Indiana, a college town in west central Pennsylvania, is known as the Christmas Tree Capital of the World and was the hometown of the beloved actor Jimmy Stewart. It is also an outdoor playground for hiking and biking. What’s more, the area’s Ghost Town Trail was recently named the 2020 Pennsylvania Trail of the Year.
How did Indiana become the Christmas Tree Capital of the World? According to the Indiana County Christmas Tree Growers Association, tree farmers harvested an estimated 700,000 Christmas trees in 1956 and were awarded the title. A few other places may produce more trees now, but Indiana was the first, and its festive nickname appears often on local signs and advertising.
The Jimmy Stewart Museum provided a personalized tour and free admission. All opinions are my own.
Things To Do In Indiana, Pennsylvania
There’s no shortage of things to do in Indiana. Its attractions include everything from The Jimmy Stewart Museum to the Ghost Town Trail, and festivals and themed activities are held every month.
As you can imagine, Christmas is extra special in the Christmas Tree Capital of the World. The festivities begin before Thanksgiving and feature a festival and parade, a scrumptious cookie tour, a benefit event at a local tree farm, and much more. Indiana is a great place to spend a weekend at any time of the year, but you might want to consider a holiday visit to participate in these fun events.
Here’s what to do on a weekend in Indiana.
Visit The Jimmy Stewart Museum
Jimmy Stewart is Indiana’s hometown hero who made it big. He served in World War II and was awarded several medals; later, he was an icon of the big screen, starring in 80 films, including numerous major motion pictures. The star’s career spanned 55 years and included hits like Harvey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite his fame and fortune, Stewart never forgot his hometown, and his hometown never forgot him.
The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana is a tribute to the Hollywood legend’s life. When you visit, you’ll begin to understand why everyone loved Stewart and how he exemplified the best of the Greatest Generation.
The museum takes you through Stewart’s life, from his time as a young child to his college days and his early film career. You’ll learn about how he left Hollywood to serve in the military, accepting the most dangerous missions prior to his return to the silver screen.
You can view his military uniforms, medals, movie posters, family heirlooms, and awards. Also on display is the bed he slept in as a child, his home office desk, his chairs, and other memorabilia.
Stewart was friends with Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and you’ll see letters from the president to Stewart along with pictures of the two famous men together.
A vintage-style theater that can hold up to 50 visitors screens Stewart’s movies daily. From Thanksgiving until Christmas, it shows It’s a Wonderful Life.
Open for 25 years now, the museum is an interesting place to visit for everyone, but especially for film and history buffs. Stewart truly enjoyed a wonderful life!
Be sure to stop at the gift shop for Stewart-related memorabilia and gifts.
Follow In Jimmy Stewart’s Footsteps
There are many other things to see in the town pertaining to Stewart. A short walk down the street from the museum will take you to the location of his birth. The house is gone, but the steps remain, along with a marker.
Stewart’s boyhood home on Vinegar Hill is still standing, and visitors can walk or drive by the residence.
A statue of Stewart stands on the front lawn of the Indiana County Courthouse on Philadelphia Street.
Take a 10-minute drive to the Jimmy Stewart Airport to see the actor’s Cessna aircraft -- it’s now positioned on a pillar in the air, and the plane acts as a weathervane, turning with the wind, the propellers moving in the breeze.
Plan to spend a half day visiting the museum and longer to walk around town and see the other sites and the airplane.
Hike The Ghost Town Trail
Named the Pennsylvania Trail of the Year by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources in 2020, the Ghost Town Trail spans Indiana and Cambria Counties and is 44 miles long. The trail has seven access points and is part of an extensive network of trails in western Pennsylvania known as the Trans Allegheny Trails.
If you're wondering about the name, many towns along the trail were once coal-mining towns, and when the mines closed, the people left. There are historical markers along the trail that provide interpretive information about these towns.
Drive Through The Smicksburg Amish Community
More than 325 Old Order Amish families live in the Smicksburg area. There are more than 20 specialty shops showcasing quilts, handmade wreaths, furniture, crafts, food, and candy in the town. Several festivals are held in Smicksburg each year, including the annual Apple Festival.
Take a scenic drive from Indiana through this Amish area and be sure to stop for some special treats or a home-cooked meal.
Be aware that Amish-owned businesses are closed on Sunday.
Take A Class At The Artists Hand Gallery
An art gallery and community arts center, The Artists Hand Gallery offers classes, exhibits, and an espresso bar.
Stop By The Indiana County Historical Museum
Learn about the community, its people, and its history at the Indiana County Historical Museum. Memorabilia and artifacts showcase the history of Indiana County in various displays.
Appreciate The Buttermilk Falls Natural Area
The 45-foot Buttermilk Falls is the highlight of this 48-acre natural area. You’ll also find hiking trails, restrooms, a falls overlook area, and picnic pavilions.
See The Covered Bridges Of Indiana County
A driving tour will take you to four covered bridges constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Only one bridge, the Thomas Covered Bridge, remains open to traffic. All four are within easy driving distance of Indiana, and you can find a tour map here.
Search For Treasures On The Indiana County EcoTour
Are you into geocaching? There are 20 caches hidden on the Indiana County EcoTour. Geocaching is easy to do with a smartphone and an account on the Geocaching website. The trail focuses on areas of environmental interest in the county.
Participate In A Festival
Indiana hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. From their Winter Tea in January to the Jimmy Stewart Air Show in June to the It’s a Wonderful Life Festival in late November, there is always something happening in Indiana County. Check the Indiana County Tourist Bureau’s website to find out what’s going on during your visit.
Go On A Wagon Ride At Mytrysak Family Tree Farm
If you’re visiting during the holidays, head to Mytrysak Family Tree Farm. They host family-friendly weekend activities and have a large variety of Christmas trees. Be sure to take a wagon ride through the trees. Imagine taking home a tree from the Christmas Tree Capital of the World!
Best Restaurants In Indiana, Pennsylvania
There are dozens of fast food and chain restaurants in this college town, but there are also many unique restaurants and venues offering exceptional homestyle cooking. There are several breweries and wineries in the area, too.
Bruno’s Italian Restaurant
Authentic Italian food is on the menu at Bruno’s. They have a bar area, a dining area, and a cellar. For a special evening, head to the cellar to wine and dine on authentic homestyle Italian cooking. The spaghetti and meatballs are delicious.
9th Street Deli
Just across the street from The Jimmy Stewart Museum is the 9th Street Deli, known for their 2-foot long subs. It is an excellent place for a quick lunch after visiting the museum. If you can't tackle a full sub, consider some of their homemade soup.
This diner will remind you of yesteryear’s restaurants, and the food will remind you of Grandma’s cooking, especially the homemade pies. Open 24 hours a day, Dean’s Diner is located in Blairsville, but a piece of their pie is well worth the drive.
Best Places To Stay In Indiana, Pennsylvania
Hilton Garden Inn
The Hilton Garden Inn is connected to the convention center and just a 5-minute drive from The Jimmy Stewart Museum and the downtown area.
Dillweed Bed and Breakfast
Dillweed Bed and Breakfast is located right beside the Ghost Town Trail access point in Dilltown. They have guest rooms with shared amenities and a private Garden Suite with a kitchen, full bath, and living area.
Burnhead Grazings Spring House
An Airbnb offering a hearty breakfast, the Burnhead Grazings Spring House is located on 68 acres of beautiful rolling farmland. The grounds include a rustic barn and spring house, a babbling brook, a delightful pond, and lots of donkeys, horses, and sheep.
Pro Tip: If you’re heading to Indiana in the winter, make sure you are prepared for cold temperatures and snow. Heavy coats, gloves, scarves, and boots will be needed.