The other day, while perusing a whole lot of travel blogs and websites to come up with post ideas, I noticed (or I should say, re-noticed) that when Pennsylvania in concerned, the large majority of writers break up the state into three parts: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and “The Amish.” Now, I’m not hear to disagree with any of these locales as great places to visit; Philly and Pittsburgh are two of my favorite cities, and I feel like my love for Lancaster (which I’m interpreting the ambiguously dubbed “The Amish” to mean) has been well documented. It’s just that it boggles me when states like Maine, Maryland, and Massachusetts have droves of articles devoted to locations all around the states, that Pennsylvania, which is so much bigger, and has just as much history and culture, is relegated to cheesesteaks, The Rocky Statue, whoopie pies, and everything Heinz.
Obviously I know this is not true, as do most people who live in PA (I hope). This post is for those who don’t. It’s 10 ideas for places to visit in Pennsylvania that aren’t Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Most of these places I’ve covered before, so those post may seem a bit redundant, but I wanted to have everything here in one comprehensive place.
1) Lancaster- Even though technically a lot of travel literature includes Lancaster, I’m putting it on this list, because there’s so much more to this place than just the Amish. In fact, after living here for five years, I could effectively tell you that the Amish don’t even breach my top five reasons for visiting Lancaster (they do breach the ten though-even after five years I still found following buggies to be funny).
What surprises most people is that Lancaster is the name of not just the county, but a city as well, an up and coming city with tons to offer. Lancaster has a booming arts scene (that admittedly I hardly explored), great bars and restaurants, a big local retail scene, and of course, picturesque countryside dotted with horse and buggies. It’s also in a great central location for daytrips to Harrisburg, York, the Chesapeake Bay, and home to PA’s only Ren Faire. My two favorite things are the great hiking along the Susquehanna River and the Lancaster craft beer scene-Lancaster has more breweries than any other county in the state.
2) Scranton– The Office put Scranton on the map for a lot of people, but the Electric City has enough achievements to stand on it’s own, including a St. Patrick’s Day parade that’s so much cheaper than attending those in Boston or New York (I’ve attended all three and speak from experience). Scranton gets a bad rap (some of it deserved-I say that with love), but the reality is that there’s a ton more to do in the area, even then when I was going to college there just six short years ago (damn, I’m old). Plus, it is now home to the NEPA Party Bike (which is a very shameless plug on my behalf).
3) PA Grand Canyon- I still need to make it to the PA Grand Canyon, which is a great place in Pennsylvania to get away from it all, yet still have an abundance of activities (mainly of the outdoor variety) to keep you busy. As an added bonus, it’s a great place to combine with a weekend getaway to the Finger Lakes (embarrassingly enough, I stole this idea from my parents who went wine tasting on Lake Cayuga one day and hiking in the PA Grand Canyon the next).
4) Laurel Highlands – The Laurel Highlands is another pretty undeveloped, yet accessible part of PA located in the western portion of the state just below Pittsburgh. I explored them partially this summer for a trip to Ohiopyle State Park and was blown away by how gorgeous it was I’m sure I could easily find a way to fill up an entire week of activities in the Laurel Highlands, let alone a weekend, from biking the Great Allegheny Passage, to several different whitewater options, to kayaking, rappelling in a natural cavern, or staying at a historically haunted tavern.
5) Lehigh Valley– Contrary to what Billy Joel says, not everything is closing down in the Lehigh Valley. In fact, Allentown, Kutztown, Easton, and Bethlehem, some of the towns comprising the Lehigh Valley are all mostly on the upswing. Like Lancaster, the Lehigh Valley is big with craft beer, and unlike Lancaster, very popular for those wine lovers out there as well. It’s also in a super central location between New York City and Philadelphia
6) Northern Tier Tour- If you google the “Northern Tier Tour” nothing to do with Pennsylvania will come up, mostly because it’s a term coined by someone in my family (I think my uncle, but who knows) to describe a small area of Susquehanna County, north of the thriving metropolis of Forest City. While this would probably officially be part of the “Endless Mountains” (the Poconos’s smaller, less flashy and thus less well known cousin), I know it as the area where I grew up. What makes it unique is that it’s home to a stretch of bars that also double as places to stay, adventure outfitters, restaurants, and in some cases even gas stations and mini golf courses, a throwback to a time where you could stay at somewhere that’s not an overpriced four star resort, and still have all your needs met (well, to a degree). As a bonus, there’s great XC skiing, Elk Mountain for downhill skiing, and phenomenal eating (if your idea of phenomenal eating includes pizza and wings, as mine does).
7) Erie and the PA Northwest- Did you know that in the summer Erie is practically a beach town? The town’s perch on the shore of it’s titular lake, and the nearby Presque Isle State Park (which is the most visited state park in PA) help to ensure this. Erie also has a growing beer and wine scene, as well as a fascinating maritime history, which is more than a lot of Pennsylvania cities can say (Ok, Philly does too, but this isn’t about Philly).
8) Jim Thorpe- While it’s technically a resident of the Lehigh Valley, Jim Thorpe earns a solo spot on this list for consistently appearing in a number of publications as the “coolest” or “most fun” or “most unique” small towns. Jim Thorpe has a very interesting history as a once booming summer colony, some bloodshed with the Molly Maguires and Pinkertons, and is supposedly very haunted (one of it’s old Victorian mansions is the inspiration for the Haunted Mansion at Disney). Dubbed the “Switzerland of America” it’s also a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts who want to raft, learn to kayak, snow shoe, or go mountain biking.
9) The Poconos- A lot of people think the Poconos are dead and buried with the cheesey honeymoon suites that once ruled the area (they still exist!), but that’s not the case. This large area includes Lake Wallenpaupack, where you could jetski or paddleboard, the extremely hikable and bikable Delaware Water Gap State Park, and a number of large resorts that can cater to your every whim from something traditional like tennis or golf to dog sledding and ziplining. The Poconos also border Scranton, Jim Thorpe, and the Lehigh Valley if you want to combine a few of these destinations into one larger trip.
10) Gettysburg- As the biggest and bloodiest battle to ever be fought on US soil, Gettysburg is arguably one of the most historically significant places in the state. It’s also one of the most well maintained, comparable to the National Mall in DC or Disney. The battlefields are interesting and picturesque, and they’ve done a great job allowing you to picture what it would have looked like during the Civil War. The amount of monuments for various platoons, soldiers, groups, and ethnicities really brings home how much devastation was once wrought here. It’s certainly sobering and haunting, and speaking of haunting, Gettysburg is also considered by many to be one of the most active paranormal sites in the US, which is its own little industry in Adams County.