Exploring Pennsylvania with Kids
Since we have been traveling to more and more Pennsylvania state parks and other attractions with our kids, I’m going to start documenting our experiences. I don’t necessarily want to review each park or attraction, but just give a little glimpse into our experience. I hope others might find it useful in planning their trips or just getting a feel for the place.
(I also really want to be able to remember this time with my kids because we are having SO much fun exploring new places and enjoying nature. I hope this love of adventure and appreciation of nature lasts a lifetime.)
LOCUST LAKE STATE PARK: This was a somewhat spur of the moment trip planned with my sister and her family. We arrived Friday afternoon to blue skies and mild temperatures; however, the clouds and drizzle rolled in later in the day. Thankfully, it never rained hard enough to ruin our experience.
While my husband and I set up camp, the kids took a walk around the lake with their cousins and aunt and uncle. The kids were delighted to discover a playground right behind our campsite when they returned. I never thought a playground directly behind my campsite would be a good thing – the noise! the chaos! But, it really was perfect for our 5 and 6 year olds. We could see and hear our kids playing while remaining at our site, and they were happy to enjoy a sense of independence. Behind the bushes and scraggly trees, it felt like they were playing on their own without us hovering around them.
More family joined us at the site for the afternoon and evening, which caused much excitement. What? Grandpa and Grandma are here?! In the woods? How? (My kids are constantly perplexed when me meet people outside of their homes or ours.)
Before dinner, we all hiked the Oak/Ridge Trail. It was an easy trail that meandered along a creek. There were rocks to climb and bridges to run across. The highlight of the hike had to be the amount of salamanders the kids discovered under rocks and logs along the creek. I’m just happy none came home with us!
We ended up at the lake, where the kids enjoyed looking for fish in the clear waters. We could see the beach in the distance, but it was not open yet. (I’m assuming because of the somewhat dismal weather). The kids would have loved to splash in the waters regardless of the temperatures, so I was happy to have a good excuse to say no. Instead, we hiked back to our sites to prepare dinner and sit around the camp fire.
My kids would quickly tell you that their favorite part of the camping experience was seeing their cousins. Watching the pack of them run through the trails, race scooters along the road, and battle with glow sticks around a campfire was my highlight, as well. Untethered to technology and sports schedules, they found sticks and spiders and leaves to play with and simply enjoyed being with some of the people they love the most. This is exactly why we camp.
Link to state park website: Locust Lake State Park
The following day, we all ventured about 20 minutes away to Pioneer Tunnel in Ashland, PA, an old coal mine that is now open for guided tours. First, we boarded a steam train and took a quick ride up the mountain. At the top, the train stopped, and we were able to get off and look at the scenery as the conductor told us a bit more about coal mines.
The kids enjoyed the train ride but were not too interested in the historical aspect. My son strayed off looking for any forgotten pieces of coal on the ground, and my daughter just enjoyed being next to her cousin. I, however, enjoyed learning about the history of the mine and the town and found the concept of “bootleg coal mining” fascinating.
After we returned to the train station, we boarded open mine cars to take us back into the tunnel. The tunnel was dimly lit, and we were able to get out and explore a bit at the end of the portion of the tunnel that is open.
At one point, the tour guide turned off all of the lights except for his head lamp. This was to replicate what working conditions would have been like in the mines long ago. It was dark. Really dark. It is hard for me to imagine working in those dark, narrow tunnels all day long.
It really was a fascinating and relatively inexpensive activity. All of the kids and adults seemed to enjoy the experience. Afterwards, we let the kids run wild on the multiple playgrounds next to the mine, and we sat at the picnic tables for lunch.
When it was time to leave, the kids, of course, resisted. No one wanted the fun to end. No one wanted to leave their cousins.
Days later, I discovered that my son decided to keep a small souvenir of his day. While moving clothes from the washer to the dryer, tiny pieces of coal fell to the floor. Tiny reminders of a weekend spent exploring and adventuring.
Link to Pioneer Tunnel: Pioneer Tunnel
Previous Adventures in EXPLORING PENNSYLVANIA WITH KIDS:
- Black Moshannon State Park: Why I Can’t Wait to Take My Kids Camping Again
- Reptiland: What I (Unexpectedly) Enjoyed about my Mother’s Day at the Reptile House