The Best Day Trip From Cleveland: Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Other Local Sights

A visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park is an easy day trip from Cleveland, Ohio.

A day trip from Cleveland to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Last Updated on 12/21/21 by Rose Palmer

One of my travel goals is to visit all of the National Parks in the US. As I continued my Midwest road trip through Ohio, I was happy to add another stamp in my National Park Passport. My short stop in Cleveland gave me a quick taste of this revitalized city. But most important, the day trip from Cleveland to Cuyahoga Valley National Park let me add another checkmark in the visited column of my National Parks list.

I arrived in Cleveland from the Quilt Gardens in Elkhart Indiana in the early afternoon which only gave me a little time to explore the sights along the shores of Lake Erie. Top on my list was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Like many of my generation, I have my favorite rock and roll music and bands that I listened to growling up, and I was eager to see the displays for some of my favorites.

Rock and roll Hall of Fame

If the building that houses the Rock and roll Hall of Fame looks a little familiar, it’s because it was designed by the same architect that designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris – I.M. Pei. Within this imaginative architecture are seven levels of permanent and temporary exhibits that feature the past and present personalities and the movers and shakers of the rock and roll world.

The distinctive architecture of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland

A little like Dr. Who’s Tardis, the building is bigger inside than it appears from the outside. So why is the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland? In the early 1950’s a local DJ used the term “rock and roll” to describe the R&B music that he was playing on his nightly radio show – and the rest is history as they say.

An exhibit that celebrates Cleveland’s Rock and Roll roots

The museum has a variety of permanent exhibits as well as rotating special exhibitions. You can easily spend a whole day here, but since I only had the afternoon, I focused on the various exhibits that described the evolution of Rock and Roll.

It all starts with the beginning of Rock and Roll

Each display is jam packed with information about the musicians and includes numerous personal items and memorabilia. At times, history exhibits can feel distant and disconnected to the present, but this was history that I had lived through and that I could relate to. I was seeing tributes to many of the musical icons from my youth and it brought back vivid memories of lazy summer teenage days listening to the latest pop songs on the radio.

Happy to see an exhibit dedicated to one of my favorite bands growing up

Before the museum closed, I made sure to also check out the all new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here I found the plaques honoring each inductee since the original event in 1986.

Some of the plaques recognizing the many inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I walked along the lakefront as the sun set, and decided that I would have liked to explore some of the other attractions in the area. The Great Lakes Science Center, the Steamship William G. Mather Museum, the International Woman’s Air and Space Museum, and the USS COD would all have been interesting.  But for the next day, I had my sights set on seeing another national park.

A small portion of the Cleveland Lakefront. The Rock and Roll Museum is on the left and the Great Lakes Science Center is on the right.

A Day trip from Cleveland to Cuyahoga Valley National Park

In the morning I headed to nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park, an easy 25 minute drive from my hotel. This was initially a National Recreation Area before it was designated a National Park in 2000. The park celebrates the  rural and canal history of the people in the Cuyahoga Valley, not just the natural resources of the area.

This is not a national park like the ones out west with vast vistas of uninterrupted scenery from horizon to horizon. It is a relatively small park, only about 50 square miles, and sits between the two major urban areas of Cleveland and Akron. The buzz of highway traffic was always present in the background even when I was surrounded by woods and waterfalls.

There are the outdoor natural attractions you would expect in a US National Park, but there are also man made attractions like the golf courses, ski resorts and the Hale Farm and Village which is a living history museum set in the 1860’s.

At the Boston Mill Visitors Center I stamped my passport and got basic information about the park. It was a rainy and dreary day, so I did not mind spending time with the exhibits here or at the Canal Exploration Center (my first stop in the park) where I learned more about the history of the Ohio and Erie Canal.

The canal towpath is great for biking and hiking and takes you past historic lock like this one

The park offers plenty of outdoor activities in the form of 125 miles of hiking trails, biking the 20 mile towpath trail along the canal or fishing. Despite the bad weather, I checked out two of the most popular outdoor sights, the Brandywine Falls and the Everett Covered Bridge.

The 60 foot high Brandywine Falls is easily accessible via a a short boardwalk and wooden stairs. Unique historic B&B lodgings can be found within the park at the nearby Inn at Brandywine Falls which overlooks the waterfalls (next time I will plan ahead better and stay here).

Everett Covered Bridge is the last remaining covered bridge in the county and is a beautiful reconstructed example of the more than 2000 covered bridges that once crossed over the many waterways in Ohio.

Since the weather was not cooperating, I chose to see the park via a train ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. This excursion train which is made up of a hodge podge of historic cars, travels the length of the park along the Cuyahoga River.

Peninsula is one of the stations on the Cuyahoga Scenic Railroad
Getting on the train at the Peninsula Station
Happy volunteers help to man the train

This was a very relaxing way to see the park topography without getting wet and muddy. Plus, there was a cafe car so I could get a snack and hot drink while I enjoyed the ride. During good weather, you can also take your bike on the train and bike in one direction and then take the train back.

My final stop in the park was the colorful Szalay’s Farmer’s Market, a colorful and tasty stop where I picked up a few  snacks and sweet fresh corn to take home.

At Szalay’s Farmer’s Market

On the following morning, before leaving Cleveland to head back to the east coast, I made a few more brief stops to satisfy other personal interests: the Christmas Story House and Museum, and finding the Chihuly glass displays in Cleveland and Akron.

A Christmas Story House

Each year at Christmas our family has traditional movies that we like to watch. One of the classic favorites is A Christmas Story which was filmed here in Cleveland in 1983. The house that was used as Ralphie’s home in the movie has been restored to look like the original movie sets, leg lamp and all.

The Christmas Story House and Museum  provides tours of the house, displays a variety of memorabilia from the movie and also offers the chance for overnight stays for those diehard Christmas Story fans. And of course, leg lamps are available for purchase in all sizes.

Finding Chihuly in Cleveland

I love the work of master glass artist Dale Chihuly and look for it when I travel. I found two of his large installations in the Cleveland area.

At the University Hospital Ahuja Medical Center in nearby Beechwood, Ohio, I found one of Dale Chihuly’s large public displays:  36 foot long design made up of over 100 individual Persian glass pieces in shades of blues, greens and yellows decorated a large wall in the hospital’s cafeteria. This Chihuly sculpture is also visible from the hospital lobby and is just one of 250 art pieces throughout the health center.

At the nearby University of Akron, Chihuly used the new medium of rigid polyurethane to create a 40 foot high sculpture made up of blue tinted “rocks”. Chihuly normally works with glass as his canvas, but as this piece stands in front of one of the Polymer Science and Engineering buildings, this strong and weather resistant polymer is an appropriate substitute.

Where to stay in Cleveland

I’ve mentioned before that I love boutique hotels that take historic buildings and give them a modern twist. That is exactly what I found at the Kimpton Schofield Hotel in Cleveland. The building’s façade has been restored to its 1902 Victorian splendor, but inside, the décor is a fun mix of modern and whimsical elements.

My king room was big, comfortable and very clean, and the bathroom was the biggest hotel bathroom I’ve ever had. There were his and hers sides with a huge walk in shower in between. I would have loved this bathroom in my house.

The Kimpton Schofield is centrally located in downtown Cleveland and it was an easy 15 minute walk to the lakefront sights. The hotel does not have a parking garage but it does offer valet parking for a fee.

Where to Eat in Cleveland

I had dinner at my hotel restaurant (which was very good) because after a long rainy day I was too lazy to go somewhere else. However, there are a lot of choices nearby that I wanted to try. Specifically, The Arcade Cleveland which opened in 1890 as the first indoor shopping mall, has been restored into a multi use venue and features a variety of dining options.

Nearby, E 4th Street is also lined with shoulder to shoulder restaurant options so I will have a tough choice the next time I am in Cleveland.

I am glad that I had a chance to finally visit Cleveland, even though it was a short one. And I did get to add another stamp to my National Park Passport book – that makes number 32.


Thanks for visiting.



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