By Jennie Vaserhelyi
Located along the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a gift for people to enjoy year round. Here, we can’t wait for snow. Cross country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledding, tubing, snowshoeing, winter nature study, and just enjoying the scenery are fun, seasonal ways to enjoy the outdoors. Use this article to make your own to-do list to take advantage of the wonders of winter.
The terrain of Cuyahoga Valley National Park is diverse and often rugged. The river’s bottomlands, steep valley walls, narrow ravines, waterfalls, and rock ledges all give texture to the valley. With leaves off the trees, the valley’s contours stand out. Snow and ice add highlights. The Ritchie Ledges and Brandywine Falls are two recommended locations to enjoy winter scenery.
The Ritchie Ledges are one of many named “ledges” in northeast Ohio. All are outcroppings of the same ancient rock—Sharon Conglomerate—formed from sand and pebbles deposited about 320 million years ago. The 1.8-mile Ledges Trail circles the outcrop, providing up-close views of the highly textured rocks. Access the trail from the Ledges Trailhead (405 Truxell Road, Peninsula).
Carved by Brandywine Creek, the 65-foot Brandywine Falls demonstrates classic geological features of waterfalls. A layer of hard rock caps the waterfall, protecting softer layers of shale below. The shale is thinly chunked, giving water a bridal veil appearance as it cascades down the falls.
A boardwalk provides views of the waterfall. It should be noted that we close the lower platform in winter due to ice on its steep stairs. From the waterfall, you can take a one-mile loop trail to further explore the gorge created by the creek. Access this area from the Brandywine Falls Trailhead (8176 Brandywine Road, Sagamore Hills).
The Winter Sports Center at M.D. Garage, the Virginia Kendall Hills, and Boston Mills and Brandywine ski resorts are hubs of winter outdoor recreation. At the Winter Sports Center (1556 Boston Mills Road, Peninsula), you can rent snowshoes and cross country skis to explore the area’s trail system.
We offer equipment in both adult and child sizes to let enjoying the snow become a family activity. The center is open from 10 am – 4 pm on weekends from December 22 through February 25 when there is at least four inches of snow. Additional dates may be added if conditions warrant. Call 330-657-2752 for current information.
Snowshoes mimic adaptations commonly seen in animals that live in snowy climates. These animals have big feet that spread out their weight, allowing them to walk on the snow. Snowshoes strap onto boots, giving your feet a wider platform and preventing you from sinking into the snow. Snowshoeing is easy to learn. When you rent snowshoes, center staff will give you a short lesson that will prepare you to successfully use them. Cross-country skiing follows the same basic idea as snowshoeing. Skis distribute your weight and let you stay on top of the snow.
If you are looking for the thrill of speed, head to the Virginia Kendall Hills, Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s destination for sledding. The wonder of the hills will become apparent from the moment you arrive at the Pine Hollow Trailhead (5465 Quick Road, Peninsula). Some of the most panoramic scenery in Cuyahoga Valley National Park can be viewed right from the parking lot.
Try to pause a minute to take in the view—a challenge with the lure of steep hills calling to your young sledders. The hills overlook an area whose history includes farming by the Ritchie family and then development for recreation by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Peak Resorts owns Boston Mills and Brandywine ski resorts, located within the boundaries of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They provide downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. For details and fees, visit bmbw.com or call 330-467-2242.
Hiking series allow you to regularly join a ranger to explore the park and enjoy winter scenery. These series take you to places you might not find on your own, as well as offer the safety and socializing that comes with hiking in a group. Winter programs include bird walks, full moon hikes, lantern walks, and winter warm-up hikes. The park publishes its programs in a quarterly Valley Guide. The winter schedule was just released with listings for January and February. Programs are also listed online at www.nps.gov/cuva.
The best way to enjoy all of these programs is to dress appropriately. The obvious goal is to avoid becoming cold. The less obvious goal is to avoid becoming too hot and having clothes get wet from sweat. Dress in layers and avoid cotton, which holds moisture. The bottom layer should be wool or a synthetic material, such as capilene, which wicks moisture away from your skin. Fleece is a good middle layer. The outer layer should block wind and water, but should also breathe so it does not trap moisture. Gortex is a good material for the outer layer.
Also pay attention to your feet, head, and hands. Waterproof boots and wool socks will keep your feet dry. Another key to warm feet is maintaining blood circulation. If your socks are too thick for your boots, they can cut off your circulation and be counter-productive. You lose much of your heat through your head, so a hat makes a big difference. Warm gloves or mittens should go without saying. I prefer mittens, because they let your fingers benefit from the heat of their neighbors.
We hope to see you in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park this winter.
Winter Recreation in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park