• Today is: Friday, August 7, 2020

7 great family-friendly day trips near Pittsburgh

Emily Stimmel
July01/ 2015

Here at Kidsburgh, it goes without saying that we love Pittsburgh. But sometimes, we just need to get away. Day trips are a perfect way to renew your perspective and sample what makes neighboring towns so special—from unique features of the natural landscape to tourist destinations and local cuisine. The following “day-cation” spots are three hours or less from Downtown Pittsburgh and all pack in entertainment, eating and education that will appeal to visitors of all ages.

Idlewild 4 (credit Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau)
Idlewild, Photo courtesy of Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau

Wandering through Storybook Forest at Idlewild in Ligonier, PA (1.25 hours southeast)

The Laurel Highlands serve up family-friendly fun in a tranquil setting. Ligonier’s quaint, wooded Idlewild amusement park has been a top destination for local families for decades. Its Story Book Forest is filled with buildings and sculptures representing classic children’s stories—and characters like Mother Goose, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White bring the stories to life. Several sections of the park are dedicated to the littlest kiddos, with rides like a ferris wheel, tea cups—even a roller coaster, the Rollo Coaster—accessible to children as little as three feet tall. And new this year is Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, designed by the Fred Rogers Company and Schell Games. The new feature lets kids ride Mister Rogers’ famous trolley through a world populated by Daniel Tiger and his friends.

Looking to beat the heat? Idlewild also features its own water park and pool area, SoakZone. There’s truly something for everyone, from the kiddie pool for little ones to a wave pool, lazy river, waterslides, spray features and rafting areas.

The park offers numerous concession areas—including many food allergy-friendly options—as well as a picnic grove for families who wish to bring their own food. Just outside the park in Ligonier’s business district are several family-friendly cafés, including the Kitchen on Main, whose menu offerings include grilled mahi mahi tacos, wild game sliders and salads showcasing locally-grown ingredients.

Ohiopyle 2 (credit Laurel Highlands Visitors Center)
White water rafting at Ohiopyle, Photo courtesy of Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau

Appreciating the beauty of architecture and nature in Mill Run, PA (1.25 hours southeast)

The Laurel Highlands is so packed with outdoor activities, natural beauty and family-friendly attractions that it earned a second spot on our list! Just minutes from Ligonier, in Mill Run, sits Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous structure, Fallingwater. Designed between 1936 and 1939 as a vacation home for the Kaufmann family—owners of the famed Pittsburgh department store—the structure extends over a 30-foot waterfall.

The interplay of nature and architecture on display at Fallingwater is breathtaking, but may be best appreciated by older kids and teens. For families with younger kids or a mixed age group, the surrounding Bear Run Nature Reserve offers ample opportunity for outdoor fun with more than 20 miles of hiking trails.

Even more al fresco adventures await you at Ohiopyle! At Laurel Highlands River Tours & Outdoor Center and Ohiopyle Trading Post—just under 10 minutes from Bear Run—families can rent rafts and bikes. Particularly adventurous folks may even try zip-lining through the trees. Guided rafting tours are available for various experience levels, but trips can take anywhere from four to six hours, so make sure to plan ahead!

When your stomach starts to growl, there’s no need to head inside. Take advantage of Ohiopyle House Café’s outdoor seating to enjoy live music, a fire pit and gorgeous views. Café owners pride themselves on sourcing fresh, local, farm-to-table ingredients and the menu includes house-made options like black bean dip and fresh-baked bread.

Old Bedford Village, Photo courtesy of Old Bedford Village
Old Bedford Village, Photo courtesy of Old Bedford Village

Stepping back into historic—and prehistoric—times in Bedford, PA (2.25 hours southeast)

Further down Route 30, just over two hours southeast of Pittsburgh, Bedford, PA offers an eclectic mix of roadside attractions, rich history and paranormal activity. In addition to the activities we’ve gathered here, Bedford County now offers geocaching games so you can keep one foot planted in the present as you venture into the past.

On your way, make Rick Sebak proud and be sure to hit up some of Route 30’s quirky roadside attractions. In Bedford County you’ll find Gravity Hill—a mysterious place where cars roll uphill and water flows the wrong way. The Coffee Pot—a giant, coffee pot-shaped building—has seen life as a luncheonette and bar since it was built in 1927, but its longest lasting incarnation is as a kitschy photo backdrop.

Billed as a “living history museum,” Old Bedford Village depicts pioneer life through reenactments and demonstrations of crafts like quilting, blacksmithing and candle making. Other eras are highlighted as well—the site is a popular venue for Civil War reenactments.

At Coral Caverns, located less than 15 minutes from Old Bedford Village in Manns Choice, PA, guests can travel even further back in time. Its unique coral reef feature is a towering fossil wall containing the remains of coral and various sea creatures buried over 400 million years ago.

A historic landmark built in the 1760s, Jean Bonnet Tavern is loaded with old-fashioned charm—and with all that history, is it any surprise that some say it’s haunted? Older kids and adults will enjoy reading scary tales in a journal where overnight guests chronicle their paranormal experiences. The easily spooked can skip the ghost stories and instead pay a visit to the goats that graze beside the restaurant’s herb garden. Menu offerings include seafood, pasta dishes, salads and sandwiches—just make sure to save room for a slice of the signature oatmeal pie!

Fishing at Moraine State Park, Photo courtesy of Moraine State Park
Fishing at Moraine State Park, Photo courtesy of Moraine State Park

Exploring McConnells Mill and Moraine State Parks in Slippery Rock, PA (45 minutes north)

Though the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail at McConnells Mill State Park is reserved for experienced hikers, pros and amateurs alike can still view the natural splendor of the gorge, carved over millennia by the draining of glacial lakes. With steep sides and a valley floor littered with giant boulders, the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge is a national natural landmark. While you’re there, be sure to check out the gristmill, a 19th-century relic open for tours all summer long.

Just 15 minutes northeast, Moraine State Park offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, from biking to beach-going. A paved seven-mile trail offers cyclists gorgeous views of lush greenery and sparkling water. Along the shores of Lake Arthur are Pleasant Valley Beach, a 1,200-foot turf and sand beach with a paved path and volleyball court, and Lakeview Beach, a 500-foot sand beach, offering swimming and relaxation. The beaches are open daily from sunrise to sunset between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day, unless otherwise posted.

Navigating rocky terrain, cycling and swimming are sure to work up an appetite. Just 20 minutes away, on the outskirts of the Slippery Rock University campus, you’ll find North Country Brewing Company. Rustic décor and kid-friendly eats like hummus and burgers appeal to all ages, and grownups can also enjoy sampling the rotating selection of beers brewed on the premises.

Presque Isle beach, Photo courtesy of Visit Erie
Presque Isle beach, Photo courtesy of Visit Erie

Relaxing on the beach at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA (2.5 hours north)

Want a beach vacation without logging long hours in the car? With 11 miles of beaches and boardwalk-style fare, Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA offers many of the perks of a trip to the shore—and it’s less than three hours away!

Swimming, biking, rollerblading and fishing are just a few of the activities in store for visitors. Day trippers can also enjoy combing the beach for sea glass, watching turtles from the observation deck at Graveyard Pond and seeing a rainbow of kites ripple across the sky at Sunset Point. And on weekends, visitors can tour the historic lighthouse. Situated near Beach 8, the second oldest lighthouse on Presque Isle’s shores offers a stunning view of Lake Erie—and a workout, with 78 steps to climb!

For the full beach experience, be sure to grab a bite at Sara’s, a quintessential ’50s-style diner. You won’t find trendy—or healthy—food on the menu, but their tried-and-true favorites like hot dogs, curly fries, ice cream and milkshakes come highly recommended.

Classic Toys at Kruger Street Toy Museum, Photo courtesy of Kruger Street Toy Museum
Classic toys at Kruger Street Toy Museum, Photo courtesy of Kruger Street Toy Museum

Taking a trip back in time with toys from all eras in Wheeling & Moundsville, WV (1.5 hours southwest)

Ready to venture beyond Pennsylvania? In Moundsville, West Virginia and nearby Wheeling, you’ll find two museums dedicated to the history of toys. Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville features six decades of toys designed by Louis Marx. Though the name may not ring a bell, his most famous inventions—Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots and the Big Wheel—are iconic. Thousands of Marx toys, prototypes, sketches and molds are on display throughout the museum, offering a unique perspective on how a popular product travels from the brain of its creator to toy store shelves.

The Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum in Wheeling is housed in a century-old former schoolhouse building and still boasts its original tin ceilings and pine flooring. Exhibits are arranged by category, with whole rooms devoted to dolls, miniatures, games, trains and other transportation-themed toys like cars and trucks.

Also in Wheeling, the 30-acre Good Zoo at Oglebay Resort and Conference Center houses over 50 species of animals—many rare or endangered. Exhibits explore specific areas like the Wetlands and the Outback and the indoor Discovery Lab allows visitors to observe animals like poison dart frogs and tamarin monkeys. If your kids still have trains on the brain after their visit to the Toy & Train Museum, hop aboard the C.P. Huntington train for a one-and-a-half mile journey through the zoo!

For a bite to eat, check out Later Alligator. Sandwiches and salads are the stars here, with enough variety to please vegetarians, carnivores and everyone in between. The kids’ menu features standard kiddie fare with a few surprises like cucumber slices for snacking, tuna sandwiches and Nutella crepes for dessert.

A Christmas Story House, Photo by Larry E. Highbaugh for ThisisCleveland.com
A Christmas Story House, Photo by Larry E. Highbaugh for ThisisCleveland.com

Brushing up on pop culture in Cleveland, OH (2.5 hours northwest)

At just two and a half hours northwest of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Ohio is a popular choice for day trips. The city boasts a wide range of cultural institutions including a science centerbotanical garden, museums of natural history and art, a children’s museum and an aquarium, but it’s best known for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Music buffs and casual fans alike will enjoy current exhibits highlighting recent inductees and contemporary artists like Lady Gaga, the Black Keys and Bruno Mars.

But for families looking for something truly unique, the standout is A Christmas Story House & Museum. The meticulously restored house from the classic ’80s holiday flick is open year-round for tours and original props, photos, costumes and other memorabilia—even the infamous leg lamp—are on display at the museum situated across the street.

Continuing the pop culture theme is Big Fun, a retro toy store that appeals to adults as much as kids. Specializing in collectibles and vintage toys—think Star WarsET and classic Nintendo games—the store is bursting at the seams with pop culture nostalgia, but kids will get a kick out of the classic toys and gag gifts for sale.

No walk down memory lane is complete without comfort food. Melt Bar and Grilled cranks classic grilled cheese up to 11 with artisanal creations featuring ingredients like fried eggs, chorizo and sauerkraut. Custom options are also available. And to offset all the ooey-gooey cheese, kids’ side choices include salad and a banana.

These day trips are just a sampling of what’s available a few hours outside Downtown. Have fun exploring! And please comment below if your family has a favorite day trip destination you’d like to add.

 Featured photo: White water rafting at Ohiopyle, Photo courtesy of Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau

Emily Stimmel

Emily fell in love with the written word as a teenager, when she published zines and wrote for her school paper. Today, she is a freelance writer with a decade and a half of experience in non-profit communications. She enjoys cooking, reading, crafting and exploring Pittsburgh with her husband and two sons.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.