Do you ever set goals for yourself and then fail to follow through? I do. And this year I set some very ambitious goals when I published the ultimate bucket list for those who want to explore Ohio in an attempt to help me keep on track. I somehow felt if I announced to everyone who reads my little corner of the web that I was going to visit x, y and z well then gosh darn it, I was going to actually visit x, y and z! And yet here I am, more than halfway through the year and I’ve not checked off a fraction of my list.
So when my husband and I were planning a quick getaway last weekend, minus the kids, I had a brilliant idea. I could select something from my bucket list that we would both enjoy. So I took a peek at what I’d written and noticed that I’d included a train ride. I also had planned to visit all the national park sites in Ohio and there is one train that drives straight into Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I could mark off two items in one day.
My husband, who was really looking for a relaxing day agreed that a 3-hour ride aboard a vintage train car along the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad should hit the mark. So we awoke early and drove to the nearest train depot, Akron Northside.
Isn’t it charming?
To prepare for our visit, I spent time exploring the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad website. The website suggested that we plan to arrive 45 minutes prior to boarding the train. Passengers can also purchase tickets online and print them from home though we opted to purchase them at the train station.
Passengers have a choice of coach, first class or very limited dome seats. The seats are arranged with two side by side, facing another pair. First class seats are in the Emerson Car and allow more leg room and headrests, while dome seating allows for the best views of the park. I really wanted to grab a couple dome seats so I could take some amazing photos but they were already reserved, so my husband and I settled for first class. We may not have gotten the best seats on the train, but first class has perks of its own. Passengers can help themselves to refrigerated bottled water, hot coffee, tea, fresh fruit, granola bars and other grab-and-go snacks.
The train also offers occasional special events- an on board catered brunch, evening beer sampling and wine tasting events. The little ones in your family may enjoy the special Day Out with Thomas, or a ride on , The Polar Express.
Volunteers serve as trainmen and woman and walk through the train cars passing out information about the stops, providing free audio tours and making sure that riders know where the restrooms and the concession car is located. They can also assist you with excursion recommendations. If you’d like to learn more about the park while you’re riding through, you can ask for a free Voices of the Valley audio tour which shares some of the highlights of the park. While I was very excited to sit back, listen and watch the miles roll by, I was disappointed that the audio tour wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped it to be. I tried two devices which were both fuzzy with quite a bit of static.
Our train also had a volunteer who walked through all the train cars with a coyote fur and beaver fur explaining how beneficial the latter are to the park system.
The train follows the tow path along the Ohio & Erie Canal and is popular for walkers, runners and bike riders. CVSR offers a popular Bike Abroad program which allows cyclists to bike the Towpath Trail in one direction and ride the train in the other for only $3 per trip! The $3 fare also applies to runners on the first southbound or last northbound train each day.
The CVSR allows several excursion options. Prior to arriving at the Northside Station, my husband and I had planned to select the Peninsula Explorer which allows you to debark in the charming canal-era town of Peninsula to explore and grab a bite to eat. The ticket agent talked me into the National Park Scenic trip which was a 3-hour round trip ride through the park. While my husband and I enjoyed most of the ride and found it relaxing, the young children on our train tired after 45 minutes to an hour and became restless. If you plan to ride the train with youngsters, make sure you plan ahead and pack a small toy or books to occupy them when the novelty of sitting on the choo-choo has worn off.
My husband and I discussed our kids while we were on the train and we’re not convinced that they would have enjoyed sitting on the train for the entire three hours either. I’m pretty sure their electronic devices would have emerged long before we pulled into the last station.
Next time around, my husband and I would stick with our original plan. We would hop on board the train in Akron and ride to Peninsula where we would jump off, shop at some of the unique shops downtown, visit some of the attractions and grab a bite to eat before hopping back on the train to return to Akron to break the trip up a bit.
1. Purchase your tickets in advance.
If you plan to select the first class or dome seating option, I would purchase as far in advance as possible, especially as the popular fall season draws near.
2. If you purchase your tickets and print them at home, you don’t need to arrive 45 minutes early, but know as the day goes on the station gets busier and busier.
My husband arrived 45 minutes early and felt like we waited and waited and waited. Boarding the train isn’t by whoever gets to the station first, but more by class (I think).
3. View the alerts for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park before you arrive for your train ride if you plan to disembark from the train to enjoy the park.
Some of the sites within the national park are currently closed so view the website prior to your arrival for a current update.
4. Restrooms are available on board.
5. Food and drink are permitted on board but if you get thirsty or hungry during your ride, there is a cafe car that sells food, drink and snacks.
6. Souvenirs are also available on board.
7. Passengers are able to exit the train at several locations but their isn’t necessarily something to do at all locations. Consult the train schedule and make sure there is enough for you to do at that location until a train returns before you disembark.
8. Pack a sweatshirt of light sweater, even on a warm summer day.
The train is climate controlled and though it was warm outside, the air conditioner worked very well inside and was a bit chilly.
9. As I mentioned, if you are traveling with small children, grab a toy or two to keep them occupied.
Pricing for round trip rides begin at $18 for adults/ $13 for children between the ages of 3-12. First Class, Dome Seats and special events are more. Discounts are available for senior citizens and for current/retired military and first responders.
For stations, pricing and excursion information visit the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad website.