Pennsylvania’s Top 7 Road Trip Destinations
The Newest Installment in our State by State Road Trip Feature is The Keystone State!!
Despite growing up on Long Island in New York, Philadelphia has been the home base for our large spread out family for more than fifteen years. A family that loves to explore, we have experienced so much of what this wonderful state has to offer, and trust me - it’s got a lot to offer.
Since we are facing the unprecedented life challenges associated with the COVID-19 era, road trips are the wisest strategy for satisfying your family’s wanderlust. If you choose to stay somewhere overnight, home rentals with clear sanitization protocols, RV travel, or camping are the safest options. With a healthy respect for physical distancing, disinfecting, and strategic mask use, carefully planned adventures are possible.
When selecting our top spots, outdoor activity and fresh air family fun are always high on our list of priorities. Additionally, variety is also important, suited to a diverse cross-section of scenery and lifestyle preferences, so the vast landscape of Pennsylvania is well-suited as our next featured state of the series.
- Pennsylvania is home to the first computer and the first state to put their URL on the license plate.
- Betsy Ross made the first American flag in Philadelphia and the Declaration of Independence was signed there.
- In Hazleton, there is a law that prohibits a person from lecturing students in a school auditorium while drinking a carbonated beverage.
- Pennsylvania is the only original colony not bordered by the Atlantic Ocean.
Presque Isle State Park
Despite having no ocean border, this destination park in Pennsylvania provides more than eleven miles of beaches. The northwestern corner of the state touches Lake Erie, and provides a year-round playground for residents, from swimming and watersports in the warmer months, to hiking, biking, and exploring all year round.
It is not only the ideal place to get some fresh air fun in the sun, but it is known for some of the most beautiful sunsets as you can see it set in the west over the water from many of the beaches. There are a variety of camping options from RV sites to cabins, and many private home rentals are also available.
As you would expect, it can be very busy in the summer, but the park is open every day of the year, so bring food for grilling, a couple of kites and bikes or scooters, and head to Presque Isle for some relaxing family fun. Check out the Presque Isle Lighthouse, the Erie Zoo (though the post-COVID experience is limited), and do not miss the opportunity to hike in Asbury Woods...it’s really beautiful! It is also helpful to know we found the whole area quite pet-friendly for those who hate to leave their pets behind!
Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park area
My all-time favorite Pennsylvania attraction is Fairmont Park, known for great trails, beautiful public art, and the Please Touch Museum. While the museum is currently closed, it is such a special place that it is important to mention for future trips. Even without the museum, the area is a worthwhile destination with so much to see and do.
Fairmont Park consists of over 9,000 acres, making it the largest urban park - more than five times the size of Central Park! The trail system in Philadelphia along the Schuylkill River is spectacular and such a gift to all who have the chance to enjoy its diversity. There are woodland areas, botanical gardens, the Philadelphia Zoo, historical landmarks and homes, a covered bridge, and of course, the famous Boat House Row.
The picnic tables along the river are fantastic in all seasons. Considering the sheer size of the park. AllTrails is helpful for a variety of ideas on how to approach the park with your specific preferences in mind.
Delaware Canal Trail and the Water Gap National Recreation Area
Less than an hour outside of Philadelphia, you can be transported to another world while exploring Bucks County and the beautiful Delaware River. The landscape is diverse in this area where the river serves as the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey at the Delaware Canal Trail and the Delaware River Gap.
We suggest starting your day at Tinicum County Park (and organize an overnight camping spot or nearby private home rental). Next, head to the Delaware Canal towpath for a hike. Pick your distance, there are many options on Alltrails! We’ve taken a one-mile out and back route, a two-mile option that ended at one of the pedestrian bridges, and a seven-mile loop for a longer adventure.
Round out your day in quaint New Hope with a late lunch at the Ferry Market. They have a wonderful selection that meets the needs of even the pickiest eaters. Pizza, salads, Mediterranean options, a coffee bar, and even wine are available. If you're looking for ice cream, check out Moo Hope Ice Cream. Get some rest so you are ready to head north in the morning for a day at the Delaware Water Gap.
A leg of the Appalachian Trail runs through the area and there are hiking trails rewarded with beautiful falls, including Dingmans Falls and Raymondskill, which is actually the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania. Despite many visits, we find something new and wonderful every time we go!
Without an official team member in Pittsburgh yet, we have had a couple of road-tripping ambassadors tour the city. We are lucky that some happyly friends are Pittsburgh locals and shared their go-to list (thank you, Jackie & Liz)! Our visiting ambassadors were thrilled to hit the ground running and their feedback has been consistently enthusiastic!
In addition to absolutely loving the city and the surrounding area, our traveling ambassadors describe it as feeling very Covid-safe. The city is a beautiful place to visit and a family could easily spend a week taking it all in during any season. Pittsburgh is a great option all year round with ample hiking trails, swimming spots, and smaller hill skiing options for the winter too!
The National Aviary is a great place to start. It is America’s only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated to birds and it is open with enhanced safety measures in place. The Frick Environmental Center is free and open to the public featuring indoor and outdoor classrooms, education programs, wide nature trails, and a beautiful garden, as is the nearby Mellon Park, which also boasts lovely gardens perfect for a picnic. Or take a ride on the Monogahela Incline.
The Children’s Museum is closed, but the Carnegie Science Center is open with strict safety measures, and is also a huge hit with kids of all ages! If you aren’t comfortable with indoor adventures, not to worry! There is so much to explore in Pittsburgh that you could have days of outdoor fun, such as hiking Trillium Trail followed by a picnic and playtime at the Salamandar Park playground. Beechwood Farms Nature Preserve and Hartwood Acres are also closeby for adventures ideal for any season!
Approximately three hours from Philadelphia, Ligonier makes you feel worlds away from life’s responsibilities. The sweet little town with an adorable little diamond-shaped town square was called by Country Living as one of “The Most Charming Small Towns in America.” There is a lot of history including Fort Ligonier, as the town was settled in the 1760s.
There are a variety of fun kid-friendly options for food and treats ranging from ice cream at the Ligonier Creamery, pizza at Jioio’s, and a candy store (O'Shea's Candies & Artisan Chocolate). For an old-fashioned diner experience, check out Ruthy’s Diner, a local favorite. Duck into Tree House, a fabulous children’s toy and clothing store at some point, it’s a memorable little boutique that’s been around a long time.
You can also find sandwiches, coffee, and snacks at Abigail’s Coffeehouse and sandwich shop which is conveniently located on the town square for your breakfast and lunch needs. Take picnic food to go when heading to explore one of the nearby state parks. Great camping options are available at Linn Run State Park & Laurel Summit State Park where you will also find a variety of easy to moderate hiking trails.
Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park deserves is definitely worth a road trip. It has amazing waterfalls and hikes. It is also near a couple of Frank Lloyd Wright Houses and has an adorable town with restaurants and shops. Whitewater rafting, zip-lining and body surfing down natural slides are just the start of the adventures you can have at this amazing park.
The Youghiogheny River Gorge serves up some pretty incredible views. There are hikes suited for all ages, and Cucumber Falls among several others to hike to in Pennsylvania’s largest state park. You can experience panoramic views, with or without hiking, just outside the adorable and fun little town.
In normal times we’d suggest staying near Ohiopyle at either a nearby campsite or a private home rental and heading down to Laurel Caverns, but that is temporarily closed due to Covid-19 (click here for a virtual tour).
Instead go in the opposite direction to explore Laurel Hills State Park in Highlands, which also features tons of trails for hiking or biking, a beach and more waterfalls! There are also winter sports resorts in the area, like Seven Springs with plenty of additional entertainment. Stop by Highlands Marketwhile you're in the area!
French Creek State Park Area
Approximately an hour northwest of Philadelphia, we highly recommend a visit to French Creek State Park and some of its surrounding attractions to enjoy nature and also learn a little something along the way.
The large, wooded campground is an option for home base. It offers tent sites as well as furnished cabins or rustic camping cottages though it is ready for some updating. If tent camping isn't your thing seek out a private home rental in the area. Start out with a hike in French Creek Park or bring your rods and experience some idyllic fishing at one of the two lakes. We prefer the cold-water Scott's Run Lake, which has some nice hiking trails leading from it too!
When you are ready for a bite to eat, head into St. Peter's Village, a ten minute drive from the park. You can sit out on a spacious deck at the Inn at St. Peter's or grab a sandwich from St. Peter's Bakery in the village and take it to the creek to find the perfect boulder for a picnic. After lunch, head back towards French Creek, but stop at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. While the main visitors center and historic buildings are closed due to COVID, you can wander the site and learn about early American industrial iron operations.
Other fun things to do in the area include a visit to Ryerss Horse Farm which is a retirement home for horses and free to visit! It's an essential visit for any horse lover! For other dining options, indulge in the delicious grilled cheese sandwich from Coventry Ice Cream Parlor and enjoy their ice cream for dessert. Another family-friendly, casual option is Oliviero's, where you can get delicious sandwiches or pizzas for take out or eat at one of the picnic tables. It's not very scenic, but it's delicious and a good value!
Does your family have a favorite road trip destination? Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us all about it for future installments of our state to state series! Please tag your summer road trip highlights on Instagram @gethappyly. We love to hear from you!
Be sure to check out previous State by State Road Trip features, including Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. We also welcome you to explore our blog for more inspiration such as Top Ten Family-Friendly Podcasts and Camping, Glamping, or RV Travel: What Suits Your Family? or take a few moments to Fill Up Your Tank: Self-Care For Moms to make sure you're ready to give life all you’ve got!!
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