Cuyahoga Valley National Park
For city slickers with a love for nature, the Akron region offers the perfect solution - Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Just miles from the heart of the city’s downtown, Ohio’s only national park encompasses 33,000 acres of ravines, forest, waterways and other antidotes for urban stress.
The park draws nearly 2.5 million visitors a year, ranking it among the top 10 most popular national parks in the country, says Mary Pat Doorley, a spokeswoman for the parks system.
Many come to travel the Towpath Trail, a hard-pack path once used by mules pulling barges down the Ohio & Erie Canal.
These days, the trail is the peaceful home to strollers, bikes, wheelchairs, and the Towpath marathon, which has been run yearly since 1992.
Still, the path’s history as Ohio’s lifeline to the rest of the nation remains evident from the markers, exhibits and locks along the canal.
The curious can watch the locks at work during seasonal weekend demonstrations at the Canal Visitor Center, which also exhibits 12,000 years of the valley’s history, including the canal’s heyday.
For bikers looking for a relaxing way to ease their journey through the park, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers a deal that is hard to beat. For $2, the railroad’s Bike Aboard program allows visitors to bike one-way down the Towpath Trail then return on one of its historic diesel trains, which run through the valley. Bikers may also choose to take the train first and ride their cycles back.
“It’s really caught on,” says Kelly Steele, railroad director of marketing. “It’s awesome.”
The railroad has been running the tourist trains since 1973. Steele says no matter how many times she rides, she never tires of seeing the delight the trains provoke in old and young.
“When you see a 3-year-old literally running around in circles because the train is coming, that’s why we’re here,” she says.
The 26-mile ride also gives passengers some breathtaking views of nature as the train passes a bald eagle’s nest and blue heron rookeries that are otherwise out of the way.
In the depths of winter, the train can reveal a snow-blanketed park where the fallen foliage makes it easier to see the coyotes, wild turkeys and especially deer that make the park home. “We’re abundant with deer,” Doorley says.
Indeed winter can be a great time to visit the park – turning the 60-foot-tall Brandywine Falls, a visitor favorite, into a frozen cascade, and opening up all kinds of physical fun.
The Winter Sports Center at Kendall Lake Shelter offers snowshoeing and cross-country skiing and a hot drink to return to. Sledding hills and hiking are nearby. And downhill skiing is available at the privately run Brandywine and Boston Mills ski resorts.