.
One Day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park: Best Things to Do
With one day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, here are the best things to see and do:
- Hike the Ledges Trail
- Visit Brandywine Falls
- See the Everett Covered Bridge
- Hike to Blue Hen Falls
- Visit Beaver Marsh
- Ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
One Day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park Itinerary
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go and the driving routes, of which there are several). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Morning: The Ledges Trail
The Ledges Trail is our favorite hike in the park and it is a great introduction to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
For most of this hike, the trail follows along massive walls of moss-covered sandstone, aka the Ledges. As the trail loops around these massive walls, the view is always changing, which helps keep things interesting.
This hike is 2.6 miles round trip and it is rated as moderate. Kids as young as five can handle this hike. It takes 1 to 2 hours to hike the entire loop.
The trailhead is located in the Virginia Kendall area of the park, which is a 10 minute drive from Hudson.
Late Morning: Everett Road Covered Bridge & Beaver Marsh
From the Ledges Trail, head west into Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Just west of the Ledges Trailhead you will pass Kendall Lake. It’s a pretty lake but it’s skippable, if you only want to see the highlights. If you choose to stop here, it only takes a few minutes to pop out of your car for the view. There are also hiking trails that start here, but there are better ways to spend your time today, so I recommend keeping your visit here short.
Continue the drive to the Everett Road Covered Bridge. From the parking lot, it is just a short walk to get to the bridge.
The Everett Road Covered Bridge is the only remaining covered bridge in Summit County, Ohio. In the 1800’s, Ohio had over 2,000 covered bridges.
Continue south to Beaver Marsh.
Park at the Beaver Marsh Parking lot on Riverview Road. To get to the viewing platforms, take the Ira Trail from the parking lot and turn left onto the towpath. It takes between 5 and 10 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the boardwalk overlooks. Overall, it is a 0.75 mile round-trip walk from the parking lot to the viewing platforms.
Beaver Marsh was once a salvage yard. In the 1980’s, volunteers of the Sierra Club removed the old cars and materials from the area. Around the same time, beavers built a dam across the Erie and Ohio Canal, which caused flooding. Wetland plants flourished, wildlife returned to the area, and this is now one of the best places in Cuyahoga Valley to spot wildlife. Keep a lookout for beavers, great blue herons, and otters.
You have two options for lunch. You can either visit Szalay’s Farm and Market or the Howe Farmers Market (if they are open) or you can exit the park and have lunch in one of the nearby towns.
Both Szalay’s Farm and Market and the Howe Meadow Countryside Farmers Market are located near Beaver Marsh.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from early June to Labor Day Weekend, Szalay’s runs an eatery, where you can purchase turkey burgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, and more. If your visit is in the summer, but not over the weekend, you can still visit the farmer’s market to pick up fresh produce. In the fall, see if you can find your way through their 3 acre corn maze. Learn more on the official website.
Just down the road from Szalay’s is the Howe Meadow Countryside Farmers Market. Every Saturday from early May through October, you can shop from more than 50 farmers, artists, and chefs. Learn more here.
If the markets are not open during your visit, or if you prefer to grab lunch somewhere else, there are a few options outside of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
We had lunch at Piada Italian Street Food in Cuyahoga Falls. This restaurant serves create-your-own Italian dishes with a similar idea as Chipotle. Also in Cuyahoga Falls are the Blue Door Bakery, which serves European cuisine and pastries for breakfast and lunch, and First Watch, which serves healthy breakfast and brunch options until 2:30 pm. Cuyahoga Falls is a 12 minute drive from Beaver Marsh.
The Mustard Seed Market and Café is a good pick for vegetarian food. This is located in Montrose and it is a 15 minute drive from Beaver Marsh.
Early Afternoon: Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
There are two different ways to see Brandywine Falls.
The quickest option is to walk out on the boardwalk trails to the viewpoint, snap your photo, and then head back to your car.
Or, hike the 1.5 mile Brandywine Gorge Trail. This trail loops through the deciduous forest, crosses over top of the falls, and then you end on the boardwalk trail and overlook, before returning to your car (if you do this in a clockwise direction).
The Brandywine Gorge Trail is nice, but if you are short on time, or not all that into hiking, you don’t miss anything by skipping it. The highlight is the view from the boardwalk platform…just be prepared to walk down, and then back up, quite a few stairs.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: The National Park Service says that this is the busiest place in the park to visit. If you cannot get a parking space, you can try again later this afternoon or evening.
Mid-Afternoon: More Waterfalls
After your visit to Brandywine Falls, you have the option to hike to Blue Hen Falls or drive the northern end of the park to see Bridal Veil Falls.
Blue Hen Falls
To get to Blue Hen Falls, park at the Boston Mills Visitor Center. Cross Riverview Road and follow the signs to Blue Hen Falls.
It is a 2.8 mile out-and-back hike that is moderately strenuous to get to the waterfall. Along the hike, there is one long set of stairs. You will go down these on the way to Blue Hen Falls and then climb back up them towards the end of the hike.
Blue Hen Falls
Bridal Veil Falls
This makes a nice alternative if you cannot visit Blue Hen Falls because of the trail closure.
Bridal Veil Falls is located at the northern end of the park, so it will take 20 minutes to drive here.
Park at the Bridal Veil Falls Parking lot, cross the street, and follow the boardwalk trails to the waterfall. It is a 0.25 mile walk from the parking lot to the viewing platform. A visit here lasts 15 to 30 minutes.
While you are in the area, consider adding on the quick visit to Tinkers Creek Gorge Scenic Overlook and/or the Canal Exploration Center.
While in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
Late Afternoon & Evening: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs along the Cuyahoga River, cutting through the heart of the park. It runs from Akron in the south to Rockside in the north.
From Wednesday through Sunday, from June through October, the train runs from 9 am to 4:30 pm on weekdays and until 8:30 pm on Saturdays. If you will be in the park on a Saturday, you have the option to ride the train round trip from Rockside in the late afternoon.
A round trip ride on the railway lasts 3.5 hours. If this sounds like something you would like to do, you can adjust this itinerary to ride the train midday, if you will not be here on a Saturday. Just note that the train does not operate 7 days a week.
Another option is to take a “themed” ride on the railroad. Take your pick from wine tastings, beer tastings, Murder Mystery tours, or have dinner on the train.
For more information on the train schedule, pricing, and special events, visit the official website.
If your timing does not work out, or if you prefer to skip the scenic train experience, end your day with dinner outside of the park. We had a good dinner at Oak and Embers Tavern in Hudson. Also in Hudson, Flip Side (burgers and salads), Aladdin’s Eatery (Lebanese, Mediterranean), and Zeppe’s Bistro and Pizzeria all get great reviews.
Best Time to Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park
If you want to visit the farmers markets and ride the scenic railroad, plan your visit from June through October.
Summers can be warm and humid. The average daily highs for July and August are in the mid-80’s. Expect larger crowds on weekends and holidays, especially Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend.
Late spring and fall are wonderful months to visit, when the days are warm and the nights are cool. If you want to capture the park ablaze in fall colors, plan your visit for mid to late October.
Winters can be very cold and in January the high temperature can struggle to get above freezing. Expect snow, frozen waterfalls, but low crowds.
Where to Stay
Cuyahoga Valley National Park can be visited on a day trip from Akron or Cleveland, if you happen to be visiting one of these two cities.
The hotels with the best reviews are located in the Stow-Akron area. This is where we stayed and it worked great. Within 15 minutes we could be at the top sights inside of the park, with lots of great dining options between Hudson and Akron. Tim and I stayed at the Staybridge Suites Akron-Stow-Cuyahoga Falls, but the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Akron Stow, Hampton Inn Stow, and the Home2 Suites by Hilton Stow Akron also get very good reviews.
If you want to stay at a lodge inside of the park, you have two options. The Stanford House offers moderately priced rooms and it is centrally located within Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Park Hours: Cuyahoga Valley National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
Entrance Fee: There is no fee to enter Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You can support the park by donating to the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Get updates on road conditions and trail closures, as you plan your trip and just before your visit, on the National Park Service website.
If you have any questions about how to spend one day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Ohio & the National Parks
CUYAHOGA VALLEY: Learn more about the best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and how to hike the Ledges Trail.
LOUISVILLE: Plan your visit to Louisville with our articles about the Best Things to Do in Louisville and Best Places to Eat in Louisville.
NEW RIVER GORGE NATIONAL PARK: New River Gorge National Park is located in West Virginia and it is one of the newest US national parks. Learn about the best things to do in New River Gorge National Park. We also have a detailed day-by-day itinerary and a guide to the best hikes in New River Gorge.
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK: In our articles about Shenandoah, learn about the top experiences in Shenandoah National Park and 10 great hikes to do while you are here.
NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries. You can also learn more about the national parks and get a FREE printable checklist in our US National Parks Checklist.
DETROIT, MICHIGAN: Learn about the best things to do in Detroit and get tips on how to plan your trip to Detroit.
If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.
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