The national parks in Ohio cover an interesting variety of historical and cultural topics. Go for a walk among 2,000-year-old Native American mounds, learn about the U.S. Army’s Buffalo Soldiers, and explore Ohio’s place in aviation history with the Wright brothers. You can visit three presidential homes and the site of a pivotal naval battle in the War of 1812.
And then there’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park – the birthplace of the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water Act after the Cuyahoga River caught on fire for the 13th time.
If your interest lies in culture, history, or outdoor recreation, you’ll find something to love about the national parks in Ohio.
National Parks in Ohio Map
How to use this map: Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.
What is a National Park?
More often than not, when someone searches for a “national park,” they are specifically looking for one of the 63 national parks – the pinnacle of the National Park System. But, the National Park Service manages 425 units in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Territories.
The NPS website explains, “While there are at least 19 naming designations, these units are commonly referred to as “parks.””
So, I include all the units when I research and write a roundup of “national parks” in a particular state. The national parks are certainly the most majestic and feature the most things to do, but 362 units of the National Park System are not a “national park.” And those units have incredible cultural, historical, and natural stories to tell.
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument needs a hyphen or some other type of conjunction. In 2013, President Barrack Obama designated the 401st national park site at Charles Young’s family home in Wilberforce, Ohio. But the national monument is more than the story of the decorated soldier and Civil Rights leader. It’s also the story of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Charles Young was born into slavery in 1864 in rural Kentucky. His father escaped across the Ohio River and joined the Union Army during the Civil War. After emancipation, the family moved to a small farm in Ohio.
Inspired by his father’s heroism, in 1889, Young became the third African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A few years later, Lieutenant Young was assigned to teach Military Sciences & Tactics at Wilberforce University. Throughout the rest of his career, Young earned distinctions in combat and served as the first African-American National Park Superintendent.
In 1866, Congress established six all-black regiments in the U.S. Army. Later, reduced to four, these regiments fought in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the Philippine-American War. During the Plains Wars against the American Plains Indians, the natives referred to the black soldiers as “buffalo soldiers” because of their black, curly hair, and the nickname stuck.
In 1903, Captain Charles Young led a company of Buffalo Soldiers while serving as the Superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks.
In 2021, a lengthy restoration of the Young family home began. The goal is to restore the house to its mid-1900s appearance when Young raised a family outside of Wilberforce. The temporary visitor center is at Bishop Reverdy C. Ransom Memorial Library at nearby Payne Theological Seminary. Inside, visitors can watch a 10-minute orientation film about Young and the Buffalo Soldiers and browse exhibits about their history.
Where to Stay
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
In 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught on fire again. It was the 13th fire after decades of dumping chemicals into the river. It was the last straw. In 1970, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act, establishing the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water Act.
In 1974, President Gerald Ford signed an act establishing the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. Under the care of the National Park Service, the river was cleaned, salvage yards were removed, and recreation was built along the scenic river. In 2000, the park was redesignated Cuyahoga Valley National Park – Ohio’s first and only national park.
Begin at the Boston Mill Visitor Center, a former general store during the Ohio & Erie Canal construction. Learn about the park’s history, pick up brochures for the hiking trails, and browse through the gift shop.
One of the best ways to see the national park is by riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The two-hour excursions travel back and forth between the Akron Northside Station and Peninsula Depot. Choose from several seating options and get something to eat in the Café Car during the ride.
The 19.5-mile Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail is a multi-use trail for hikers and bicyclists. The trail parallels the river with 10 trailheads for short hikes. The Beaver Marsh is one of the best places to visit on the trail, 1 mile from the parking lot. The former salvage yard was restored and now boasts an abundance of wildlife.
Brandywine Falls is the most spectacular of the national park’s waterfalls. At 65 feet, it’s also Ohio’s tallest waterfall. The Ledges is a geologically interesting place to visit – an 80-foot-tall rock ledge with a 1.8-mile trail looping around it.
Where to Stay
Unlike most national parks, there are no campgrounds in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The park’s website has a list of nearby private campgrounds for RV travelers. The park stretches about twenty miles between Cleveland and Akron. Finding a place to stay entirely depends on what you want to do. But there are some middle-ground places that are best for exploring the entire park or if you’re unsure what to do.
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park
On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright performed the first powered flight of a heavier-than-air craft in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. While this is celebrated as the beginning of aviation, the work started and continued near Dayton, Ohio.
Jerry Sharkey began the preservation process of the Wright brothers’ legacy when he purchased their last surviving bicycle shop in Dayton. It took several more years before the national park site was finally made a reality. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed an act establishing the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.
In 2003, during the centennial celebration of the first flight, a new visitor center was built beside the only remaining Wright brothers bicycle shop. The Wright Dunbar Interpretive Center features exhibits on the brothers’ early careers, an orientation film, and the Aviation Trail Parachute Museum.
The Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center is about thirty minutes from the visitor center near the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Explore exhibits about their work at the airfield in 1904 and 1905. Then, visit the Wright Memorial in front of the visitor center. Dedicated in 1940, the 17-foot-tall pink granite obelisk was unveiled on Orville Wright’s 69th birthday.
Visitors can explore Dayton’s intriguing history at Carillon Historical Park, a 65-acre outdoor museum. One of the most interesting exhibits open to the public is the Wright Brothers National Museum. The building was designed by Orville Wright specifically to house the original 1905 Wright Flyer III.
The National Park Service included the Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site when the national historical park was established. The Dayton native was the first African-American to support himself solely through writing – he was an accomplished poet. The two-story brick building was where Dunbar spent his final years.
Where to Stay
The best area to stay to visit the national historical park is around downtown Dayton, but not the university hotel, where traffic tends to get congested. Here are some good options in other parts of the city.
First Ladies National Historic Site
The Saxton-McKinley House is an excellent example of Victorian design. Built in two phases from 1841 to 1870, it was the childhood home of Ida Saxton McKinley, President William McKinley’s wife. The house was essential in McKinley’s front porch presidential campaign from 1895 to 1896.
William McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901. Ida returned to Canton, Ohio, with his body. After the First Methodist Church funeral, his casket was sealed and taken to a temporary vault at West Lawn Cemetery. Work began on a grand memorial as his final resting place while Ida lived in her childhood home. She died just a few months before the memorial was completed in 1907.
In 1994, Mary Regula met with local activist women and proposed a fundraising organization to promote the work of first ladies. In 1997, the National First Ladies’ Library was officially created in Washington, D.C.
First Ladies National Historic Site was established in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. The park’s mission is to commemorate the life and achievements of America’s first ladies. The Saxton-McKinley House became the most essential property in the small park. The Education and Visitor Center was established in a former bank building donated to the organization in 1999.
Exhibits on the second floor of the building rotate frequently throughout the year. Each exhibit tells a different story about the work of first ladies. The first floor is a theater with an orientation film. The Saxton-McKinley House is one block away – guided tours of the historic house are offered.
Where to Stay
DoubleTree by Hilton is a new hotel conveniently located across the street from the Saxton-McKinley House, making it the best place to stay with a moderate price. It’s also the only hotel in downtown Canton. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park
2000 years ago, Native Americans built dozens of monumental earthen mounds throughout southern Ohio. Some of the mounds were burial grounds, and others were ceremonial. Several mounds have survived the ravages of time and modern development, leaving us an incredible place.
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park preserves the mounds at six locations around Chillicothe, Ohio. The visitor center is at the Mound City Group, about ten minutes north of the city. The visitor center has a museum to explore and two dozen mounds to see outside.
The Hopewell Mound Group covers 130 acres, about five minutes from the visitor center. A 2.5-mile interpretive trail leads to a scenic overlook and a good view of the mounds.
But the main attraction is the Hopeton Earthworks. The 292-acre site features an astounding 20-acre circle, 20-acre square, and two smaller mounds. A 1.1-mile trail leads to an overlook where you can see these impressive structures.
Admission to the national park is free, and the grounds are open during daylight hours.
Where to Stay
James A. Garfield National Historic Site
During James Garfield’s presidential campaign in 1880, he frequently greeted locals on the covered front porch of his elegant home. Garfield won the election the following year and was inaugurated as the 20th president of the United States in March 1881. Four months later, Charles Guiteau, bitter at being denied an administration position, shot Garfield twice. Although Garfield survived the initial attack, he later died from sepsis caused by unsterilized medical equipment. His body was returned to Cleveland and laid to rest at Lake View Cemetery.
In 1936, Garfield’s children donated the house to the Western Reserve Historical Society with their desire it be turned into a museum. In 1980, Congress authorized the national historic site to work in partnership with the historical society. A six-year restoration took the house to the late 1800s with authentic period furniture and décor.
The visitor center features a small museum and an 18-minute orientation film about Garfield’s life. Visitors can take a guided tour of the Garfield home and learn stories about the family man. A self-guided tour of the grounds is augmented with a cell phone tour – call the phone number on the sign and press the stop number to hear more about the history of the 20th president.
Where to Stay
Steele Mansion Inn is a stunning Second Empire-style boutique inn about ten miles from the national historic site. Rooms feature comfortable furnishings and beautiful décor that will make you feel at home. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial
During the Revolutionary War, British Indian agents attempted to persuade the Cherokees to ally with them against the Patriots. A brief war broke out on the frontier of the Carolinas and Virginia, but it quickly ended, and the Cherokees scattered. But, after the war, the British continued to work with the Native Americans.
In 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain. Battles ensued from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. The Battle of Lake Erie was one of the war’s largest naval battles. Nine United States naval vessels under the command of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated and captured six British Royal Navy vessels.
From 1912-1915, a gargantuan 352-foot monument was built on the island Put-in-Bay. The monument remains the world’s tallest Doric column. In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Perry’s Victory and International Peace Monument, which was later redesignated as a national memorial. The 25-acre park preserves the memorial and tells the story of the pivotal naval battle.
At the visitor center, a 15-minute orientation film explains the War of 1812 and the British efforts in Canada. A small museum features exhibits and interactive elements about the battle. Outside is a replica of Perry’s longboat he used to move between vessels and shore.
Guided tours are offered to the Memorial every 15 minutes. Timed entry tickets must be purchased at the visitor center. After the short walk to the Memorial, visitors ride an elevator to the Observation Deck for breathtaking views of Lake Erie.
Where to Stay
Live it up with a visit to this island-bound national park site with a stay at one of the resorts on the island. The waterfront Bayshore Resort has an outdoor pool with a view of Lake Erie. Put-in-Bay Resort (Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com) and Bay Lodging Resort (Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com) are two other great options within walking distance of Perry’s Victory.
William Howard Taft National Historic Site
Over ten years after Alphonso Taft moved the family to Cincinnati, he bought a large house on Mount Auburn, the highest hill above the city. In 1857, William Howard Taft was born in a first-floor nursery in the house. Taft lived in the house until 1874, when he left home to attend Yale University – the last time he lived in his childhood home.
In 1937, the William Howard Taft Memorial Association was formed to raise money to buy the home. But early efforts failed. The house was converted into apartments and fell into disrepair. Finally, the association purchased the house in 1961.
The association transferred the deed to the National Park Service when the William Howard Taft National Historic Site was established in 1969. The house was restored to its late-1800s appearance, and all remnants of the apartments were removed.
The Taft Education Center has a small museum, a gift shop, and a 15-minute orientation film. Guided tours of the Taft Family House are given every thirty minutes, each lasting about an hour. Visitors explore the wonderfully appointed rooms on the first and second floors before exiting through a small museum in the basement.
Where to Stay
Spend a night in luxury at the Lytle Park Hotel across from the Taft Museum of Art. Guest rooms feature walk-in showers and spectacular views of the city and Ohio River. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Frequently Asked Questions
There are 8 national park sites in Ohio, but Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the only “national park” in the state.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park covers 33,000 acres from just south of Cleveland to Akron.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the only national park in Ohio.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio.