Are you looking for a great east coast road trip? Tucked away in the Western Pennsylvania mountains are the Laurel Highlands. This beautiful area is located no more than 200 miles from major metropolitan areas like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington DC. Go to the Laurel Highlands and plan to have the best weekend ever.
No sooner that we rested our suitcases on the floor of the living room on Sunday evening, we were packing them again for another trip. The kids never tire of the constant packing and unpacking of suitcases. But this trip was different. We weren’t packing for a plane ride, but for a road trip to the Laurel Highlands and our agenda was filled to the brim with lots of fun things to do.
The alarm chimed loudly at 5:00am on Thursday morning. By, 6:15am, we were out the door!
The ride to Western Pennsylvania was a quiet one. Just a little over three hours after we left our metro DC area home, we were surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the Laurel Highlands. It’s so hard to fathom that with only 31 residents, this tourist destination garners over 1.4 million visitors every year.
We had reservations for 11:00am at White Water Adventures, and while our family friendly Middle Yough reservations included lunch, we stopped at Ohiopyle Bakery and Sandwiche Shoppe for some of their gluten free sandwich options.
We met our tour guide, Rick, and proceeded to the Youghiogeny river. The kids loved that we got to ride a school bus to the raft site. It was actually their first ride on a school bus.
I was initially hesitant to sign up for white water rafting, but started feeling more at ease once I discovered that White Water Adventures has several skill level options for rafting. Since this was our first rafting adventure, we opted for the guided/escorted tour.
This option is perfect for families as there is a trained guide in the raft at all times. For reference, my kids are age 6 and 9 and they did really well. The guided raft tour is a great way to experience the waves of the playful rapids.
Keep in mind though that you need to allow 3-5 hours for the ride down the river. Our trip took the whole five hours. Somewhere in between we pulled off into a shaded area with fellow adventurers and had lunch.
Do want to book a Whitewater Adventure with your family?
Here are some tips that’ll make it even better.
- The trip down the Youghiogheny river is beautiful but, it’s 11 miles long. Have everyone use the bathroom before you start the journey. The only bathrooms available during the 3-5 hours trip are the “facilitrees” on either side of the river.
- Dress appropriately for the white water rafting ride. Everyone will have to wear a life vest and kids under 12 have to wear a helmet. Besides that, be sure to protect yourself from the sun. A brimmed hat will work wonders to protect your face. Wear synthetic fabrics that can dry quickly and avoid cotton. It’s pretty much a guarantee that some part of your body will get wet, especially your feet. Hence water shoes are highly recommended. Socks and regular sneakers will only lead to wrinkly toes and soggy socks. Trust me on this. Water shoes or even or quick drying sports shoes would be better. And please do yourself your favor and leave your phones and other valuables behind, unless you want them to get wet.
- If you insist on bringing a phone with you, water proof cell phone cases will do the trick in keeping your phone dry.
When it comes to capturing the scenic ride with your family, White Water Adventures actually has a photographer poised at the end of the river to capture the perfect family photo.
I’m not sure how many calories we burned during the 11 mile ride but, I’ll just say, bring your paddling arms along for the ride.
I really wanted to try a family bike ride through the Great Alleghany Passage but tuckered out after white water rafting. Instead, we decided to stop at Baughmman Rock Vista Overlook and gawk at the view before driving down to Falls Market restaurant for dinner.
Falls Market is a restaurant in the Ohiopyle neighborhood with soups, sandwiches and more. We skipped the ice cream in favor of some bagged caramel popcorn as a treat to take back to our cabin at Jellystone Park Mill Run.
On day two, we started the morning with a light healthy breakfast that we packed for the trip. Our Deluxe Yackey Doodle Single Loft Cabin included an overlooking loft to the kitchen which both the kids thoroughly enjoyed and was perfect to scope out what was being made for breakfast.
After breakfast, we made plans to go to Laurel Caverns because although we’ve been in underground cave before, admittedly this was our first visit to a cave in the United States! And if you’re going to spend some time in the Laurel Highlands, you have to go to the Laurel Caverns. It is a must!
Laurel Caverns is a large calcareous cave in Pennsylvania just 50 miles south from Pittsburgh. It also happens to be the largest cave in the state! The size of the cave allows more flexibility in terms of the types of tours/trips that are offered. Actually, there are three different types. If you’ve never been to a natural cave, I recommend starting with the family tour. It’s a great starting point. The family tour is especially great for families with young kids. Expect to spend an hour for this tour.
The upper cave trip takes two hours and is more labor intensive. The lower cave experience is more rigorous and takes visitors through the whole 3 miles of the cave.
There’s just something so magnificent about exploring underground caves. And Laurel Caverns is no different. We descended down 80 feet underground (equivalent to 34 flights of steps), during our time in the cave.
This kind of exploration requires good knees and is a reminder of one of the reasons why wellness and travel go so well together. To truly enjoy the time in the cave, it’s important to dress appropriately. The cave is around 52 degrees all year round, even in the middle of summer.
What to Wear in an Underground Cave
A long sleeved shirt, long pants and light jacket are highly recommended along with comfortable sneakers for the walk. There is one part of the underground tour when the cave goes totally black for about 30-45 seconds. But there is ample warning about what’s happening, so young kids should be fine.
During winter months, Laurel Caverns is closed so that bats can use the cave for to hibernation. Don’t worry though, the caves open back up for the spring, summer and winter months after the bats are long gone.
After all the cave exploration, we worked up quite an appetite and headed to Stone House Inn for lunch. Stone House Inn first opened their doors in 1822. The restaurant is located in Farmington, near Fallingwater, Kentucky Knob and Fort Necessity, Pennsylvania.
If you’re doing the low carb thing do not, I repeat “DO NOT” get the housemade potato chips as a starter. They’re warm with just the right amount of crispiness. All around, we also ordered a pecan crusted salmon salad, and an order of the St. Louis style ribs. The kids opted for splitting an order of grilled chicken.
We also wanted to try the shrimp cocktail but, apparently that’s a popular item because around 2:00pm, they had already sold out.
After “fueling up” it was time to spend some time at Jellystone Park Mill Run. The kids were ready to explore the water slides and that’s what they did.
I barely succeeded in convincing them to slip away for some Monster Truck and dry snowless snowtube riding. But alas, they let me have my way and it was fun for all.
We didn’t have plans for dinner so my trusty assistant Google came to the rescue and what she told me about was nothing short of tasty. Upscale family dining in all its deliciousness can be found at Out of the Fire Cafe. This open style kitchen with great service and phenomenal food, is also family owned. The kids got a kick of tasting Ratatouille for the first time. And it was amazing. We’ll be back. Put it on your list.
Breaking up is hard to do but, we managed to pack up our things (linens, pillows, clothes and toiletries), dropped off our keys at the gate and headed on the road. Next up, Fallingwater.
The beauty of the Pennsylvania mountains is the ideal backdrop for Frank Lloyd’s Wright’s Fallingwater, a well-designed home from the famous architect.
Pennsylvania is also home to seven other Wright designed buildings. A guided tour of the inside of Fallingwater will set you back $30. There are several other types of tours available. Make sure to check the site to see which one suits your needs. You can purchase tickets here. Advanced ticket purchase is necessary for all tours. Ground passes on the latter, can be purchased on site for $10.
Ground passes give you access to the grounds of the home in addition to the outdoor porch and terrace areas.
After leaving Fallingwater, I highly recommend grabbing a bite from Bittersweet Cafe and trying the pickled beets.
They’re a good balance of sweet and sour and are good for you too!
The ambiance outside and inside of Bittersweet Cafe is such that you don’t want to leave.
Our food was served from deep aluminum trays and placed on wooden “plates”. I’m a firm believer that great presentation makes food taste better.
We had high hopes of exploring the award-winning Nemacolin Resort, but there just wasn’t enough time. I do recall enjoying our stay seven years ago and I’d say that it’s about time for a do over. Either way, this trip to the Laurel Highlands was the perfect mixture of art, culture, activity, food, family fun and adventure!
Where to Eat
69 Main Street
Try the caramel popcorn. See if you can stick to one handful.
3023 National Pike, Farmington, PA
Old timey feel. It’s been around since 1822. Get the homemade potato chips.
3784 State Route 31, Donegal, PA
Family owned. Upscale casual. Try the ratatouille, deviled eggs and scallops.
205 Farmington-Ohiopyle, Farmington, PA
Try the pickled beets.
Where to Stay
1001 Lafayette Dr,
Named by Forbes as one of their 2018 Most Luxurious Resorts
839 Mill Run Rd, Mill Run, PA
Be sure you check the calendar of events during the week of your stay for things to do.
Thank you Go to Laurel Highlands and the Motherhood for sponsoring this post and making this one of the best weekends ever!
Headed to Pennsylvania? Here are some other things to do in the state.