Brandywine Falls is among the most popular destinations in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Many readers may be familiar with the boardwalk that provides excellent views of this 65-foot waterfall. Less known is the Brandywine Gorge Trail that lets you explore the gorge downstream from the falls. Extend your next visit to Brandywine Falls by taking this trail.
Brandywine Gorge Trail is a woodland trail that offers cool shade in the summer, great fall colors, and wildflowers in spring. Evidence of the valley’s geologic and human history is visible year round. Most of all, water — and the work it has done to shape the landscape — dominates the scenery.
To find the trail after viewing the waterfall, continue along the boardwalk toward the top of the falls. You will pass exhibits that introduce long-vanished businesses and a community that once clustered around the falls, attracted by its water power. At the top of the falls, notice how a hard rock layer caps the waterfall, protecting softer rock layers below. This rock is Berea Sandstone. It is composed of fine-grained sand that accumulated in a sea that covered this area 320 million years ago.
Next you will come to a bridge over the creek. Here you are very near the boundary of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Look upstream to consider how the creek differs inside and outside the park. Upstream the stream is smaller and has not cut a deep gorge. It is also surrounded by development. While the conditions within the park feel natural and very separate from upstream conditions, flowing water creates an inseparable link.
Brandywine Creek starts its 11-mile journey to the Cuyahoga River in Hudson. State Route 8, Interstate-271, and Interstate-80 cross its watershed. Development creates hard surfaces that do not absorb rain water, but send it flowing downstream. The additional water flowing into the creek means that you may see unnaturally high water levels tumbling over the falls. It also promotes erosion in the stream bed, something to notice as you walk along the creek.
Communities along the creek, including Boston Heights, Hudson, Northfield Center and Macedonia, convened with institutional partners including the National Park Service to address watershed stewardship along the creek. Their work resulted in a balanced growth plan that considers both development and watershed protection needs. It was completed in 2013 and can be found online by searching for the Brandywine Creek Balanced Growth Initiative Watershed Plan.
From the bridge, you will also see the 1848 George Wallace farm house, now a bed-and-breakfast called the Inn at Brandywine Falls. The trail enters the woods near the back of the house and follows a farm lane into the gorge. Notice the gorge’s steep, v-shaped contours. Geologists associate this profile with youthful streams and believe that Brandywine Creek emerged in just the past 10,000 years.
At the bottom of the gorge, you will find two vernal pools that represent another story of water. Their size depends on the time of year. They grow with snow melt and spring rains, then slowly shrink during the drier months of summer and fall. They can eventually dry up, making it hard for fish to survive. The lack of egg-eating fish makes vernal pools an attractive place for salamanders and frogs to lay their eggs during spring.
Near each vernal pool, you will find a side trail to the creek. Here the creek cuts through shale, a soft rock formed from mud deposited on ancient sea floors. You may also find scattered, hard rocks like gneiss and granite that don’t seem to belong. These are Canadian rocks carried to Ohio by water in another form — ice — during periods of glaciation.
Harder to see when observing the creek is its water quality and habitat values. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency monitors both. It has recorded decent, although not outstanding, conditions in the national park. The creek meets criteria for healthy warm water habitat for fish. Despite the impacts to the creek outside the park, its time flowing through the park does allow conditions to improve.
Finish your visit by turning left at the intersection with the Stanford Trail and walking the last ¼-mile back to the parking area. The total distance of this loop route is 1.4 miles. After seeing the impacts of water and how it connects the park to communities, use the final portion of the walk to think about your personal connections to water. We all need clean, safe drinking water. How does that need shape your relationship to nature?
Brandywine Falls is located at 8176 Brandywine Road south of Highland Road and north of Twinsburg Road in Sagamore Hills. For more information about trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, call 330-657-2752 or visit online at www.nps.gov/cuva.
Vasarhelyi is Chief of Interpretation, Education & Visitor Services for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.