Pennsylvania is known for its history, heritage, and delicious food. It also has some very unique places to visit and experience. I bet you will find them fascinating. Let's take a trip across the state and look at some of these interesting destinations that draw tourists to Pennsylvania.
Note: My visit to Penn's Cave and Wildlife Park was hosted by the site, and AAA Buggy Rides sponsored my Amish Buggy Ride. However, all opinions expressed are my own.
1. Kinzua Bridge Skywalk
The Kinzua Bridge was the largest (2,053 feet long) and tallest (301 feet high) bridge in the world upon its completion in 1882 and known by many as the eighth wonder of the world. Trains used this viaduct to cross the 300-foot valley below. In 2003, a tornado whipped through the valley and destroyed 60 percent of the bridge, leaving it a mangled mess.
Today, at Kinzua Bridge State Park, visitors can walk on the 300-foot restored portion of the bridge to an observation deck, providing picturesque views of the Kinzua Creek Valley and the wreckage left from the tornado below. Visitors are permitted to hike down to the remains of the bridge, which are still lying where they fell.
The bridge and Skywalk are mostly flat with solid surfaces. There is also another hiking trail along the railroad bed that is flat and easy walking. The hike down to the wreckage is a challenging hike requiring balance and sturdy shoes.
Plan to spend an hour or so if just visiting the Skywalk. If you plan to hike the trails, schedule at least half a day at this site.
2. Drake Oil Well
Pennsylvania is known for many things, but I bet you didn't know it had the world's first commercial oil well. Pennsylvania is home to the birthplace of the oil industry. Called the Valley that Changed the World, Oil Creek State Park and the site of that first commercial oil well located in Titusville.
In 1859, the first purposely drilled well hunting for oil was dug. Just south of this is McClintock Well 1, a well dug in 1861 that struck oil at 600+ feet below the surface. It produced 175 barrels of oil per day.
What makes Drake Oil Well so unique is that it was the first and continues to produce oil, making it the world's oldest continually producing oil well.
The well is run regularly throughout the year. The oil produced is sold to help with the costs of preserving the site.
The park is mostly flat and easily walked. Parking is close. There are remnants of the first wells and drilling equipment to view around the park.
An hour or two at this park is enough to see everything.
This site is unique in how the iconic home of Frank Lloyd Wright sits over a Pennsylvania waterfall.
Fallingwater is one of 24 Unesco World Heritage sites in the United States. There are only two in Pennsylvania.
It is one of those places you have to see at least once in your lifetime. I've been fortunate to get to visit it multiple times.
Located in the Laurel Highlands of Southwestern, Pennsylvania, just 70 miles east of Pittsburgh, it was designed in 1935 as a residence and summer home.
It is open as a museum that includes a gift shop and a cafe.
Self-guided and guided tours are available, and reservations are required. Tickets for both are available online. Most of the walking is on flat surfaces unless you choose to hike in the 5,100 acres surrounding Fallingwater.
I would allow a minimum of two hours for this visit.
4. Mount Davis
This treasure is about an hour from my home, and I had never visited until recently. You can stand at the highest point in the state of Pennsylvania when you visit Mount Davis.
It is a beautiful nature park with numerous hiking trails. It holds the record for being the highest point in Pennsylvania, and there are also historical markers and stories about the area.
You can climb an observation tower, which is several stories high with lots of steps, but the view is worth the climb as you look out over the area.
Most of the hiking is flat, but it is not paved.
Allow an hour for this visit and longer if you plan to take some of the hiking trails.
Pro Tip: Be aware it is cooler and windy there. You might need a jacket. I was there in summer, and it was about 15 degrees cooler there than our previous stop and there was a brisk wind.
5. Horseshoe Curve
If you are a railroad fan or an engineering junkie, you will adore Horseshoe Curve. It is a dramatic horseshoe-shaped railroad curve, one of the world's most incredible engineering feats, situated at the top of a steep hill near Altoona in the Allegheny Mountains. The best views are from atop the mountain. Pennsylvania Railroad workers overcame the challenge of crossing the mountain by installing rail tracks through this rough terrain.
There are many steps, 194 to be exact, that lead up to the top, or you can ride the funicular (incline is closed during COVID) for a view of this engineering wonder.
This is a nice place to relax and watch the trains go by and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Plan to spend an hour or so here. If you are a train lover, you might want to spend the whole afternoon.
6. Gravity Hill
I recently visited this phenomenon that is about 45 minutes from my home. I had often heard of Gravity Hill but never actually experienced it till July 2020.
The theory of this experience is that gravity will make your car move uphill. There is a spray-painted marker on the road that indicates where to start. When you put your car in neutral, your car will start going uphill by gravity. I didn't think this could possibly happen, but I have tried it, and it works. I have even turned the car around and tried it in the opposite direction, and it still worked.
About a mile down the road, there is another spot where it happens. There are poles along the road, and if you find the one that has the number 69 on it and put your car in neutral gear, you will experience your vehicle moving uphill on its own.
Both of these experiences are quite a thrill when trying to steer as gravity moves your car uphill backward.
Gravity Hill in Bedford County is relatively easy to find if you know where you are going, but it is out in the country on a back road. The directions are on the Bedford County Visitors Bureau Gravity Hill page.
Allow about an hour for this experience, including travel time to the site. Experience it, turn around, do it again, and then get back to the main road.
Pro Tip: Don't try this in an RV or if hauling a trailer. There is not sufficient room to turn around after the experience. Make sure there isn't traffic coming either way before trying this.
7. Coffee Pot
Located along the historic Lincoln Highway just west of Bedford, the Koontz Coffee Pot still stands. Built in 1927 by David Koontz as a lunch spot, this 18- by 22-foot coffee pot now resides near the Bedford County Fairgrounds.
Over the years, the Coffee Pot never served as a coffee shop. That said, visitors can walk around this unique site, and it is a great photo opportunity.
The Coffee Pot address is 108 Telegraph Rd, Bedford, PA 15522. This is a quick half-hour stop.
8. Abandoned Turnpike Tunnel
As you travel along the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Breezewood, just a few hundred yards to the side is one of the most unique attractions, the Abandoned PA Turnpike Tunnel.
When the PA Turnpike was built, it was a four-lane highway but only had single-lane tunnels, which created a backup. In 1968 traffic was rerouted to go over the mountains, leaving this area abandoned.
The 13-mile stretch of turnpike was given to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy. The goal was to turn the abandoned turnpike into an official biking and walking trail. But that has never happened.
The site is officially closed to visitors, but the signs indicate you are permitted to be on the property at your own risk. You can walk or bike the abandoned turnpike and go through the two-mile-long tunnels and explore this strange site.
It can be accessed near Breezewood and in Fulton County. It is mostly flat pavement, but you will find broken pavement in places. I suggest sturdy sneakers for this site.
Depending on how far you wish to walk and how fast you walk, plan to spend one to four hours at this site.
Pro Tip: Be sure to take a flashlight with you, it is very dark.
9. Balance Rock
Trough Creek State Park
This unique location is part of the Trough Creek State Park near Raystown Lake. You can spend a whole weekend at Raystown Lake. The Balanced Rock is a precariously perched boulder on the edge of a steep cliff. A geological wonder, you keep thinking it will fall over the cliff any second.
The trail to Balanced Rock is a short, steep hiking trail rated difficult. If you wear suitable footwear you should not have a problem. I've hiked it many times with older individuals and had no issues.
Allow two hours for this visit, longer if you plan to do additional hiking.
10. Isett Heritage Museum
Stepping back in time is easy when you visit the Isett Heritage Museum. A unique museum, they have selected over 40,000 items to display. They date back to the 1800s up to the present. Everything from toys to machines, cars, hardware, and so much more.
They have things that I remembered from my childhood visiting my grandparents’ farm (old milk cans and ringer washer machines, and items I enjoyed from my teen years (jukeboxes and typewriters.) It was a happy experience to reminisce about many of the things there.
There is considerable walking involved in multiple buildings, but it is an easy walk, and on flat cement-type surfaces and is wheelchair accessible.
Allow at least two to three hours for this visit.
11. Penn’s Cave And Wildlife Park
This cavern is perfect for the 50+ traveler. Penn’s Cave is the only all-water cavern in Pennsylvania. It is located in Centre Hall and is one of nine show caves in the state. You go through the cave in a boat, so no worrying about sliding on the rocks and falling. But you do have a steep incline and some steps to get down to the boat dock.
Boats take visitors through Penn's Cave, which runs underneath a working farm. The ride through the cavern is about a quarter-mile in length and lasts about 45 to 50 minutes.
A tour guide sitting at the front of the boat guides it through the cavern stopping along the way to point out cleverly named magnificent rock formations and provides a bit of fascinating history about the cave and the geology of the area.
If this unique boat-based tour of Penn's Cave isn't enough to make you want to visit, there is also a wildlife park and maze.
The wildlife park tour takes place via bus with minimal walking at one stop. The animals are housed in huge natural habitat enclosures. Many of the animals graze near the bus. Dangerous animals, like the wolves, are housed in giant enclosures that keep them separate from visitors but allow for exceptional viewing.
The 5,000-square-foot maze at Penn's Cave sits directly behind the gift shop and was one of my favorite parts of my visit. This maze is as much fun for adults as it is for kids, and the paneled walls allow them to change the maze from time to time. This involves walking on flat level cement and up some steps.
This is definitely unique and worth a half-day visit.
Pro Tip: Take a light jacket. It is chilly when going through the cavern.
12. Amish Buggy Ride
The Amish have settlements in few states, and Pennsylvania is one of them. An Amish Buggy ride is a unique experience and an opportunity to learn about the Amish lifestyle and history.
I recently experienced this unique activity and highly recommend it to everyone.
There are a variety of tours offered in Lancaster by different vendors.
Our tour was with AAA Buggy Rides, and they have knowledgeable guides that are either Amish or have family in the Amish community. They also take excellent care of their horses who pull the buggies. Their tours start at convenient locations and last anywhere from 35 to 90 minutes.
There is one significant step into the buggy. Other than that, you are sitting and enjoying the ride.
13. Eastern State Penitentiary
The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia opened in 1829 and was considered state-of-the-art and a model for future correctional facilities. It was operational until 1970 when it was replaced with a newer, modern prison.
For nearly two decades, it was abandoned and then opened again in 1988 for limited tours. Sitting in the middle of the city, it appears almost like a massive, haunted castle. The prison has been preserved and is a fascinating place to visit.
I recommend taking the self-guided tour that includes headphones and provides the story of the prison. This tour allows you to move at your own pace and spend extra time in the areas of most interest. You can even see where Al Capone's cell was.
In the fall of 2020, they will begin offering night tours that allow you to explore the prison cell blocks and yards with moonlight shining through the overhead skylights. There will also be large-screen projections on the walls of the penitentiary.
Most of the walking is on flat cement surfaces. The basic tour route includes ADA compliant ramps, but some areas are not accessible.
They have recently made some upgrades, and their hours are changing due to COVID, so check the website before visiting.
Tickets are available online for purchase. Plan to spend several hours if you intend to do the entire tour.
14. Mutter Museum
Do you like odd and strange things? If so, the Mutter Museum might be something you will enjoy. It is definitely unique. The entire museum is made up of a variety of medical tools and pathological and anatomical preserved specimens.
Most people find it either fascinating and educational or extremely gross. My husband and I enjoyed the visit. Certainly not something you would consider dull or ordinary.
The area is flat and easy to walk. I would plan to spend several hours at this unique museum.
15. Ringing Rocks Park
Ringing Rocks Park is the place to go if you want to take out your frustrations!
Bring your hammer and an hour or two, and you can have a great time banging the rocks to make a ringing sound on seven acres of land. Ringing Rocks County Park in Bucks County is located on an isolated hillside overlooking the Delaware River.
No one knows why the rocks ring in this area. They make a metallic sound when the hammer hits the rock.
The trail to the Boulder Field is flat, and you only walk a few hundred yards on the trail. The rocks in the field are plentiful, and you need to be surefooted and have a good sense of balance if you plan to explore the area.
When you are on the trail to the field, you come to a fork in the road. Take the fork to the right, and you will also see an added treat, a waterfall, High Falls. (These falls are sometimes dry in summer and fall if there hasn't been much rain.)
Located in northern Bucks County, the park's entrance has a small sign next to the parking lot entrance. It is easy to miss, and it's not always identifiable on phone maps. The park has no formal address but can be located using GPS coordinates 40.559916, -75.128538.
Aside from the seven acres of ringing rocks, there are some picnic tables and a sign marking the trail entrance. The park is open from sunrise to sunset. Admission to the park is free. I would plan to spend at least an hour at this park.
Tip: Don't forget your hammer.
There you have it, 15 unique, one-of-a-kind places to visit in Pennsylvania. Each provides a different experience for you to enjoy.