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Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park – 20 Photos to Inspire You To Canoe That Route

My camping and canoe portage with The Land Canadian Adventures on The Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park was hosted by Peterborough & the Kawarthas Tourism.

If you have ever wanted to connect with nature, experience some of the finest back-country camping Ontario has to offer and paddle your canoe to your heart’s content, but have come to dread the drive north towards the Muskoka or Algonquin regions from Toronto, the hands-down best alternative to get that fix and not get snarled in cottage country traffic is Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. I will personally vouch for the fact that Peterborough and the Kawarthas region have some of the best reflective lakes, sunrises, and sunsets you can find in Ontario.

I discovered that I didn’t need to get on a plane or drive hours away to find cotton candy skies.

Morning at camp on North Rathbun lake in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Quiet sunrises, picturesque days where the sky reflects in the water and incredible sunsets are all found here. Trust me, I saw them! Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is a back-country only campground. Each site is accessible only via canoe with portages of various lengths in between.

A portage is the carrying of a boat or its cargo between two navigable waters. There is no possible way to drive to any campsites which means your experience on the Serpentine Loop will be all on you. No one can drive up and rescue you if you don’t feel like paddling anymore.

GUIDE, NOAH KORNE PADDLING THE SERPENTINE LOOP

After Algonquin Provincial Park, Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is the largest park in southern Ontario. Established in 1989, Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is one of the newest recreational and wilderness areas in Canada.

beached canoes on a rock at magic hour

The Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Described as a “lovely and challenging route through the moderately remote northeast corner”, the Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park is approximately 21 kilometres in length. I was lucky enough to be able to experience this portage with my friends, Kim from Walkaboot Travel, Ryan from Out With Ryan, Chris from TravelingMitch and my steady stern, Kevin from The Wandering Wagars. We were lead by the ever so patient, kind and knowledgeable guides, Noah and Andrew from The Land Canadian Adventures. I’m not sure if they knew what they were getting themselves into with us.

Want to know how to survive a camping portage with your friends? Read here: Canoe Portage With Friends: How To Have A Successful Back Country Camping Trip

Travel writers on portage

The Land Canadian Adventures is a family run business with an energetic group of outdoor enthusiasts led by Bretton and Briagh. You can be a novice paddler and someone from their crew will guide you with expertise, confidence and a huge zest for the outdoors.

Never camped before or do not have the right gear? No fear! The Land Canadian Adventures supplies you with sleeping bags and tents all nicely done up in dry bags that you can throw over your shoulder like a backpack for those portages.

Can you cook in the wild? You sure can! Their guides have the gear and knowledge and tasty menu to get you through!

Huge group meal of butter chicken prepared by our guide, Andrew from The Land Canadian Adventures on the Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

Stunning Views Everywhere

According to the history of the area, these canoe routes date back to the time of Samuel de Champlain, who explored this region. To clarify a historical point – the routes do date back even further due to the close proximity of the petroglyphs, which are ancient rock carvings.  Today, the First Nations people call the carvings Kinomagewapkong, meaning “the Teaching Rocks” and they pre-date any European settler in North America. It is believed that the routes were used by the ancestors of indigenous people in the area.

In a nutshell, on the Serpentine Loop, you put in on Anstruther Lake, portage to Rathbun Lake, then into North Rathbun Lake, experience the longest portage of the whole trip to Serpentine Lake. Paddle to the portage point to Copper Lake, before re-entering Rathbun Lake and finishing the reverse way through your first portage back to Anstruther to the point where you put in.

My view from the bow of our canoe

 Day 1 – Launch

Footloose and kid-free, we launched for Serpentine Lake Loop at Anstruther Lake, Rd Access Point 5 in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. Listen, I love traveling with my children, but here is an opportunity to be out in the wilderness with adults. Excuse me while I jump on this chance!

We launched for Serpentine Lake Loop at Anstruther Lake, Rd Access Point 5 in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.

Heading north through the big lake and cottaged area of Anstruther Lake leads to a quick portage of 201 metres into Rathbun Lake. Here, we stopped for lunch – this is what the large and heavy food barrels are for – sustenance!

Unloading our first portage and from Anstruther Lake to Rathbun Lake

From Rathbun Lake, another short portage of 164m leads into North Rathbun, a very small and remote lake and this is where we set up our first camp. There wasn’t another soul to be found on the lake. It was just us, the solitude is amazing. In fact, we didn’t pass any other campers or canoes on our first day. Knowing that in such a large space, there is not another person to be found out there.

The sky on this night was clear and we were treated to one of the best sunsets in Ontario I have ever seen. Living in Toronto, I don’t get to see the stars as often as I want, but this night made up for it.

magic hour on North Rathbun Lake from our camp site in Kawartha Highland Provincial Park

Dinner prepared by our guides as we took in the sunset was a feast of butter chicken. Who knew you could eat so well camping?

sunset on north rathbun lake in kawartha highlands provincial park

Day 2 – Longest Portage Ever

After retrieving our food barrels from a canoe we launched out in the lake overnight to protect us from bears, we started the second day with the largest portage, 1411m from our campsite over to Serpentine Lake.

That's out food in barrels in the canoe so bears cannot get to them

The best part about doing that first thing in the morning is that it’s out of the way for the rest of the day.

First portage of the day, 1411 metres.

A cool part of this portage was the wild edibles found along the path. Noah and I picked some berries and enjoyed them as a snack.

found berries out foraging during the ortage

Here we paddled south through Serpentine Lake and then a short portage of 160m into Copper Lake. During this portage, we passed our first and only fellow camper on this day. He was going the opposite way. Good on him for doing this alone.

Spectacular reflection of the sky in the water setting off into Serpentine Lake

After making our way through a dense creek area, we emerged out to Copper Lake. Here, we took advantage of the expert paddlers. Kevin, Chris and I sharpened our canoe skills with Andrew and Noah. A couple of quick tips and we’re on our way to being just as advanced.

On the Serpentine Loop portage in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Our campsite on Copper Lake was just as amazing as the first night. If you fail to be blown away by the beauty of this park, you’re dead inside.

Gorgeous evening views that we can't get enough of.

Day 3 – I Don’t Want This To End

Do you know what happens on the third day of a canoe and camping portage? The food barrels become much lighter.

sunrise in kawartha highlands provincial park

Also, after no showers and hard paddling, we all equally smell terrible. And our jokes are more punchy.

launching off in the morning

Starting our morning heading towards the first portage to Rathbun Lake, we took our time. Who knows when the next time we will be back here? Might as well enjoy every moment!

Canoe Paddle Power

And guess what we found on the portage? A waterfall. Don’t go chasing them or should we all get in and pose for a Survivor Style picture? Survivor – Bloggers Take Over… or something like that. Head out there and you can take a picture there too. Just pose better than I do, okay?

Survivor: Bloggers Edition

Although we had a long portage on this day, it wasn’t a hardship. We were all well established in our roles of who was the stern, who was the bow, who carries what and how. We had grown into a quiet, calm of fluid cooperation that comes with camaraderie. Although we finished this route in what seems like record time to us, we were ready to pull up and head into a hotel for a nice evening and meal.

From one of our last portages on the Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial PArk

Viamede Resort

The leisurely timeline we had on the loop was 3 days. Then, we all had a night to recuperate at Viamede Resort – read that as had showers and slept in a bed. That night, we were all treated to an amazing meal at Mouth Julian – the signature dining experience and served by Ben, the owner.

I highly recommend Viamede Resort. You can check out my review of my stay from August there with my mother and children here.

double room on Hilltop row at Viamede Resort

Day 4 – Bonus Paddling Day in Eel’s Creek

Just when you think you’ve seen all the beauty you could see by canoe in Peterborough and The Kawarthas, there’s another location to paddle in. Briagh and Bretton gave Noah and Andrew the day off after dealing with the likes of us for a few days and they lead us on Eel’s Creek to High Falls for a picnic lunch and swim.

Thankfully, we did not encounter any eels. To my knowledge, there aren’t any there, so no fear.

view from the front of the canoe in Eel's creek in the kawarthas

I really have to give credit where credit is due with Briagh and Bretton. No one can make pesto like Briagh can. The lunch they prepared for us was an amazing local soup dish called Three Sisters. Corn, squash, and beans are known as The Three Sisters. If you did not know that fact (like me), now you do. This name comes from how these three crops grow together. Like there’s a method to the madness of planting and harvesting.

We paddled to High Falls on Eels Creek and this was our amazing view

At High Falls, we swam in one of the most secluded swimming spots in a wild and slippery waterfall that they knew of – because they’re locals. They have the first-hand knowledge and experience and knew exactly where to take us.

Swimming hole in the midst of the wild and slippery High Falls off Eel's Creek.

Think you might want to try this canoe portage route? I’m hoping that I can take my kids on an adventure with The Land Canadian Adventures next summer. Briagh and Bretton have kids of their own as well and know what that is like. They excel in putting together these group trips.

Be sure to visit Peterborough and the Kawarthas area. Have a meal at Canoe and Paddle in Lakefield while you’re out there too, I recommend the Union Jack burger.

Paddle the Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, an provincial park in Southern Ontario. Canoe portage with friends, here are 20 photos to inspire you #FindYourselfHere #NoFilterPtbo #ThisisPtbo #Ptbo #theKawarthas

Photos to inspire you to canoe portage the Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, an provincial park in Southern Ontario. Canoe portage with friends, here are 20 photos to inspire you #FindYourselfHere #NoFilterPtbo #ThisisPtbo #Ptbo #theKawarthas

I’m no stranger to experiences in Ontario Parks. You can read up on my other camping and glamping trips here:

Epic Hikes With Kids – Barron Canyon Trail, Algonquin Provincial Park

Yurt Winter Camping in Algonquin? Yes Please!

Glamping in Bonnechere Provincial Park

Why I Took My Son Camping At MacGregor Point Provincial Park

20 Photos That Will Inspire You To Snowshoe at MacGregor Point Provincial Park With Your Kids

Why Viamede Resort Is Great For Multigenerational Travel

My stay at Viamede Resort was hosted.

All opinions and experiences are that of mine and my family and I am always brutally honest.

If you know my Mom, you know where I get many of my personality traits from. My wanderess, my storytelling ability, my “balls to the walls, take no prisoners” mentality.  Also my ability to hold my tongue and lash out through my eyes, but I digress… Needless to say, if you understand me and my inability to sit still, then you know my Mom. When the folks at Viamede Resort invited me to bring the kids to absorb some nature, play on their paddleboards and have a great time in one of their cottages there, I knew I had to bring my Mom along too!

Main building of Viamede Resort as seen from the end of the dock on Stoney Lake

WHAT IS VIAMEDE RESORT?

Viamede Resort is a quaint and rustic four-season resort that has resided on Stoney Lake since 1885. That means that many families have had grand traditions of visiting and revisiting many times over the years. So, that is a lot of beautiful Ontario sunsets on the lake watched here, mine included.

sunset on Stoney Lake from the docks at Viamede Resort

The exterior of the resort was a little worn looking and the landscaping was wild. It did suit the resort, like a bit of scuff on a ruggedly handsome man. You know, he could shave but he’s pretty adorable with that shadow? That’s how I think of Viamede Resort. If a landscaping crew came in and completely tidied it up, it wouldn’t feel as comfortable. Part of the charm is the overgrown, Ontario oasis of wildflowers.

My son sitting outside our 2 bedroom cottage at Viamede Resort

The original hotel no longer exists due to fire, but the main building that was erected around 1907 still retains some of that original charm. Aside from the main building, there are cottages and other hotel resort rooms in a couple of rows overlooking the lake. There is an indoor and outdoor pool, saunas, a chapel, a small beach, a great lake to swim in, kayaks and stand up paddleboards to play on. Oh – and restaurants and a farm.

Looking at Viamede Resort from the water. Oh and my beautiful daughter.

I’m sad to say that we have never been before. As someone who has always wished to have a cottage or a recreational property in the Kawartha region, Viamede Resort ticks all the boxes of a year-round destination that my children and I belong at. 

Wide of the resort taken from Stoney Lake

WHERE IS VIAMEDE RESORT?

Viamede Resort is located just outside of Woodview, Ontario. If you’re never heard of that town, don’t worry you’re not the first to not know where it is. Basically, Viamede Resort is in the area of Peterborough and the Kawarthas. Just west of Apsley, Ontario on Highway 28. From downtown Toronto, the driving time is approximately two and a half hours depending on the time of day you leave downtown at.

Hot tip: Downtowners know to depart for the Kawarthas and Peterborough region between 11:00 am – 1:00 pm or after 8:00 pm to skip high volume traffic. 

OUR 2 BEDROOM COTTAGE

For our stay, we had a 2 bedroom cottage. I feel like it was a good choice for the four of us – two children aged five and ten with two adults. Included in the cost of booking a cottage is breakfast in the main lodge, all resort activities, and amenities, participation in recreation programs (check the timetable and offerings by the front desk), parking and wifi. The wifi is sufficient for emailing and texting. Web streaming (Netflix and Youtube) is not so great on their network.

a two bedroom cottage from the waterline at viamede resort

Outside, we had a back deck that faced the water with a bar-b-que for cooking. There was a small table and chairs to eat at and you could hang your wet beach towels to dry over the railing.

the view of the water from our back deck

The first bedroom has a set of bunk beds, the bottom bunk was a double bed. The top bunk was a single bed. The master bedroom had a queen-size bed. For our purposes, my mom got the room with the queen-size bed (because she’s our queen!). I shared the bunk beds with the kids, much like I do at home anyway.

bunk beds in our cottage

Our cottage had a small TV (with some cable channels) and an electric fireplace.

fireplace and small tv

We had a lovely living room area, a kitchen, that had a microwave, a stove, and a sink.

dining area and kitchen in the cottage

We can boast that we had two washrooms (equals two toilets) in our cottage! Isn’t it amazing that little things such as multiple toilets in accommodations get you excited? I mean if you’ve ever needed to poop at the same time as your kids, you get it. And once you’ve been spoiled by multiple toilets, it is hard to conceive going back to staying somewhere with just one vessel for all your bodily disposals. The main washroom had a shower, the ensuite to the master bedroom had a huge soaker tub!

soaker tub in two bedroom cottage at viamede resort

ALL THE AMENITIES OF A COTTAGE FOR YOU TO USE

As I mentioned above, Viamede Resort has a lovely indoor pool attached to the main building with two saunas. I can see this area being popular in the winter. When the kids and I swam there one evening and my mom sat on the deck and napped, we were the only people in there.

The majority of the pool is shallow, the deep end was only up to my shoulders. My oldest child had no problem swimming inside. My son, who is five, wore water wings and was fine.

indoor pool at Viamede Resort

What’s really cool about the indoor pool is that there is an opening you can swim through to the outside. Outside, there’s a cute sun deck with a great view of Stoney Lake. And there are loungers because you know, the kids have it tough and need to relax. I mean, it’s a great place for adults to chill out.

My kids relaxing on the sundeck at Viamede Resort

There is also a refreshing outdoor pool with a view of Stoney Lake (see a theme – lake views everywhere)! Towels are supplied by the Resort, no need to bring your own unless you’re at the beach.

outdoor pool at Viamede Resort facing Stoney Lake

ON THE WATER

As important as being in cottage country is having a small sandy beach to frolic at. Viamede Resort does have a small beach with a nice swimming area, kayaks and stand up paddleboards to play on. All of these amenities are included at the resort and are available for guest use on a first-come, first-serve basis.

My daughter on a stand up paddleboard SUP on Stoney Lake in front of Viamede Resort

I just want to mention how much my children and I really enjoyed ourselves on the water here in the kayaks and with the stand-up paddleboards (SUP). My mom is not so keen on the water, so she took the opportunity to rest while we played. Or we switched – I played with one kid on the water while she spent time with the other.

My son learning how to kayak on Stoney Lake

Giving my children the chance to learn how to paddle in a kayak, with no time restrictions or demands on a schedule was an amazing gift. It was an opportunity for them to spend time with me in my element and see the best of me in that moment, which is something they really needed.

My kids and I all in a kayak together on Stoney Lake

Also on the property, is a farm, however, we did not have the time to visit it. Sorry, we were too busy on the water, all day and evening!

My daughter and I on a kayak together on Stoney Lake, Ontario

WHERE TO EAT AT VIAMEDE RESORT

If you have one of the cottages as we did, you could prepare all your meals and enjoy them in your pajamas or bathing suits on your deck overlooking the water.

For breakfast, you can head into the main building to the Restaurant/lounge 1885, as this is where you will find a hot breakfast. Bacon, scrambled eggs, sauges and toast are available. The highlight for the kids was the make your own waffle station and the fresh juices available. The highlight for me is the coffee station. For my mom – it’s tea.

Waffle station for breakfast at viamede resort

The Boathouse Restaurant is a long-standing structure that has gone through many incarnations. Rumoured to have been a dance hall, it was also a pub before it became Viamede Resort’s Boathouse Resort. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu sources a lot of local ingredients and influences in their dishes.

Boathouse restaurant entrance

Open year-round and located right on the waterfront, the location is perfect for cottage dwellers and area boaters to pull up at the dock and come in for a meal.

Pro tip: If libations are something you would like to partake in while on holiday, pack your own for your stay. There is a limited wine and beer menu at the Boathouse restaurant and you can’t buy from here and wander the resort grounds with it.

The Boathouse Restaurant at Viamede Resort

Not pictured or described here is Mount Julian – a signature dining, nine table restaurant across the street. I did dine there on another occasion with other travel writers after we paddled the Serpentine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and you can read about that post by clicking here.

Five travel writers in the midst of a 7 course meal at Mount Julian at Viamede Resort

WHY VIAMEDE RESORT IS PERFECT FOR MULTIGENERATIONAL FAMILIES

 Viamede Resort allowed us the freedom to spend our time how we wished too. We were not confined to schedules and our accommodations allowed us to be together, but be separate so there wasn’t “too much closeness”. I think it’s fair to say that we all want to spend time with our parents as they age and our parents want to spend time with their grandchildren. I live in Toronto, my Mom is 2.5 hours north-east from me. We don’t get to see each other all the time because of the distance. Having my mom with us at Viamede Resort afforded me the opportunity to sit and relax on my own, which is always sorely needed. And it was a good opportunity for the kids to create new memories of summer vacation time with Grandma.

My mom and children on a deck of our 2 bedroom cottage at Viamede Resort

Also, in the area, we enjoyed a trip to nearby Petroglyphs Provincial Park for an afternoon. Neither my children or mother have visited nor knew of the historical significance in the area and it was an eyeopener. The main entrance to the park is a 15-minute drive away and it worth the visit for a cultural excursion.

To book your stay at Viamede Resort for any season – click here! You won’t be sorry!

If you're looking for an Ontario getaway for a #multigenerational family, Viamede Resort in the Kawartha Lakes district offers a great experience for all! #NoFilterPtbo #viamederesort #ptbocanada #ThisisPtbo #Ptbo #theKawarthas #hosted #kawartha #kawarthalakes #kawarthanow

If you're looking for an Ontario getaway for a multigenerational family, Viamede Resort in the Kawartha Lakes district offers a great experience for all! #kawarthahighlands #NoFilterPtbo #viamederesort #ptbocanada #ThisisPtbo #Ptbo #theKawarthas #hosted #kawartha #kawarthalakes #kawarthanow

Raystown Lake, Pennsylvania – How To Spend a Great Weekend In The Region

This trip to the Raystown Lake Region was hosted by The Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau in Pennsylvania, USA.

All opinions and experiences are that of mine and my family and I am always brutally honest.

After a great couple days in Butler County, and then State College, Pennsylvania, we continued our amazing road trip to Lake Raystown Resort in Huntington County. The drive from State College to Raystown Lake Region is approximately one hour by car south. This was the third and last stop on the Pennsylvania road trip for Miss M and Z Man who are such troopers.

Huntington County may be small and sparse in population, but big in experiences and the great outdoors. What I liked most about my time there was all the water based activities and fresh air!

What Is Raytown Lake?

Raystown Lake is the largest lake that is entirely within the state of Pennsylvania. As I have found with other lakes in Pennsylvania, it’s partially man made. It’s not due to people simply wanting a lake. It’s due to flooding and damming and preservation. I’m not a historian or an engineer so I’m not qualified to answer the hows and whys on this topic, but suffice to say it has it’s benefits.

Raystown Lake in Huntington County from Lake Raystown Resort dinner cruise

What To Do in Raystown Lake Region?

Our time in Raystown Lake Region consisted of hanging out at Lake Raystown Resort – which is a whole weekend in itself. We spent the majority of a day at Wildriver Waterpark (adjacent to Lake Raystown Resort) and also spent a day hiking and exploring Trough Creek State Park.

You could organize your stay around a local festival or event if you have the time to add on. One of the things I noticed in my research is that there is no shortage of hiking or biking trails in the area. That’s a pretty amazing thing, especially for families coming from the city to escape the noise and concrete.

Lincoln Caverns is very close by although it is grouped into my last post about the State College area. See, it’s all easily drive-able. You could likely spend a week exploring both regions together.

part of the marina at Lake Raystown Resort where you can feed the ducks and the carp

Our Stay at Lake Raystown Resort

We stayed in an awesome and comfortable 2 bedroom cottage in Lake Raystown Resort. Our cottage has a kitchen and a living room and it came with a TV. There was a BBQ and picnic table for us to use as well.

The exterior of our 2 bedroom cabin in Raystown Lake Resort, PA. Another amazing accommodation we found to stay at on our Pennsylvania road trip.

Each bedroom had a double bed, so Little Man slept with me and Miss M with her dad. Worked out well for us. It’s definitely the kind of place I could have stayed longer and played for days there. See, the resort has a lot of different options in terms of accommodations.

Living room and kitchen inside 2 bedroom cottage at Lake Raystown Resort

Inside one of the bedrooms in the 2 bedroom cottage at Lake Raystown Resort

There are the cottages, some yurts, and a lot of camping sites that range from basic to totally decked out for RV’s.

RV sites at Lake Raystown Resort as seen from the water

The resort grounds are huge and we actually drove to the marina area where there is a restaurant and shop instead of walking. There, you can purchase some pellets for the kids to feed ducks and carp off the dock. The carps are gigantic. The ducks are super happy, but please don’t drop bread in the water for them! It’s not good for their digestion.

Ducks in the water in the marina at Lake Raystown Resort

Dine on Proud Mary Showboat

At Lake Raystown Resort

One piece of information that needs to be shared is that Lake Raystown Resort is in a dry county, meaning they don’t sell alcohol. This is information not available on the website for the resort at all. For me, it was surprising to not be able to order a beer or glass of wine with dinner. It simply makes more financial sense to buy what you need in advance and bring it with you in a cooler. 

The Proud Mary showboat at Lake Raystown Resort. Dinnertime sunset cruises!

Despite being without a libation, we took the Proud Mary Showboat on a seafood dinner cruise all around the lake for an evening out. As mentioned above, the lake is quite large and therefore it’s an excursion that lasts a couple hours. It’s a great way to see it all from the water (sober).

Seafood feast on the ProudMary Showboat at Lake Raystown Resort

Dinner was a buffet and there are no drinks aside from ice tea and water included, so you’ll want to being something with you onboard unless you’re okay with spending $2 for a pop (remember, pack your beer or wine in a cooler).

Wildriver Waterpark

Adjacent to the Lake Raystown resort is Wildriver Waterpark. And guess what? I didn’t take a single picture there. I spent that time present and with my children and it was fun!

The pools and slides are entirely age appropriate for my kids. Little Man lacked some courage, so we spent time in a pool and in a smaller kid’s splash area. Miss M couldn’t get enough of going down the slides. Definitely a worthwhile experience. Everyone in the area we spook to said it was one of their favourite places to go growing up.

Hike at Trough Creek State Park

The last stop on our Pennsylvania road trip was Trough Creek state Park. Did I mention in my previous posts that I can’t get over how all the State Parks in Pennsylvania are free to enter and enjoy? I can honestly say I would hike day in and day out if I lived in Pennsylvania just because I could. And I also learned that the state parks are plentiful and so close to all towns and cities, that no citizen of the state should have to drive more than 35 minutes to get to one.

Sign for paradise furnace camp

The first place of exploration for us here was the remains of the site of Paradise Furnace Camp. Our friend Zac joined us and gave us a brief history on the area. The furnace stack here dates back to the 1820’s and was built by stacking local area rock. This was an area of industry and this was the place to wrought iron. It’s no longer in use.

left over furnace rock in pennsylvania state park

After the Great Depression in the 1930’s, unemployed citizens were brought into the area by the government to plant trees, construct roads and trails, and thus created Trough Creek State Park, which opened in 1936.

My son Hiking in state park, PA

There is roughly 12 miles of hiking trails to explore. Of particular note is a waterfall and an amazing look out point. Once I heard about the waterfall, we had to go find it. Rainbow Falls is quaint. Although there wasn’t a lot of water flowing that day for us, but some days when it’s been raining, the water flows are supposed to be quite spectacular.

Quaint little waterfall in Trough Creek State Park, PA

The panoramic look out point was the absolute treat for me. The hike up to it wasn’t overly easy as Little Man hitched a ride on my back. Honestly, he’s five. At some point he needs to walk on his own, right? Right. But they’re only young for a short period.

This look out point that Zac brought us too is actually one of his favourite places to think and reflect. I can see why, the views took my breath away and you can really put things in perspective from here.

An amazing look out point in Trough Creek state Park, PA. The very last stop on our Pennsylvania road trip before heading home.

Something you have to do at Trough Creek state Park? Try to knock off the balanced rock. This is where the rock stopped during the glacier age and hangs precariously over the side. You can try to push it off like many others have before you!

Trying to tip over balanced rock in Trough Creek State Park, Pennsylvania

And don’t forget, Pennsylvania is full of caves, there’s even one in this park!

Where else did we eat?

We had dinner one night at Edgewater Inn & Riverside Grille in Huntington County. Situated in an old farm house on the Juniata River, it’s actually a popular venue for weddings.

exterior of Edgewater Inn & Riverside Grille

The farm house was built in 1762 and belonged to the grandson of William Penn. Penn was a writer, English Quaker leader, and founded the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

fish dinner at exterior of Edgewater Inn & Riverside Grille

The food was delicious. I had the fish and shout out to Liza and Matt from The Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau for the excellent suggestion and company.

my son running inot the barn Edgewater Inn & Riverside Grille, Huntington County

Closing Thoughts in Raystown Lake Region

The week we spent in Butler County, State College and Raystown Lake Region was a great introduction to the state of Pennsylvania. It was incredible for Miss M and Little Man to see how closely aligned Americans really are to Canadians. And, how similar our geography and terrain is. See, the thing is, most of their exposure to “Americans” has been seeing the general population at a massive theme park in Florida or hearing unsavoury commentary on Fox News. Neither are the appropriate representation of the true population.

The people we met and spent time with in Pennsylvania are kind, polite and generous with their time. They’re the type of people that stop on the side of the road to make sure you’re okay if you stop your car to take a picture. It’s good to know people like that exist even if we sit on other sides of the fence when it comes to our political, and fundamental issue views.

driving home to Toronto, away from Raystown Lake Region

The United States is not a foreign country! After the experience we had, I feel like we should spend some more time across the border. Here’s hoping the Canadian dollar rises so we can spend more time exploring 

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Ultimate Family Vacation in State College, Pennsylvania – Soaring, Caving, Fly Fishing and Exploring

Our three-night stay and all experiences for our Family Vacation in State College, PA were hosted by Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau.

All opinions and experiences are that of mine and my family and we are always honest. 

When I hear the name “State College”, I don’t immediately think of an amazing town for the ultimate family vacation. In fact, I didn’t even know it was an actual city in Pennsylvania until this year. I thought it was exactly what it said – a state college. Silly me. What I learned this summer is that one of the nicest places to head to in the summer for a family vacation is State College, the home of Penn State University in the heart of Pennsylvania.

You find State College in Centre County, Pennsylvania. And guess what? It’s right in the centre of Pennsylvania.

The best family vacation in State College, Pennsylvania

From Butler County, we drove just over 2.5 hours to the town of State College for the second stop of our Pennsylvania road trip. The ultimate family vacation in State College, Pennsylvania includes Soaring, Caving, Fly Fishing, and Exploring! We spent three nights and four days seeing and doing as much as we could.

Beautiful blue skies in Pennsylvania. Taken on the grounds of Penn State.

The Arboretum at Penn State

I love road trips. The kids get restless in the back seat (no surprise there). As soon as they get out of the car, they want to run and explore! My friends at Visit Penn State, Ed, and Andy, had the perfect idea of where to take the kids after driving into State College, Pennsylvania – The Arboretum at Penn State University. 

Little Man running through the Childhood's Gate at the Penn State Arboretum

Here’s what is cool about the Arboretum at Penn State: admission to all arboretum grounds is free. This is a recurring theme I am finding with outdoor activities in Pennsylvania, they’re free. For budget-conscious families who want to make their vacation dollars stretch, this is a great place to spend part of the day and plan a take a picnic in.

Flower on the grounds of the arboretum at Penn State. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

Secondly, the kids had so much fun in the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden. From kaleidoscopes to little book libraries, musical discoveries, herb gardens and lots of places to explore and discover. 

the family checking out a kaleidoscope at the arboretum in Penn State

And of course, the rest of the arboretum is amazing as well. I have to tell you, these grounds are stunning. Spacious, bright, well organized and laid out.

Gorgeous setting at the arboretum at Penn State

The Sky’s the Limit Hot Air Balloon

I’ve been skydiving, paragliding, scuba diving, but never hot air ballooning. When Visit Penn State offered up the chance to go with The Sky’s the Limit Ballooning during my visit, I jumped at it and so glad I did.

sunrise hot air balloon set up in State College, Penn State

The family got to enjoy a sunrise hot air balloon ride, experience of a lifetime! Despite the early morning wake up, and it takes a lot to get Miss M out of bed in the morning, it was something she won’t ever forget. The family got to enjoy a sunrise hot air balloon ride, it’s an experience of a lifetime! 

Sunrise air balloon ride family vacation in State College, PA. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

First, we got to see it get set up and then we got to slowly take off. It was incredibly gentle and we easily soared well over 1000 feet in the air! If you ever have the opportunity to experience sailing over State College, Pennsylvania, go!

Soaring, Caving, Fly Fishing and Exploring - The Ultimate Family Vacation in State College, PA - The sunrise view of the countryside just outside of State College, PA from a hot air balloon.

You get an amazing view of Mount Nittany and the surrounding area. You won’t regret doing this! Safe to say that my kids will remember this summer’s family vacation in State College as pretty epic.

Soaring over State College, Penn State, PA in a hot air balloon Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

And they even put my Little Man to work at the end pulling the balloon down. He was pretty proud of himself.

End of the hot air balloon ride. Little Man assisting with pulling down the balloon

Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park

The first cave experience in Pennsylvania we had was in Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park. These caves were discovered by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. There is an amazing and morbid love story legend that I found so interesting and the sign is erected on the pathway down to the cave entrance.

The morbid love and death story at the entrance to Penn's Caves in state College, PA

See, now you’re intrigued too! Essentially a white guy fell in love with a stunning native woman (named Nittany) with a lot of brothers who didn’t want her to be with him. So they banished him to the cave and wouldn’t let him out. Eventually, he died and his soul is said to haunt the area if you believe in that kind of thing. Don’t let this story keep you away though!

Little Man and Miss M at the entrance to the cave in Penn's Cave, just outside of State College, PA.

Caves are so interesting – they’ve been formed by tectonic movement, compression, erosion and flooding. Have you been to a cave like this one where you have to take a boat through it? So in one day, we soared over 1000 feet in the air and close to one hundred feet down.

An amazing picture inside Penn's Cave, State College, PA Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

In 1885, Penn’s Cave opened as a commercial show cavern, and the Penn’s Cave Hotel was built (now an admin building). It’s a pretty cool looking building! My vote is they reopen it as an Airbnb!

Admin building at Penn's Caves and Wildlife Park

The other part of the park is the Wildlife Park. I often have problems with the captivity of animals that are meant to be in the wild. From my understanding, the bear pictured here below had just had dental surgery. In all likelihood, that means he wasn’t captured heinously and is being mistreated. Same with the lynx sitting pretty below. He looks content.

Bear in captivity at Penn's Caves and Wildlife Park. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

A lynx in captivity at Penn's Cave and Wildlife Park. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania

Physics and mechanics are really important STEM activities in our house. A trip to Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania was a must-do for the kids during our time in State College!

Exterior of Discovery Space in State College, PA

Every one of the 45+ exhibits is “hands-on” for the kids to encourage play, exploration, and most importantly, experimentation. Many of these exhibits and activities have been created in collaboration with students from Penn State.

Little Man playing with a magnet and a metal ball in Discovery Space - a great place for kids to explore science and mechanics in State College, PA

This is the place to take your kid about the same age as Little Man for maximum time out of the house. Once they get to Miss M’s age (10), they can get bored in this kind of environment in an hour or so. But the younger ones, I think Little Man could have stayed all day here. Sometimes we seem to forget that at that age, it’s all experimentation and new experiences. This is the kind of place that caters to their imaginations.

Miss M learning about magnets in Discover Space in State College, PA

Nittany Lion Shrine

Have you ever heard of a Nittany Lion? I had not, here’s what it is – it is an ordinary mountain lion, like a cougar that roamed central Pennsylvania until the 1880s in the mountain range surrounding State College. They no longer exist, but there have been unconfirmed sightings since then. 

On a Pennsylvania road trip, it's essential to make it to State College to pose with the Nittany Lion shrine. The Nittany Lion is the mascot of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, USA and its athletic teams.

Now, the Nittany Lion has been the mascot of Pennsylvania State University athletic teams since the 1920’s. If you didn’t pose with the Nittany Lion Shrine when in State College, were you even at Penn State? As the second most photographed spot in Pennsylvania (behind the Liberty Bell), the shrine has become part of the Penn State tradition.

Posing on the Nittany Lion

Homewaters and Fly Fishing

Homewaters doesn’t know it yet, but I’m about to be their next resident. I’m pleased to say that I found my destiny in life, to live in the most beautiful cabin I’ve ever seen in the middle of rural Pennsylvania, on a river.

Homewaters in Spruce Creek, PA. This is an upscale fishing lodging we stayed in during our Pennsylvania road trip.

This is the kind of area where if you stop your vehicle on the side of the road to take a picture, the next car rolls up to check on you to make sure you aren’t in need of assistance. These are the kind of people who reside in this area and frankly, it is refreshing to see kindness and consideration again.

My kids on the front porch of our family cabin at Homewaters in Spruce Creek, PA. Homewaters is a private fly fishing club

Never before have I felt so at home while on the road. From the moment we arrived at Homewaters, we greeted with huge smiles and warm laughter. There was a slip and slide set up for the kids to play with and we all had so much fun there! Homewaters is an upscale, membership-based fishing lodge in Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania. It was amazing. 

Slip and slide set up at Homewaters in Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania for the kids.

The accommodations we had there for one night was the house of my dreams, the kids were so excited running around there! I don’t think they had ever been in anything so amazing before while traveling. We were at Homewaters for me to try out fly fishing.  I won’t claim to be an expert (I’m not) or even really feel comfortable speaking with all the terminology (nope), but I had a good time and I’ll totally do it again. Especially with testosterone in the vicinity.

Andy, my fly fishing guide and me. Spruce Creek, PA Fly Fishing. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

My fly fishing guide, Andy was beyond exceptional and patient. No matter how many times I caught “Pennsylvania Ground”, he was there to fix it.

While I did catch a couple of rainbow trout out there, don’t worry, it was catch and release. You can read all about the full experience here: Pheromones and Fly Fishing

Holding it all by myself. The trout I caught. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks

One exceptional show cave system in the Central Pennsylvania area isn’t enough (Penn’s Caves), so there are two. And in the state of Pennsylvania, there are more, which means a return visit for more exploration. Lincoln’s Caverns is entirely different from Penn’s Caves.

The entrance stairs to Lincoln Caverns, just outside State College, PA

These caverns were discovered in 1930 when the highway was being built and opened as show caves in 1931. We were fortunate enough to have a private, guided tour by Mike, who is an incredible character. We got to hear all of the stalactite and stalagmite jokes you could handle. I’ll save them so you can hear them in real life!

Interior of Lincoln Caverns. Tour by Mike.

Here, it’s like getting two cave tours for the price of one as there isn’t an underground path or tunnel between the Lincoln Cavern and the Whisper Rocks.

inside of lincoln caverns

This is the kind of experience for kids that are into science and adventure. I’d like to think that all kids should come in and see them and your kids can handle being underground, do it!  It’s not confining, the ceilings are really high. These were described to me as moderate-sized caves, they’ve much larger than ones I’ve seen in Ontario.

This is also where my kids came for a special morning summer camp program while I fly fishing.

Whisper rocks sign at Lincoln Caves and Caverns on our guided tour in Pennsylvnia

Where To Stay in State College, PA

Our third night was spent at Homewaters. Our first two nights, we stayed at Hilton Garden Inn, in State College (click here to make your own reservation). We managed to obtain two adjoining rooms here, so that was a relief – a room for me to work and find reprieve in. As this is part of the same road trip from Butler County, I mentioned the sudden appearance of the father of my children. Yes, he’s on this trip. No, we aren’t together. It was a nice family road trip vacation for the kids.

The beds were far more comfortable than the beds we had at home. It was a glorious sleep! I kid you not, sometimes I drop dead asleep into hotel beds and this was one of them.

In each spacious room, we had two queen size beds and complimentary wifi. The hotel has an onsite restaurant – Harrison’s Wine Grill, an indoor pool and fitness centre. It sits right next to an empty lot and while some would see that as an eyesore, the kids made it into their playground with their dad – kicking a ball around and playing tag there.

two queen sized beds in hotel room at Hilton Garden Inn, State College PA

Where To Eat and Drink In State College, PA

Penn State Berkey CreameryDid someone say ice cream for breakfast? Yes, yes I did. Oh god and so did my kids. It was all the fault of Ed Stoddard, the Communications Director at Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau. The kids and their dad went so far on the indulgence train, I was afraid I’d never get them back. 

The creamery is exactly that – a place to come in and buy all your favourite dairy items. And also a place to get your morning coffee and a couple scoops of tasty ice cream.

Out for an ice cream breakfast at the Berkey Creamery

I would normally NEVER allow this, but this is a true State College experience. When on a family vacation in State College, get yourselves onto the campus of Penn State and hunt for the Berkey Creamery in the Food Science Building. I’ll bet a ton of students on a hot day do this too! This is ice cream made by the masters in training. Rumour has it, the masterminds behind some of the biggest ice cream manufacturers have been schooled here.

coffee and ice cream for breakfast at Berkey Creamery in Penn State

Harrison’s Wine Grill & Catering attached to the Hilton Garden Inn is one of the best fine dining restaurant options in State College! Harrison’s Wine Grill boasts freshly prepared dishes with locally sourced ingredients. 

Amazingly tasty pasta dinner with goat cheese at Harrison's in State College, PA

Baby’s Burgers & Shakes Diner this is a diner that just screams “American experience” to me. All 50’s theme inside and not. The prices do not reflect the 1950’s, but the vibe of the place does. We found the food to be a step up from a “fast food” joint, but there is a reason that this place has survived the test of time. Quality. Those burgers were damn good! We went back here for a second meal because the kids liked it so much. Welcome to Baby's Burger and Shakes Diner - an old school decor and flavour family restaurant in State College, PA

The Corner Room We also found this gem of a spot. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, The Corner Room is a tradition for students and staff of Penn State as well as being popular with the residents. Described as the “American experience”, it’s literally stood in this location since Penn State was a high school in 1855. It was a “roadhouse” originally and became The Corner Room in 1926.

The welcoming doors to The Corner Room - old restaurant in State College, PA

The interior at The Corner Room - old restaurant in State College, PA

What’s super exceptional about The Corner Room and Baby’s Burgers and Shakes is that they aren’t fancy. The food is good. The price is right. And in a town where there is constant turn-over in terms of the residents, these restaurants have become traditions that have stood the test of time.

chocolate chip pancakes at The Corner Room - old restaurant in State College, PA

Happy Valley Brewing Company this brewery is located right up the street from the Hilton Garden Inn and let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised by what I was able to try. I didn’t have time for a flight or beer tour here, but I went into their bar and was able to try before I buy a tin to go. 

A summer session springtail ale in a tall can from Happy Valley Brewing Company with a tanned and happy me

What Did I Miss in State College, PA?

As always, I can never fit EVERYTHING I want to do into my stay or itinerary. This was a pretty amazing, action-packed three nights and four days though. Of note, I feel like I really missed out on hiking Mount Nittany and getting to the lookout point. From there, you can see all of State College. It’s not a hike my kids were necessarily interested in doing after all the non-stop action we had seen over the past couple of days.

Would I come back here? Yes, I would! I think Pennsylvania has a bad rap by association of being in the USA. It’s a shame. The kids got to speak to people and realize that Americans are not all that we see on some far-right-wing media outlets. American is actually as cool as we are (Canadians). And the landscape looks so similar. It’s like we’re in Canada but with different currency and a slight accent – us and them.

 

WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO GO TO HAVE THE ULTIMATE FAMILY VACATION IN STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA - CAVING, HOT AIR BALLOON, DINING, FISHING, DISCOVERING

 

There is an affiliate link in here for booking.com that I will make a small commission from if you book your accommodations through it. See my privacy policy for more information if you so choose.

Pheromones and Fly Fishing in Spruce Creek Pennsylvania

In the world of fly fishing in Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania, I’d be a catch, right?

I find myself standing in the middle of Spruce Creek in a pair of grey waders, black rubber books and a mint green coloured adidas sports bra and black top. A mesh baseball cap adorns my head. There may or may not be a pair of my fancy black leggings on underneath. Only I know because… waders. My outfit is a look that clearly reeks “come hither” (insert giggle here). I’m holding a fly fishing rod and I have no idea how to use it properly.

I'm in waders in the middle of Spruce Creek, PA. About to learn how to fly fish on our epic Pennsylvania road trip

There’s a slight fog in the air as it’s still early in the morning. I’m not really a morning person, but when it comes to one of a kind life experiences, I’ll get up. The kids have gone to Lincoln Caverns for the morning for a summer camp, leaving me free to stand in the current of the creek and learn the art of fly fishing in Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania. It’s actually my chosen activity for the morning.

I fished with my Dad as a child, but this technique is brand new to me.

Early morning river view at Spruce Creek, PA

Fly Fishing in Spruce Creek,

the sport and place of Presidents

My fly fishing guide for this excursion is Andy, set up by Homewaters, a private fly fishing club and my host for the previous night. Andy leads me around Spruce Creek with a humble confidence that comes from his deep experience. There is a rumour that Andy has taken former US Presidents out fly fishing in this area. I figure I’m in good hands, he knows this creek and her currents like an old friend.

Fly fishing lures

I get a crash course in what these fly fishing lures are – an imitation of a food source. So lesson number one is trouts eat flies. Or whatever looks like flies as they dart across the water. I’m not fluent in the terminology of fly fishing, but being in the presence of a rugged, outdoorsman made me pay some attention. I’m almost finding these lures interesting! What’s that? A dropper? That’s the coolest thing you’ve told me in the past five minutes.

Not that I am opposed to the act, but I didn’t once touch his lures to put them on my line. I would have if I was confident with them or had some practise. Or if the offer was there.  Alas, no offer to handle the lures. They’re his and I have to reiterate – this is all brand new to me. And yeah, I totally got one stuck into my thumb at one point too.

The dexterous hands of a man skilled in threading lines and attaching lures has me watching closely.

Andy, my fly fishing guide and me. Spruce Creek, PA Fly Fishing. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

Lure On The Line

Andy had everything you could need in his pockets for a fishing excursion – knives, string, line, bug repellent. A whole variety of lures and flies to taunt our desired with. Likely a sandwich too. Good thing, a girl could get ravished hanging out in these waders, fighting the current.

Spruce Creek, PA Fly Fishing. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

Lesson two was getting the line in the water. I learned how to cast overhead and then across my body. Different flicks of the wrist, how high to hold the rod. How to track the speed of the water. When to tilt up and down. When to pull back and recast. All under the direction of Andy. Yes, I let a man tell me what to do and how to do it – just this once.

Fly fishing guide, the master of patience and technique, Andy on Spruce Creek in Pennsylvania

To watch Andy’s technique was nothing short of beautiful. His movements were fluid, nary a moment of frustration. Nothing phased him or stressed him out. This was his place and he knew it. Andy was super patient, no matter how many times I was catching Pennsylvania ground or the trees behind me, he was there to get my line loose. Sure this was his job, but to witness the quiet confidence he possessed made me realize that there was life in that river.

And that life was in the shadows. By the tree line, just past that second row of bubbles.

one of our catches

The Catch(es)

While I casted and casted and tried and wiggled the line, it took hours before I saw a bite. A fish finally took the bait! And when I did… here they came one after the other. Some smaller than others, but then, the big one. Lesson number three was reeling it in.

The trout I caught. Spruce Creek, PA Fly Fishing. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

Hell yes, Andy had to coach me in reeling them in, he came and put them in the net for me and released the hooks from their mouths. I even screamed and giggled as he helped me hold a wiggling fish in my hands. Feeling the strength as it writhed for freedom. Those fish were strong! Nothing made me feel more like a valley girl than screaming “Oh my god, it’s huge!”

The trout I caught. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

Could this be something I’d master myself? I don’t need a man to hunt/fish for me! I’m the hunter here, even if I need the assistance of a strong man in holding the fish, this time.

No, wait… I got this.

Make no mistake that smile is part excitement and part terror that this rainbow trout is going to jump out of my hands.

Holding it all by myself. The trout I caught. Photo by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

Right after this picture was taken, that rainbow trout jumped and I couldn’t control it. For the activists out there, it was catch and release. All of the fish caught were put back into the wild current of Spruce Creek.

I can see why this has become a past time for so many. Nothing but you and the river. Some time to kill. Simplistic thoughts. And a rugged sportsman on the scene doesn’t hurt either. Look, but don’t touch though, that catch isn’t for you. Ladies, this might be the one of the best ways to spend a day, fly fishing in Spruce Creek, PA.

 

This experience hosted by Visit Penn State in Pennsylvania, USA. Thank you to Ed Stoddard, the Communications Director at Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau for contributing photos from our time in State College (read more about it here). Even though this was a hosted experience, all opinions and are mine. 

Thank you to Andy for the great morning in Spruce Creek.

WHY FLY FISHING IN SPRUCE CREEK, PENNSYLVANIA IS WORTH LEARNING #RaystownLakeRegion #HomeWaters #flyfishinggirls #flyfishingwomen #womenanglers #rivertrout #catchandrelease #rainbowtroutfishing #rainbowtroutflyfishing #sprucecreek Some photos by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org LEARNING HOW TO FLY FISH IN SPRUCE CREEK, PENNSYLVANIA. #RaystownLakeRegion #HomeWaters #flyfishinggirls #flyfishingwomen #womenanglers #rivertrout #catchandrelease #rainbowtroutfishing #rainbowtroutflyfishing #sprucecreekSome photos by Ed Stoddard / Visit Penn State / State College / Communications Director Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau www.visitpennstate.org

Butler County, PA – Why Your Family Should Spend Vacation Time There

This overnight stay and all experiences in Butler County PA were hosted by the Butler County Tourism Board. All opinions and experiences are that of mine and my family and we are always brutally honest. Seriously, my kids have no filter, ask anyone they have encountered.

Also, there is an affiliate link in here that I will make a small commission from if you book your accommodations through it. See my privacy policy for more information if you so choose.

Located only 20 minutes north by car from the city of Pittsburgh, Butler County PA is a quaint country area before the big city storm. For families looking to escape the noise, population and density to this area find rolling farmland, pristine parks and unique attractions that you’re not necessarily going to stumble upon anywhere else.

Seeing as though I’m feeling more attracted to the wilderness and outdoors as of late, Butler County was a perfect pick for the first destination on our family Pennsylvania road trip (read about that here). Miss M and Little Man protested our 6:00am departure a bit. Okay a lot. However, the excitement of the trip as we approached the US border perked them up.

So, where is Butler County, anyway? It’s on the western side of the US state of Pennsylvania, directly south of Ontario. To drive there from Toronto, you have to pass through the Niagara Falls / Fort Erie border area. Then, head south through New York. Pass the Grove City outlet mall. Or head back there after for shopping, it’s only 25 minutes north of where you are heading.

WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT BUTLER COUNTY, PA?

Butler County, PA is just north of Pittsburgh, home to the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team (hello Sidney Crosby), Steelers football (the oldest franchise in the AFC) and the Pirates baseball team.  Spoiler from here – we did not have the opportunity to see any practises or games because we made the mistake of planning only one night in Butler County.

NEXT TIME I return, I will definitely see the ice where the Penguins practise and hopefully take in a game. 

The major towns there are Slippery Rock, Butler, Cranberry Township, Portersville, Saxonburg and Zelienophile. Butler County Tourism board has their own app for you to plan your trip. The free app, Visit Butler County, PA! can be accessed through their website or downloaded to your mobile device in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

From Toronto, we beelined to the Log Cabin Inn in the town of Harmony for a great introduction to the area for lunch. The Log Cabin Inn is built around a historic cabin dating back to the early 1800’s and features what they call “American Fare”. I can undoubtedly state that Canadian fare and American fare are similar. One confusing thing is how they label their “Canadian bacon” in the USA. It looks nothing like the bacon I know here, but I digress…


WestPark Alpacas

Once we left the Log Cabin Inn, we headed for WestPark Alpacas, just outside of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.

WestPark Alpacas is owned and operated by Christine & Patrick Scheer. There are over 35 alpacas on the farm that is 12 acres large. There is no admission cost to enter for a visit.

Christine is absolutely delightful, welcoming and motherly. She put my son at ease really fast, he was excited about the animals anyway. My daughter has a fear of dogs thanks to a once irresponsible neighbour we had, so she was very timid about the situation and did not want to venture into the barn area. It was fine, as no one forced her to do anything she was not comfortable with. She observed from a distance and hung back with her Dad (he accompanied us over the border on this trip) for the most part.

Little Man, Miss M and their dad feeding an alpaca

At WestPark Alpacas, my son actually got to walk among and actually meet the alpacas up close and hands-on. Little Man had the chance to hug them, feed them and pet them, he was over the moon! I have never seen one so up close either.

Little Man observing an Alpaca

I learned that they are cute, friendly (like a happy puppy), so photogenic and would provide so much entertainment for Little Man.

Hanging out at West Park Alpacas with my kids! Photo by Tiffany Hernandez, Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau

My son however, could not get enough of them and we spent so much time in the barn and in the field with them. Their faces are so expressive!

One of the female alpacas at WestPark Alpacas in Butler County PA

My daughter found the other animals on the grounds – chickens, peacocks and barn cats and was more than happy to check them out. On our way out, Miss M decided she wanted to buy a pair of alpaca hair socks. Happy to oblige her and got a pair for myself too. Looking forward to wearing them in the winter.

Little man and I enjoying our time with the Alpacas at WestPark alpaca farm in Slippery Rock, PA

 

Nautical Nature at Moraine State Park

Spend any amount of time with me and you will quickly learn that I am happiest on or in the water (or on trails, I know, no loyalty). So what was the best way for us to see Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park? Take the Nautical Nature pontoon boat cruise at the county’s biggest attraction, of course!

Best way to see Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park? Take the Nautical Nature pontoon boat cruise. Sit back, relax and see this man made lake from a different angle #butlercountypa #hosted #mediatrip #boatrides #morainestatepark

We got to sit back, relax and see this man made lake from a different angle than driving over a bridge. Spoiler on this – my son fell asleep after all the excitement from WestPark Alpacas. Miss M however was thrilled to join me at the bow of the boat to enjoy the scenery.

My daughter and I on Lake Arthur on a nature cruise

Now I would be crazy to not mention the commentary on the boat cruise. The shoreline, wildlife and experience was narrated by what I assume to be a college aged girl who has a great sense of humour. Ahoy!

Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park

Unlike many of the lakes we find in Ontario, a couple lakes we saw in Pennsylvania are man made in the 1970’s. And not for the reason of vanity of simply having a body of water to frolic in. Initially, there was a glacial lake.

From the inside of the nautical adventure boat

From the early 1900’s, the surrounding land had been severely abused through industry. A geologist and naturalist saw potential for the area and studied a way to heal the lands and that resulted in damning a nearby creek, thus flooding the now Lake Arthur. Controversial, yes. A whole town of people had to be moved for this to happen. There’s still a road left over by a church that you could very well drive up to the water’s edge.

Regardless, this is now a nature conservancy and beautiful osprey birds can be seen along the shore lines.

Adult fare for the hour tour is $14.00. Children are $7.00.

Welcome aboard the nautical nature pontoon boat cruise in Moraine State Park in Butler County

Other Ways to See Moraine State Park

If you are looking for other ways to see the lake from the water? You can rent or bring your own kayak, sail boats, stand up paddle board, canoes, or swim at one of the beaches.

What else would you get to do at Moraine State Park? There are 28 miles of trails to hike. I think I could be dropped off for a week to explore. There are camp sites, cabins to stay at, areas to mountain bike and in the winter, cross country ski across the trails.

Entrance to all State Parks in Pennsylvania is free. Impressive, right? I don’t know how their tax structure works and how they have managed to budget that, but I like it. Here in Ontario, we pay for parking at all of our conservation areas and provincial parks. Maybe we should take a close look at Pennsylvania’s model to encourage more people to get out to use our parks.

sailing around Lake Arthur

Hike at Jennings Environmental Education Center

Jennings Environmental Education Center is one of several state parks in Pennsylvania specifically dedicated to providing environmental education and interpretation to the community. There is an amazing visitor’s centre that I think my kids thought that was all we were there to see. Strangely, they would have been content there. 

Looking at the hiking trail map outside the visitor's center of Jennings Educational Centre in Slippery Rock, PA

One of the park’s main features, the 20-acre prairie ecosystem, is home to distinctive prairie plants and the endangered massasauga rattlesnake. My kids are curious about snakes, so we went hunting for with our hiking guide, Brandi.

Trail markers at Jennings Environmental Education Center in Butler County PA

The hikes there are quite easy and the area is really well maintained. Most trails are completely accessible by families with strollers or seniors with aids for walking. On top of Pennsylvania State Parks boasting free admittance, they have employees too and visitor’s centres!

Brandi from Jennings Environmental Education Center in Butler County PA showing my kids a flower.

We found a snake! Luckily it was just a water snake… not the rattlesnake. Next time!

discovery of a snake at the Jennings Educational centre in Butler County on our Pennsylvania Road Trip

Where To Stay in Butler County, PA

We stayed at Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Slippery Rock. I don’t think you can go wrong with any Marriott Hotel. Personally, I’ve never had a bad experience at one. We had a room here with two, very comfortable queen size beds and complimentary wifi on the first floor. The hotel boasts a great continental breakfast, an indoor pool and fitness centre. It’s perfect for a couple night stay.

Little man entering the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Slippery Rock, PA

You typically do not see the father of my children in my posts because we are no longer together. We are mature enough to share the driving on this road trip and share a hotel room together for a night for the sake of the kids. My kids were glad to have his time with us as they typically only travel with me.

Room with two queen size beds at Fairfield Inn and Suites, Slippery Rock, PA

Worth noting is the sunset I you can see from the parking lot. Seriously stunning! I never thought that a sunset over a Rite Aid drug store could be so spectacular.

Sunset over Rite Aid in Slippery Rock, PA. Located in Butler County, PA

And right next door is a graveyard. Rest assured, the neighbours won’t bother you.

Photo of the graveyard next door to Fairfield Inn and Suites in Slippery Rock, PA

Where To Eat and Drink In Butler County, PA

Aside from the Log Cabin Inn as mentioned above when we first arrived in the area, Butler County’s first brew pub – North Country Brewing Company is high on my recommendation list. Since opening in 2005, it’s become one of the most popular places to go in the area.

Butler County’s first brew pub - North Country Brewing Company in Slippery Rock

The brewery is in a building with an interesting history. Previous businesses inside the building include a furniture maker, a coffins manufacturer and a mortuary. Dead bodies certainly hung out there at some point in history. That did not effect the beer.

The beer menu at North Country Brewing Company in Butler County PA

Can I go anywhere without trying local craft brew? NO! I ordered up a flight with brews from fruity flavoured to lager to an ale, to IPA and a reds. Here’s what I tried:

WYEP – a sweet, tart wheat ale (this was my favourite)

Pink Guava Fruit Bowl – a light, hoppy wheat guava flavoured beer

Worth Your Weight In Gold – a golden, light ale ( this was my second favourite)

Stinky Hippie Pale Ale – a citrus, pine and roasted caramel malt as a pale ale, not bad!

Station 33 Firehouse Red – an Irish style dark beer. The only one on the dark spectrum I tried and I don’t regret it!

Flight of beer at North County brew pub in Slippery Rock, PA

Here is something about the food that surprised me. They put french fries on salad. Actual made out of potatoes, fries on a leafy green salad. Sacrilegious or satisfying? I was really hesitant to try this. It’s not that I watch my diet in a strict fashion, I’m just not the biggest fan in the world of fries. But when in Rome they say…

French fries on a salad at North Country brewery in Butler County PA

Where else did we eat? We had a true country meal at Brown’s Country Kitchen in the town of Portersville.

The menu from Brown's Country Kitchen in Portersville, PA

As is the case with most of my restaurant photos, I am lacking them. I started eating before I stopped to take a picture.

I WAS HUNGRY! And the food looked too good to wait. Sorry.

Behold the Yeti at The Snowman in Portersville

After having a true country meal at Brown’s Country Kitchen, go for a shaved ice dessert at The Snowman. The Snowman is a very popular roadside attraction. It’s a one of a kind place, I’ve never seen anything like this before. Guys, I don’t know who came with the idea of shaved ice (snow cone) and ice cream, but it’s kind of genius. My research shows me that the original business came from New Mexico.

The Snowman, roadside ice cream and shaved ice vendor in Portersville, PA

Behold the Yeti Sundae. Flavoured shaved ice, ice cream and whipped topping.

Behold, the Yeti! Brilliant mix of ice cream and shaved ice at The Snowman in Butler County PA

This slush of heaven is not the only amazing frozen treat you can pick up there. Milkshakes and plain old ice cream are on the menu too. It is one of the awesome places to take your kids in Butler County if they behave for you on the road trip! Okay, it’s not just for kids, adults enjoy it too.

The menu at The Snowman in Portersville, Pennsylvania

What Did I Miss in Butler County, PA?

As we only spent a day and a half in Butler County, PA there was a lot of ground we did not get to cover. As mentioned at the beginning, I’d like to pay homage to the good old hockey game at The UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. I’d want to spend time in the actual historic towns of Butler, Harmony and Saxonburg seeing as though I really enjoy history and architecture.

There’s also more than one craft brewery in the county, so on my return trip I’m definitely going on the Butler County Beer Circuit. North Country Brewery set the bar high, so I’m anxious to see what else the area has to offer.

Long story short, if you’re looking to make a getaway from the city for a couple days, and Pennsylvania is on your radar, then Butler County is the place to go.

If you’re not ready to commit to Butler County and are interested in checking out other areas of Pennsylvania, search for accommodations here and check out where else we went on our road trip that week here.

What to see and do with the family in Butler County PA. Family road trip to Slippery Rock, Cranberry Township, Portersville, Pennsylvania. Moraine State Park, Jennings Educational Center, WestPark Alpacas #familyroadtrip #familytravelblogger #takefamilytime #familyvacationsmatter Road trip with the family - What to see and do with the family in Butler County PA. Slippery Rock, Cranberry Township, Portersville, Pennsylvania. Moraine State Park, Jennings Educational Center, WestPark Alpacas #familyroadtrip #familytravelblogger #takefamilytime #familyvacationsmatter #torontomom #torontocontentcreator #torontoblogger