The National Park Service commissioned a series of videos in the eighties and I found the Cuyahoga video at our public library. I was so thankful I did because there is so much more to this park that I wouldn’t have known about in advance. Firstly there is a scenic railroad that runs the entire length of the park. It’s about a 3 hour round trip and you can get on and off throughout the park. Also, if you bike, you can bike the trails and pick up the train to get back to your car. AMAZING. This park was literally the best mix of history and outdoor experiences we have been to, I can’t wait to go back!
We intended to start our day at the Akron train station, ride the train and get off to explore the park. Unfortunately the train didn’t leave until 10:30 am and by 8:15 the kids had been done with breakfast for an hour and were driving us insane in the hotel room. SCRATCH THE WAIT, we decided to drive up to the Ranger Station and get our booklets so we could do them on the train. The closest station to us was the Boston Mill Store so we started there. Cuyahoga National Park houses the remains of the Ohio Erie Canal and has wonderful bike/walking paths that follow the old mule path. Great for young kids, or those who don’t do well on uneven ground. Boston Mill was a great place to start, we picked up our books and then hiked the tow path a bit to complete the activities. Firstly the activities were pretty in depth there was a scavenger hunt that took about 45 min and ended in a letter boxing stamp find. Inside the building there is a reconstructed partial canal boat and a great display of tools that were used to build the boats.
In addition to the Boston building there is also an antique service station and a general store that serves locally made ice cream. We ended up doing so many activities that we missed our next scheduled train pick up. So we decided to drive up to the canal museum and then pick the train up at the main station.
The Canal museum was great! There was a working lock outside of it which was great, because though we had walked a dry lock and some of the canal bed, the kids could really see how a lock worked. The visitor center had a ton of interactive exhibits, including a dress up section and some touch screen computer animations. The second floor held more exhibits but my kids were pretty rowdy and we didn’t get to do more up there other than find the answers to the Ranger booklet. By this time Wild Thing was wilding and exhausted. Lemon was frustrated by the complexity of the book and the long day, and Ranger was freaking out about whether we would get to ride the train. When we completed the book the kids were sworn in a great Ranger who discovered that they had no patches at this station. You get a badge, but you can earn a patch by doing one of 3 additional things, including riding the train, which we were headed to do. She took pity on us and was going to give it to us pre-train ride, BECAUSE WE HAD MISSED IT AGAIN, and were going to head down the line to do half a ride.
AT LAST we made it to the train. We bought our tickets at Peninsula station and waited about 10 minutes. Thomas the train was actually on a spare track but his face was covered with a tarp. Wild Thing was still impressed, though concerned, so we told him Thomas was sleeping. There are eateries near by and I had hoped to eat at one but we really ran out of time the entire day. There is also a lumber mill on the same road, across from the auxiliary parking lot which was fascinating to my children and provided a number of opportunities for Wild Thing to scream “RUCK.” Then the train came! Blew the baby away, he was so stoked and literally beside himself with joy at his first train ride.
The Cuyahoga Scenic Railroad is NOT TO BE MISSED. There are great cars that have a tour over the loudspeaker. Out of respect for other passengers we moved past those cars and into one that wasn’t a tour. There is so much to see out the windows and you can do the Junior Ranger Bingo out of the window. This Junior Ranger book was so great my kids completed the entire thing, even after they got their badge. As we were sitting a volunteer came by with a bag full of pelts and an i pad full of pictures. She told us about the park history and showed the pelts and pictures to kids. She also told us about the Beaver Marsh, which used to be dump/scrap yard. The Park service acquired it, planning to make a parking lot. Once they got it cleaned up there was a delay in making it a lot and beavers moved in building a dam and flooding the whole place. So instead of shiny black top they have a lovely marsh that is home to over 240 species of wildlife! Another delightful surprise was the dining car. It’s more of a snack bar but it was enough to buy hot dogs and nachos to tide the kids over. We also bought a train whistle and engineer hat for Wild Thing and he refuses to take it off. There is also beer, wine and coffee. The coffee is a locally roasted brand and apparently has been formulated to match the coffee that was historically served on railroads in the 1930’s. I thought that was neat and was sad there were no bags for sale on the train.
When we returned to Peninsula we realized that Boston Mill was still open and decided to run over and see if we could get our patches. We did! We also took that opportunity to ask the Ranger about all the local falls. We had been there all day and not seen any of the famous falls. He recommended with kids our age we just drive to Brandywine Falls, park and walk down. This was an excellent suggestion as the baby was already asleep in the car and the older two were melting fast. We drove over and “hiked” down the boardwalk and stairs. The falls are beautiful and crowded. The kids were disappointed to be above them and not in them. There is also a little B&B just up the road which I would like to stay at someday, sans kids! After the falls we piled into the car and headed to our hotel. Everyone slept so well that night!
We did the entire park in one day. I do not recommend this. I can’t wait to go back to this park, which you can probably infer from the length of this post. I had lower expectations because of the unique geography of Cuyahoga includes towns and homes inside the park. I hadn’t thought that would work well, but it was fantastic. I can’t wait to until my kids are better on bikes and we can go back and do some trail riding and hike to bigger falls. This park would be fabulous for a 3 day weekend family getaway. The kids learned so much about canal travel and the importance of moving goods and materials. This park is a must see!