Cuyahoga Valley National Park, being located between Akron and Cleveland wouldn’t on paper appear to be your average national park, like Yosemite or the Great Smokies. But for northeast Ohio, it’s about as close as you can get. It doesn’t have quite the scale of larger parks, but it has quite a bit of isolation if you know where to look. One of the most photographed and visited features of the park is Brandywine Falls.
It’s such a popular attraction that there are boardwalks built all over the South side of the 100 foot deep gorge with various different interpretative signs and viewing areas. While this makes for easy access to a beautiful waterfall, it also means that there are usually quite a few people milling around, and you always get the standard people wading around in the splash pool at the bottom of the falls. It’s not exactly my idea of a walk in the woods (It’s about 50 feet from the parking area to the boardwalks).
With that said, Shelby and I woke up Saturday morning, harnessed up two of the dogs, and decided to go to Blue Hen falls and Buttermilk falls.
Blue Hen Falls
Blue Hen falls is also somewhat popular, but it is hidden in a deep ravine behind the Boston Mills Ski Resort and has a small, unimproved parking area. The only development of the trail, which starts out as an old jeep road, is a bridge over the creek and one bench to view the falls from. At the falls, about a quarter mile from the parking area and down the hill, the Buckeye Trail splits off with it’s blue blazes to the North, where it follows the west valley rim for about 4 or 5 miles. Just on the other side of the bench, there is a sign saying that the trail “ends” here. If you only wanted to see a pretty waterfall with relatively minimal effort but still have some peace and quiet in the woods, these are the falls to go to in Cuyahoga Valley.
It was a beautiful morning, and we were feeling a little more adventurous, so we decided to walk right past the trail end sign onto the obvious trail that has been beaten down by who knows how many people. What the “end” of the trail means is that the park service doesn’t maintain the trail past this point. It doesn’t mean “off-limits” or “prohibited”. You will encounter some downed trees, slippery side slopes, and three or four creek crossings. Granted, the creek is no more than 6 inches deep, but expect some wet feet unless you scout out a perfect rock hop.
One of the creek crossings. It’s not exactly the mighty Mississippi, but you can still get wet feet
A little further down the trail, after climbing over a few more logs and a tricky side slope for a 7 year old, you come to a beautiful spot where there is apparently an old mill site. The foundations of this structure, on both sides of the creek are obvious.
There aren’t any signposts describing what these old foundation walls once held up. My bet is that it was a mill
Because the creek is small, and Buttermilk Falls is a “bridal veil” style fall, they don’t make a ton of noise. When you’re standing in the little glen at the mill site, there are tons of mossy drips coming out of the side of the hill, the creek is rippling over nearly flat sandstone, and the entire valley is studded with Hemlocks. It’s no wonder someone chose to build here. You wouldn’t know it right away, but you’re only 50 feet from the falls.
Cross the creek, and continue about 15 feet. You are now at the top of Buttermilk Falls.
The trail turns to the right and heads downstream. Because the falls drop into a min gorge here, it is definitely not advisable to try to shortcut straight to the falls’ base. Follow the trail another tenth of a mile, downhill, and once down to the creek level, it’s an easy streamside walk back to the base.
Follow the trail downstream a bit…it’s much safer, and only takes an extra minute or so
If it was a little warmer (it’s been a cool summer in Ohio, and it was pretty early in the morning), the shoes would have come off and I would have been the “standard person wading around in the splash pool at the base of the falls”
Total distance to the base of Buttermilk Falls from the parking lot was .77 miles. Because it’s a non-maintained trail, and fairly isolated, it seems to be longer. There isn’t anything particularly strenuous about it, but it does take some careful route finding and foot placement. The walk back upstream isn’t steep, and Shelby did it with no complaining or running out of gas.
I truly consider Buttermilk Falls to be nicer than Brandywine. This isn’t because they’re bigger or prettier, but they are definitely quieter, less traveled, just as easily accessible (to get to the base at least), and one of the “secret” woods walks of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. If and when the park starts implementing the backcountry campsite portion of their trail management plan (in 3 – 4 years), this should be one of the sites in my opinion. I would be there every chance I got, hanging in my hammock.