There are so many fun things to do in Pennsylvania; it can be overwhelming. If you live in the Harrisburg area, you already know you’re not too far from major cities like Philadelphia and New York City. But you don’t have to drive a couple of hours to have a great time, either.
There are plenty of places to visit in Central Pennsylvania. With several cities in the area like York and Lancaster, as well as the numerous quaint towns scattered throughout the region, there are many great day trips for you to take. Best of all, there are a lot of fun free things to do in Pennsylvania, too.
Here’s a list of 20 must-see places in Central Pennsylvania, all of which can easily turn into memorable day trips.
1. Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg is the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg took place from July 1 to July 3, 1863, and thousands of soldiers lost their lives. An estimated 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing by the end of the battle. All this history is only 47 minutes away from Harrisburg.
You can easily make a day out of a trip to Gettysburg. Tour the 6,000-acre Civil War military park on your own, in your car or with a guided tour by Segway, carriage, bus or horse. Make sure to visit the eerie rock structures of Devil’s Den and peer out of the castle-shaped observation deck at Little Round Top on your tour. Admission to Gettysburg National Military Park is free.
There are plenty of museums to tour in Gettysburg, too. Visit the Jennie Wade House, where Wade was killed by a Confederate bullet while she stood in her kitchen. Or tour President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farm and home just a short distance outside of town.
2. Fulton Opera House
About an hour drive southeast of Harrisburg, you’ll find the historic city of Lancaster. There are tons of ways to spend a day in Lancaster, and one of our top choices revolve around a visit to the Fulton Opera House, also known as the Fulton Theatre.
The Fulton Theatre has a rich and fascinating history. In the 1700s, the theater was the site of a jail and a gang-versus-Indians massacre. The back wall of the theater is the remains of the original jail. In 1852, the theater was built on the jail foundation to serve as a community center.
In 1873, the center took the name the Fulton Opera House after a performance for orphans and widows of the Civil War. Throughout the years, the theater has fought for restoration funds to remain a community landmark.
Now, the Fulton Opera House offers contemporary performances and is one of only eight theaters in the United States that is also a national historic landmark. See a show in this beautiful historic building or tour the theater and learn more about its history for only $5.
3. Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
A little over an hour from Harrisburg in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, is the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Railroads helped build this nation, and Pennsylvania was a major player in the railroad industry. The Railroad Museum features one of the best collections of railroad artifacts in the entire world, available for your eyes at only $10 a ticket.
Discover and explore more than 100 locomotive and railroad cars, photographs, artifacts and art — all part of Pennsylvania’s railroading past.
If you’re still craving trains after the museum, make a stop at nearby Choo Choo Barn Traintown, USA, where you can observe a 1,700-square-foot miniature animated train display.
4. Pine Creek Gorge
Drive two hours north of Harrisburg to take in the breathtaking views at Pine Creek Gorge, also called the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” You can view this 1,000-foot-deep gorge from either Leonard Harrison State Park on the east side or Colton Point on the west.
On a drive along the west rim, you might catch a glimpse of woodpeckers, wild turkeys or other migratory birds. Leonard Harrison State Park is where you can enjoy scenic views of the canyon and explore 585 acres of trails, waterfalls and wildlife.
You can also opt to have a picnic and enjoy four miles of trails at Colton Point State Park instead.
5. Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park
Did you ever think it’d be possible to tour a cave by boat? It’s a possibility at Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park. Located about an hour and a half northwest of Harrisburg in Centre Hall, it’s the only cave in Pennsylvania on the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s one of the most exciting day trips in Pennsylvania.
For $18.50, you can enjoy a 50-minute boat tour of the cave and its glittering rock formations. For a little extra, you can also take the Farm-Nature-Wildlife Tour. This tour takes you through 1,660 acres to view animals like bears, elk and wolves. The fun doesn’t stop there. For another six bucks, you can get lost in Prospector Pete’s Miners Maze.
After all that cavernous fun, you may find you worked up an appetite. With your heightened sense of adventure, head 30 minutes west to State College for a bite and a drink.
6. Roadside America
Take a road trip to Roadside America and experience this quirky tourist attraction in Shartlesville, less than an hour east of Harrisburg. For $8, you get to see the “world’s greatest indoor miniature village.”
It all began in 1899 with Laurence Gieringer’s passion for collecting miniatures. His granddaughter maintains the current display, which she keeps precisely as it was when he passed away in 1963.
7. Lancaster Central Market
We are going to take you back to Lancaster for another way to spend the day. This time, it’s at Lancaster Central Market. Lancaster Central Market boasts of being the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in the country, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Open year-round on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and the market offers everything from regional classics like scrapple and chow-chow to specialty groceries and ethnic dishes. The lot was designated a public market space in 1730, and the current building was erected in 1889.
It’s easy to spend hours browsing the many stands and tasting all kinds of yummy food. You’ll be excited to fill your fridge and cupboards with locally grown produce, farm-fresh dairy products and tasty home-baked desserts.
8. Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland
There’s no need to fly to South Florida to catch a glimpse of a croc if you’re in Central Pennsylvania. All you have to do is hop in your car and head about an hour and a half north from Harrisburg to Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland.
For $16, you can view 40 species of reptiles, from a Komodo dragon to an estuarine crocodile, located throughout the 6,500-square-foot indoor exhibit. You can even become a “zoo parent” and adopt your favorite animal. As a zoo parent, you’ll get a certificate of adoption and a few other bonuses, plus the knowledge that you’re supporting your animal’s daily care.
The average self-guided tour takes about one and a half to two and a half hours, so you’ll have some time left for a hearty meal before heading back to Harrisburg.
Dine with locals at the Mansion House Bar and Grill in Watsontown and enjoy a cold beer and a “belly buster” or head 17 minutes north to the Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport. At the Bullfrog Brewery, you can fill up on brewpub eats or taste craft beer, and you might catch a live band.
9. The Haines Shoe House
If we said you could tour a giant shoe for only $5, would you do it? Well, just so happens, you can in York. The Haines Shoe House, established in 1948, offers guided tours to experience five levels of the shoe-shaped house. Tours last about 25 minutes and are available spring through October. After the tour, you’ll have the option to enjoy locally made ice cream or fresh-baked goods on-site.
While you’re in York, you can spend the rest of the day experiencing one of the many entertainment options available. Catch a first-run flick at the Small Star Art House or play retro favorites at the Timeline Arcade. If you’re a craft beer lover, you can test your future-seeing abilities at the Crystal Ball Brewing Company. If you gaze into your beer and see yourself visiting the Haines Shoe House again, you know your trip was worth the half-hour drive from Harrisburg.
10. Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium
Only 18 minutes west of Gettysburg, you’ll find yet another quirky Pennsylvanian attraction and an excellent excuse to buy yourself some old-time candy. Mister Ed’s in Orrtanna offers over 700 varieties of candy, homemade fudge and freshly roasted peanuts. In addition to loading up on sugary treats, you can view the 12,000 elephant statues, toys and other elephant-related objects on display, for free.
Since 1985, despite a fire in 2010 that destroyed more than 2,000 elephant objects, Mister Ed has been sharing his unique love of candy and elephants with the community.
After visiting Mister Ed, you can burn off some of those candy calories at Caledonia State Park, located only 13 minutes away from the emporium. Explore ten miles of forested trails, including a journey through the ruins of the Caledonia Iron Works via the Thaddeus Stevens Historic Trail.
11. Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Pine Grove Furnace State Park is a wonderful place to hike, bike or get lost in history. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pine Grove offers 696 acres, two lakes, hiking on the Appalachian Trail and the remains of an iron furnace community. You can visit the Appalachian Trail Museum inside a grist mill to view a collection of more than 12,000 photos of Appalachian Trail hikers. The museum kindly asks for donations for support.
After all that hiking, you’ll deserve an order of deep-fried brownies at the Italian Taxi in Mount Holly Springs for the ride back.
12. Meadowbrooke Gourds
Located about 20 minutes west of downtown Carlisle, Meadowbrooke Gourds is the place to buy one-of-a-kind handcrafted gourd decor. On Tuesdays, visitors can take a free public tour to witness the gourd-crafting process.
Tours last approximately 45 minutes, and you’ll get a chance to watch crafters turn gourds into works of art. You’ll also have time to ask questions if you’re interested in becoming a gourd artist yourself, or if you’re just curious about the process. Before or after the tour, you can browse the Meadowbrooke store and pick up a gourd masterpiece, like a lovely gourd basket, to decorate your home with and remember your experience by.
Stop in Carlisle on the way home for a variety of eateries and brew spots to choose from. How about Cafe Bruges for an order of frites, dark chocolate mousse or another Belgian treat?
13. Ricketts Glen State Park
About two hours north of Harrisburg, you’ll find a slice of nature that’s one of the top day trips to take in Central Pennsylvania. At Ricketts Glen State Park, you’ll find no shortage of fun activities, from:
- Horseback riding
- And more!
The 13,000-acre park spans over three counties. With a hike through its trails, you’ll witness an abundance of waterfalls. After viewing the falls, you can find more adventure on the lake or relax for a picnic. Extend your day trip in Pennsylvania by camping in Ricketts Glen State Park and refuel for more excitement throughout the region.
If you prefer to visit for the day, you can always refuel with a meal at one of the restaurants nearby the park or on your way from Harrisburg. Try the Brass Pelican Restaurant for classic tastes of the area or see what else catches your eye as you head to or leave the park.
14. Knoebels Amusement Resort
You’ll find fun for everyone at Knoebels Amusement Resort. Best of all, parking and admission are free! With thrill rides and kids rides galore, there’s no shortage of fun at this amusement park, which makes for one of the top day trips to take in Pennsylvania.
If you want to extend your day trip into a longer getaway, Knoebels offers campsites, cottages and even a bed and breakfast. A longer stay is perfect if you don’t think you can hit up all the attractions in one day. But with a one and a half-hour drive between Harrisburg and the park, you could easily visit again throughout its season.
When you visit in the summer, you can cool down in the pool or on popular water rides the Sklooosh and the Giant Flume. If you prefer cooler weather, check out Knoebels in the fall for spooky festivities leading up to Halloween. No matter when you plan your trip, you’ll find a variety of entertainment and activities, perfect for all ages. Shop in the gift shops, play some mini-golf or ride the park’s famous wooden roller coasters, the Phoenix and the Twister.
Knoebels has plenty of dining options and snacks galore. Get a sugar rush with classic carnival treats like cotton candy or caramel apples. If you prefer to eat outside of the park, there are plenty of places nearby that offer a quick bite.
Visit one of the sweetest places in Central Pennsylvania. Hersheypark is often at the top of the list of best day trips to take in Pennsylvania and for good reason. The amusement park sits within a half an hour from Harrisburg and is open year-round. That’s right; you can enjoy famous sweets at the birthplace of Hershey chocolate any time of year! You’ll want to go every season to enjoy:
- A look at the upcoming summer fun during the spring with over 50 rides
- Everything the park has to offer in the summer with 14 coasters and a water park
- Spooky rides in the dark during fall to get in the Halloween spirit
- Santa, all his reindeer and over four million twinkling lights in winter
A summer visit gets you access to over 70 attractions, but every season has something unique that you’ll want to experience. Visit when the variety of rides are open for the ultimate rush of excitement. Take a ride around the carousel, splash down a water slide or get thrills on one of the park’s adrenaline-pumping roller coasters. No matter what you do when you visit, you’ll find that Hersheypark is one of the best day trip ideas from Harrisburg.
While you can certainly fill up on chocolate on your visit to Hersheypark, there are many other options to munch on in the park. From food carts and stands to sit-down options, you and everyone joining you on your day trip in Central Pennsylvania will find something to satisfy their hunger.
16. Old Jail Museum
Located in Jim Thorpe, about an hour and a half away from Harrisburg, the Old Jail Museum is a must-see historical site. For anyone interested in the supernatural, this museum makes a great addition to the top day trips to take in Pennsylvania.
If you love a good spooky story, the Old Jail Museum is the place for you. Take a tour through the jail and peek into Cell 17, a room with a mysterious handprint on its wall that, despite many attempts to remove it, has never gone away. Hear stories of the ghosts who roam the site and maybe experience the presence of one for yourself!
If you’re skeptical about the spectral side of history, you can appreciate the Old Jail Museum for its interesting architecture and stone structure. Want to experience more of the past in Central Pennsylvania? Other historical sites worth checking out in Jim Thorpe include:
- The Asa Packer Mansion
- Mauch Chunk Museum
- No. 9 Coal & Mine Museum
- Eckley Miners’ Village
After your tour of the past, check out Jim Thorpe’s dining options like the Broadway Grille & Pub or the Marion Hose Bar. You’ll get to enjoy the charming views of this historic town as you dine on delicious meals and drinks.
17. Lehigh Gorge State Park
The Lehigh Gorge State Park is a wonderful escape to nature. The southern end of the park near Jim Thorpe starts about an hour and a half away from Harrisburg, so pack up the car and head out on a day trip in Central Pennsylvania.
At the park, enjoy popular activities like whitewater rafting down the Lehigh River or biking on the scenic trails. You can also go hiking or fishing, so this park truly has something for everyone! Lehigh Gorge State Park isn’t only for summer day trips in Pennsylvania. Visit during the winter to go cross-country skiing or snowmobiling. Who said outdoor fun is only for warmer months?
If you want to pack more outdoor excitement into your Central Pennsylvania day trip, check out the neighboring Hickory Run State Park. Traverse Boulder Field, go for a swim or extend your trip to an overnight stay with camping.
No matter how long you stay, you’ll need to fuel up after the adventures and excitement. Tuck into a picnic at either of these scenic state parks or head to some nearby eateries. Try Boulder View Tavern near Hickory Run State Park for a meal right on the lake.
18. Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle
While these sites are two hours from Harrisburg, you can fill a day with all there is to do in Doylestown. For day trips in Central Pennsylvania, this one is worth the drive, especially with a visit to the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle.
Archaeologist Henry Mercer built both of these structures within a five-minute drive of each other in Doylestown. Mercer completed the structures in the early 20th century, and they now stand as museums.
The impressive Fonthill castle features 44 rooms, more than 200 windows and 18 fireplaces. It’s a display of handcrafted ceramic tiles, early uses of reinforced concrete and the Arts and Crafts movement. Head to the equally impressive Mercer Museum after, which hosts over 50,000 pre-industrial tools from about 60 different trades. Explore the documents and materials in the museum’s research library, which gives you a look into the history of Bucks County.
For a filling meal after your tours, head to Bocelli’s or Bacco Bistro for delicious Italian fare. To finish off the day, head to Boardroom Spirits, a distillery producing infused vodkas, whiskeys and brandies.
19. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater
For a day trip from Pittsburgh, check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater about an hour southeast of the city. On your trip, you’ll witness a unique home and architectural masterpiece, all while learning the rich history of the build.
Businessman Edgar Kaufmann commissioned the home as a weekend house from Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. The house was completed two years later, and the result became Wright’s most acclaimed work known as Fallingwater.
Wright’s goal in designing the home was to bring man closer to nature. With impressive surroundings, including a flowing stream, varied plant life and waterfalls, Wright had plenty of inspiration. He found the site for Kaufmann’s home right above a waterfall — hence the name Fallingwater. He used stone flooring and corner windows that opened out among other design elements to invite the outside in and bring nature closer.
The design caught the nation’s eye, and Wright was featured on the cover of Time in 1937 in front of concept art for the home. Within a few decades, the public would be invited inside the home. Fallingwater opened to the public in 1964 and has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If all this stunning architecture has built up your appetite, grab a light meal at The Fallingwater Café. For something later in the day after your visit, try out the Ohiopyle House Cafe, a perfect spot for a family visit or a couple looking for a cozy meal.
20. Laurel Caverns
More natural wonders await on a day trip from Pittsburgh. An hour and a half south from the city, you’ll find Laurel Caverns. With over 3 miles of passages to explore, it’s the largest cave in Pennsylvania. The cavern is so expansive that it offers varieties of tours:
- The traditional tour for all ages, which lasts about an hour
- The modified traditional tour which features no steep slopes or steps
- Lower caving, which is a spelunking trip that lasts three hours
- Upper caving, which is a two-hour spelunking trip
While Laurel Caverns’ season extends from April to October, be sure to bring some layers. Year-round, the cavern only reaches 52 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’ll want a jacket while you explore the cool caves and passages.
As you journey through the passages, you’ll see impressive ceilings between 10- and 20-feet high, with some reaching 50 feet. The passages average a 12-foot width, which contributes to its status as the largest cave in Pennsylvania.
Laurel Caverns is also the Northeast’s largest bat hibernaculum, but don’t worry. You won’t see any bats on your visit because Laurel Caverns closes during the hibernating season. The bats get the preservation they need during their off-season, and you don’t get spooked by any winged creatures flying overhead — it’s a win-win!
Whether you go on an all-out spelunking adventure or you take a modified tour for some amazing snapshots, you’ll work up an appetite. Try the Marywood Grill for fresh, local eats or Braddock’s Restaurant & Tavern for hearty country meals, sure to restore you after a cave exploration.
Stay in Central Pennsylvania With Triple Crown Corporation
No matter which direction you travel from Harrisburg, you never have to go far to find unusual, historical or fun things to do in Pennsylvania this weekend. Central Pennsylvania’s rich industrious past and enduring creative spirit is available for all to explore and enjoy. Many entertainment and recreational options are affordable or free and can easily become daylong experiences.
So why just visit? Make Central Pennsylvania the place you call home and have access to endless food, nightlife and recreational possibilities every day. Contact Triple Crown Corporation today and find your perfect rental.