Take a Break! Day and Weekend Destinations Put Fun within Reach
Jan 30, 2015 04:05PM
● By Vanessa Orr
UNDER THREE HOURS
For those who want to spend less time on the road, there are a lot of excellent places to go that are within a very short drive.
The Laurel Highlands, for example, are less than an hour away, and offer something for everyone from history buffs to outdoor adventurers. You can tour Fort Necessity and Fort Ligonier, and experience what it was like when George Washington was there, or visit the architectural wonder that is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Hiking and biking are available at Seven Springs and Hidden Valley, and for the more daring, riding the Youghiogheny River on Class I-IV whitewater is an exciting way to spend a day. Cyclists don’t even need to drive; the Great Allegheny Passage now runs 335 miles from Point State Park in Pittsburgh through the Laurel Highlands to Washington, D.C. Day visitors can also visit Nemacolin resorts to wander through its zoo, enjoy a super-lux spa service, eat at one of its many award-winning restaurants or tour its world-renowned art collection. You don’t need to stay there to take advantage of all of the activities they have on-site, but if you can, spoil yourself and stay overnight in their luxurious accommodations.
Less than an hour north of the city is Butler County, which offers a wealth of activities from hiking and biking in Moraine State Park or McConnells Mill to an annual summer regatta on 3,225-acre Lake Arthur. Each summer, auto aficionados from all over the country gear up for the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival, which will be celebrating Jeep’s 75th anniversary this year. Butler County also boasts two very different, and yet fascinating museums: the Maridon Museum, which focuses on Chinese and Japanese art and culture, and the Living Dead Museum, which celebrates zombies in pop culture.
You can even get away to the beach if you want, as Presque Isle State Park in Erie is only a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh. You can enjoy a day on the lake, or spend time at Splash Lagoon, one of America’s top indoor water parks with the largest wave pool in the eastern U.S. There are also 50 miles of vineyards to explore in Lake Erie Wine Country, along with an art museum, zoo and botanical gardens, and even a casino if you’re feeling lucky.
If you’ve got kids in the car, a trip to an amusement park is always a good idea, and in about three hours you can make it to Lake Erie Shores and Islands for a ride on the tallest roller coaster in the world at Cedar Park. Another must-stop in the town of Sandusky is the Merry-Go-Round Museum, which features historic carnival animals, wood-carving demonstrations and even a full-sized carousel inside the circular building. To get even further away from it all, ferries run to Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island, where you can relax in picturesque villages alongside the waters of Lake Erie.
Also on Lake Erie is the town of Geneva, Ohio, located just over two hours from Pittsburgh. This is the heart of Ohio wine country, with more than 20 wineries located minutes away. The best part is that you don’t even have to drive to the different locations; the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, for example, offers transportation to and from the different wineries. Known as “Ohio’s first summer resort,” Geneva-on-the-Lake also features a vintage boardwalk with arcade games, ice cream shops, waterslides and more, which makes it a great getaway for travelers of any age.
If you’d prefer to head south, Tucker County, West Virginia has a lot to offer less than three hours away. Home to Blackwater Falls and world-class hiking, the area is probably best known for its ski resorts, but there’s plenty to do there in the spring and summer as well. The Dolly Sods Wilderness Area contains more than 47 miles of hiking trails alone, and a whitewater rafting trip down the Cheat River is an amazing way to get your feet wet if you want to really experience some excitement. The views from the trails—and even the views from the balconies of any of the area’s rustic lodges—are awe-inspiring.
OVER THREE HOURS
If you can spare more than a day for a getaway, there are some amazing places to visit within a three- to five-hour drive, and it’s more than worth it to make it a weekend.
Gettysburg, PA, is only slightly over three hours away, but once you’ve arrived, it’s like you’ve traveled back in time. It’s easy to imagine the troops mustered on the rolling hills of the battlefields, and much of the architecture remains true to Civil War times. And while a few days, or even a few years, is probably not long enough for true history buffs to see everything that there is to see, visitors should also make sure to check out all of the modern-day attractions, including an amazing food scene (take the Savor Gettysburg tour for a delicious way to explore what the area has to offer) and the Gettysburg Wine and Fruit Trail, which includes wineries, breweries, farm markets and more.
The Hershey/Harrisburg area, located about three-and-a-half hours from Pittsburgh, is also a wonderful place for those who love wine, and of course, chocolate. While most people know the area as home to Hershey Park, there are also 15 award-winning wineries and 10 craft brewers in the region, and you can even customize a tour, depending on your interests. For history buffs, Harrisburg is also home to the nation’s largest museum portraying the Civil War, as well as the State Museum of Pennsylvania.
There’s no excuse for not visiting Niagara Falls, one of the most amazing places in the world, since it’s only four hours away. Every second, more than 750,000 gallons of water plummet over the cliffs, which is reason enough to go visit this breathtaking site; the fact that you can hop on a boat and get close to the base of the falls on a Maid of the Mist cruise makes it even better. If you’re interested in the mechanics of things, you can also drive about 20 miles to Lockport, NY, to take a Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruise, which takes you through the locks of the Erie Canal. For a more eerie experience, take the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat tour, which travels through a 1,600-foot underground tunnel.
One of the more amazing summer events in Pennsylvania occurs in Reading in June. This year will mark the 25th anniversary of World War II weekend, held in the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, minutes from downtown Reading and about four hours from Pittsburgh. Walking into the event is like being transported back in time; visitors find themselves among military encampments, in an officers’ club, even walking through a French village— and entertainment includes everything from a live radio show to Frank Sinatra and Abbott and Costello impersonators. In addition to an air show, more than 1,700 re-enactors make this a don’t-miss event.
Valley Forge is also a great weekend trip for history buffs, at slightly over four hours away. In addition to Valley Forge National Park, a must-visit is the Bryn Athyn Historical District, which combines historical treasures with unbelievable architecture in a Beaux Arts mansion and medieval castle-like museum. Other museums that are well worth the trip are The Stoogeum (which houses one-of-a-kind Three Stooges memorabilia), the Wharton Esherick Museum, and the American Treasure Tour, a massive warehouse focused on pop culture. If you’re looking for outdoor adventures, you can take the kids to the 90-year-old Elmwood Park Zoo, or go zip lining at Spring Mountain before hitting any of the amazing restaurants in town.
For more information on any of sites listed here, visit www.LHHC.org or call 724-879-4241.
You can also visit:
- Bison Corral Farm and Gift Shop: www.visitbedfordcounty.com/bison or 814-733-4908
- Fort Ligonier: www.fortligonier.org or 724-238-9701 or http://ligonier.com/
- Green Gables Restaurant and Mountain Playhouse: www.greengablesrestaurant.com or www.mountainplayhouse.org and 814-629-9201
- Lincoln Highway Experience Museum: www.LHHC.org or 724-879-4241
- Lincoln Motor Court: www.befordcounty.net/lincoln or call 814-733-2891
- Old Log Church: http://oldlogchurch.com/History.shtml
For more information on any of these destinations, contact:
- Butler County, PA: www.visitbutlercounty.com
- Erie, PA: www.visiteriepa.com
- Geneva, OH: www.visitgenevaonthelake.com
- Gettysburg, PA: www.destinationgettysburg.com
- Hershey/Harrisburg: www.visithersheyharrisburg.org
- Lake Erie Shores and Islands: www.shoresandislands.com
- The Laurel Highlands: www.laurelhighlands.org
- Niagara Falls, NY: www.niagara-usa.com
- Reading, PA: www.gogreaterreading.com
- Tucker County, WV: www.canaanvalley.org
- Valley Forge, PA: www.valleyforge.org