One of my best friends and I have been trying to plan a road trip across Pennsylvania for three years. We’d seen and heard about must-see places in our home-state and had collected ideas for our trip. But each summer, cars or jobs or obligations kept us in a close radius to home. This year, despite the fact that we only had about one week that we would both be home, we were determined to make it happen.
….Which is not to say that all went as planned. Not at all. But I’m so glad we went for it. A road trip through your home state is a fantastic way to make the most of a short amount of time and a small budget.
Here was the original plan (feel free to steal it!):
- Graffiti Highway (a closed-off highway in the abandoned town of Centrailia
- Ricketts Glen
- Cherry Springs State Park
- Kinzua Bridge State Park
- Presque Isle State Park (the only “seashore”) in PA
- Pine Creek Gorge (the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon),
- Sproul State Forest
It was intentionally short (because, again, jobs and cars and obligations) but it had our two most anticipated locations and lots of other exciting ones as well. We planned it with the help of Roadtripper, an app and website that lets you plan a route and suggests stops along the way, including restaurants, hikes, site seeing, and more.
However, as the trip approached and planning got more specific, I realized that Presque Isle might not be the right destination for mid-May. The main attraction, the beaches, are closed from Labor Day to Memorial Day. You can still walk on them, but swimming is prohibited, and it’s a bit too cold for it anyway. While we had really been looking forward to this destination, we decided to save it for a trip when we could make the most of it. If you do go Presque Isle, check out Sara’s Campground, where you can camp right on the beach.
Changing our furthest destination from Erie to Cherry Springs meant that we had to cut out the Kinzua Sky Bridge as well. Both will have to be included in our next trip, because check this place out. It’s a historic viaduct that was transformed into a public walkway after a tornado destroyed it in 2003.
With our new itinerary, minimal camping gear, and plenty of snacks, we set out for our first stop: Graffiti Highway.
This tourist attraction an abandoned and now-colorful highway located in Centrailia, Pennsylvania. If you don’t know the story of Centralia and the underground fire that burns there to this day, you can read about it here.
After walking the length of the highway, we got back in the car and headed to our next location: Rickett’s Glen.
On the way, we stopped at Woody’s Diner and Coffee Shop, in Catawissa. It was a great surprise to find this place in the middle of nowhere.
At Rickett’s Glen, we struggled a bit to find the trailhead we were looking for, but eventually located it. The Falls Trail appears to be the best one if you want to see as many waterfalls as possible, which we definitely did. It’s reported by AllTrails to be 13 miles long, but in reality it couldn’t have been more than 6.5.
The trail is absolutely gorgeous, and the waterfalls are breathtaking. I wish it had been a bit warmer, because all I wanted was to go in the water. One area let us get pretty close. We sat on a ledge just feet away from the falls, feeling the spray on our faces and resting from the hike.
If you take on this trail, make sure to wear shoes with lots of traction and to move slowly in the wet areas, because there are some pretty dangerous and slippery sections.
From Rickett’s Glen, we set out for Cherry Springs. Night and Day Coffee and Cafe provided us with dinner and caffeine for the rest of the drive.
After another two hours, we reached Cherry Springs State Park, which is the only Dark Sky Park on the East Coast. This means that it’s an ideal stargazing destination. There is a parking lot reserved for non-camping stargazers at the front of the park, but spending the night allows you to fall asleep looking at the stars.
We had a slight mishap with our borrowed tent…A word of advice: A “one-man tent” is seriously meant for one person. It’s not a small regular tent. It is a skinny, person shaped space. We’re talking 2.5′ x 7′.
For the record, we made it work, sleeping head-to-toe.
But the real problem turned out to be the cold. We knew the temperature would drop at night, but hadn’t realized just how much. Even with extra blankets and sleeping bags, 32 degrees was a bit too chilly for us.
If you do decide to camp at Cherry Springs, make sure to book your campsite ahead of time. We were lucky to share the campground with only a handful of others on our trip, but between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the campsites may all be claimed weeks or months in advance. It’s only $15 a night for two people, so book early, and bring lots of warm clothes and blankets.
In the morning, we made a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal on the fire as the day warmed up. Then we packed up our tiny tent and got back on the road. Next stop, Pine Creek Gorge.
At the Visitor Center, we walked out to the observation decks to take in the beautiful canyon split by Pine Creek. This is where it really hit me how little I knew of the state I’d grown up in. I’m constantly itching to see far away places, but I have so much left to explore closer to home.
We took the Turkey Path down to the bottom of the canyon and walked along the river for a bit before turning around. The trip back up was a quad-killer, but the views made it more than worth it. Again, I recommend good shoes and great care on this trail, as runoff makes some areas extremely slippery.
While we had planned on hitting Sproul State Park next, our vehicle was making some concerning sounds. It had been worsening since the day before, and though Daisy’s dad had assured us it had no evident cause, we didn’t want to take a chance so far from home. So we started back towards Reading, a bit disappointed, but satisfied with our trip and knowing that our high-school selves would be proud of us 🙂
I’m sure there will be more PA road trips in the future, so drop your favorite locations below!