Exploring Cuyahoga National Park

Easy family trail suggestions at Cuyahgoa National ParkIt is a beautiful thing to travel when you visit a place without any preconceived expectations and walk away with wonderful memories. This was our experience when we visited Cuyahoga National Park last summer. It is located just south of Cleveland, following the Ohio and Erie canal through the Cuyahoga River valley.

Cuyahoga National Park is not one of the better know national parks. It’s relatively small, fairly new and even free to get into – woo hoo. However I am on a kick to explore as many national parks as possible and since we live in the East there are not many national parks that are easy for us to get to. We had a wedding in Ohio to go to and Cuyahoga National Park was on the way. We decided to extend our trip by a day and explore this park. We had a wonderful time and started planning our return trip even before we left.
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We started out at the Boston Store Visitors Center, where we picked up the Junior Ranger packets and asked for some hiking Ohio-2015-Aug-074suggestions. The visitors center had displays of canal life, with both a replica of canal activity and boat life. Next to the visitors center was an old time gas station. For some odd reason I was fascinated by this and my family was somewhat patient as I took pictures of a gas station.
The best memory we made was the hike we never finished. The ranger at the Visitors center suggested the Ledges trail. We started out on this trail but quickly found an area of sandstone rock formations called Ritchie Ledges that became our own natural rock playground. We had no expectation of what we would find on this hike so it was a surprise for us. My kids are climbers and we all had so much fun exploring, climbing and playing. We lost track of the hiking trail and never bothered to finish the hike due to the amount of time spent exploring the ledges. One note, also in this area is the Ice Box Cave. Apparently it is home to many bats but it is closed off to slow the spread of a disease to the local bat population.

 

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After some lunch we headed to the Beaver Marsh. This was an easy, flat walk to a board walk over this marsh habitat. I was fascinated to learn that this area had been restored from a junk yard to its original state and now home to many local animals.. We did not see any beavers, but birds and turtles still provided some fun entertainment. The trail to the Beaver marsh is part of the Towpath trail of the Ohio and Erie Canal. The sections of this trail we saw appeared well maintained and flat. Perfect for biking. We did not have our bikes with us, but I would love to come back again and explore further on our bikes.
One of the better known highlights of Cuyahoga National Park is Brandywine Falls. This was our last Ohio-2015-Aug-063stop for the day and even though there is a short 1.5 mile hike around the falls area we chose the shorter boardwalk hike to see the falls. This allowed us to enjoy the beauty of the falls but keep everybody sane by understanding our limits. By this time we had tired and hungry kids and we were ready to find some dinner.
This was the first Junior Ranger packet we were able to complete. We attempted the one at Shenandoah, but it was too lengthy for the time we were there. To help us complete the Junior Ranger packet for Cuyahoga National Park I printed some of the packet before we left to have an idea of what needed to be done. The kids worked on it during the day and finished up at dinner that night. We made it a point to return to the Boston Visitors Center the next day before we left to hand them in. My kids didn’t know what to expect and I think they were a little embarrassed by the attention they received when they handed them in. However, they were proud of the badge they received.
I love finding little hidden places to explore with my family. This was officially National Park #3.

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Why my family needs to travel

The benefits of travel for your family.

Now need is a very strong word. There are only a few things that we really need and I must admit, travel is not one of them. But, it does rank up there very high on things I feel are necessary for the growth of my family.

We recently got back from a weekend trip. This is not something we do often. We either take a week or two in the summer to visit somewhere, or we take day trips near home. This time however, we flew several states away just for the weekend to celebrate my grandfathers 100th birthday. It was during this trip that I was reminded why I keep pushing my family to travel. Yes, travel is something I am discovering is rooted deep down inside me but it does so much more for my family.

  • We bond together as a family. I see so many posts about this and it is so true. Usually at home we are a busy family. We all have our activities and commitments that pull us in different directions. We do make some intentional family time, but that is usually a few hours at the end of the day and only one to two times a week. However, when we travel we are all together all the time. And it works for us. It gives us shared experiences to talk about and the kids have to rely on each other for entertainment and company. As my children have gotten older they have learned each others strengths and weaknesses. My oldest especially gets it when her younger sister needs a little silly time to cheer up or provide some comfort when one of her siblings is scared.
  • We all learn some flexibility and what it means to move out of your comfort zone. As human beings we tend to gravitate towards what is familiar and comfortable, but that does not allow for much growth. I want my children to always wonder and question the things they do. I feel travel helps show them that it is OK to be in a new environment or to try something new. The more new experiences we allow ourselves the more trying new thing doesn’t seem all that scary. That new experience can lead to new opportunities. Even as adults, this idea of flexibility helps lead to a more fulfilling life.
  • Problems come up. It does not always go as planned. We get to solve these problems together and work with each other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and the more we can understand and embrace those personality traits the stronger we become as a family.

Now I don’t want it to sound like it is always picture perfect. We definitely have our share of tantrums, tears, grumpies and grumbling. There are times we don’t understand someone else’s reaction or just don’t want to compromise. But most times, out of that frustrating space comes fun memories and lessons that bring us closer together as a family.

And that is what bring me joy. Experiencing life together with my family.

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Our visit to Monticello

Learning about Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

Our 2015 road trip continued from Shenandoah National Park to Raleigh NC. While finalizing our plans I realized we would be driving by Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. My husband and I enjoy history and would enjoy visiting, but we were not so sure about the kids. We usually visit parks and have outdoor adventures, this would be a different type of experience. The tickets for the 5 of us were going to be on the pricey side. We were unsure of the value we would get out of the visit. However, when we discussed the possibility with the kids they were excited. We decided to give it a try, and I am so glad we did!

The first thing we did when we arrived was purchase our tickets. The guided tours are only for the first floor of the house and they are scheduled for specific times. You do need a ticket to explore any where on the grounds and it gets you a bus ride from the welcome center to the house and back.

monticello kidsWe were on a tight time schedule and the regular tours were all filled for the next few hours. They do also offer a family tour and that worked with our time frame. The family tour was tailored to young elementary aged children. I thought our tour guide did a wonderful job including the young children. My 2 younger children, ages 8 & 10, enjoyed the house tour, but my 14-year-old was somewhat bored. She did however perk up and enjoyed some greater freedom exploring the grounds and basement. Your ticket allows independent exploration of the grounds and basement of the house. Throughout this area were some interactive displays for children that helped put into perspective what life was like at Monticello.

Since Monticello was just a stop on our drive from Shenandoah to NC, we did not have much time. I wish we had more time to explore. They have walking trails throughout the property that we were unable to enjoy. We also didn’t have time to visit Thomas Jefferson’s grave site, but did see it as the bus drove by back to the visitors center. I learned later that the Griffin Discovery Room at the visitors center is a fun interactive experience for kids, but we also missed that.

It was a hot day and we spent about 2 hours with the house tour and exploring the grounds. This was enough time to get a general overview, but I would recommend allowing more time.

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Monticello has a fun kids website that my youngest daughter has been enjoying since we came home. She has been building a house with different architectural features and learning more about Thomas Jefferson with his grand-daughter,  Cornelia. She even put together a slide show about her visit. I just love that she has initiated all this learning independently.

I also found this blog post from Currently Wandering with more information about visiting Monticello with kids.

Overall, it was a great experience for our family. I just wish we had more time. We will definitely be looking for more historical sites on our future travels. What are some of your favorite historical sites to visit?

Go out, explore and find joy!

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Shenandoah National Park

Family adventure in Shenandoah National Park

I have been on a National Park kick for the past few years. I am an East coast girl and have been dreaming of majestic mountains out west. We tried to get out there this summer but several obstacles got in our way. So, we came up with plan B and still managed to explore Shenandoah and Cuyahoga Valley National Parks. They are both with in driving distances for us and we were able to fit then in with the other commitments we had this summer.

Dicky Ridge Visitors Center
Dicky Ridge Visitors Center

This past July we headed down to North Carolina to visit family and made a stop at Shenandoah National Park. My goal was to get there with enough time to visit the visitors center on our first day of travel. I wanted to get a good plan because we only had one full day in the park. This worked out well but would have been better if I hadn’t forgotten all our hiking info that we had collected at home! Anyway, the ranger was very knowledgeable and gave us some suggestions based on our kids ages and hiking abilities. We also learned that even though there are bears and snakes, we didn’t have to worry too much about them, that was a relief for me. I had three goals: I wanted to see some waterfalls (water always motivates my kids), drive along the Skyline Drive, and hike with some elevation for a good view. We did decide to pass on the elevation hike because of the summer heat. By the time we would get to the trail we would have been been hiking it in the middle of the day. Even though I was looking forward to a hike like that, we felt it was beyond our limitations.

Fox Hollow Trail
Fox Hollow Trail

Our one full day in the park started with the Fox Hollow Trail leaving from the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center. It was an easy 1.2 mile trail that showed us meadows and forest. We saw remains of an old homestead from the Fox family and their cemetery. This family farmed until the 30’s in this area and the forest has developed in the area since then. We had fun talking and imagining what life must have been like for this family almost a century ago.

Shenandoah National ParkI am not a fan of cheep souvenirs but my children know I usually cave when it comes to books. My son was very interested in the wildlife and found a book about animal tracks at the visitors center. This provided some fun learning opportunities during our hike. My younger two children searched for animal tracks and when we found some they were very intent in analyzing them. We even found a bear track! We were slow hiking, but had so much fun exploring.

After a picnic lunch in the air conditioned car we headed down the Skyline Drive to our next destination, Rose River Falls. We had almost 40 miles to drive on the Skyline Drive to our next hiking trail. It was winding and slow driving, but that was OK. We stopped often to enjoy the views and a few photo opportunities.

Rose River Falls
Rose River Falls

We found the Rose River Falls trail between mile post 49 and 50. In our excitement to get hiking we missed the very quick left onto the trail off the fire road that we started on. We probably added another mile to our hike by the time we figured this out and turned around. By this point my youngest was done hiking and let us all know it. The trail starts descending down to the water, so this was the easy part. We were prepared to play in the water and that was what eventually motivated the kids to continue. We started to hear the falls before we saw them which added to our excitement. There were several cascading waterfalls but not all the falls were easily accessible because fallen trees but there was plenty to explore and play. We changed into our water shoes and enjoyed the cold water on our feet. The highlight for me was being able to stand at the top of one of the falls and peer over the edge to watch the water cascade down about 20 feet. I just found it so amazing I was screaming like a child on Christmas morning. My oldest came over and was just as excited as I was, it was a fun moment to share with her.

We could have continued to Dark Hollow Falls and complete a 4 mile loop, however we decide to return back on the same trail. It was getting late and we didn’t want to hike in the dark.  Throughout the hike we had some grumpies from my son who was disappointed that we had not seen a bear. So, thankfully he did see one through the trees as we made our way back. I think the bear was more frightened of us and hid quickly, but it was enough of a look that my son was happy. My youngest, who was complaining as we hiked down at the beginning, was in the lead the whole way back up the trail. At times we had to make her stop because we couldn’t keep up. Once we saw the bear we kept her much closer to us.

Sunset at Big Meadows Lodge
Sunset at Big Meadows Lodge

I had wanted ‘a National Park experience’ for this vacation, so we planned to stay at Big Meadows Lodge that night. This worked out well because the last trail we hiked was right near the lodge. To be honest, it was not the best hotel room but I was not expecting a 5 star hotel. We had two rooms that connected through the bathroom. This fit our family of 5 well. The room had a small bathroom, some holes in the screens and no AC. However, it was all part of the experience and it all worked out well for us. There was a short path from the lodge to an overlook that faced west. After dinner we explored up this path and was rewarded with a beautiful sunset. It felt sacred and even my children were quiet soaking in the moment.

The next morning we splurged and had breakfast at the lodge before leaving for our next destination. To get out of the park we continued further south on the Skyline Drive for about 10 more miles. I found it interesting how different the park looked as we headed further south. Our last stop in the park was at the Harry Bird Visitors center. This visitors center had displays about the history of the park. It had much more to offer than Dicky Ridge. I wish we had more time to look around, but our next stop was Monticello and we had to get moving.

Here are a few resources that I used to help plan this little part of our trip.

I have a National Geographic Guide to the National Parks. I look at this often when I am dreaming of places to go and used it to help get an idea of what the park had to offer.
I also found a few blogs on Shenandoah.

Our next stop was Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. Look for that post coming soon.

Until then, find your joy!

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