Western Pennsylvania is a landscape of beautiful rolling hills and the mountains of the Appalachian Plateau, so it's not surprising that a number of natural attractions are found in its parks and wild lands. Winding country roads and miles of hiking and cycling trails lead to lakes, ponds, rushing streams, waterfalls, and scenic viewpoints. This is one of the best places in the Mid-Atlantic area to view fall foliage. Historic sites span the centuries, from the French and Indian Wars to the 21st century, and three masterpieces of modernist architecture are open to tourists. And for kids, there's one of the nation's best-loved amusement park complexes. All of these fun things to do are easily accessible on day trips from Pittsburgh.
1 Laurel Highlands
Less than two hours south of Pittsburgh, the mountainous Laurel Highlands region includes the state's highest elevation, Mount Davis, with a paved road to its 3,213-foot summit. The Laurel Highlands' eight state parks are all free, and one of them, Ohiopyle State Park, protects the beautiful 30-foot Cucumber Falls. The caves and geological park of Laurel Caverns is large enough to house an 18-hole golf course inside it. Running through this terrain of rivers, lakes, and forested mountains is the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile rail trail for hiking and biking that includes some of the region's finest vistas and never exceeds a gradient of 2 percent.
2 Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater
Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater Robert Gray
Deep in the Bear Run Nature Reserve, 43 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Fallingwater was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 and is recognized as a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture. Designed to complement and become a part of the dramatic site above a waterfall, Fallingwater incorporates the falls both visually and with the sound of water throughout the house. Steps from the living room lead directly into the water below. Wright designed the furniture and decorations, which are still in the house today.
Not far from Fallingwater are two other Wright houses that are open to visitors. On a bluff above the Youghiogheny River Gorge, Kentuck Knob is a mountain home built in the 1950s, and the 1957 Duncan House, which was disassembled and moved from Illinois, is now available for overnight rentals.
Address: 1491 Mill Run Road, Mill Run, Pennsylvania
3 Hartwood Acres
Hartwood Acres Holiday Lights iris
The stone Tudor-style mansion is the focal point of a 629-acre park 10 miles from central Pittsburgh. Built in 1929 as a private country estate, the house and stables are now open to the public, as are the extensive gardens. The rest of the park offers free access to miles of hiking trails and bridle paths through the woods. Horseback riding is available, and an amphitheater hosts concerts and stage performances in the summer. On winter evenings, there are candlelight tours of the mansion.
Address: 200 Hartwood Acres, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
4 Idlewild & SoakZone
Idlewild Jeremy Thompson
The award-winning kids' park includes seven separate themed areas with two roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, a whip ride, a historic carousel, and a water park with 11 more attractions. Kids can get and stay wet in the hydro racers; the Pipeline Plunge; Wowabunga Family Wave Pool; or on Float Away Bay, a 200-yard tubing river. Younger children love the Little Squirts pool and Captain Kidd's Adventure Galley with six water slides and plenty of spray and splash features. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales come to life at the Enchanted Castle, where would-be King Arthurs can try to pull the sword, Excalibur, from the stone.
Address: 2574 US-30, Ligonier, Pennsylvania
5 Fort Necessity National Battlefield
Fort Necessity National Battlefield
Cited as the opening encounter of the French and Indian Wars, the Battle of Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754 wasn't one of George Washington's better moments. Although the war finally resulted in the British colonial army driving the French out of the northern colonies, the young Colonel Washington was forced to surrender here to the far stronger French forces who had established themselves at Fort Duquesne, in what is now Pittsburgh.
The simple palisaded wooden fort Washington's men built here has been replicated in the Great Meadow, and the visitor center offers talks, tours, and demonstrations of historic weapons in the summer. Also part of the park, Mount Washington Tavern, built in 1827, was one of the inns for travelers on the National Road and displays artifacts from that era. Five miles of hiking trails are here, and another half-mile loop with interpretive signs is at Jumonville Glen, about seven miles from the battlefield, where Washington had his first encounter with the French troops.
Address: 1 Washington Parkway, Farmington, Pennsylvania
6 Johnstown Inclined Plane and Flood Memorial
Inclined Plane David Wilson
Built following the disastrous Johnstown flood of 1889, the Inclined Plane connected the downtown area with the far higher Westmont, which was being developed into a residential neighborhood. But during later floods, in 1936 and 1977, it proved an invaluable escape route for people in the lower town and a means of getting help and supplies to the flooded area. At the height of Johnstown's steel mill production, the lift carried as many as a million passengers annually. It is the world's steepest incline carrying a vehicle, supporting 30-foot cars capable of holding 30 passengers.
When South Fork Dam gave way on May 31, 1889, the 20 million tons of water it released devastated the city and took 2,209 lives. It also brought out the largest outpouring of public support to that date, with people from all over the world rallying to help the homeless survivors. Rangers at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial lead guided van tours and hikes to sites connected with the flood, following the path of the flood waters.
Address: 206 Johns Street, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
7 Quecreek Mine Rescue Site Historical Landmark
Quecreek Mine Rescue Site Historical Landmark daveynin
A story with a happy ending captivated the world's attention in 2002, when nine miners were trapped 240 feet below the surface in a coal mine for 77 hours. The story of their five-day ordeal in cold and darkness and the tireless work to rescue them when success seemed hopeless is told at the site of the rescue. The memorial site is a work in progress as funds are raised to create a permanent home here for memorabilia, first-hand accounts, equipment, and the rescue capsule that finally brought them to safety. Near the shaft, which you can also see, is a seven-foot bronze statue of a coal miner. The site is often staffed by family members of the trapped miners and those who took part in the rescue.
Address: 151 Haupt Road, Somerset, Pennsylvania
8 Mystic Mountain Skiing and Nemacolin Woodlands Golf
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort daveynin
Set on 2,000 wooded acres in the Laurel Highlands, the four-season Nemacolin Woodlands Resort offers skiing and snow sports in the winter and two championship golf courses when the snow melts. Mystic Mountain's seven downhill skiing and snowboarding slopes are served by a quad chair lift and a beginner tow and are all lit for night skiing. Along with a tubing park, winter sports include dog sledding with Alaskan huskies, sleigh rides, cross country skiing, and snowshoe trails.
Address: 1001 Lafayette Drive, Farmington, Pennsylvania