Pennsylvania, the “Keystone State”, is one of the original 13 colonies. As rich in history as it is diverse terrain, wide-open farmland, forests and mountains, it is a great vacation destination. Well-known landmarks like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are only a fraction of the patriotic charm of Pennsylvania. There are scores of lesser-known attractions that manage to complete the rich culture of the state. Check out the array of hidden gems, from burning ghost towns to Victorian-era museums, and be prepared to fall in love with Pennsylvania.
We’ve put together a list of the best hidden gems in Pennsylvania just for you. Enjoy!
1. The Rose Gardens, Allentown
The Malcom W. Gross Memorial Rose Gardens are located in Allentown. The old-fashioned gardens are filled with flowers and ponds and known for their All American Rose Selections. It is a perfect place for outdoor recreational activities like walking and biking all year round.
Get some exercise and walk the scenic 1.3 mile loop through the gardens, or take your bike if you prefer. Take some photos of the rose garden pavilions and enjoy the sounds of the chirping birds. Most flowers are in full bloom in the summer, but there are plenty of photos to be taken all year in this pristine natural environment. Appreciate a relaxing afternoon at the rose gardens.
2. Columcille Megalith Park, Bangor
Originally established in 1978, the Columcille Park is a land full of folklore and myth in the Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania. Originally inspired by the Isle of Iona off the coast of Scotland, this park remains connected to Celtic spirituality and is a peaceful place perfect for meditation or to get off the beaten for a while to think.
The name “Columcille” is inspired by the Gaelic phrase “Casa Colum”, or Home of the Dove, which is the name of the small house first opened here in 1975 by William Cohea Jr. It operated as a resting place along the side of the road for tired sinners and reluctant saints alike. The peace of this place soothes each visitor with its open space created to welcome people of all faiths and traditions. The Appalachian backdrop offers beautiful lush scenery fused with the tranquility of the Celtic buildings to make this a delightful place to visit.
3. Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh
The Mattress Factory is located in Pittsburgh, and was originally just a warehouse shared by artists and intellectuals who lived together and hosted art exhibits. It was converted into a non-profit organization and in 1982 it opened its first exhibition of installation art. The museum is now known for its artist residency program and unique exhibitions.
Stop in to enjoy this contemporary art museum. There are a few different gallery locations, so check out what exhibitions are offered at each before you go. There are also educational programs sponsored through the Mattress Factory, such as community workshops and artists talks. Stop by to listen to one if you’re interested.
4. Martin Guitar Factory and Museum, Nazareth
Located in Nazareth, the Martin Guitar Factory and Museum is a music haven that brings together music history, culture and craftsmanship under one roof. It houses a large collection of historical instruments and other music memorabilia that tell the Martin brand story. Stop in if you’re a guitarist or music lover, there is plenty here to fascinate you.
There are over 200 vintage instruments on display at the center, some from artists like Johnny Cash and Elvis! Take a public guided tour of the factory to understand how the guitars are brought to life – over 300 separate steps is required to complete just 1 Martin guitar! Check out the museum and center when you’re stopping through Nazareth; it’s a true musical gem.
5. Joe’s Bar, Ligonier
Joe’s Bar is located in Ligonier, and is an authentically unique bar experience you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. This unassuming bar has a treasure trove of exotic animals inside, all beautifully preserved and on display in the bar such as the glass cases of animals like preserved giraffes and even an elephant’s head!
There are also stools of elephant’s feet, which is just pretty awesome. Especially interesting during the “Fort Days” celebration in Ligonier, stop by any time for a beer and free show. If you’re in the mood for an interesting night, stop in for a drink and see if you can figure out the scenes on display of posed costumed squirrels (hint, one of them looks like Robin Hood).
6. Trundle Manor, Swissvale
Trundle Manor was built in 1910 and is located in Swissvale. It’s a bit of an assortment of odds and ends that culminate in a classic roadside attraction that is a bit of a blast from the past. It’s an especially ideal place for those who have a taste for the weird and enjoy being a little creeped out.
Just to highlight a few of the curiosities housed here, get ready to experience antique taxidermy, sadistic out of use medical devices, coffins, Steampunk creations, and many other things your twisted mind might not be able to imagine. Don’t miss out on Trundle Manor, a veritable mecca for the bizarre and one of the more unusual gems that Pennsylvania has to offer.
7. Lehigh Valley Zoo, Schnecksville
Lehigh Valley Zoo is located in Schnecksville and encompasses 29 acres inside the Trexler Nature Preserve. Founded originally in 1906 by Harry Trexler, the preserve was founded to help protect bison, elk and deer. He left the land to the county upon his death.
The zoo was founded in 1974 and includes petting exhibits with exotic animals from Africa and Asia. It participates in the Species Survival Plans for African penguins, mongoose lemur and the scimitar-horned oryx. Stop by and contribute towards animal conservation and to learn more about exotic species like the dwarf crocodile or Mexican wolf. The natural preserve provides the perfect backdrop for a zoo focused on animal conservation.
8. Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle, Doylestown
Fonthill Castle was home to the American archeologist Henry Mercer. It was built between 1908 and 1912, and boasts 44 rooms and over 200 windows. Come visit this early example of poured-in concrete architecture, built by Mercer himself and includes the built-in furniture in the house as well. This technique reflects the height of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Now a museum, the Mercer Museum at Fonthill Castle is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of only three structures built by Mercer, the property is also home to another unique structure, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. This complex is an excellently preserved architectural work of art and contains objects from Mercer’s collection that represent everyday life in the pre-industrial age. Enrich your mind with this cultural outing, ideal for design buffs.
9. Clemente Museum, Pittsburgh
The Roberto Clemente Museum is located in Pittsburgh and highlights an important part of Pennsylvania sports history. It is a private museum honoring Roberto Clemente and has been open since 2007, supported largely by the Clemente family who wanted to preserve the memory of this impressive athlete who also broke racial divisions in the world of professional baseball.
Roberto Clemente was a professional baseball player from Puerto Rico and was the first Latin American to be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He tragically suffered an early demise in a plane crash in 1972 while en route to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua. This museum preserves his impressive story and features memorabilia from his family and baseball career. An important figure in American history as well, this museum is unique and worth an afternoon if you’re a baseball fan or civil rights history buff.
Benezette is an unincorporated community in Elk County, located off Route 555. Pennsylvania is home to the largest roaming elk herd in that part of the U.S., some of which can be seen in Benezzete, which is a popular viewing area and provides different viewing options depending on your preference.
Come out here to see these majestic creatures in real life. You will never forget this extraordinary experience that is hard to find outside of Pennsylvania. Rent a cabin in the heart of Elk County, and take a local sleigh or wagon ride through Elk County! Don’t miss out on the Elk County Elk Farm for some elk steak.
11. Penn’s Cave, Centre Hall
Located in Gregg Township, Centre County, the extensive property is comprised of seven buildings and its highlight: Penn’s Cave. The house is called Penn’s Cave House and is used as a private residence and office for the tours of the property and cave. The entire complex is on the National Register of Historic Places and is an intriguing place if you have some time during your Pennsylvania trip.
Penn’s Cave is around 1,300 feet in length, with a roof that rises 55 feet about the surface of the stream. Take a boat tour through the limestone cavern, or tour the wildlife park located on the grounds outside the cave. Be sure to stop in at the Visitors Center to tour the historic buildings and learn more about the nature and geology before you leave. The complex is one of those hidden nature gems awaiting your discovery in rural Pennsylvania.
12. Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh
The Frick Art and Historical Center is located in Pittsburg, and is a collection of museums and historical buildings centered around the nineteenth-century Frick family residence which spans 5.5 acres. It is focused on the life of Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist and art collector who lives from 1849-1919.
Visit this beautiful mansion and grounds. Admission is free, leaving you to enjoy the large collection of works by Jean-François Millet, European paintings and Renaissance and Baroque bronzes. The museum also displays historic automobiles and boasts beautiful green grounds and gardens that are perfect for a walk. Admire the architecture of the old house and surrounding buildings and enjoy brushing up on your Renaissance art and learning a bit about the historical Frick family.
13. Johnstown Flood Museum, Johnstown
The Johnstown Flood Museum is located in Johnstown Pennsylvania in the Cambria Public Library Building. This museum tells the story of an almost-forgotten event in Pennsylvania history: the rupture of a dam in 1880 above the city that drowned over 2,000 people and effectively destroyed the city.
Stop by to learn more about this tragic moment in Pennsylvania’s history. There are exhibits that include artifacts, a wall of debris and other remnants of the fatal flood. Also shown is the Academy Award winning documentary, the Johnstown Flood, by Charles Guggenheim. Not your usual tourist destination, the Johnstown Flood Museum is a way to get to know state history and familiarize yourself more with Pennsylvania.
14. Buttermilk Falls, New Florence
Buttermilk Falls Natural Area is located in Shunk, Indiana County, and contains some of the highest waterfalls in Pennsylvania. It is also locally known as the former home of Fred McFeely, the grandfather of Fred Rogers, from the famous PBS series “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood”. You can still view their home foundation and swimming area.
Spend a day at the park and enjoy the lush greenery. There is a beautiful walk through scenic woodland, which takes you to the 45 foot waterfalls. Remember to bring your camera to capture the views of these impressive falls. Enjoy this quiet park and the unique plant and animal communities here in this tranquil corner of Pennsylvania.
15. The Coffee Pot, Bedford
The Coffee Pot is a curious structure located in Bedford, Pennsylvania. It is not an actual coffee shop, but rather it is built in the shape of a coffee pot! The Coffee Pot was a classic American roadside attraction during its glory days as a lunch stand and was designed and built by David Koontz back in 1927. It was almost destroyed in the 1990s, but Bedford realized that they had a true gem on their hands and restored it to its former glory instead.
If you find yourself in Bedford, check out this example of novelty architecture from a classic era in American road trip history. It is now a museum for the Bedford Fair, and is an excellent place to stop and stretch your legs. There are signs along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor to make sure that you don’t miss it. Pay homage to the old roadside attractions of years gone by and snap a photo of this unique landmark.
16. Ricketts Glen State Park, Benton
Ricketts Glen State Park encompasses more than 13,000 acres and thus occupies a part of 3 counties: Columbia, Luzerne and Sullivan counties. It is a National Natural Landmark because of its old-growth forest and 24 waterfalls. Formerly inhabited by the Iroquois until the French and Indian War, it was converted into a state park centuries later in 1944.
Add Ricketts Glen State Park to your list of destinations. Hunting and trapping are available seasonally in a section of the park, which has common game animals like the black bear of white-tailed deer. You can also fish at Lake Jean or take out canoes or kayaks to explore. Make it a natural retreat holiday and stay at a cabin or campground so you can further explore the ancient forest trails and visit all the falls.
17. Tara, Clark
This is a perfect hotel destination for anyone who has read or watched Gone with the Wind. The design of the hotel, Tara, was inspired by the movie representation of the well-known plantation. Pay them a visit if you’re an avid fan or for some southern hospitality – the Tara Country Inn fully embodies the essence of the Old South.
Put your feet up and treat yourself to a gourmet meal during your stay. The inn also offers a guided tour for those interested in the history, and you’ll feel pampered in this luxurious environment. Treat yourself to a spa day, you’ve earned the days off!
18. Mutter Museum, Philadelphia
The Mutter Museum is a medical museum located in Center City, Philadelphia. It was originally donated by Dr. Thomas Mutter in 1858 for medical research and education, and is now open to the public as a museum dedicated to medical history. Don’t miss out on this fascinating gem of a museum!
After an afternoon at the Mutter Museum, you’ll have a new appreciation for how far medical practices have come in the past few centuries. There are many exhibits of out-of-date medical equipment, wax models, medical oddities and over 3,000 osteological specimens. Check out the Mutter American Giant, the tallest Huma skeleton on exhibit in North America. There are also preserved tumors and cysts on display for the non-squeamish visitors!
Centralia is an old mining town in Pennsylvania that has been almost completely abandoned in the last twenty years for an unusual reason – it has been on fire for over 50 years! The town set a fire in 1962 to burn out a landfill, not realized that it was connected to an old strip-mine with a maze of underground tunnels filled with coal! They have never been able to extinguish the underground fire that started raging, which continues to go unchecked to this day.
If you’re brave enough to visit, you’ll see the ground has opened up to let out some of the fumes from the fire. There are holes where driveways used to be, and the ground on Highway 61 is hot to the touch. There are only a few remaining holdout town residents, the rest is a maze of abandoned buildings. Take care while you’re there, but do go see this curious smoky ghost town – they say there is enough coal there to burn for another 200 years. You’ll feel like you have landed in the Twilight Zone.
20. The Sonorous Stones of Ringing Rocks
Located in Bucks County, Ringing Rocks Park is filled with boulders that actually make music when struck with a hammer. The first concert was performed by J.J. Ott in 1890, who had gotten the rocks from a boulder field nearby. Studies have been performed in an attempt to understand why these rocks produce sounds that mimic music, but the reason continues to elude scientists.
Come out here to try it yourself: you can bring your hammers and put on your very own concert! The rock field stretches across 7 acres of woods, and can be as deep as 10 feet in boulders! You’ll have to search the field though – only 1/3 of the rocks ring. A fun activity for those with a strong sense of balance and some patience, enjoy a unique musical experience out here in rural Pennsylvania.
21. The Seven Gates of Hell
An old town myth in Hellam Township claims that this community is home to seven remote gates which connect you to the entrance to Hell if opened in the correct order. The town itself seems charmingly harmless, boasting forestry, lakes, wildlife and a quaint downtown area. Different variations of the tale abound, ranging from criminally insane inmates burning to death in an asylum fire with their souls trapped in a series of gates, or an insane doctor that built a series of gates leading into the deepest reaches of the forest.
Regardless of whether these gates existed ever, the town itself is quite charming and a good place to visit for a day. Go exploring for the gates of hell if you dare, if only to appreciate the lush nature surrounding Hellam. Just be sure to respect the town and its inhabitants as they have been subjected to some nuisances because of the myth and don’t take kindly to people trespassing on private property off of Trout Run Road, where the gates are purported to be located.
22. Wagner Free Institute of Science
The Wagner Free Institute of Science is located in Philadelphia. This natural history museum was founded in 1855 by William Wagner, a gentlemen scientist who was a revolutionary of the time and offered free educational courses to those who wanted to learn about natural science, even permitting women to attend.
Visit the museum and appreciate the quest for knowledge that led to its birth. The museums ongoing mission is free public education in science, as established in the charter written by William Wagner. Besides free courses the museum offers free field trips for schools and groups, evening lectures, open houses, and a range of special programs. The museum includes specimens found on Wagner-sponsored expeditions as well as specimens collected by William Wagner and later curators and scientists, such as Joseph Leidy, whose 1880s arrangement of the museum is still in place.
It’s a trip back in time to a classic Victorian science museum so enjoy experiencing this historic Pennsylvania gem.
23. Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike
The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike is a stretch of 13 miles of road on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that stopped being used when a more modern road was opened in 1968. The original road traversed seven tunnels, including those at Blue Mountain and Laurel Hill. The tunnels cut through each mountain in a single lane tunnel, which caused the traffic and prompted construction of the bypass that put part of this road out of commission.
Today this abandoned stretch of road is a slightly eerie but fun place to visit. While officially closed to the public, part of it is used as a bike path for cyclists and accessible to pedestrians. The tunnels also still stand even though they have been neglected, and are a nice hike for those who have no intention of biking along the Pike2Bike path. There are a few different hikes between the tunnels for you to choose from, and as you walk, you’ll feel like you survived some sort of apocalypse the way nature has taken back the road. Rays Hill Tunnel is one of the better sections of this hidden gem to explore if you have the time!