Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, got its nickname for being in the middle of the original 13 colonies, thus holding the colonies together like a keystone. Today, Pennsylvania is the keystone of family vacations – it offers big city fun and history lessons in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, beaches on Lake Erie, the best skiing in the Mid-Atlantic, theme parks for children of all ages, scenic railroad excursions for train-lovers, beautiful waterfalls, and lovely mountain getaways. Here is Trekaroo’s Top 10 things to do in Pennsylvania with families.
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10. Enjoy a Smorgasbord in Lancaster and ExperiencePennsylvania Dutch Country
A drive through Pennsylvania quickly reveals that this state has a wealth of farmland. There is no better place to go to fully experience the bounty of this harvest than in Lancaster’s Pennsylvania Dutch Country. In the summer months there are roadside markets selling fresh fruit pies and breads, but for the full experience, visit a smorgasbord, like the Hershey Farm Restaurant or Miller’s Smorgasbord, for the most filling meal of a lifetime. Kids love being able to choose from at least a dozen pie and dessert options after finishing their fried chicken or buttered noodles. Ever wanted to try shoofly pie? Here’s your chance!
While eating is certainly the best way to enjoy the farmland of Lancaster County, it’s not the only way. Hop on a steam train at the Strasburg Railroad and watch the countryside go by. On our last two early summer visits to Strasburg, we’ve spotted the Amish men plowing their fields using traditional teams of draft horses and/or mules. For even more family fun, leave the train behind at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm to enjoy their pedal carts, slides, bouncing pillows, and seasonal corn maze.
Looking to make a weekend getaway to Lancaster? There are several hotels in the region that Trekaroo families recommend.
9. Appreciate the Charm of Bucolic Bucks County
Photo by Sharon Rigney
Along the Delaware River opposite the state of New Jersey lies Bucks County, a favorite weekend getaway destination for many Pennsylvania and New Jersey families. The rolling hillsides and quaint villages could not feel further away from big city of Philadelphia just an hour away. Families escaping the city enjoy the beautifully landscaped Peddler’s Village, home to boutique shops, colonial style buildings, and top restaurants. Nearby in Doylestown a curious group of castles houses a unique collection of tools and other items from the 19th Century pre-industrial age. Around the turn of the 20th century, Henry Mercer devoted his life to curating this collection and documenting life in the time immediately preceding the industrial revolution; now there are nearly 50,000 items housed primarily in the Mercer Museum, a six-story concrete castle dreamt up by Mercer himself. Visiting the Mercer Museum with kids? Be sure to pick up a scavenger hunt!
To the south of Philadelphia in the Brandywine Valley, Longwood Gardens puts on a show for families year round. It is simply one of the most stunning gardens in the world! In the summer, the main fountains put on a show with lights, music, and over 1500 jets of water aiming skywards. In the winter, the gardens are lit up for the season with millions of lights. Year round the children’s garden inside the conservatory building, which remains at a tropical temperature throughout the year, delights little ones with water fountains, labyrinths, and secret stairways.
Learn more about making a visit to Bucks County with kids in Trekaroo’s Family-Friendly Historic Bucks County.
8. Get Outdoors and Enjoy Pennsylvania’s Lakes and Mountains
Did you know that Pennsylvania has it’s own beach? On the shores of Lake Erie, Presque Isle State Park has more than ten beaches for families to enjoy in the summer months. The state has it’s own grand canyon too; the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania stretches for over 45 miles in the northern part of the state between Williamsport and Wellsboro. Northern Pennsylvania is even home to a large herd of free-roaming elk that can easily be viewed and heard bugling in the fall months near the Elk Country Visitor Center.
Many families head to Pennsylvania’s mountains to relax and reconnect; there are countless mountain lakes, protected forests, and state parks that provide camping and cabins for families looking to spend a relaxing week out in nature. A Trekaroo favorite is the Raystown Lake Region in the picturesque Allegheny Mountains which offers tranquil forests, mountain biking, scenic overlooks, and outfitters that provide everything a family needs on the water from kayaks to paddle boards.
Read all about a relaxing family vacation in the Allegheny Mountains – Exploring Pennsylvania’s Raystown Lake Region.
7. Take a Steam Train Ride Back in Time to the Age of Coal
From a train that takes families into the depths of the Lackawanna Coal Mine in Scranton to Strasburg Railroad’s steam train that puffs its way through the Amish countryside, the trains of Pennsylvania are fun reminders of the state’s industrial past. The heritage of the industrial age of coal and steel in Pennsylvania has left dozens of railroad excursions across the state for families to enjoy. These trains are fun for everyone from choo choo obsessed tots who can ride Pittsburgh’s retired trolleys at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum to parents who wish to soak in the state’s beautiful fall foliage — without having to worry about kids screaming from the backseat of the car –abroad a scenic train like the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway in Jim Thorpe.
For more ways to enjoy Pennsylvania’s fantastic fall foliage, check out Celebrate Fall in Family-friendly Northern Pennsylvania.
6. Go Skiing in the Pocono Mountains
Photo by Sharon Rigney
Kids from all over the Mid-Atlantic states grow-up learning to ski in Pennsylvania. Why? Ski PA has a snowpass program where fourth and fifth graders can ski for free at Pennsylvania Ski Resorts. Due to the Pocono Mountains’ convenient location between Philadelphia, New York State, and New Jersey, many kids from this region learn to ski on these mountains. And, there’s no better destination; the Pocono Mountains are beautiful in any season, and boast more than five ski areas and resorts to choose from as the temperatures dip and the snow begins to fall. Two of Trekaroo’s favorite slopes are the Blue Mountain Ski Area and Camelback Mountain Ski Resort, which both also offer tubing. Camelback actually offers an amazing 42 lanes of tubing fun!
The family fun in the Pocono Mountains does not end on the mountaintops. There are also indoor and outdoor waterparks where families can play; Camelback Resort offers a relatively new 13 slide Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark at it’s Camelback Lodge in addition to it’s legendary Camelbeach Mountain WaterPark, the largest waterpark in the Poconos. There is also a Kalahari Resort and a Great Wolf Lodge in the region offering even more indoor water fun.
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For even more ideas read Trekaroo’s Pocono Mountains: Vacation in a Place of Beauty that’s also Loaded with Fun!
5. Visit a Museum in Carnegie’s Pittsburgh
Famously sitting at the confluence of three rivers, Pittsburgh has one of the most distinctive skylines in all of the eastern United States with the castle-like PPG Place rising above the Allegheny River and golden Fort Duquesne Bridge. There is no better view of the city than from Mount Washington, easily reached by the Duquesne Incline or Monongahela Incline from Station Square on the South Shore of the Monongahela. From the top of either incline, Pittsburgh locals will proudly point out Heinz Field where their Steelers play football in the fall and winter months.
Fortunately, there’s so much more to Pittsburgh than football. Due in part to the legacy of Carnegie and the city’s steel empire, Pittsburgh is home to a fantastic collection of museums. The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is perfect for both grown-up Mister Rogers Neighborhood fans and little Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood viewers featuring puppets from the original show as well a full complement of high quality science and art activities. The nearby Carnegie Science Center also has a plenty of unique exhibits from a retired military submarine moored out in the Ohio River to a very large miniature train exhibit highlighting the local landscape.
And, there’s so much more in Pittsburgh including: the historic Point State Park, the enormous Phipps Conservatory, and the iconic Strip District. See it all in Trekaroo’s Top 10 Things to do with Kids in Pittsburgh.
Looking for the perfect Pittsburgh hotel for your family? Check out Trekaroo’s Top Family-Friendly Hotels in Pittsburgh.
4. Find Out What’s Made in Pennsylvania: Hershey’s Chocolate, Crayola Crayons, and More!
Pennsylvania celebrates the products that it produces like no other state. Of course, there are factory tours where families can see pretzels being produced, but there are also hands on experiences that teach children how Crayola crayons are made and theme park rides named after Hershey’s candies. Oh yes, it’s clever marketing, but it’s also so much fun. At the Crayola Experience in Easton, my children named crayons for several of their friends and gave them out as gifts; it’s an experience that they talk about all the time and will surely remember. Also, I am doubtful that my children will ever forget the catchy song that accompanies the ride at Hershey’s Chocolate World; the Disney-like animated characters sing and demonstrate how Hershey’s chocolate is made during the free educational and entertaining ride.
For a more traditional factory tour experience, head to central Pennsylvania. The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Tour is a Trekaroo favorite, but you’re sure to find one that’s just right for your family in Trekaroo’s Family Friendly Factory Tours in Pennsylvania.
3. Meet Big Bird on Sesame Street or Princesses at Dutch Wonderland for a Theme Park Experience Your Child Will Never Forget
Photo by: Corrine Edwards
The joy of a young child bravely riding a roller coaster for the first time or giving a high-five to a character that they recognize from television is a priceless memory. Pennsylvania has an amazing collection of theme parks and amusement parks for a relatively small state! Trekaroo families with preschoolers love Sesame Place where tots can join a parade with their favorite characters and later cool off on water rides just their size. On the western side of the state Idlewild, too, is home to a familiar PBS character — Daniel Tiger from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Rounding out the assortment of theme parks that are just the right size for younger children is Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster; little princes and princesses love shows like the “Frog Prince” where three frogs take turns impressing a princess with flips off the high dive into the deep pool below.
Yes, Pennsylvania has amusement parks with some thrilling roller coasters as well. Along the shores of Lake Erie, Waldameer World is home to the Ravine Flyer II one of the most exciting wooden coasters in America; if you don’t blink, you can even spot the sun setting over nearby Presque Isle State Park. Just outside of Philadelphia, Dorney Park’s Hydra turns riders upside down a total of seven times – wow! Hershey Park certainly offers the most thrills in the state with over a dozen roller coasters that appeal to all ages.
Sesame Place and Hershey Park both made Trekaroo’s Top Ten Amusement Parks for Young Kids!
2. Remember the Battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
In President Lincoln’s words, (the world) “ can never forget what they did here.” Simply put, that’s the reason why families must visit Gettysburg National Military Park — so that they will always remember the cost of the American Civil War. As families tour the extensive battlefields, walk through the cemetery where Lincoln spoke those very words, and read the monuments, the history lesson of Gettysburg becomes so much more vivid than words in a history book.
For assistance in planning your family’s memorable visit to Gettysburg, check out Trekaroo’s How To Visit Gettysburg with Kids.
1. Learn About the Foundations of American Independence in Historic Philadelphia
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Every school child in the United States studies the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, two of the most important documents in our nation’s history. Visiting Independence Hall and imagining what it must have been like to be among Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams debating the future of our nation while developing and signing these documents, is an essential lesson in American history. While viewing the Liberty Bell in the shadows of Independence Hall or while waiting in line for a scheduled tour, children and teens have the opportunity to ponder what the Preamble of the Constitution means when it states that the purpose of the US Constitution is to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” What an invaluable lesson!
In addition to the historic sites run by the National Parks Service, there are also a couple of museums, the National Constitution Center and the brand new Museum of The American Revolution, that will help provide background information for your family’s visit to historic Philadelphia and instill a greater sense of importance to your time spent in historic Philadelphia.
This historic section of Philadelphia is only a small part of the city itself. It is also home to some of the country’s best museums, from the hands-on science at the Franklin Institute to fun for the little ones at the Please Touch Museum to the famous steps and Rocky Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For a local’s perspective, check out Trekaroo’s Top 10 Things for Families to Do in Philadelphia.
Check out Trekaroo’s Top Family-Friendly Hotels in the city of Philadelphia – Where to Stay in Philadelphia with Kids
Photos by Melissa Moore unless otherwise credited.
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