There’s no limit in possibilities for exploration and adventure right where we live…in Pennsylvania! Summer is the best season for discovering cool places to visit, so make a plan and enjoy a local adventure during these dog days of summer by exposing your family to activities right here in our home state.
Escaping in Pennsylvania
You don’t need to get on a plane to escape for a weekend. In a quick 1 ½ hour drive from the Western suburbs, your family can be nestled in a serene setting which provides anything and everything for a complete weekend of exploration. Hickory Run State Park in Carbon County offers an escape plan – camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, and picnicking are available to any family wanting to reconnect with nature. Don’t miss the spectacular natural wonder of Boulder Field which began forming 15,000 years ago. The best part? You can hike around AND over this sprawling field of stones.
Want an Adventure?
If hiking is your jam, Ricketts Glen State Park is the family destination for you. Where else in Pennsylvania can you view 22 natural waterfalls in a continuous, mapped-out 3.3 mile looped trail? The park itself offers camping and swimming as well, but the main attraction is the breathtaking waterfalls, a mere 2 ½ hour drive to Benton, Columbia County. Pack for the day and be prepared for the hike; you don’t want to miss the 94 foot Ganoga Falls, the highest of the named falls.
Want to incorporate raptor sightings into your hike? If this combo draws your family into the great outdoors, then Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, located in Kempton, Berks County, is the place for your adventure. In light traffic, you can ease into your bird watching in less than two hours from the Western suburbs. Bring your binoculars because you do not want want to miss the opportunity to view these magnificent birds in all their glory. Spring migration monitors counted several hawk species as well as falcons and eagles. A nominal entrance fee supports the conservation effort and maintaining the trails.
Take in Some History
Pennsylvania boasts 121 state parks, and a favorite that provides both history and hiking is so close to home that it might be overlooked: Valley Forge National Historic Park, the site of the 1777-78 winter encampment of the Continental Army. Well-maintained and accessible, families may choose to ride bikes on the paved trails in order to cover more of the 3,500 acres of historic grounds. Full of monuments and meadows commemorating the Revolutionary War, kids can become Junior Rangers by downloading or picking up a copy of a Junior Rangers Activity Booklet at the visitor center. Let your quest begin!
Digging Deeper into Exploration
Escaping the heat has never been easier than when visiting Historic Crystal Cave located in Kutztown, Berks County, an easy 1.20 hour drive from the Western suburbs. During a one-hour guided tour, your family will safely traverse 125 feet underground to discover the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. There is a nominal entrance fee which includes an introduction movie, and when you finish your underground tour, you can participate in gemstone panning for a few extra dollars. Remember to bring a light jacket or sweater because the cave temperature is a constant 54 degrees.
Continue the underground adventure by taking a slightly over two-hour car ride to Ashland, Schuylkill County to explore the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine. A popular outing for school-aged children, this 35-minute guided tour comfortably takes guests deep inside the coal mine via battery-operated mine cars. Guests are guided around the inside of the 52 degree mine to learn how coal was mined while simultaneously viewing the various passageways. Once returned to the sunlight, there is an option to take your family on a scenic steam train ride, the Henry Clay. A bundled package is offered to include both options.
The Wide Open Trail
Want to create your own adventure? Check out the All Trails link to locate and explore hiking trails near and not-so-near from home. Adventurers simply choose the name of a park, trail, or city of interest and “search” that location on the site. Immediately they are rewarded by a page full of information for each individual trail. The designated pages include trail maps, driving directions, reviews and photos from explorers who have ventured these paths before. There is even a five-day weather forecast to assist the savvy planner!
Don’t Leave Home Without It!
Any good explorer wouldn’t leave home without the appropriate equipment, so be sure to have the proper shoes and clothing for a hike. Remember to wear a hat to provide sun protection and keep you cool. Stay environmentally sound by bringing along a reusable water bottle and a small backpack for hands-free hiking. Don’t forget the bug spray.
Lastly, check your destination choice in advance for COVID-19 updates and restrictions so, like any good explorer, you are prepared.
You don’t have to venture far to delve into our beautiful state, and there’s no better time to be adventurous with your family than this moment.
Photo of Ricketts Glen State Park courtesy of PA DCNR.
First published in August 2020, updated June 2021