Exploring Ohio State National Parks: Best of Guide (2024)

Looking for an extraordinary outdoor adventure in the Buckeye State?

Explore the Ohio State National Parks!

Ohio boasts an impressive list of eight national parks, each managed by the National Park Service and offering a unique perspective into the state's natural beauty and historic significance.

I love to explore National Park Sites, and the ones in Ohio are a unique experience.

  • Enjoy a day on the water as you visit Put-in-Bay to visit the Peace Memorial, which is easily accessible by boat.
  • Hike to a few of the over 100 Cuyahoga Valley National Park waterfalls.
  • Spend a weekend exploring the Aviation Heritage in Dayton, where you can take flight on a historic plane!

National Parks and Historic Parks in Ohio

Ohio State National Parks include the following parks:

  • Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (Xenia)
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Cleveland and Akron)
  • Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (Dayton)
  • First Ladies National Historic Site (Canton)
  • Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (Chillicothe)
  • James A. Garfield National Historic Site (Mentor)
  • Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial (Put-in-Bay)
  • William Howard Taft National Historic Site (Cincinnati)

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the only one in Ohio designated as a “National Park.”

Apart from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio is also home to two National Historic Parks: Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park and Hopewell Culture National Historic Park.

These historic parks preserve and honor impactful moments and influential figures, from the history of aviation to the ancient Hopewell culture, offering visitors a unique encounter with history.

A dirt trail turning to a concrete walk with a wooden railing. Large rocks on the right side of the trail and resemble a cave wall.  Trees on the right with bright green leaves.

Ohio's National Park:

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Starting with the crown jewel, Ohio's only National Park, Cuyahoga Valley spans 51 square miles, safeguarding 22 miles of the Cuyahoga River.

The park boasts numerous recreational activities, from miles of trails through forests and fields to horseback riding and mountain biking. Be sure to hop aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for a memorable excursion.

The central attraction includes the Erie Canal Towpath Trail, offering easy access and an ideal spot for an exciting biking adventure.

Like bicycling at National Park Sites? Check out Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore's Heritage Trail, which spans 20 miles through the park.

A boy standing on top of a canal lock looking into the water.  A lady with a brown dog is taking  a photo of the boy. A bridge and road and trees in the background.

A visit to the park in the summer offers the opportunity to bike one way and take the scenic train ride back to where you started – for just a couple of dollars. We did this, and it was so much fun!

During winter, Cuyahoga transforms into a haven for cross-country skiing.

One of the park's prominent natural features is Brandywine Falls. The waterfall, surrounded by a lush, verdant environment, creates an ideal backdrop for connecting with nature.

If you enjoy waterfalls, you should also consider visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is home to more than 100 waterfalls!

The Boston Mill Visitor Center is the only visitor center in the park that is open year-round. From the Visitor Center, you can hike along the Buckeye Trail to Blue Hen Falls.

Waterfall flowing down the waterway. Trees with fall leaves surround the waterfall.

Ohio's National Historic Parks:

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park offers a different type of exploration. This historic park offers a deep dive into the world of the famous Wright Brothers, Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright, and poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Visit the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and Aviation Trail Visitors Center and Museum, which are dedicated to the Wright brothers' quest for flight.

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park sign with a red brick building in the background. White flowers are in front of the sign.

The Dunbar home is a National Historic Landmark where Paul Laurence Dunbar spent most of his life. He defied racial barriers to become a celebrated poet, novelist, and playwright.

A fun thing to do while exploring this park is to visit locations and get stamped to earn the Wilbear Wright Aviator Teddy Bear! To hear more about this, visit my post about visiting Dayton's Aviation Heritage Trail!

Three Wilbear Wright Aviator Teddy Bears lined up in a row on a concrete ledge with grass in the background. Bears are dress with goggles, leather zip up coats and helmet. White scarfs are around the neck that read Dayton the birthplace of aviation and have a blue circle with a white plane in it.

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Located in Chillicothe, this park showcases the incredible earthen mounds created by indigenous people thousands of years ago.

History lovers will find intrigue at the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park. This site pays homage to the industrious indigenous people who crafted colossal earthen mounds thousands of years ago, giving a glimpse into Ohio’s rich, ancient history.

Grass mounds with lush green trees in the background. An information sign peaks out between the mounds.

Visiting these parks is a step back in time, offering a peek into the rich tapestry that forms Ohio's history.

If you enjoy these historical mounds sites, there are other similar sites, like the Newark Earthworks in the Ohio River Valley. These parks are a part of the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ohio.

Sign that reads prehistoric earthworks please say off, in front of a grass mound. Fall trees in the background and a large dug out area to the right of the mound.

Ohio's National Historic Sites:

First Ladies National Historic Site

Located in Canton, this site is the first and only site in the country dedicated to the First Ladies of the United States.

The site comprises two historic buildings:

  • The Saxton McKinley House is the childhood home of First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley.
  • The Education and Research Center provides a comprehensive experience for visitors exploring the history of the First Ladies of the United States.
The First Ladies National Historic Site sign with the National Park Service emblem. Behind the sign is the red brick building with a covered porch that is trimmed in tan.

James A. Garfield National Historic Site

This site, located in Mentor, was home to the 20th U.S. President, James Garfield.

Following the assassination of President Garfield, his widow undertook the remarkable initiative of adding a wing to their home, transforming it into a memorial library dedicated to her late husband.

This endeavor resulted in the creation of the first-ever presidential library.

The blue sided and tan brick building with red shingles. Building is three stories high and has a canopied are that could be driven under. The road loops to the canopied area. Grass in front of home. Trees in the background and to the left of the home.

William Howard Taft National Historic Site

The birthplace and childhood home of the 27th U.S. President, William Howard Taft, is near downtown Cincinnati.

The site offers a journey through the personal and political aspects of Taft's life, showcasing artifacts, exhibits, and the preserved surroundings that influenced the future president

Sign for the William Howard Taft National Historic Site with National Park Service logo.  The sign is the upper half of a circle and the tan building next to the sign is three stories high. An USA flag flies at the front of the home.

Ohio's National Memorials:

David Berger National Memorial

Situated in northeastern Ohio, the David Berger National Memorial serves as a solemn reminder of the 1972 Olympic Games tragedy in Munich, where eleven Israeli athletes, including David Berger, an American-Israeli citizen, who was killed.

The unique design of the memorial, composed of a broken Star of David, symbolizes the broken peace of the Olympic Games and the shattered lives resulting from the tragic event.

This memorial site serves as a poignant reminder of the tragedy and aims to promote peace and unity.

Metal Sculpture created from "C" shapes that are sitting on top of a series of "T"'s making the base. Grass field and trees behind it.

Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

Venture to Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island in Lake Erie to explore the tribute to Oliver Hazard Perry's victory against British forces.

Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial commemorate a pivotal moment in American history. It marks the victory of Commodore Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, a critical win during the War of 1812 that ensured control of Lake Erie for the United States.

The memorial stands for more than just a war victory. It celebrates long-standing peace among Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, symbolizing unity and harmony.

Blue sky and light wispy clouds. USA, Canadian, and Great Britain Flags flying at half mast. The Doric column Peace memorial stands tall to the left of the flags. Green fields and landscaping surround the area.

Ohio's National Monuments:

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

The Charles Young Buffalo Soldier National Monument, located in southwestern Ohio, honors the heroic life of Colonel Charles Young.

Young graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, the third African American to graduate from the prestigious institution. His training there paved the way for his US Army military career.

As the highest-ranking African-American officer in the United States Army, until he died in 1922, Young's legacy symbolizes his perseverance against racial prejudice and his passion for serving his country.

This monument commemorates his story and the larger narrative of the Buffalo Soldiers in American history.

The gray-blue two story home was once home to Charles Young. Picnic tables sit outside of the home.  A rock with a plack is located on the front corner of the home near the sidewalk.

National Scenic Trail

North Country National Scenic Trail

The Scenic Trail, traversing eight states, including Ohio, offers a pathway for outdoor enthusiasts to relish and explore numerous culturally and historically significant sites.

This trail seamlessly connects outdoor recreation lovers from Pennsylvania in the east to Michigan in the north. In total, the course starts in Vermont and extends to North Dakota.

The North Country Trail extends 4800 miles and is North America's longest National Scenic Trail.

National Historic Trail

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

While Ohio isn't the starting point, the Historic Trail plays a crucial role in the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Follow the trail through picturesque landscapes, uncovering stories of Native American encounters and the challenges faced by Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery.

There are three visitor centers for the Trail in Ohio.

The Historic Fort Steuben "Gateway to the West" Sign between two brick stacked columns. with landscaping at the base. A wooden stockcade fence to the right of the sign and a portion of a wooden structure behind the sign. Dramatic dark cloudy sky in the background.

Other State of Ohio Activities and Attractions

Ohio has many other notable attractions and popular activities, from Ohio State Parks to Zoos – refer to the list below to include a few in your next adventure!

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland): Immerse yourself in the history of rock music with iconic artifacts and exhibits.
  • Hocking Hills State Park (Logan): Explore stunning caves, waterfalls, and hiking trails in this natural wonderland in the Wayne National Forest.
  • Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden: Enjoy a day with wildlife and beautiful botanical displays.
  • Cedar Point (Sandusky): Experience thrill rides at one of the best amusement parks in the country.
  • The Cleveland Museum of Art: Admire a diverse ancient and contemporary art collection.
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame (Canton): Celebrate the legends of American football in this iconic museum.
  • Ohio Amish Country (Holmes County): Step into a simpler way of life with Amish culture, crafts, and delicious food.
  • Columbus Zoo and Aquarium: Encounter diverse animal species and engage in conservation efforts.
  • The Ohio State Reformatory (Mansfield): Explore the historic prison known for its architecture and film appearances.
  • Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: Discover wildlife exhibits and conservation initiatives in this urban oasis.
An arched stone bridge surrounded by forest at Hocking Hills State Park.

FAQs: Ohio State National Parks

How many National Parks are there in Ohio?

Ohio is home to eight national parks managed by the National Park System.

These include one National Park, two National Historic Parks, three National Historic Sites, and two National Memorials.

Ohio is also a part of the route for the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.

The yellow Cuyahoga Train coming down the tracks with it's lights on. Track is surrounded by trees, wildflowers and grass.

Final Thoughts: Ohio State National Parks

The national parks of Ohio offer a rich tapestry of natural beauty, historical significance, and endless opportunities for outdoor activities. Here are the key insights this guide provides:

  • Ohio has eight National Park sites, including one National Park, two National Historic Parks, three National Historic Sites, and two National Memorials.
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a crucial jewel among these and offers various activities like hiking, biking, fishing, or indulging in the scenic beauty of Brandywine Falls.
  • The state's historical richness is well preserved in parks like the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park and William Howard Taft National Historic Site.
  • Memorials like Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument and David Berger National Memorial bear testament to individuals who significantly impacted the nation's history.
  • Parks such as the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park provide a glimpse into the indigenous people's lives and the Buckeye State's ancient past.

These memorials across Ohio embody the spirit of remembrance, respecting figures and events that have helped shape history.

They give visitors a deeper understanding of some key moments and figures that have defined Ohio and the nation.

If you plan to make a road trip out of this adventure, be sure to follow these road trip safety tips!

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Brandywine Falls in the fall at Cuyahoga Valley National Park - One of Ohio's National Park Sites.
Three images: Arch bridge over the river, Blue Hen Falls, and the Ledges. All photos are from Cuyahoga Valley National park and are taken in the fall - leaves are yellow and orange in color.
four images: Metal sculpture, ledges in the fall, Peace Tower in the summer, and  Cuyahoga Valley train coming down the tracks.

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