Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a thriving metropolis with tons of things to do. However, sometimes you might want to get away from the big city and recharge in a small town where nobody knows your name. Escape to one of the many surrounding cities featuring plenty of natural, cultural, or historical offerings. Most of these destinations are only a few hours’ drive away from Pittsburgh. That said, there is an abundance of vacation rentals near Pittsburgh to choose from, so you can effortlessly enjoy a relaxing weekend getaway.
Lititz lies just four hours – or five if you want to take the scenic route – east of Pittsburgh. This town of under 10,000 people is all about the cool factor, unique shops, and European heritage. Start with a stroll down Main Street through the Moravian Historic District featuring over 100 buildings established by German immigrants more than 200 years ago. The John Sutter House, Werner House, and Sturgis Pretzel House are great places to begin your historical tour. In fact, the Sturgis Pretzel House is the home of the oldest commercial pretzel bakery in the country and still churns out the soft, doughy treats. Tour the museum section portion of the two-story house, learn how to twist pretzels in the bakery, and finish off with some delicious baked goods. Shop at some of the other one-of-a-kind stores such as Candy*ology and the Teddy Bear Emporium. If you want a touch of nature to go with your weekend, spend some time at the Lititz Springs Park with plenty of walking paths and swimming pools next door.
Ohiopyle is located less than 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh. This minuscule tiny is a different beast than Lititz; instead of shopping and pretzel-making, it offers front row access to the Ohiopyle State Park, which in turn is just a short drive from the Bear Run Nature Reserve and several State Game Lands. Upon unloading your luggage at your vacation rental, lace up your hiking shoes and walk the Ferncliff Nature Area loop for views of the Youghiogheny River and surrounding mountains. Next, make your way to Cucumber Falls, a hidden gem, and Natural Water Slides. The latter is just as its name suggests: Natural water slides, a mix between a waterfall and a shallow, rushing stream that you can slide down (or wade in). Rent some rafts or kayaks at White Water Adventures, and slide through the winding river. The company also does bike rentals if you prefer your exploration to be on dry land. This town may have a sparse year-round population (as in below 100 people sparse), but there are several great eateries from which to choose such as Ohiopyle Bakery and Sandwich Shop, Paddlers Pizza, and Falls Market Restaurant.
3. Abbott Township
Four hours northeast of Pittsburgh lies Abbott Township, which is ideal when escaping the city for that middle-of-nowhere place that offers complete solitude and plenty of nature. This community lies within the Susquehannock State Forest and just south of Cherry Springs State Park. The 82-acre Cherry Springs is possibly one of the best places to stare at the stars. Tucked away from the light pollution of major cities, it offers views of the Milky Way that are usually invisible. Top this off with a hike on the Susquehanna Trail or a much easier hike with the kids on the Working Forest Interpretive Trail.
4. Mount Gretna
Mount Gretna is located in eastern Pennsylvania, under four hours from Pittsburgh and the perfect place for a family weekend getaway. This wooded community lies on the Conewago lake which has a beach for lounging and kayak and tube rentals. There’s even a kid’s dock with rope swings. Make sure to hit the Mount Gretna Roller Rink and Jigger Shop Ice Cream Parlor. On your last day, visit Clarence Schock Memorial Park at Governor Dick, an 1100-acre park covering woodlands, meadows, and a nature center. There are guided hikes, night hikes, and history walks as well as several outdoor events from orienteering to bouldering.
5. Jim Thorpe
Jim Thorpe is just less than five hours east (and slightly north) of Pittsburgh and has plenty going for it from culture and history to a quaint almost Switzerland-like setting. Get a lay of the land with a historic tour onboard the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, then stroll the Asa Packer Mansion and grounds and the Eckley Miners’ Village, which tells the fascinating story of Pennsylvania coal miners. If you visit during the summer season, you can enjoy a ghost tour and visit the alleged haunted sites. Follow this up with a “cultural” tour of one of the many vineyards in the area such as Big Creek Vineyard or Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery. Or, if you have kids, visit the Bear Mountain Butterfly Sanctuary. Nature is a huge draw in the area, so make time to hike up to Glen Onoko Falls or go rafting down the Lehigh River.
6. Pocono Pines
Pocono Pines is also less than five hours from Pittsburgh and just northwest of Jim Thorpe. However, Pocono Pines lies in the middle of the mountains and parks that cover the area. State Game Lands lie on the town’s northern and southwestern sides, the Pocono Lake Preserve and Fern Ridge Bog Preserve are to the west, and Lake Naomi lies right in the middle of the town. Get a vacation rental on the lake and spend your entire weekend boating. This is a great getaway town for both warm and cold seasons because of both hiking and skiing trails.
Gettysburg is located 3.5 hours southeast of Pittsburgh just above the Pennsylvania and Maryland border. This middling town is all about history thanks to the historic battle fought there during the American Civil War. Walk the extensive grounds of the Gettysburg National Military Park or opt for a guided tour with plenty of historical information. One of history’s bloodiest battle sites is now a series of gently rolling hills and meadows where you can hike among the sparse trees and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Considering the size of the battlefield at nearly 18 squares miles, it might be advisable to tour it via horseback. The park offers other events such as ranger-led events and reenactments.
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