After attending the wedding of a friend from Kindergarten (what a thing to say!) in Bedford, Pennsylvania this past weekend my girlfriend I took the opportunity to visit the youngest child of the National Parks system, Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio. The park is about two hours west of Pittsburgh Airport and we stopped at Fallingwater on the way.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the Park; the imagery we found online lacked a single characteristic that defines most parks (such as Half Dome in Yosemite or the arches in Arches), instead featuring various meadows, rivers, waterfalls, and train tracks. The map of the park hints at its unique layout, situated directly between Akron to the south and Cleveland to the north and with highways bisecting the park horizontally. Indeed we never felt too far from the road at any point in the park; as in many of the parks of the East, you won’t find the extreme solitude here that you will in the larger, remoter parks of the West.
In fact I must admit that we’d added this visit to our itinerary mostly for the sake of crossing this park off our list while we were in the neighborhood and had rather low expectations for the park itself.
These expectations were exceeded on our first hike around Ritchie Ledges where we saw some wonderful rock formations (pictured), beautiful meadows and had a moderately strenuous four mile walk. The rain alternated with sunniness throughout and the forest smelled richly; creeks and rivers sounded continually along with the birds. The overwatch wasn’t much of one, even for a cloudy day; the feeling was one of closeness with nature rather than the remote hugeness of the views in some other parks. We had the trail almost to ourselves and the ranger even encouraged us to go off trail to explore the crannies of the ledges; a NP first for us both.
Afterwards we hiked from the Stanford House to Brandywine Falls, the latter being the signature attraction of the park if there is one. Again this hike exceeded all expectations; there was enough elevation gain to get a decent sweat up, you’re frequently passing cool creeks, and the waterfall could hold its own against many of the others we’ve seen (though not those of proud Yosemite). We were both reminded of some of our hikes in Olympic National Park where we had rainy weather, rich forests, and interesting water features (though Cuyahoga has not the beaches or mountains). Brandywine Falls is accessible by car and as such was one of the few places on our hikes that was almost busy.
Before leaving the following afternoon we did two more hikes; one around Kendall Lake and the Salt Run Tail, then another around Buttermilk Fall. I found myself thinking of home during these hikes; besides the Lake I found our first walk uninteresting (besides the portions around the lake, pictured at the top) and Buttermilk was simply lesser than Brandywine and lacking the nice lead-up hike. At this point I became convinced that our 48 hours was sufficient for the park, at least for one visit.
The most interesting artifact of these hikes was a strangely placed tunnel along the lake loop that appeared to be built to no purpose being under an easily-surmountable hill. A placard on the other side explained that this tunnel was built to allow guests to walk under a toboggan run that featured prominently at the lake in the area’ heyday of the 1930s-40s. Strange to think that an area now so desolate was so recently a hub of activity – how quickly a place of activity became a place of history!
Finally I have to mention the delightful AirBnB where we stayed during for our time in Cuyahoga. Besides being a beautiful, peaceful property with a cozy apartment, usable bedside fireplace and lovely patio the host, Wade, was wonderful. He was knowledgable about restaurants and hikes, unfailingly sweet and thoughtful, and took us on a tour of his incredible antiques collection including the Messerschmitt Kabinenroller pictured below. If you visit I can’t recommend this AirBnB enough; and please say “hi” to Wade for me.
One last note: the food at The Lounge at PIT is exceptional!