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10 of the Most Unusual Places to Visit in Pennsylvania

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Tionesta Area in the Allegheny National Forest.

Tionesta Area in the Allegheny National Forest.

Historic Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a beautiful mountain state, interesting and full of attractions to fill your vacation time. It has plenty to offer for your leisure time if you are a Pennsylvania resident as well. The Quaker State offers enough things to see and to do to fill your lifetime. Some of these attractions are very unusual, providing an extra incentive to visit.

One set of my great grandparents settled in Pennsylvania long ago before moving on to the west and though I never met them, I like to travel to Pennsylvania to see the countryside and cities, along with attractions and historical sites.

One fascinating area to see is Northwest Pennsylvania's State and National Oil Heritage Area around Oil City, described below. This is developed in a way similar to Ohio's Aviation Heritage Area around Dayton and Fairborn, Ohio.

Unlike Ohio, Pennsylvania encompasses some counties that are entirely forested.

Forest County

Marienville is located in Forest County, Pennsylvania and the county truly is largely a forested area. It is located in the northwestern part of the state and is one of only two sites in the Allegheny National Forest to have ranger stations.

A new State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Forest, Forest County PA was dedicated in the autumn of 2004 near Marienville, but the remainder of the county is an out-of-the-way, sustainable forest retreat with only about 7,700 total residents and not a single traffic light.

The quality of the wood in the forests in this area gave Merienville the title of Black Cherry (Wood) Capital of the World. This is the only national forest in the state and it includes these spectacular regions to visit across over 500,000 acres of land:

  • Allegheny & Clarion Wild & Scenic Rivers
  • Allegheny National Recreation Area
  • Allegheny Reservoir
  • Buckaloons or Irvine Flats Historic Area – 15 or more prehistoric archaeological sites.
  • Buzzard Swamp Wildlife Management Area – wetlands and waterfowl as well as other wildlife.
  • Chestnut Ridge and Minister Valley Wilderness Study Areas
  • Hickory Creek Wilderness and the Allegheny Islands Wilderness
  • Kane Experimental Forest
  • Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative – controlled deer herd and hunting, nearly 75,000 acres.
  • Longhouse National Scenic Byway – approx. 30 miles of roadway and land for camping, fall foliage tours, fishing, etc. This byway is named after the longhouse used by the Eastern Woodlands bands of Native Americans that have lived in Pennsylvania for centuries.
  • North Country National Scenic Trail – nearly 100 miles of trails.
  • Off Road Remote Areas – hunting, fishing, hiking, and other sports.
  • Tionesta Research Natural Area – for the study of old-growth forests.
  • Tionesta & Hearts Content Scenic Areas – timber has never been cut here.

Native American Cultures

While vacationing in Pennsylvania as I do, you might wish to visit some Unique Native American Attractions. Over the years, I found that Pennsylvania has at least 1,000 Native American-related places to visit that are sensational and interesting. Many are fascinating archaeological sites studied by local colleges and universities, with parts open to the public.

Oil Boom!

While we think of Texas oil and Alaskan pipelines when we hear the word oil, we don't usually envision Pennsylvania. However, the first American well was dug here. Not only that, but Texas law firms specializing in oil and natural gas operations have moved into NW Pennsylvania as well with the more recent Pennsylvania oil boom of 2008 to 2016.

Ohio and PA have enough oil deposits to provide energy for all of the USA for many years, but the first oil in Pennsylvania was exciting!

Oil City and Titusville

Oil City bills itself on its website as a Special Blend of People, very apt because it is advertised as the birthplace of the American oil well after the discovery of oil in nearby Titusville in the summer of 1859. By 1863, during the American Civil War, Oil City considered itself a boomtown. Before the city sprang up, the area was inhabited by Seneca Nation and specifically, Chief Cornplanter and his band.

The city grew up at the point where the Allegheny River and Oil Creek meet and expanded gradually as oil was drilled and needed transport to the big city. Quickly, it became the headquarters city for Quaker State Oil, Pennzoil, and Wolf's Head Oil. Today, the city includes about 11,000 residents. Visitors arrive to take advantage of many local nature trails and to view Victorian Style architecture. Tours of Oil Heritage Sites are also available. One of these takes visitors by Oil Creek, where barges brought oil to the Allegheny River for further transport to Pittsburgh.

The Oil City library has quite a collection of photographs from the mid-1800s that show the nature of the town and its oil boom.

The Fine Arts

Oil City is developing further by using an Arts Relocation Program to bring fine arts to Downtown Oil City as the area is revitalized to highlight historic places and architecture. Arts studios have been built within the historic transit center in town and artists are actually moving into Oil City to enjoy its small-town atmosphere and opportunities. Annual arts, music, and film festivals have begun to happen as well. Grants and other incentives keep the artists coming to Oil City. The local branch of Clarion University celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012 (

Titusville, 1871

Titusville, 1871

Pretzels On Old Philadelphia Pike

Pennsylvania has been home to several good brands of pretzels since its settlement by Germans back in the 1700s, but the Town of Interc*urse PA may be the most famous pretzel place of all.

The pretzel factory in this town is a fun place to watch the treats being prepared and baked during a factory tour. Then how can you not purchase some in the combination gift shop and grocery? Besides soft or hardstyle pretzels, molasses crunch, homemade noodles, spices, herbs, and other regional items are on sale. The pretzels are special in another way: only 100 pounds of hand twisted, brown butter pretzels are baked daily and fewer than a dozen pretzel factories of this type are operating in America.

Bird-In-Hand PA (from the proverb A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush) has another famous pretzel place.

Sarah's Pretzels

3121 Old Philadelphia Pike

Bird In Hand PA 17505

I know that some readers are likely laughing at the two town names above. Put the two towns together with the names of a few other local communities, and some people have a real laugh fest. The names of the communities are thought to have been taken from tavern signs of the establishments built to take advantage of increasing traffic on the first American turnpike in 1794.


Amish Farm Market

Traffic crossed Lancaster County along what is now Route 340 and these communities grew around the taverns or roadhouses.

A large Amish community took up residence in these places as well, resulting in an entire Amish Tourism phenomenon today. Both pretzel towns, part of the tourism economy are on Route 360 between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and just 4 miles apart in Amish Country, so you'll have an easy time of seeing them both.

The four-square-mile area between these two towns is absolutely loaded with things to do and see. A large number of restaurants feature German and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, but one of the biggest attractions is the large Bird In Hand Farmers Market, where you might enjoy the Hot Air Balloon Rides.

The market is open weekends year-round and throughout warmer months, Wednesday through Saturday; hours are 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM for shopping among 30 vendors of handcrafted and American Made foods, gifts, and furniture.

You can also rent a three-wheeled vehicle for off-roading or you can hike in the area.




Nearby shops offer hand crafted furniture from virgin forests and reclaimed woods, quilts, and other high quality goods.

Lititz, Pennsylvania; 1942.

Lititz, Pennsylvania; 1942.

Village of Lititz, a Moravian Community and Pretzel Haven

The Village of Lititz is located about 10 miles northwest of the Route 340 pretzel towns. It also is a pretzel haven with its National Historic Building, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Factory, but it has more to offer.

The village became a Moravian community in 1756 before the American Revolution. It was named after the town in Bohemia where the Moravian Church was founded and for many years, only Moravians could live in Lititz PA. A museum of the faith, its journey to Pennsylvania, and the town itself are held in archives and a museum open to the public.

Another museum here is the Candy Americana® Museum at 48 North Broad Street inside the Wilbur Chocolate Co. Pennsylvania is known for chocolate, but for more types and brands than only the famous Hersey. The local museum holds over 1,000 items used in chocolate making and displays from around the world. The chocolate business in Lititz began in Philadelphia in 1865, making hard candies for sale on the booming American passenger railroads. The company grew to include three factories, one in Lititz, followed by the purchasing of several other companies. Today, Wilbur Chocolate is a global business.

WPA Poster before WWII

WPA Poster before WWII

Ephrata ("Fruitful) Community

Approximately eight miles northeast of Lititz along State Routes 772 and 272 is Ephrata, also a railroading town settled by Germans. In 1732, Seventh-Day German Baptists arrived and established a community for religious studies, prayer, music writing; printing and publishing; and fine arts.

The residents consisted of families and declared Celibates, both male and female. The original groups of members disbanded between 1929 and 1934 and Pennsylvania soon acquired ownership during WWII and began preservation activities in the historic community.

Interestingly, a place called Ephrata exists in Washington State as well, home only to Native Americans until the 1880s and that decade's advent of settlers. It quickly became known as Indian Graves before taking its final name, which means fruitful in Hebrew.

The Ephrata Cloister is located at 632 West Main Street in Ephrata PA and holds choral performances. Many other events are held for the public throughout the year, including guided tours by actors dressed in era garments, history classes, school programs, Pennsylvania holiday celebrations, Mother's and Father's Days, scavenger hunts, concerts, and special events each year.

Nearby the cloister museum is a marketplace that has included a fashion store, a restaurant, a fine arts store, a large farmer's market, and other vendors. Anita's Restaurant at Donecker's has taken over the spot used by the original restaurant of 50 years and other spaces have been rented out to new businesses.

Several inns are still operating next to the Donecker marketplace, but other restaurants, a flea market, and the Green Dragon Farmer's Market on State Street are operational and thriving. In fact, this farmer's market covers 30 acres at 955 North State Street in Ephrata. It includes three buildings and a separate Tower Village of shops, Amish and chain vendors, fresh foods, concessions, a flea market, hand-crafted furniture, and several auctions. Hours are 9-9 Fridays only and visitors include those on bus tours for shopping. Parking is free to all. It's a lot of fun.

Eagles Mere Ice Sports and Awesome History

Eagles Mere a community located on top of a mountain.

In addition to its unique location, this place has America's only ice toboggan slide. Proceeds of the reasonable admission fees in December, January, and February go to support the local Volunteer Fire Department.

All of this is located near other North Central Pennsylvania attractions close to the town of Williamsport at US Route 220 in PA.

The whole town of Eagles Mere is a National Historic Site that was developed into a resort area in the 1800s for the upper class of rich Pennsylvania cities like Philadelphia. The community is also part of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region and like the rest of the state, this area is beautiful.

Eagles Mere Air Museum contains the last of the line of several aircraft from the Golden Age of Flight, the years 1908 to 1935. These craft include those owned by well-known male and female pilots of the era. This museum is worth the cost of your whole trip to Pennsylvania. Air flight took off faster than expected after the Wright Brothers' flight in 1903. Flight was unstoppable and this museum tells part of the story, from pre-WWI right up to the edge of WWII and the amazing aircraft America developed.

The popular Eagles Mere Inn is a restored venue that has operated continuously since the 1800s and has been listed in the Top 10 Inns of Pennsylvania. Nearby, a French village established by fleeing French settlers, the French Azilum, is located in Eagles Mere, a preservation site from the American Revolution. Additional museum sites include the Little League Museum and Hall of Fame, a farm museum, a glass museum, and several others.

A 50-mile Endless Mountain Dog Sled Race occurs in February, with a Whitewater Slalom Race in March. A Bowhunters' Festival is held in May and a Pow Wow in June. Little League? The World Series is played here every August. The entire calendar year is filled with sports and activities, festivals, and special events.

Worlds End State Park at Eagles Mere

Worlds End State Park at Eagles Mere

Wissahickon—Cave Of the Monks

In 1694, a brotherhood of German mystics was established on Wissahickon Creek. The leader was a hermit monk called Johannes Kelpius (born in Transylvania), who oversaw the other hermits in medical practices and healing, music writing and performance, and some say, in magick; but certainly in alchemy and horoscope casting as well as exorcism. The site of their community is within four miles northwest of Germantown and Philadelphia off I-76 in Wissahickon Valley Park, a National Natural Landmark.

Legend has it that the Philosopher’s Stone was in Kelpius's strongbox that he insisted by thrown into the Schuylkill River near Wissahickon Creek, where it is believed by some to remain to this day. You can see streets named Hermit Lane and related names to honor the hermit monks of yesterday, along with a small stone building engraved with the legend of the Cave of Kelpius.

Horror and mystery writer/poet Edgar Allen Poe was also drawn to this area for its beauty.

The Wissahickon Girl is a figure on the Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Square in Philadelphia. Representing Wissahickon Creek, she also reminds us that the hermit monks saw visions of angels.

The Wissahickon Girl is a figure on the Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Square in Philadelphia. Representing Wissahickon Creek, she also reminds us that the hermit monks saw visions of angels.

Big Mac

Big Mac

The Big Mac Museum

I was surprised when I discovered this museum near Greensburg PA and the Greater Pittsburgh Area, I-76, and Harrisburg PA travel sites. I'd thought the Big Mac® was invented near Chicago at the McDonald's HQ by one of the top chefs they have hired from around the world.

The particular double sandwich was invented near North Huntingdon PA and the Big Mac Museum Restaurant sports a 14-foot tall, full-color statue of the sandwich.

Actually, franchise owner Jim Delligatti (a famous name of a man that owns nearly 20 of the Golden Arches®) invented the delicacy in Uniontown PA in the late summer of 1967. The museum is in one of his busiest restaurants in order for more people to enjoy it. Museum exhibit cases fill the corners and walls of this interesting McDonald's restaurant.

Visit at 9061 Route 30 in North Huntingdon PA -- Half a mile west of I-76 and I-70.

Phone: 724-863-9837

TRIVIA - Big Mac® used to weigh in at 810 calories in the Midwest when I was a manager! Its slimmer version today yields "only" 540 calories.

© 2012 Patty Inglish MS