Traveling across the state between the larger cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, you will find a mature traveler's playground in Central Pennsylvania. Whether you are into museums, art, spa treatments, or outdoor adventure, the central portion of the Keystone State has you covered. Check out some of the fantastic things the 50+ traveler can enjoy in Central Pennsylvania.
1. Gettysburg National Military Park
If you have never visited this historic site, The Gettysburg National Military Park is an excellent way to learn more about the Civil War. This is where the Union victory put an end to General Robert E. Lee's invasion of the North and was a significant turning point in the war. The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and the inspiration for the Gettysburg Address speech delivered by President Abraham Lincoln.
The military park hosts special events, ranger activities and lectures, living history programs, reenactments, and more.
There are several ways to see the park: The National Park Service has an auto tour route, and you can go at your own pace and stop for pictures or exploration. The Civil War Trust has a free Gettysburg Battle App to download to your smartphone, or you can hire a Battlefield Guide to accompany you on your tour.
Depending on how much of the park you want to see, the type of tour you choose, and the activities you desire to participate in will determine whether you wish to spend several hours to a full day in the military park. When I visited, I spent most of the day in the park. You will need two or three days in Gettysburg to enjoy the many other historical sites, museums, and activities around the Gettysburg area.
Pro Tip: Enjoy a meal at the Dobbin House Tavern. It is the oldest house in Gettysburg, built in 1776, and has endured through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and now COVID.
2. The Spa At The Hotel Hershey
A chocolate-infused spa treatment is perfect for providing that scent of chocolate while relaxing your body and mind. The Spa At The Hotel Hershey offers classical, seasonal, and signature collection treatments.
The Everything Chocolate Treatments are one of the signature collections. Think Cocoa Massage, a Whipped Cocoa Bath, and Chocolate Hydrotherapy. Sounds good enough to eat, but instead, this decadent chocolate collection of treatments will be used to indulge all your senses.
Pro Tip: If you visit in summer or fall, be sure to spend time in the adjacent Hershey Gardens and enjoy the beautiful flowers.
3. Sweet Treat Trail
If you want to eat the chocolate instead of wearing it, check out the Sweet Treat Trail in the Harrisburg/Hershey area. There is a downloadable bingo card (PDF) you fill out as you visit the chocolate and sweet shops near Hershey. You earn stamps on your card by making qualifying purchases. When you get BINGO, take a photo of it and submit it to win a prize.
Pro Tip: You don't have to eat all the treats on the trail, and you can always purchase some to take home with you.
4. The State Capitol
The Pennsylvania State Capitol is a beautiful building located in Harrisburg. If you have never visited, be sure to schedule a time to take a tour. When I last visited, we watched the floor in action as legislators discussed a bill and voted.
Visitors must enter by the public entrances at the Main Rotunda on Third and State Streets or the East Wing Entrance at the Fountain on Commonwealth Avenue (this is a handicapped entrance also). Click here for a printable map of the building.
While there, be sure to check out the Interactive Welcome Center. Plan for a half-day visit to the Capitol.
Note: Due to COVID, the capitol is temporarily closed to the public but hopefully will be reopening soon.
Pro Tip: A few blocks from the capitol building is the Riverfront Park. It is a great place to stretch your legs and go for a leisurely walk along the Susquehanna River. Enjoy the gardens, sculptures, and scenic views, and if you cross the bridge at Walnut Street, you can visit City Island, home of ice cream shops, miniature golf, and more.
5. Harrisburg Mural Trail
While you are in the area, enjoy some of the mural artwork along the streets of Harrisburg. Street art is a way of showcasing artists and beautifying the neighborhood. You can download a map of the 45 art locations here.
Pro Tip: A 2021 Outdoor Mural Festival is in the works, so watch the website for more info if you are interested in attending.
A quaint town full of unique shops, Victorian homes, gas street lamps, excellent bed and breakfasts, and hospitality, Wellsboro is the gateway to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Mature travelers will enjoy visiting Pop's Culture Shoppe to find all kinds of games, books, toys, and things made in or about Pennsylvania.
Pro Tip: If you enjoy chocolate, make a stop at Highland Chocolates. They have delicious treats made fresh daily and have been featured nationally for the story behind their products. Their non-profit chocolate factory and store along Route 6 provide training and employment for adults with different abilities.
7. Grand Canyon Of Pennsylvania
Pine Creek Gorge, known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, is a mile wide from rim to rim and plunges 800 feet along most of the gorge. Near the southern end, it drops even deeper to almost 1,600 feet. One of the most spectacular destinations in Pennsylvania, this natural scenic wonder includes impressive waterfalls. It is best viewed at Colton Point State Park on the western boundary and Leonard Harrison State Park on the canyon's eastern rim.
My recommendation for viewing the PA Grand Canyon is from the eastern rim. A short walk from the parking lot are accessible viewing platforms. Challenging hiking trails will give you a closer view of the waterfalls if you desire.
Pro Tips: I would plan for two hours at the PA Grand Canyon. Longer if you are planning to hike. Don't forget your camera. You will want to take pictures in this area.
8. Penn’s Cave And Wildlife Park, Centre Hall
Spend a relaxing afternoon taking a boat tour through Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park, home to the only all-water cavern in Pennsylvania. This comfortable guided boat ride through the natural wonders of the cavern is a fun experience. The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes. Plan to spend a half-day there to enjoy time in the gift shop and take the wildlife tour.
Pro Tip: Bring a sweater or jacket since the cave is always a chilly 52 degrees.
9. Lake Raystown Resort
Rent a pontoon boat for a day or take a Proud Mary showboat cruise and enjoy the Raystown Lake Region's scenic beauty. Located near Entriken, Lake Raystown is the largest lake within the borders of Pennsylvania. Enjoy lunch or dinner on the deck overlooking the lake at the Marina Cafe.
Pro Tips: You can even try glamping in a yurt. Make your reservations well in advance because these are popular. They have other accommodations, including cabins, RV campsites, and a lodge. Learn more about the many activities to enjoy in the area (plus where to stay) in Why Raystown Lake Is Pennsylvania’s Best Kept Secret.
10. Isett’s Museum
Take a step back in time and visit the Isett Heritage Museum. Enjoy viewing over 40,000 items dating back to the 1800s. You will see everything from hardware to toys, machines, cars, and more.
I enjoyed visiting and seeing things that I remembered from my childhood when I would visit my grandparents' farm and items from my teen years, such as jukeboxes and typewriters. Reminiscing was a happy experience.
A visit involves considerable walking in multiple buildings on flat cement-type surfaces and is wheelchair accessible. Plan to spend two to three hours visiting.
Pro Tip: When you enter, they ask if you want a guided tour or to peruse on your own. Take the guided tour. Even if perusing, a guide stays with you the entire time, so you might as well have them explain what you are looking at and its significance.
11. Lincoln Caverns And Whispering Rocks
This is an excellent stop if you are taking a multi-generational trip. Lincoln Caverns includes winding passageways and rooms containing immense flowstones, pure white calcite, thousands of delicate stalactites, and glistening crystals. Special activities are offered here year-round, so be sure to check their website to see what might be happening during your visit. I love the black-light tours.
Pro Tips: Lighting is sometimes dim during the tour, and slippery surfaces are possible. Nature trails and picnic pavilions are available outside the caves.
12. Rails To Trails
There are two rail-trails to choose from for bicycling or walking in the Huntingdon, Altoona, Bedford area. Both of the trails are flat and an easy walking grade with pavement and fine stone in spots. You will enjoy scenic views on either of the trails.
The H and BT Trail in Riddlesburg follows the former H and BT Railroad route, stretching 10.6 miles through south-central Pennsylvania. The Lower Trail from Alexandria to Williamsburg is a 17-mile-long trail.
Pro Tip: Take water and snacks with you; there are no concessions along the trails.
13. Fort Roberdeau
Initially built in 1778, Fort Roberdeau showcases historical demonstrations and battle reenactments from May through October. You can explore the reconstructed fort and learn about how it was used during the American Revolution. Plan for a two-hour stop.
Pro Tip: Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it using the provided picnic tables.
14. Altoona Railroaders Museum
This is a fascinating stop for train enthusiasts. Explore three floors of interactive exhibits at the Altoona Railroaders Museum. Plan a half-day visit to learn about local railroading history. Watch their website for special events.
Pro Tip: The museum is only open from spring through fall.
15. Horseshoe Curve
Six miles from the Altoona Railroaders Museum is the famous Horseshoe Curve. Visit both in one day. Engineering junkies and railroad fans will adore this visit to one of the world’s most incredible engineering feats. The horseshoe-shaped curve sits atop a steep hill in the Allegheny Mountains. Railroad workers built the curve using excavations, switchbacks, and innovation to overcome the challenge of crossing the mountain through rough terrain.
A National Historic Landmark, Horseshoe Curve, is considered one of eight engineering marvels of the world.
The top of the mountain is the best place for viewing the curve. You can get there via a ride on the funicular or by climbing the 194 steps to the top.
Once at the top, relax and watch the trains go by. Plan to spend two hours here. Train lovers might want to spend the whole afternoon.
Pro Tip: If viewing the trains isn't enough, drive to Johnstown and ride the train around Horseshoe Curve to Altoona and back to Johnstown so you can make the entire trip in one day.
16. Alleghany Portage Railroad
The Allegheny Portage Railroad provided a connection to the canal from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. It was made up of inclined planes that took the boats up and down the mountain to connect Hollidaysburg and Johnstown.
The Allegheny Portage Railroad is a National Historic Site, and the park is beautiful, with hiking trails, boardwalk trails that are accessible, and lots of exhibits. Plan a half-day visit.
Pro Tip: Don't limit your visit to the Visitor Center; take the boardwalk to see the actual site and buildings.
17. Johnstown Flood Museum
On May 31, 1889, a terrible storm and a failed dam led to a horrific catastrophe that caused 2,209 people to lose their lives. The amount of water that hit Johnstown was similar to the amount that goes over Niagara Falls in a 36-minute timeframe. The 40-foot high wave was traveling 40 miles per hour when it hit the town.
The tragedy was a shocking episode in our history but was also a story of triumph. The Johnstown Flood Museum tells the entire heartbreaking story through exhibits, maps, sound, and light effects that highlight the disaster's chilling details.
There is also an award-winning documentary available for you to watch during your visit. Allow a minimum of three hours for this visit.
Pro Tip: I found visiting this museum to be a bit emotional. You might want to take some tissues with you.
18. Shawnee State Park
Located in Shellsburg, Shawnee State Park is popular with locals. The park has a sand beach and lake for swimming. Boating, hiking, fishing, and picnicking are also popular at this park.
There are several hiking trails, but I recommend the easy trail that circles around Shawnee Lake. It provides a scenic view of the lake, and the path is wide and level.
You can spend a few hours completing the lake loop hike or spend the day and enjoy a water activity too. Camping is available if you wish to spend several days.
Pro Tip: Be sure you have your camera handy for photos of small wildlife and those picturesque views of the lake.
19. Old Bedford Village
History lovers will enjoy a visit to Old Bedford Village, where you can visit shops as they were in the 1800s. The living history village brings the past into the present with immersion-type experiences. Peruse the exhibits, do some colonial crafts, take in a military reenactment, or take part in a murder mystery evening. Check their website to confirm events when events are taking place.
Pro Tips: Allow several hours for your Old Bedford Village visit. After your visit, head out to the historic Lincoln Highway and enjoy lunch or dinner at the Jean Bonnet Tavern to experience exquisite food and old tavern charm. And for more Pennsylvania inspiration, consider: