Words by Evan Harms

National parks have always been incredibly important to me. During my childhood, my family made it a goal to stop at at least one national park on vacations, and I still try to keep that spirit in my adult life.

In our public consciousness, I think we tend to associate national parks with redwood forests of the west coast, the geysers and mountains of the Rockies and the rocky outcroppings of the  Northeast.

I’ve traveled to countless national parks in and out of the Midwest and the U.S. Acadia National Park in Maine is absolutely stunning, as is Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The real gems, though, are the ones closest to home.

Ledges at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Photo by Evan Harms

First and foremost is Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). Only about half an hour from downtown Cleveland, and a little less from Kent, this massive park offers many diverse trails and sights. Some of my personal favorites include Brandywine Falls (and the trail that encircles it), the Ledges Trail (which offers an astonishing view of the entire valley from an outcropping on the eastern lip) and finally the bizarre and quaint little Kendall Lake area.

Kendall Lake Shelter and Pier, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Photo by Evan Harms.

Kendall Lake Shelter and Pier, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Photo by Evan Harms.


Of course, CVNP offers many more opportunities to observe nature and history central to the development of the Midwest, and the Ohio & Erie Canalway is a large part of this. The canalway allowed for the growth of Cleveland and Akron by shipping up and down the region, ultimately playing a role in the development of their industrial economies (and perhaps a particular burning river.)

Outside my own backyard, other notable parks in the Midwest that I’ve visited include Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana and Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial on the Lake Erie islands.

Though all of these places involve coasts (ironic, huh), the Midwest is stuffed full of important national, state and local parks. They may not be the most exotic or particularly breathtaking, but our parks preserve a unique nexus of nature, history and regional identity.

From the smallest metropark to the iconic Mount Rushmore (and surrounding Black Hills), public parks help give us a reliable and pure opportunity to explore the physical earth that supports everything else in our region.