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Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (Best Trains in Ohio)

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The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad trains is one of the highlights of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Northern Ohio. It was my first time visiting this part of Ohio, despite it being my home state and I’m excited to share this hidden gem with you.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR) is a unique USA National Park activity and provides visitors with a unique perspective for soaking up the parks scenery.

This train ride through some of Ohio’s most beautiful landscapes provides visitors with a an alternative to hiking or cycling through the park. It’s an especially great option for less mobile guests, those with smaller children or anyone who’s a fan of relaxing train rides.

For an even more stunning experience, I’d highly recommend timing your visit during October when the foliage turns into vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. The fall colors briefly transform the area into a leaf peeping hot spot that’s worth the hype.

Trainman for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad volunteers are extremely knowledgeable and friendly!

Just remember to make your reservations in advance, as the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is popular, and this Ohio train often sells out, especially during peak months.

In this blog I’ll cover everything you need to know for a fantastic experience on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. And along the way I’ll share with you some of my favorite photos from my own ride aboard the CVSR!

You’ll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I’m still happy you’re here!

Where is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad located?

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is nestled in the heart of Northeast Ohio, within the lush landscapes of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The scenic railroad extends for 26 miles (42 km), from Akron to Cleveland.

To reach the railroad, the easiest and most convenient method is typically by car. The major cities of Cleveland and Akron help frame the route, making the railroad easily accessible from either urban hub.

When it comes to starting your train journey, the two typical starting points are Cleveland’s Rockside Station and the Northside Station in Akron. Both are equipped with ample parking and limited restroom facilities, making them convenient spots to begin your scenic railroad adventure.

Where is the best place to stay when visiting the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

If you are planning to visit the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, two great towns to consider are Akron and Cleveland, both of which provide close proximity to the scenic railroad and offer different experiences from each other.

Cleveland, bordering Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the north, is a bustling city with a vibrant entertainment scene. Downtown is about 10 miles (16 km) from the Rockside Station and it’s only about 20 miles (32 km) away from the park’s other main attractions.

Rockside Station Cleveland Ohio
Views of the Rockside Station on the south side of Cleveland Ohio

Beyond the park, Cleveland offers a wealth of activities like professional sports events, world-class museums, access to Lake Eerie, and plenty of restaurant options. There is no shortage of great hotel options in Cleveland if you’re still trying to decide on where to stay.

On the other hand, Akron borders the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the south and is about 15 (24 km) miles away from the center of the park. The Northside Station is just minutes from the heart of Downtown Akron making train access a breeze.

You can find better budget friendly hotel options in Akron while enjoying a quieter atmosphere and slightly easier access to the National Park and its other attractions.

During my visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I spent one night each in both Akron and Cleveland. I had credit card reward nights available so I didn’t spend a dime on lodging!

Where do you fly into for visiting the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

If you’re planning a visit from outside the region, the best airport to fly into when visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the CVSR is the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE).

For anyone flying into Cleveland, but planning to stay in Akron, you’ll be looking at about a 40 minute drive from the airport to reach your accommodations.

Be sure to leverage my list of hacks for booking cheap airfare if you’re in the market to buy a flight. In that guide I highlight all of my favorite tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years to pay the bare minimum for tickets.

Do you need to rent a car when visiting the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

To take full advantage of your visit to this area, I’d recommend that visitors rent a car or drive up their own like I did. While the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad itself can be enjoyed without a vehicle, you’ll need one to enjoy the balance of activities throughout Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Having a car affords you the flexibility and convenience to explore at your own pace, stop at places that interest you, and modify your itinerary as needed. This allows you to enjoy sights without having to rely on any type of scheduled transportation.

Summer and fall are the most popular times to visit this area, but the region doesn’t usually experience overcrowding which means you don’t need to reserve a vehicle too far in advance like some other destinations.

Views of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad will take you into the heart of its namesake National Park

I’d suggest using a tool like Rentalcars to compare prices across different agencies to ensure you’re getting a competitive price. Fortunately, for this trip I was able to save money and use my own vehicle since I drove up from Cincinnati in southern Ohio!

What are some interesting facts about the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

Often regarded as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s crown jewel, the railroad is renowned for its picturesque journey through the park’s diverse and beautiful wooded landscapes. The scenic railroad ride is an activity that helps set Cuyahoga apart from other USA National Parks which lack a similar option.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad passing through Akron Ohio
Train staff ensuring safe passage through the Akron Northside Station

The railroad, in operation since 1972, is now well into its fifth decade. This vintage railway line offers a unique chance to step back in time, away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, and relish the leisurely pace of a bygone era, all while soaking up some of Ohio’s most beautiful landscapes.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad often transports over 200,000 passengers each year. It’s popularity is a testament to the unforgettable journey it offers.

Come winter, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad transforms into a magical, Christmas-themed journey. During this time you can journey through snowy landscapes aboard the North Pole Express.

Additionally, to enhance the visitor experience, the CVSR has developed its own educational app. With this tool, you can track the train’s whereabouts and learn about the surrounding area’s rich history.

Is there cell phone service on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

When compared to many national parks situated in more remote locations, Cuyahoga Valley benefits from its proximity to major cities, which means you’ll be connected during much of your stay.

Views from the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Train in Ohio
Even though you’ll have cell service, keep your eyes out the window, not on your phone!

Visitors can typically expect reliable cell phone service when visiting the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. This is particularly useful if you plan to use the CVSR educational app during your visit.

How much does riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad cost?

The pricing for a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad can vary depending on the type of tour, season and seating option you select. There are several varieties of rides to choose from, each offering a unique experience and varying price points.

Coach seating in the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
The coach seats are plenty spacious, comfortable and provide easy window access

It’s best to check the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad official website for the most recent and detailed pricing information. The tickets range from affordable coach seats to pricier premium seats, allowing visitors to choose an option that suits their budget and preference.

As part of your budgeting, consider allocating additional funds for snacks, beverages or souvenirs available for purchase on board the train. Parking at the primary train stations (and throughout Cuyahoga Valley National Park) is free so there shouldn’t be any hidden surprises.

Are dogs allowed on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

While Cuyahoga Valley National Park welcomes dogs in many areas of the park, when it comes to Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, restrictions apply. Generally, dogs are not permitted aboard the Scenic Railroad unless they are service animals.

Visitors can still enjoy many other pet-friendly areas and trails with their furry friends, giving them plenty of opportunity to explore the natural beauty of the park together.

Are there bathrooms on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

Yes, there are bathrooms at the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. It’s worth noting, however, that due to the vintage nature of the train cars, the bathrooms are relatively smaller and more compact than what you might find elsewhere.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Tribute Sign
The vintage train cars are beautiful, but don’t offer the most spacious restrooms

Considering the small size of onboard bathrooms, it’s good idea to use the facilities before boarding the train. What you’ll find onboard is on par with an airplane bathroom.

Is there food available on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has a separate snack car that sells hot dogs, beer, wine, other refreshments and light snacks. Grabbing a light snack and beer is the perfect way to round out your trip through the park.

The CVSR accepts credit card and is a great spot to pick up a souvenir to commemorate your trip!

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad snack car
Be sure to swing by the snack car during your trip to grab some food or a souvenir!

Another good option is to plan ahead and bring your own snack. While I opted for an on board hot dog which hit the spot, if I had the foresight, I probably would’ve just brought my own food to enjoy.

What is the best time of year to ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

When planning a trip to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, the time of year you choose can greatly affect your experience. Each season offers its own unique charm, but there is something especially magical about visiting during Autumn.

Hikers enjoying Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Fall foliage makes Autumn the ideal time to enjoy Cuyahoga Valley National Park

As the season turns, leaves throughout the park start changing colors, painting landscapes with hues of red, orange and gold. The views from the train will be stunning, and the cool autumn air will be a welcome alternative to visiting during the hotter summer months.

Another great time to visit is during the winter when the landscapes are covered with snow and the railroad transforms into a North Pole themed adventure. Just be mindful that winter in Northern Ohio can be quite chilly and many of the hiking and cycling trails through the park could be covered with snow during this time.

What is the best month to visit the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

October is often considered the best month to experience the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. As the heart of the Autumn season, October boasts the most striking fall foliage around the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Akron Northside Station for Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Be mindful that the stations are open air so you’ll only have limited weather protection

Though leaf-peeping conditions can vary each year, mid-October typically sees the peak of fall colors. Plan your visit in this month to see the region at its most vibrant and picturesque.

Not only is this a great time to see fall colors, but cooler temperatures also make for great hiking weather. In addition to riding aboard the CVSR, I spent two days enjoying some of the best hikes the area had to offer.

What is the best time of day to experience the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

While the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad can be a wonderful experience at any time of the day, I’d suggest starting your morning with a hike elsewhere in the park and then capping your afternoon off with a relaxing train ride before enjoying dinner back in town.

Mornings tend to be cooler, and the parking lots less busy which makes for a better hiking experience. Consider checking out the Ledges Overlook hike (one of my favorite in the area) and then resting your feet with a scenic train ride during the afternoon.

Do I need a reservation to ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

Given the popularity of this unique and historical attraction, it is necessary to reserve your seat well in advance. There are multiple departure times each day, from various stations, but please remember that there are rarely last minute tickets available.

While you may show up at the station and attempt to get a standby seat if you don’t have a reservation, this is highly dependent on the number of no-shows or cancellations. On that note, I did speak to a young couple during my visit who was able to secure passage on the train due to other guests not showing up.

Passengers aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Be sure to select dome seats if you want to ride in a car with glass ceilings!

Reserving your tickets well in advance from the CVSR official website will also ensure you can book the seats you’re most interested in. While the coach seats offer a more budget friendly price, be mindful that there are seats in cars that offer additional space or glass ceilings for a panoramic experience.

How long should you ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad?

In my case, I had booked a two-hour long roundtrip ticket from Akron to Peninsula, which felt like the perfect amount of time aboard the CVSR. Be mindful that the views will be the same during your return ride unless you’re able to move around the train.

First Class Cabin Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Here’s a peak at the first class cabin where I rode during my trip aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

I spent half the ride enjoying views from my seat and the other half wandering about the cars, grabbing a snack and taking in views from windows I could find on the opposite side of the car during the return trip to switch things up.

Be aware that maintenance conditions might affect the routes being offered throughout the year. During my visit, the Rockside station was closed, which meant the train turned around at Peninsula instead. This is also an important possibility to weigh if you’re still deciding on where to book your accommodations.

Check out these activities available in the area

Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.

Is riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad worth it?

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers a unique combination of historical significance and natural beauty that’s difficult to find elsewhere in the USA National Park system. It was a highlight from my trip through Cuyahoga Valley National Park and an activity that I’d suggest all visitors consider working into their itinerary.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Engine
The CVSR pulling into the Akron Northside Station in Ohio

The trains knowledgeable and friendly staff provided a warm and personal touch to the experience. I enjoyed meeting and chatting with Trainman John who was assigned to our car during my visit and appreciate everything the staff did to make the ride enjoyable for guests.

For the more adventurous visitor it might be worth looking into the 1-way explorer ticket. This option allows guests to disembark at any of the railroad’s stations and hike or cycle back to the starting station, making it an excellent option for those wishing to pair the train ride with a bit of outdoor adventure.

Whether you’re a history buff, train lover, or an outdoor adventurer, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is a great activity for anyone visiting this part of Ohio!

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