Girls Weekend Outside
Every so often Dave and Garrett have a cub scout activity that takes them away for a couple days and the girls and I have “Girls Weekends.” One fall weekend the boys had a cub scout camp out with their den so the girls and I headed to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to have a “Girls Weekend Outside.”
Located near Cleveland, it only took about 4 hours for us to drive up to the park. I picked the girls up a couple of hours early from school on a Friday afternoon so we could hike to our campsite before dark. I packed a picnic for the car ride so we wouldn’t have to waste time by stopping to eat. To help plan our trip I read Trail Guide to Cuyahoga Valley National Park which was very helpful and helped us pick the hikes we did.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
When it’s just us girls we like to blast the radio and sing like crazy during long drives. This makes the time pass quickly and before we knew it we were driving into the park. Unlike other National Parks I’ve been to, there are not distinct park boundaries so the park is interspersed between residential areas. This made it a little confusing as we drove in but pretty soon we found the Boston Store Visitor Center. I had reserved our campsite online at the Cuyahoga National Park Conservancy website. There are only 5 sites in the park and they are considered “back country” campsites. The sites are actually in the large back yard of a small bed and breakfast at the Stanford House. The five camp sites are mowed areas of a large grassy meadow. They are only back country in that you can not park at your site and the closest place to park is about 1/2 mile away near the Boston Store Visitor Center. I assume other people use the site as part of a longer hike or bike ride on the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. We did discover later that you could temporarily park near the campsites in order to unload your camping gear. Since we were not aware of this, we parked our car at Boston Store and then walked through a residential neighborhood to the Stanford House.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park Backcountry Campsites
When we arrived at Stanford House, we saw a large group of girl scouts taking part in a program on the grounds. We said hello then looked around to find our site. They are nice little campsites and felt relatively private since they are separated by tall grass. The grass also made for a comfortable and soft sleep. At each site there is a tall pole to hang packs and a picnic table. There is a shared fire ring for all sites to use with fire wood provided. No bathroom facilities are on the grounds, but there is one port a potty. There is also a large tank of potable water for camper use.
Even with only 5 available sites, we were the only campers on this night. Working quickly to beat the dark we set up camp. We brought two small tents so Sophie and Naomi shared one, and Maya and I shared the other. Once our camp was set up, we all crawled into one tent and played cards for a while before going to bed. In the middle of the night we woke up to the sound of steady rain which continued into the morning. Once awake, we had a quick breakfast of cookies since we didn’t feel like cooking our oatmeal in the rain. We then decided to throw on ponchos and take a short hike around the campground. The steam train was running on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway and from camp we could hear its lovely sounding whistle as well as see the steam plumes rising in the sky over the tracks.
At this point Naomi started getting a migraine. Thankfully these have since resolved, but at the time she was occasionally getting migraine headaches which caused her to throw up and feel a great deal of pain. We’ve since determined that eating too much refined sugar was often a trigger. The cookies had definitely been a bad idea. We slowly walked to the car and when we got there Naomi crawled into the back and laid down. We decided to let her rest while we went inside to explore the Visitor Center. Maya picked up a Junior Ranger packet and we watched the park video. We also bought our park magnet and talked to the park rangers to help plan our day.
Cuyahoga Valley Beaver Marsh
Coming back to the car, we drove a short distance to the Beaver Marsh. The rain started to let up so we spent an hour exploring the boardwalk area which overlooks a large marsh made as a result of beaver dams. During the spring and summer this is a great spot to see many different species of birds.
Ledges Overlook Trail
Coming back to the car, Naomi was feeling a little better. We bought her a snack at a nearby Panera Bread and hoped for the best while we drove over to the Ledges Overlook Trail. By the time we arrived at the trail head, Naomi was feeling much better. YAY! We parked and spent the overcast afternoon on this beautiful trail. We passed through a tunnel under the road on our way to the .5 mile long Haskell Run trail head located near the Happy Days Lodge. There is also a CCC statue here honoring the hard work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
We then continued our hike on the 1.8 mile long Ledges trail which the park rangers had encouraged us to do. The trail lends itself to explore the nooks and crannies in between the various rock formations and was my favorite part of the park. We also added the 1.5 mile Pine Grove trail with a .5 mile connection to our hike. None of the hiking was especially strenuous and there were many shade trees to keep hikers cool. There were several areas of long flights of stone stairs but other than these, not a great deal of elevation change. All in all it was a beautiful place to hike.
Once we finished our hike, we drove over to a small store across the street from the Boston Store Visitor Center for a snack of locally made ice cream. It was a welcome treat after hiking all afternoon. Maya also collected her Junior Ranger badge as she had been working on her packet all afternoon.
We then headed back to the campsite to make dinner and relax. The weather was sunny and beautiful at this point so we felt like we had lucked out. Boy were we wrong!
After cooking hotdogs over the campfire, we decided to hike the 3.5 mile round trip trail to Brandywine Falls. The trail was beautiful and fairly easy and the falls were gorgeous!
At this point we started hearing frequent thunder so we hurried to get back to our campsite where we found that only one other site was taken by campers. When we arrived at the camp, we could see dark clouds rolling in and the thunder was really picking up. Dave called us and said the radar was showing severe thunderstorms headed in our direction. We decided we better pack up and head to a local motel. We tore our camp down as fast as we could and I ran to get the car, parking it at the Inn lot while we loaded up. It was crazy how quick the weather was changing! Once everything else was packed, Sophie and I ran over to our site to pick up the last tent. At that moment we looked across the field and could literally see the rain rushing in our direction. We took off running for the car! At the exact moment we closed the car door the sky opened up and it POURED!! We all were screaming and laughing as we headed to the Hampton Inn. It ended up being a fun night of movies and manicures at the motel while it stormed all night. The next morning it was clear and beautiful. We stopped to get our park picture and headed home. It had been a wonderful weekend exploring a beautiful National Park with my favorite girls.
My husband and I hiked the short trail to Brandywine Falls. We also walked to the Beaver Marsh. The Ledges trail was on my list of places to hike but my husband was ready to head home. That just saves more trails for another time.
It’s nice to have a reason to go back, right? 😉
I have yet to go to Cuyahoga even though its one of the closer National Parks to me. I always want to go in the Fall and haven’t been able to so I keep waiting :). Looks like a fun weekend! I like to do that as well. My husband farms so his schedule can get kind of wonky so I can sometimes sneak off for a weekend. Love waterfalls!
I think Cuyahoga would be beautiful in late fall when the leaves are bright. It’s a great place for a weekend trip!