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North Hills Monthly

Enjoying the Fall Colors in Cumberland Valley, PA

Sep 30, 2015 02:40PM ● By Vanessa Orr
It’s leaf-peeping season, and that means that those of us who live on the East Coast are hopping in our cars and hitting the road to find the most fabulous displays of color around. Even if you don’t have a ton of time to go traveling, I would highly recommend you make the time for an extended weekend in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley, where the views are amazing, whether you’re standing at the top of a trail in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, or enjoying an evening on the historic, tree-lined streets of Carlisle, PA.

I was lucky enough to visit in early October of last year, and I’m still kind of surprised that I didn’t wreck the car on the way. I stopped a ridiculous amount of times just to take in the beauty; while you can make the trip in three hours on the Turnpike, I highly recommend following Route 30 for the majority of the drive, which for most of its length is also the Lincoln Highway—not only will you enjoy breathtaking vistas, but you can also stop to check out the barn-sized highway murals and oversized statues that used to promote different attractions for those brave enough to venture along America’s first coast-to-coast highway in those early road-tripping days.

It’s easy to get an up-close look at all that nature has to offer in the Cumberland Valley, with more than 200 miles of trails spread over its 54,000 acres. This includes the Appalachian Trail, which runs through Pine Grove Furnace State Park, which is considered about the halfway point of the 2,189-mile walk. There is a wonderful museum at the site, which shares the history of some of the trailblazers who first popularized the hike, including Grandma Gatewood, who first hiked the trail in 1955 at the age of 67, and Earl Shaffer, who in 1948, became the first person to hike the trail in just one trip. One of the half-dozen shelters that Shaffer built between 1959-61 is even on display inside; it was dismantled by 40 volunteers and reconstructed inside the museum in the hiker’s honor.

What’s really neat is that while you’re in the park, you often have a chance to meet hikers who are traversing the trail, and who are willing to share their experiences with you. Just don’t ask to share their ice cream; the tradition is that when hikers reach this halfway point, they enjoy a half gallon of ice cream at the Pine Grove General Store, where they are rewarded with a keepsake ice cream scoop. Because the 13-mile part of the trail that runs through Cumberland Valley is among the lowest and the flattest sections, you can even take a day hike on your own, which will enable you, like I do, to jokingly say that you “hiked the Appalachian Trail.” Just hope that no one asks for details.

A historical walking tour around the park will give you more detail about the area’s history as an industrial hub for producing iron, and you can still stop by the imposing iron furnace that marks the heyday of the furnace’s activity between 1764 and 1895, when it took an acre of wood a day to keep it running. If you happen to stop by during the Fall Furnace Fest, which will be held this year on October-18-19, you can even enjoy live demonstrations of charcoal making, blacksmithing, apple cider making and broom making.

Of course, all of this hiking can build up quite an appetite, and there are numerous restaurant options available, as well as opportunities to enjoy finer wines and whiskeys. At Castlerigg Wine Shop, for example, I thoroughly enjoyed a tasting that included pairings of wines, chocolates and cheeses (seriously, nothing is better than a good Merlot and dark chocolate), and 1794, the Whiskey Rebellion restaurant at Comfort Suites, which has been named an OpenTable Diners’ choice award winner, offers connoisseurs more than 50 domestic and international whiskeys. Good thing that there are rooms upstairs.

If you’d like to learn how to cook some of the fresh, local offerings from the farms in the area, you might also want to stop in The Kitchen Shoppe and Cooking School in Carlisle, where you can watch, and sample, meals made by chefs right on-site. Classes are offered every month, and range from learning to master the Big Green Egg, to apple pie workshops, homemade pesto classes and even New Orleans Food and Wine Flights. I had a wonderful time learning to make a roasted tomato, pesto and goat cheese frittata, and I’ve used the recipes that I brought home numerous times. Even better, I was introduced to my favorite new cooking tool—goggles designed to prevent your eyes from tearing up while cutting onions. Absolute genius!

There are many more things to do in Carlisle, including visiting the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center and attending one of Carlisle Events many car shows, which are held throughout the year. Come to think of it, maybe you’d better plan on more than a long weekend.

For more information about things to do in Cumberland Valley, visit