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Field Trip: Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Plus Some Other Fun Destinations

Rita Volpi Rita Volpi Field Trip: Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Plus Some Other Fun DestinationsSweet Champagne chees from Grandpa's Cheesebarn. Photos by Rita Volpi.
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Field trips back in the day were largely about learning – learning about history, how things are made, science, you name it. But, every once in awhile there were field trips that were just pure fun, like our trips to USA (United Skates of America). I loved the old school tunes, the “Inferno” dance floor, and working on my rad roller skating moves.

The point is, sometimes, field trips are just for recreation. These days, exploring the outdoors and drinking beer are core ingredients for my good times, so this field trip took me up to the Cuyahoga Falls/Akron area.

Stop 1: Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP

When asked about hiking spots in Ohio, most people will tell you about Hocking Hills. And yes, Hocking Hills is amazing. But we’ve got a national park in Ohio, yo! Cuyahoga Valley didn’t come into national park status easily. According to the park’s website, a former NPS director declared, “I will tell you one thing. (The Cuyahoga Valley) will be a park over my dead body!” Sheesh!

There are a couple of things that make Cuyahoga Valley national park-worthy. It’s got history with the Towpath and the Ohio and Erie Canal cutting through the area. It’s got wildlife – their otters and herons often make appearances on the park’s Instagram account. And it’s got waterfalls. You may have heard about Brandywine Falls, which is easiest to see, and you can drive up to an adjacent parking lot.

My favorites include Blue Hen and Buttermilk, which can both be seen via a segment of the Buckeye Trail. Starting from the Boston Store Visitors’ Center (where you can get your CVNP Passport Stamp), you’ll quickly hook into a woodsy, mildly hilly, easy-to-follow trail.

Of course, autumn is a terrific time to go, since the trail is stunning with fall colors. A little over a mile in, you’ll come to the lovely Blue Hen Falls. If you’re feeling adventuresome after Blue Hen, follow the unmarked trail another mile to Buttermilk.

It’s a bit harder to find, and you’ll need to do some creek crossings, so come prepared with a bit of patience and waterproof boots. But, Buttermilk is a looker, with the water coming over a slate, grooved wall. And, the hike is just challenging enough that you feel like rewarding yourself with a beer afterwards.

Stop 2: HiHO Brewing Company and The Social Dept.

I’ve been following The Social Dept. ever since my brother got me one of their Midwesterner tees. They’re super soft with designs celebrating Ohio, movies and beer, so I was sucked into buying quite a few of their tees as their business grew. Now they have their own brick and mortar shop just 15 miles from CVNP, and right next to HiHO Brewing.

It seemed like a no-brainer to visit. The Social Dept’s retail shop has much of what’s online, with a focus on Akron, Cleveland and other Ohio goods. I picked up a Cleveland Indians trucker hat and made note of several Christmas gifts to buy.

HiHO Brewing is a fairly recent addition to the Akron-area brew scene. With 11 beers on draft, I went for a flight to try beers ranging from the pilsner to the roasted coffee ale. All were easy to drink and paired nicely with the pretzel and pork sliders we ordered.

The pub itself had a fun vibe, with outdoor seating, games and occasional events. The November 10 Design Your Own HiHO Hoodie (with The Social Dept.) looked like a winner. And if one brewery isn’t enough, the Summit Brew Path passport (available at the pub) will tell you about the many others in the area.

Stop 3: Grandpa’s Cheesebarn

Because we took our time at the other destinations, we didn’t have much time to explore what else Cuyahoga Falls and Akron had to offer. We made our way back down 71 South, knowing that we’d save some time for one last stop at Grandpa’s Cheesebarn.

If you’ve gone to Cleveland, you’ve probably seen this Cheesebarn near Ashland (the “world headquarters of nice people”). We went to the Cleve for decades to visit my grandparents without stopping, unknowing of the awesomeness we were missing.

The Cheesebarn has two levels – downstairs has a small deli/ice cream shop and one million kinds of jellies and dips. Upstairs has all the cheese. Of course, it has all the normal cheddar and Swiss action, but where Grandpa’s shines is in its more unusual flavors. Pumpkin Spice Gouda, Toffee Cheddar and Sweet Champagne were all on the shelves for our visit. How do you know you’ll like all of these treats? That’s the best part – there are samples everywhere. It’s a regular smorgasbord.

You’d think, ‘How can Grandpa’s Cheesebarn get any better?’ Well, how about adding a candy shop next door, named for his lady “Sweetie”? Sweeties’ Chocolate shop is for any sugar fiend. It’s got taffies, gummies, hard candies, sugar free candies, handmade chocolate and fudge. We left with several kinds – the peanut butter filled with Reese’s Pieces will probably be eaten first.

Any trip from Columbus to Cleveland will be made better by stopping here. I promise.

Field trip time and locations:

Travel time was 10 hours, which included a diversion to Jubilee Donuts (mmm…pumpkin) and Akron’s Northside Marketplace (meh).

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Boston Store Visitors’ Center can be found at 1550 Boston Mills Rd., Peninsula.

HiHO Brewing Company/The Social Department is located at 1707 Front St., Cuyahoga Falls.

Grandpa’s Cheesebarn sits at 668 US-250, Ashland.

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