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Cuyahoga Valley National Park: A Dog-Friendly Urban Escape

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is uniquely located in a major metropolitan area. Just minutes from Cleveland, this river valley is a large oasis in the middle of highways and city neighborhoods. With over 125 miles of hiking trails, this dog-friendly national park offers plenty of places to discover with your pup.

Though a short distance from the urban areas of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park seems worlds away. The park is a refuge for native plants and wildlife, and provides routes of discovery for visitors. The winding Cuyahoga River gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands.

https://www.nps.gov/cuva/index.htm

The development of this national park began in the 1910s and 1920s with the establishment of Cleveland and Akron metropolitan park districts. These park districts were established following a desire for urban dwellers to explore the Cuyahoga River Valley.

The regional parks protected specific places, but by the 1960s, locals began to fear that urban sprawl would overwhelm this valley. Eventually, local leaders decided that the valley should become a National Park Service site. After urban national recreation areas were established in New York City and San Francisco as part of President Nixon’s “Parks to the People” policy, a precedent was set for spending national resources on urban spaces. Despite these precedents, there was still significant resistance to “diverting” funds from the western “crown jewels” like Yellowstone National Park.

Despite this resistance, President Ford signed a bill establishing Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in December of 1974. It was still several years before the park gained national park status. Cuyahoga Valley owes this change to Congressman Regula who championed the park in the House of Representatives. In 2000, Regula succeeded in changing the official name to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This made Cuyahoga Valley the United States’ 56th national park.

Dog-Friendly Activities in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

There are only a handful of dog-friendly national parks, and Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of them. There are about 125 miles of hiking trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and about 110 of these miles are open to dogs. Additionally, 20 miles of the paved Towpath Trail also permits pets.

Although dogs are allowed on trails, they do need to follow a few simple guidelines. Pets need to be leashed (6 feet or shorter) on all park lands at all times. Additionally, pets should not be left unattended and pet waste must be picked up and disposed of in an appropriate trash receptacle.

Also, please note that like every national park, dogs are not allowed in any park building. Unless they are a service dog, of course. Additionally, pets in Cuyahoga Valley are not allowed on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Train or on the East Rim mountain bike trails. For more information about pets in Cuyahoga Valley, visit the official pet policy page.

We were so happy to visit a pet-friendly national park again. There were only a handful of pet-friendly national parks out west, so we really appreciate the dog-friendly eastern national parks. But with most of the trails in this national park are open to dogs, choosing which trails to hike was one of our hardest tasks.

The Ledges

We only had a half-day to spend at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, so, unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore all 110 miles of dog-friendly hiking trails. To help us make our decision on which trail to hike, we used Cuyahoga Valley’s recommended hikes page.

The Ledges trail was the first trail on this recommended hikes page and we weren’t disappointed with our hike here.

This is probably the most popular overlook in the park and for good reason. This rock outcropping gives an unobstructed view across the valley facing west. From the parking lot, walk to the southwest corner of the grass field (the shelter is north of the parking lot). Sunsets offer some of the most impressive photos. Hike the 2.2 mile loop trail if you have the time.

https://www.nps.gov/cuva/planyourvisit/recommended-hikes.htm

While the overlook was nice, we highly recommend hiking the 2.2 mile loop. The trail meanders through mostly forested terrain with moss-covered rocky outcroppings. The Ritchie Ledges are formed from textured sand and quartz and walking among them you can’t help but appreciate the landscape around you. Just check out the beautiful greenery contrasted against the rock in our pictures below.

Glia hiking along the Ledges Loop Trail. This photo was taken along the trail beneath the main overlook.

The only drawback to this trail was the high numbers of chipmunks. Both dogs had a hard time focusing as we started our hike on this trail. If you have a high prey drive dog, bring plenty of treats so you can reward calm walking as you begin this hike.

Brandywine Falls

Our second stop at Cuyahoga Valley National Park was Brandywine Falls. Brandywine Falls is a 65-foot waterfall that is accessed by a partially accessible boardwalk.

We had spent a fair amount of time at the Ledges area, so we did not hike the full loop at Brandywine Falls. But we did walk down the boardwalk for a quick glimpse of the falls. They were pretty, but it was fairly busy at the overlook, detracting from some of the enjoyment.

Glia on the boardwalk near Brandywine Falls

If you visit this area with your dogs, take the time to hike the loop trail. We typically enjoy our visits the most when we leave the crowds behind. If we had taken the time to hike the loop, we would probably have liked this stop more. Below is what the national park has to say about the trail at Brandywine Falls.

The 1.5-mile Brandywine Gorge Trail lets you explore beyond the waterfall. It starts near the bed & breakfast and follows the edge of the gorge, eventually taking you down to creek level. The trail is worth revisiting in the spring to view vernal pools that temporarily fill with water, attracting breeding salamanders. The views of the creek and the layers of rock it has exposed are also worth the walk.

https://www.nps.gov/cuva/learn/historyculture/brandywine-falls.htm

Unfortunately, after our stop at Brandywine Falls, we had to hop back in the car and finish our drive to Shenandoah National Park. We hope to return someday to hike more of Cuyahoga Valley’s many dog-friendly hiking trails.

Camping at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park does not have a campground. Campers will have to make reservations in an outside campground.

For those who aren’t set on camping, there are two lodges available inside the park: Standford House and the Inn at Brandywine Falls. Unfortunately, pets are not permitted in Standford House, as this is considered a national park building.

The Inn at Brandywine Falls does allow pets to overnight in their rustic kennels. Their pet policy reads as follows: “Pets are not permitted inside with their humans due to concerns with allergies, soiling and noise. Reasonably well-adjusted pets are welcome to stay in our stable in rustic kennels we have for the purpose. Please inquire. “

For more details about camping near Cuyahoga Valley National Park, visit the nps.gov site.

Harrison Lake State Park

We ended up camping at an Ohio State Park about 2.5 hours away from Cuyahoga Valley. We didn’t spend much time at this state park, but they had wonderful showers and both an amazing sunrise and sunset during our stay.

Dog-Friendly Activities in the Surrounding Areas

I am sure there are plenty of other dog-friendly activities in and around Cleveland, Ohio. But with over 100 miles of dog-friendly hiking trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park itself, do you need more dog-friendly options?

But if you are looking for more to do around Cleveland with your pup, check out Dogs in the CLE. This site offers plenty of suggestions for dog-friendly activities in this region of Ohio.

And if you are thinking about visiting other dog-friendly national parks in the area, stay tuned for our posts about Shenandoah National Park and Indiana Dunes National Park.

Overall Dog-Friendliness of Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley gets four paws up from us for its dog-friendliness. It is so lovely to be able to visit a national park and be able to hike the trails with our leashed pups. We definitely could have planned to spend more than a half-day here.

While a small and relatively urban national park, the trails we explored were still beautiful and worth the hike. We are not planning a return visit yet, but if we are in the area again, we won’t hesitate to stop by to hike more of the lovely trails Cuyahoga Valley has to offer.

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