With two of America’s best cities on either end, and bucolic countryside wedged in between, traveling Pennsylvania can best be described as an eclectic experience. It is a place where America was born via the Declaration of Independence, where its bones were forged in steel within the mills of Pittsburgh, and where its fuel, both in agricultural and mineral form, was and continues to be raised from the earth.
It even has a short frontage on the Great Lakes, making the variety of landscapes that are found here truly remarkable, as one can start from the gritty streets of Philadelphia, traverse charming farmland and the gently rolling mountains of the interior, ending at the sandy lakeshore beaches found near the city of Erie.
Though you don’t hear much about Pennsylvania apart from its two cities, you will find that the several days to a week you will spend exploring this state will be time that is very well spent.
What To Do – Culture & History
While Philadelphia has a wide array of attractions that will be covered in much greater detail within its own article, there are a couple that should be seen before departing the City of Brotherly Love for points westward. The first of these is Independence Hall, which is the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, thus making the United States of America a sovereign nation, much to the chagrin of Mother Britain.
Built initially in 1753 as the Pennsylvania State House where legislation was debated and adopted, as the decades went on, debates over the matter of secession cropped up, leading to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The article was read outside to the public in what is now Independence Square on July 8 of that year, making the separation official.
The Liberty Bell is also located within the environs of Independence Hall, with its crack making it an iconic symbol of the ideals of the American Revolution. This version of the bell is not the first and only one, as the original bell and its replacement had also cracked during the course of their usage (with the former splitting on its very first ring).
The bell that sits proudly near the grounds of Independence Hall cracked in 1835 while commemorating the death of the Chief Justice of the United States, and in the time since, it has become a center for protest by civil rights groups.
During the course of the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania was home to a large number of theaters of combat between the Redcoats and the Continental Army. In the early days of the war, open confrontation between the poorly provisioned ranks of the latter, and the superior armaments of the former led the Americans to shift to guerrilla tactics versus the British.
One of the places where they hid from the Empire during the winter of 1777/1778 was Valley Forge, where the hardships of a harsh winter and intense training regimens served to harden and reinvigorate the soldiers of an army that had been reeling from a series of setbacks prior to this winter.
The grounds upon which this encampment sat is now the Valley Forge National Historical Park, where a museum, reconstructed buildings, and a memorial arch all serve to educate visitors of the goings-on of that winter in a pivotal time for Revolutionary forces.
While the American Revolutionary War had ended successfully, not even a century would pass before another war would rage on its soil. This time, it pitted brother against brother, as one of the most pivotal battles of the American Civil War went down at the Gettysburg Battlefield. This three day battle saw almost 9,000 men slaughtered and 22,000 maimed, but the end result turned the tide of the war in the Union’s favor, despite the pyrrhic nature of the victory.
Later that same year, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the now famous Gettysburg address nearby at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery (now known as the Gettysburg National Cemetery), where the bodies of combatants killed in the Battle of Gettysburg were buried in memory of the terrible battle that took place just months before.
The National Civil War Museum tells this story and others with starling clarity, with exhibits chronicling the run up to the war, the main years of the conflict, and the state of the nation in its wake.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
Chocophiles rejoice, as the namesake hometown of one of the world’s best loved brands of chocolate can be found in Pennsylvania. Indeed, Hershey, PA is home to the factory which turned out the very first Hershey’s candy bar in 1894, and from that time on, this brand went on to conquer the world of confections.
Of note for visitors is Hersheypark and Hershey’s Chocolate World, which are an amusement park and a museum respectively. Hershey’s Chocolate World has replaced the old factory tour, which had become too overcrowded to be feasible in the early 1970’s. Here, your kids (or the kid inside you) will delight at the prospect of making your very own candy bar, while the taste test of various types of chocolate will please discerning foodies.
At this point, provided you haven’t stuffed yourself to the gills with chocolate, hitting up Hersheypark will be a thrilling way to spend the rest of the day. With eight roller coasters, a water park, and a wildlife preserve, your adrenaline and attention span needs will be adequately met for the remainder of your stay in Hershey.
Lovers of nature will find plenty of love about the Keystone State, and it all starts with its mountainous interior. While the scenery is stunning through much of Pennsylvania, one highlight that stands out is Bushkill Falls, which is a tiered set of waterfalls with eight drops in total. The tallest of these plunge more than 100 feet to its gorge below, so make sure your camera is charged and ready before making the trip out here.
Amidst the Amish farms of Pennsylvania Dutch country is the depths of Crystal Cave,and while it was once used to store crops and host parties, it is the natural wonders contained within that are its main draw today. Various formations of stalactites and stalagmites can be found throughout, with the temperatures maintaining at a cool but comfortable 12-13 degrees Celsius (mid 50’s Fahrenheit) all year round.
If you’re seeking out relief from the heat during a mid-summer exploration of Pennsylvania, then taking to the beach at Presque Isle State Park will be exactly what you are seeking. Located along the brief coastline with Lake Erie that Pennsylvania has, this park offers thirteen different beaches, a marina, and fertile fishing grounds for those that desire to cast a line.