After several canceled trips recently, and one hell of a week at work, I needed a quick night out just to recharge. So I packed up the family and headed to the Cuyahoga Vally National Park (CVNP), located between Akron and Cleveland Ohio. This park is about 15 minutes from my home, and I've hiked every trail of the park but never spent the night there. Given the last minute nature of the trip, with no time to head anywhere further, it was time to try out the CVNP "backcountry" sites.
The CVNP is an interesting mix of people and nature. Much of the park is bisected by the Ohio Canal Towpath trail, a mostly flat trail was established along the canal, so that mules could pull cargo boats. In all, there are over 125 miles of trails in the CVNP. On some trails you'll rarely see another person, and other trails will take you through popular small towns for hikers and bicyclists like Peninsula or farmer's markets like Szalay's (get yourself a fresh roasted cob of sweet corn with butter for $2). There are also a number of homestead style farms in the area that sometimes have organic farming info days.
So last night wasn't about hiking for us, it was about getting out under the stars and relaxing. The closest parking to the sites is a half mile away, but you could plan a hike of 15 miles or more to get you to the sites. The CVNP Backcountry campsites ($18/night for non-members, $15/night ) are the only place in the park where visitors are allowed to camp out. There are five spots available in a meadow, with well manicured trails leading to each one. They are spaced at least 50 feet apart (minimum) and each spot has enough room for two 4-person tents and the really nice picnic tables that are already there. Because of their positioning, all spots have nice evening shade and partial to full morning sun. The spots are well manicured mown grass, and include a food pole (no bears in the area, but lots and lots of critters). In some ways this is luxurious camping: firewood is pre-cut and ready for you, and they keep a potable water buffalo fully stocked, and even have a relatively clean port-o-potty (100 yards from campsites, so no port-o-potty smells). When you walk up to the area, you're greeted by very courteous workers from the CVNP association, who escort you to your site and show you around a little - something that normally might be a little odd for "backcountry", but given the high traffic of this national park, it's good to know someone is keeping the area private.
A full view of our campsite (brought along the luxury bomber tent for the short trip)
As someone who's camped at almost every state park in northeast ohio, and walked most of the trails in the area, there's definitely no better hiking/camping experience in the immediate area. Even though there are other campers nearby, the high plant growth and bendy trails between campsites keeps things feeling private.
High vegetation keeps the campsite feeling private
More of the surrounding scenery
If you're a northeast Ohio native and need a quick, easy, and close-by hiking and camping experience, the CVNP spots are a solid win. If you're in the region or passing through and would like to mix up some hiking, camping, and quaint small town or small farm experiences, you could do a lot worse.
- Private feel
- Serene settings with lots of songbirds and nature sounds and scenes
- Luxurious accommodations and clean
- All fires have be in a communal fire ring, shared by all campers, so no fires by your tent
- You can lightly hear traffic from the turnpike
- Bring an air-mattress!! The ground has been tamped down by years of tenters, and I was feeling it on my Ridgerest. My wife faired fairly better on her Therm-a-rest trail pro. Those with a NeoAir will probably fair the best.