The Ultimate Pennsylvania Road Trip – What to See, Eat, and Do

Pennsylvania is full of places to visit, things to do, and yummy foods to eat for everyone.

History buffs can visit the campsites of Washington’s Revolutionary War soldiers. Nature lovers can hike the trails surrounding beautiful waterfalls found throughout the state. There’s adventure, culture, and unique experiences all over Pennsylvania, and one of the best ways to experience it all is through embarking on a road trip.

Although setting off on a Pennsylvania road trip might seem like a budget-buster, it doesn’t have to be. Choosing a mix of free or low-cost activities, affordable eateries, and budget-friendly accommodations will help keep your road trip fun and affordable.

Below are a few Pennsylvania road trip stops and ideas you may be interested in.

1. Adventurer’s Road Trip

If you like getting out in nature, this road trip will be an adventure of a lifetime as you drive and then hike through one of the prettiest state parks in Pennsylvania.

Day 1: Head to Ricketts Glen State Park, Benton, PA

Ricketts Glen State Park is located in Luzerne, Sullivan, and Columbia Counties and is home to 26 miles of trails. The park itself is often described as one of the most scenic areas in the entire state. A highlight of the park is the Falls Trail System, a loop of 7.2 miles. The Falls Tail System happens to be a pretty challenging hike, but is well worth the effort for the sites you’ll see along the way.

When hiking the trail system, wear sturdy hiking boots and watch where you’re walking because there are drop-offs. The ground can also be wet and slippery. If you have young kids, this might be a road trip to hold off on until they’re older. It’s also a good idea to pay attention to park announcements, as sometimes the Falls Trail System is closed because of high water levels.

If you don’t want to do the full 7.2 miles, there’s a shorter 3.2-mile hike that lets you see most of the falls without so much effort. The shorter loop will let you see 21 waterfalls, the tallest of which is Ganoga Falls at 94 feet. It also happens to be the tallest waterfall in the state.

If you do have younger kids or aren’t sure you’re up to the rigors and challenges of a 7-plus mile hike that’s full of steep hills and slippery surfaces, the park does have a few shorter and easier trails. One example is the milelong Evergreen Trail, which leads you through one of the few remaining old-growth forests in the state. Be sure to see the old hemlock tree that’s been around since before Christopher Columbus landed on the continent.

Where to Sleep

Get your full dose of nature by setting up camp in the state park itself. Ricketts Glen State Park has 120 tent or trailer campsites and 10 cabins. The campsites are located near Lake Jean in the park and offer access to hot showers, flush toilets, and sanitary dump sites. Shaded campsites are also available. The cabins include a living area and kitchen, as well as a bathroom.

Where to Eat

There are picnic areas in the park, located near the campsites, which can make it easy for your family to enjoy meals while on your road trip. Just remember to pack your food securely in a cooler to keep things cold and to clean up after each meal so that you don’t attract wildlife to the picnic or camping areas.

Day 2: Head to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

If you didn’t get your fill of the great outdoors by hiking in Ricketts Glen, pack up your tent and bags and head over to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It stretches across parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is overseen by the National Park Service.

The recreation area has around 100 miles of trails, including 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail. There are also three lifeguarded beaches where swimming in the river is permitted, such as Smithfield Beach. For your safety and that of your family, make sure to swim only in areas where there’s a lifeguard on duty.

Where to Eat

Just like at Ricketts Glen, you’re welcome to bring along a picnic to eat in designated parts of the recreation area. Most picnic areas let you bring your own grill for cooking, with the exception of George W. Childs Park and Kittatinny Point. Since it’s a natural area and there’s wildlife, it’s important to pack out whatever food you bring in.

If you’d like a different option, the Sycamore Grille is about a 15-minute drive away from Smithfield Beach. The grille serves lunch and dinner, and offers daily specials.

Where to Sleep

Do you want to camp out another night or spend the second night of your road trip in a real bed? You can do both at Mohican Outdoor Center, located in the park. It’s actually on the New Jersey side, so you’ll have to cross the state line to get to it.

The outdoor center has both primitive tent campsites available as well as cabins. The cabins range in size from four beds up to 16 beds. 

Day 3: Head to Bushkill Falls

A trip spent in the great outdoors near the Poconos wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the “Niagara of Pennsylvania.” Bushkill Falls is a private park with access to trails, fishing, and paddle boats. If you’re tired of hiking, it also offers activities such as mini golf and gemstone mining. To get access to the trails, you have to pay admission to the park. There are also fees for mini golf, paddleboat rentals, and other activities.

2. Garden Road Trip

If your idea of spending time in nature means walking through manicured gardens, Pennsylvania has plenty of delights in store for you.

Day 1: Visit Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens consists of more than 1,000 acres of gardens, meadows, and woodlands. It’s one of the premier gardens not only in Pennsylvania, but the United States. The gardens at Longwood include a water lily display, forest walk, indoor children’s garden, and fountain gardens. Longwood also has special seasonal displays, such as orchids, chrysanthemums, and a Christmas spectacular. Throughout the summer, the garden’s numerous water fountains put on shows throughout the day and into the evening.

The gardens charge admission, which varies based on the time of year you visit. During “peak” season, the price goes up. Children under age four are free, and there are discounted tickets for children under age 18, college students, and those over age 62. Memberships are also available, which provide free admission to the gardens for a certain number of guests, based on the membership tier purchased.

Where to Eat

Pack a picnic before you set off on your road trip to Longwood Gardens, and you’ll be able to enjoy it in the designated picnic area. The picnic area is only accessible to garden visitors and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are around 70 tables in the area, as well as grills and restrooms. It’s the only part of the gardens where you’re invited to bring your own food and drink. Elsewhere, outside food and beverages aren’t permitted.

Where to Sleep

Located in Chadds Ford, the Brandywine River Hotel is about a 15- to 20-minute drive away from Longwood Gardens. Room options range from a deluxe double, which sleeps four, to a premium suite, which has a king-size bed and a living room area.

The hotel offers free breakfast as well as packaged deals, which include tickets to Longwood Gardens.

Day 2: Hershey Gardens

Continue your garden-centric road trip by heading over to Hershey Gardens for day two. The gardens first opened in 1937 because Milton Hershey had a wish to create a “nice garden of roses.” These days, the garden is known for having 175 varieties, 3,500 roses, and 11 theme gardens, including a seasonal display garden and a Japanese-style garden. The gardens are open 365 days a year.

Other highlights of the garden, especially for families with children, are the Butterfly Atrium and The Children’s Garden. The Children’s Garden has giant Hershey Kisses that spray water when it’s sunny and hot, as well as multiple hands-on activities. The Butterfly Atrium is home to dozens of different rare butterfly species.

Where to Eat

Food options are limited inside Hershey Gardens. There’s a snack stand and a picnic area, but you aren’t allowed to bring in outside food or drink. Before you head to your next destination, plan a stop at the Chocolate Avenue Grill for lunch or dinner.

Where to Sleep

Instead of hanging around Hershey, get a jump start on your next destination by heading up to State College for the night. The Nittany Budget Motel is located near Penn State’s campus and offers budget-friendly lodging with a free continental breakfast. There’s also a restaurant on site, in case you’re hungry when you arrive or want a bite to eat before heading home the next day.

Day 3: HO Smith Botanic Gardens

The Arboretum at Penn State is home to the HO Smith Botanic Gardens, which are open daily until sunset and are free of charge. There’s even free parking available. Highlights of the gardens include a pollinator garden, fragrance garden, and a children’s garden. The arboretum land beyond the gardens provides plenty of trails for wandering.

3. Historic Road Trip

If you want to combine a history lesson with a cultural experience, you need to pack up your car and head to Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States and home to plenty of cultural experiences – from museums to the performing arts. Here’s just a sampling of what you can do during a road trip to Philadelphia and Gettysburg.

Day 1: Head to Philly to Visit Independence Hall and The Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is nestled on top of a hill near Fairmount Park and dates back to the Centennial Exhibition, held in 1876. Inside the museum is an impressive collection of art, with works dating back to ancient times and up to the present. The museum regularly hosts special exhibits and has an extensive permanent collection.

The museum is comprised of two buildings, with the Perelman Building focusing on design and photography and the main building housing everything else.

Admission to the museum offers a few pay-what-you-can dates. The first Sunday of each month is a pay-what-you-can admission. Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. until 8:45 p.m. are also pay-what-you-can. One ticket to the museum is valid for two consecutive days’ worth of access.

Independence Hall

If you want to learn more about U.S. history, head into Old City Philadelphia and pay a visit to Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Admission to Independence Hall is free. From March through December, admission to Independence Hall requires a ticket, and you’re only allowed to enter at the time printed on your ticket. You can’t wander through the hall by yourself. You need to go on a guided tour, usually led by a park ranger. Tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis at the Ranger Station located at the Independence Visitor Center, starting at 8:30 a.m

Where to Sleep

In Philadelphia, there are plenty of hotels to choose from. If you’re looking for a hotel that offers views of the waterfront along the Delaware River, you might want to stay at Penn’s View Hotel, which is located right on the edge of Old City at Front Street and Market Street. The hotel is convenient to I-95, so you can easily get in and head out at the end of your trip.

Where to Eat

Whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch, or an early dinner, you can find pretty much anything to eat at Reading Terminal Market. You can even purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, and meat if you want to prepare your own meal or if you’re interested in picnicking at one of Philadelphia’s many parks.

One particularly popular eatery in Reading Terminal is Beiler’s Bakery, which is known for its donuts. You’ll recognize it by the line snaking around their counter and the delicious scent swirling in the air.

Day 2: Visit Gettysburg

Once you’ve learned about the early history of the U.S. and the American Revolution, hop back in the car and drive over to Gettysburg to learn about another major war fought on American soil: The U.S. Civil War. Highlights of the Gettysburg Battlefield include a cyclorama painting depicting the events of the battle and ranger-led tours.

One creative way to learn more about U.S. history and to tour the battlefield is on horseback. Hickory Hollow Farm leads horseback tours ranging from one to two hours long. The tours take you behind the scenes on the battlefield, allowing you to learn about history in a new way.

Where to Eat

Get ready to be immersed in history by booking a table at the Historic Farnsworth House Inn. The inn aims to create a 19th century, Civil War-era dining experience, featuring servers dressed in period costumes and a menu that’s straight out of 1865. It’s also a bed-and-breakfast, so you can book a room if you want to stay over another night before heading home.

4. Road Trip for Families

While a road trip can be educational, there’s no reason why it can’t also be purely fun. Pennsylvania is home to plenty of amusement parks, water parks, and other highly entertaining destinations. Here’s what to check out on your family road trip.

Day 1: Visit Hersheypark

Located in Hershey, Hersheypark was initially created as a place for the employees of the chocolate company to spend leisurely time with their families. Today, it consists of three parks and is open to visitors from all around the world.

The amusement park has rides for all levels of thrill-seekers, from those who want the fastest and scariest roller coasters to those who are seeking something a lot tamer, such as a carousel. There are more than 70 attractions, including 15 coasters featuring the all-new Candymonium, fun family rides, an ENTIRE water park, a zoo, and your favorite HersheySM Characters – all included with your one-price admission.

This summer, Hersheypark is furthering the sweet success story of Mr. Hershey with an all-new region Hershey’s ChocolatetownSM, a place Where Fun Meets ChocolateSM in more ways than ever before.  Ride our tallest, fastest, longest, and sweetest coaster, Candymonium. Dine, drink, and indulge at The Chocolatier Restaurant, Bar & Patio; Milton’s Ice Cream Parlor; The Sweeterie Confectionery Kitchen; the first Starbucks location in Hersheypark; and more!

Where to Eat

There are several eateries inside the park itself that serve everything from snacks to full meals, so you don’t have to wander far to find food. To make things extra memorable, though, you can book a character breakfast – you and your family can eat your first meal of the day alongside human-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey’s bars.

Where to Stay:

You can continue your chocolate-themed adventure by bedding down for the night at the Hotel Hershey, a family-friendly resort. Your kids might even get to meet various Hershey’s chocolate characters when they check in. Other activities at the resort include golf, swimming, and hiking trails. If mom and dad need a break, they can relax and unwind at the Chocolate Spa, which offers facials, massages, and soaking tubs.

Other options near the park include the Hershey Lodge and Hershey Campground Resort.

Day 2: Head Over to Waldameer Water World

Let the thrill-seeking continue by packing up the car and heading up to Erie, PA to visit Waldameer Water World. One of the oldest amusement parks in the country, Waldameer Water World offers free admission, charging guests only for the rides. That means if one member of your family will never step foot on a roller coaster or even a Ferris Wheel, they can still enjoy visiting the park without being charged.

Where to Eat

The park has 17 concession stands, which serve everything from burgers to candy, so you don’t have to leave the premises to get lunch or dinner.

Where to Stay

If you’re from Western Pennsylvania, it makes sense to stay over one night in Erie before making your way back toward home. The Glass House Inn is a family-run motel that has a pool and offers a free continental breakfast. Family room options have two full-sized beds and one twin, providing space for up to five people.

pennsylvania roadtrip

Budget-Friendly Road Tripping Tips

A bit of planning can help you keep your road trip costs in check. Here are a few tips:

  • Instead of using the vending machines at rest stops or grabbing fast food at exits on the turnpike, bring along your own snacks and refillable bottles of water.

  • Mapping out your route ahead of time can help you choose the most fuel-efficient way to go and can keep you from getting lost.

  • Doing some basic maintenance on your car, such as making sure your tires are properly inflated, can also help you get the most fuel mileage, saving on your trip.

  • To keep yourself and your family occupied in the car, check out some audiobooks from your local library.

Once you’ve got your car, snacks, and on-the-road entertainment sorted out, it’s time to start thinking about where you’ll go, what you’ll do, and how you’ll get there.

A family road trip is a great way to spend some quality time with your loved ones, without breaking the bank. You’ll save by driving – compared to buying plane tickets for each member of your family. When you’re on the road, don’t forget to use your Founder’s Card to enjoy 2%* or 1.5% cash rewards with each purchase you make.

*You can earn 1.5% cash rewards on purchases. You can earn 2% cash rewards on purchases if you maintain a PSECU checking account and qualifying monthly direct deposit(s) of at least $500. See the Visa® Founder’s Card and Visa® Alumni Rewards Card Rewards Program Terms and Conditions for full details.

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