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- Strategic itineraries like a 7-day spin through the best of the state, weekend trips, and tips for history buffs, families, and outdoor adventurers
- The top sights and unique experiences: Sneak a peek at the Liberty Bell and museum-hop in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Hike, camp, or show off your snowboarding skills in the Poconos, spot roaming elk in the Pennsylvania Wilds, and relax on the shores of Lake Erie. Learn about American history at Gettysburg, marvel at Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece in the Laurel Highlands, or take a horse-drawn buggy through Amish country. Find the best Philly cheesesteak, indulge in all that Hershey has to offer, and try a “Pittsburgh-style” sandwich stuffed with fries
- Suggestions for day trips from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, including Bucks County, Amish Country, Moraine and McConnells Mill State Parks, Fallingwater, and Cook Forest State Park
- Local tips from Philadelphia local Rachel Vigoda on when to go, how to get around, and where to stay
- Thorough background information on the landscape, wildlife, climate, and local culture
- Focused coverage of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the Pocono Mountains, Pittsburgh, the Alleghenies, the Lake Region, and Pennsylvania Wilds
Planning Your Trip
The Best of Pennsylvania
Ready, Aim, Fire!
BEST FOR KIDS
If there’s one thing Pennsylvania’s founder insisted on, it’s that everyone feel welcome. Centuries before New York’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district gained fame as centers of counterculture, William Penn’s colony was the place where people didn’t have to conform. It’s thanks to Billy that Pennsylvania is home to the oldest Amish community in the world. Today’s visitor can, in less than 90 minutes, go from one of the largest cities in the country to a place where horse-drawn buggies share the road. “Something for everyone” may be the most tired phrase in destination marketing, but Pennsylvania really means it.
The state that goes by “PA” is a magnet for history buffs, art enthusiasts, and nature lovers. It’s where the nation’s founders came up with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the timeless speech that began: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation.” Pennsylvania is where Andy Warhol first touched a drawing pencil and where Andrew Wyeth painted his whole life. It’s where you’ll find the only U.S. museum dedicated to hiking and the largest herd of free-roaming elk in the Northeast.
Pennsylvania is a wide expanse of mostly wilderness and farmlands flanked by two cosmopolitan cities. In the southeast corner: Philadelphia, the nation’s birthplace and the sixth-largest city in the country. In the southwest corner: Pittsburgh, the former manufacturing powerhouse re-creating itself as a cultural hub. The places in between jockey for distinction: “The Sweetest Place on Earth” (Hershey), the “Factory Tour Capital of the World” (York County), “Antiques Capital USA” (Adamstown), and a borough made famous by a groundhog (Punxsutawney), to name a few.
Pennsylvania is a study in the art of the comeback. As the story goes, a century ago comedian W. C. Fields joked, “Last week I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed.” The city today stays open late, thanks to a continually growing population, housing boom, thriving arts scene, and restaurants recognized among the nation’s best. Pittsburgh, described by one 19th-century writer as “hell with the lid off,” is today acknowledged as one of America’s most livable cities. Forests depleted by logging have regrown. Abandoned railroad lines have morphed into multiuse trails. For visitors, too, Pennsylvania is a place of renewal.
It’s safe to say that William Penn would be pleased at the shape his land has taken. Welcome.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
The state’s largest city is rich in historical and cultural attractions. A thorough exploration of Independence National Historical Park is a better primer on the founding of this nation than any textbook, and the city’s art museums are too numerous to see in a day. Known for cheesesteaks and rabid sports fans, the City of Brotherly Love has reached new heights of hipness in recent years, with galleries and eateries sprouting in the unlikeliest places. Idyllic towns such as Kennett Square and New Hope lure Philadelphians past the city limits.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country
With its Germanic heritage, fabled cuisine (pass the shoofly pie), and large Amish population, this region ranks as Pennsylvania’s most unique. Gettysburg, site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, reels in school groups and history buffs, while Hershey defends its title as “The Sweetest Place on Earth.”
Pennsylvania’s winter sports capital holds just as much appeal during the warmer months, thanks to its rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and trails. Let’s not forget its many resorts. Though most are geared toward families, the champagne glass whirlpool is alive and well in the Poconos.
Once known as the Smoky City, the Burgh has risen from the ashes to become a cultural hotbed. This sports-loving town also boasts the world’s largest single-artist museum and the state’s largest history museum. Fallingwater, the renowned work of architecture, is one of many reasons to explore its surrounds.
Rail fans flock to this mountainous region to drink in the famous Horseshoe Curve and walk through the nation’s first railroad tunnel. Motorcyclists flood the so-called Flood City in June, and football fever strikes State College in the fall.
Pennsylvania’s northwest corner shines in the summer months, when Erie’s natural harbor teems with pleasure boats and the sandy beaches of Presque Isle are open for business. Families pack swim gear and stale bread for their pilgrimage to Pymatuning Lake, where fish and waterfowl compete for crumbs.
Home to the largest herd of free-roaming elk in the Northeast, a national forest, and the so-called Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, this nature lover’s wonderland is also home to a major celebrity: Punxsutawney Phil.
When to Go
Like the rest of the northeastern United States, Pennsylvania experiences all four seasons. There’s no best or worst time to visit because the state has plenty to offer year-round, but some areas are better at certain times than others.
Summer is the season to take advantage of Pennsylvania’s lakes: Loll on the beaches of Presque Isle, feed the ducks at Pymatuning, pilot a houseboat around Raystown Lake, or zoom across Lake Wallenpaupack. It’s also a great time to visit Hershey, where a chocolate empire has given rise to an amusement park and zoo, among other family-friendly attractions.
It’s not called Pennsylvania, as in “Penn’s woods,” for nothing. This is a tree-blanketed state, which makes fall a fabulous time to visit. Head to the northern half of the state—the Pocono Mountains, Allegheny National Forest, or Pine Creek Gorge—for landscapes ablaze in color. While you’re there, be sure to visit Benezette, the epicenter of Pennsylvania elk country. September and October are when the elk get frisky, and their mating calls are sounds you won’t soon forget.
Speaking of wildlife, fall is the best time to visit Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, which lies in the flight path of thousands of migrating raptors. It’s also the season to cruise the farmlands of Pennsylvania, stopping to pick apples, stomp grapes, and take a hayride. If possible, head to Lancaster County, where Amish farmers rely on horsepower of the four-legged variety to work their fields.
Ah, winter. Love it or hate it, the season of snow and ice brings unique opportunities. Pennsylvania’s top snow sports destinations are in opposite corners of the state: the Pocono Mountains in the northeast and the Laurel Highlands in the southwest. In early February, head to Punxsutawney to join the Groundhog Day hubbub.
Rainfall and melting snow and ice make spring ideal for hitting the rivers. Lehigh Gorge State Park in the Poconos and Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands are popular for white-water rafting and kayaking. Spring is also a swell time to visit the state’s largest city, Philadelphia, which gets crowded in summer—though the Fourth of July celebrations are worth navigating the crowds.
The Best of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is a large state, and few visitors set out to see east, west, north, and south in one go. But you can hit many of the highlights in a week, provided you have a car and a copy of Moon Pennsylvania (but of course). The following itinerary assumes travel during the warmer months, when the bulk of attractions are open and the roads are more inviting.
It only makes sense to begin in the nation’s birthplace: Philadelphia. Pick up a timed ticket to Independence Hall at the Independence Visitor Center, loading up on maps and brochures while you’re at it. Make your way to the Liberty Bell, and if there’s still time before your Independence Hall tour, stroll down the oldest residential street in the country, Elfreth’s Alley, or throw a penny onto Ben Franklin’s grave at Christ Church Burial Ground (it’s for good luck). After your tour, try a Supreme Court robe on for size at the National Constitution Center. Come sundown, head to the neon-lit, Cheez Whiz-stained intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philly, home to rival cheesesteakeries Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks.
Do some time at Eastern State Penitentiary before sprinting up the so-called Rocky steps and getting lost in the period rooms of the stunning Philadelphia Museum of Art. Then take a stroll along the picturesque Benjamin Franklin Parkway and visit your pick of museums: the Barnes Foundation or Rodin Museum for more art, or the Franklin Institute science museum or the Academy of Natural Sciences. Finally, treat your culturally enriched self to a show on the Avenue of the Arts.
Get on I-95 south for the 30-mile ride to the Brandywine River Museum of Art, home to works by three generations of Wyeths. Down the road you’ll find Chaddsford Winery, one of Pennsylvania’s largest makers of grown-up grape juice, and the stunning Longwood Gardens, which deserves a full afternoon. Spend the night in a B&B.
EXCURSION TO THE POCONOS
The Pocono Mountains are known as a ski destination, but with miles of river to kayak and trails to hike or bike, there’s plenty to do on a warm summer day. From Philadelphia, pack a bathing suit and drive two hours north to the southern end of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. After a day tubing on the Delaware River and taking in the views at Bushkill Falls, pitch a tent or head to a relaxing B&B in Shawnee on Delaware.
Another option: Get your fill of outdoor adventure at Lehigh Gorge State Park, about an hour and 45 minutes northwest of Philadelphia, and stay overnight in the picturesque town of Jim Thorpe.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country
Factor in 45 minutes for the drive west to Intercourse (go ahead, snigger away), one of several Lancaster County burgs with an eyebrow-raising name. Taste your way through Kitchen Kettle Village, then keep going west less than two miles on Route 340 to Plain & Fancy Farm, where you can learn all about Amish life. After a buggy ride through the Amish countryside, shop your heart out at the Rockvale and Tanger outlet malls. Eateries close early in these parts, so come dinnertime hustle to a smorgasbord restaurant to eat your weight in Pennsylvania Dutch food.
Head west 90 minutes on Route 30 to Gettysburg, site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. Take your pick of battlefield tours—horseback and Segway are two ways to go—and don’t leave Gettysburg National Military Park without seeing the cyclorama in the visitors center. For dinner, indulge in colonial-style chow at the Dobbin House Tavern.
Get an early start. Today’s destination—three hours west of Gettysburg—is the Laurel Highlands, home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater (be sure to reserve your ticket in advance). Detour on your way to the architectural masterpiece to pay your respects to victims of the 9/11 attacks at the Flight 93 National Memorial. From Fallingwater, drive 90 minutes on Route 381 north and I-76 west to Pittsburgh, where you’ll spend the night.
Start your day in Pittsburgh with a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum, then head to the Mattress Factory for more jaw-dropping art or the National Aviary for something to tweet about. Spend the afternoon in the Oakland neighborhood, where you’ll have to choose between the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. After dinner it’s straight to the South Side to ascend Mount Washington via the Duquesne Incline for spectacular nighttime views.
EXCURSION TO THE LAKE REGION
Leave the steel and glass of Pittsburgh behind for a beach vacation. Head north on I-79 for two hours to Presque Isle State Park, a sandy peninsula jutting out into Lake Erie. Orient yourself at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center before hitting the beach or joining a boat tour. Spend the night in the city of Erie.
Start the next day by exploring the Erie Maritime Museum and Flagship Niagara. In the afternoon, taste the local vintages at one of several area wineries.
You don’t have to hit up your boss for vacation time to get to know Pennsylvania. Seeing it bit by bit is a good way to go. Here are some two-day itineraries to get you started.
While walking and public transportation are the easiest ways to get around Philly, you’ll need a car for the following escapes.
Wake up early and drive to Nemours Mansion & Gardens, 30 miles southwest of Philly in Wilmington, Delaware, in time for the first tour of the day. (Reservations are strongly recommended. If you’re traveling January-April, when the magnificent French-style estate is closed to the public, head to nearby Winterthur Museum & Country Estate instead.) After your tour, cross back into Pennsylvania and have lunch at Talula’s Table in historic Kennett Square, the “Mushroom Capital of the World.” Devote the afternoon to the horticultural wonderland that is Longwood Gardens.
The next day, visit the Brandywine River Museum of Art, home to a remarkable collection of works by three generations of Wyeths. If you’re there April-November, take advantage of the opportunity to tour Kuerner Farm, which inspired nearly 1,000 works by Andrew Wyeth, one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. Treat yourself to a tasting at Chaddsford Winery before returning to the big city.
Drive to Doylestown, 25 miles north of Philly, to marvel at the Mercer Museum and Fonthill, concrete castles built by one incorrigible collector. Then follow Route 202 north to New Hope (10 miles), stopping to browse the specialty shops of Peddler’s Village along the way. After checking into a B&B in the New Hope area, head to Marsha Brown for New Orleans-style fine dining. (It’s not a bad idea to book a table in advance.)
Devote the next day to exploring the boutiques and galleries of New Hope and its across-the-Delaware neighbor, Lambertville, New Jersey. To return to Philly, take NJ-29 South to I-95 South.
Drive to the Strasburg Rail Road, about 60 miles west of Philly, to ride a steam train through Amish farmlands. Enjoy a light lunch, a decadent dessert, and a view of the horse-and-buggy traffic through Strasburg’s main intersection at the Strasburg Country Store & Creamery. Then make your way to Intercourse (9 miles) via Route 896 north and Route 340 east to sample the likes of pepper jam and chow-chow at Kitchen Kettle Village. Check out some quilt shops before checking into AmishView Inn & Suites, midway between Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand on Route 340. For dinner, pig out at Shady Maple Smorgasbord (11 miles).
Devote the next day to the Plain & Fancy Farm complex, learning about the Amish way of life and clip-clopping through the countryside with Aaron and Jessica’s Buggy Rides.
Pittsburgh’s surroundings are particularly appealing to outdoorsy types, and the following itineraries are weather dependent.
MORAINE AND MCCONNELLS MILL
In the heat of summer, pack the makings of a cookout, drive 40 miles north to Moraine State Park, rent a pontoon boat and gas grill, and while away the day on Lake Arthur.
After a night under the stars at Bear Run Campground, hit the trails of McConnells Mill State Park (5 miles) before heading back to the Burgh.
Drive to fabulous Fallingwater, 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, and learn how much over budget architect Frank Lloyd Wright went—and how much the house leaks. In the afternoon, tour Kentuck Knob, one of his lesser-known creations, taking time to explore the sculpture-studded grounds. (Reservations are recommended for both Wright houses.) Rough it at a tent site in Ohiopyle State Park or do the opposite at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.
In the morning, rent a bike in Ohiopyle and pedal part of the Great Allegheny Passage before finding your way to the moving Flight 93 National Memorial (45 miles).
Drive to Cook Forest State Park, 90 miles north of Pittsburgh, to size up the towering pines and hemlocks of the “Forest Cathedral.” Spend the night at Gateway Lodge and paddle the Clarion River in the morning.
Ready, Aim, Fire!
A great deal of blood was shed in Pennsylvania during the 18th and 19th centuries, and military history buffs have been drawn here ever since. Because war-related sites tend to be clustered, you can see a lot in just two days.
Start the morning at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia for a crash course on the quest to end British rule in America.
Next, visit the historic sites you just learned about at Independence National Historical Park, where on July 4, 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence. Don’t miss the Liberty Bell.
If you have time left, pay your respects to the Revolutionary War’s fallen at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or pop by the Betsy Ross House before quaffing a beer based on Ben Franklin’s fave recipe at City Tavern.
- On Sale
- Aug 7, 2018
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- Moon Travel