Autumn is pretty picturesque here; get out and enjoy it while you still can.
If you’ve only ever experienced autumn in Pennsylvania, you may not realize that other states don’t necessarily get vivid fall colors, grow apple trees, or get cold enough to enjoy hot apple cider around a crackling fire. Pennsylvania’s fall, meanwhile, is practically perfect, allowing you to fully take advantage of this season of crisp apples, spooky scares, and stunning foliage.
We’ve put together a list of must-do activities so you can have the best Pennsylvania autumn. October is nearly over, so let’s get going! The pumpkins won’t carve themselves!
Go apple picking
Apple picking may feel like an essential fall activity to you, a Pennsylvanian, but many people in warmer parts of the US would have to cross state borders to pluck this fall fruit from its trees. Luckily, we don’t live in those sorry states where apples must be bought at the grocery store. Apples grow all across Pennsylvania, with more than 21,000 acres of orchards producing nearly 500 million pounds of apples annually. That’s so many apples, it’s almost like we have a duty to our state to help pick them.
Since apples are grown in every PA county, there’s likely a pick-your-own apple orchard near you. Near Pittsburgh? You might want to visit Triple B Farms. Philly? Indian Orchard Farm is about a half hour away. In or near the Lehigh Valley? Grim’s Orchard and Family Farms is a popular destination. (You can also check out our round up of seven favorite apple orchards across the state.) Many orchards have shops on site if you want to just purchase already-picked apples or if you want to bring home a package of the celebrated apple cider donut.
Once you fill your basket with apples, take them home and make a homemade apple pie—it tastes best when you’ve picked the apples yourself.
Visit a cider house
While warm apple cider abounds at apple orchards and family farms, Pennsylvania is also home to a bevy of craft cidermakers and their cideries offering varied and unique hard cider. Remember, Pennsylvania grows almost 500 million pounds of apples each year—more than half are used in products like applesauce and apple cider.
Given the variety of apples grown in Pennsylvania, there are many different ciders to choose from—from super sweet ones to bone dry ciders; ciders infused with other fruits or herbs; and hopped ciders and bitter ciders. Plus, if you’d rather not imbibe, most cideries will sell non-alcoholic cider as well—perfect for the kids!
While you can visit a cider house any time of the year, there’s something special about drinking cider at the height of apple season when there’s a chill in the air and you’re bundled up in the corner of a cider house or huddled close to the fire outdoors. The Pennsylvania Cider Guild publishes a map of their members, but there are even more cider houses across the state. Sip some cider at one near you!
See the leaves change
The peak of fall foliage is the highlight of the fall season, especially in Pennsylvania, where our mountains are covered with different shades of reds, oranges, and yellows. Don’t let peak fall foliage pass you by—the leaves will be at their fullest color for just about a week.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has all the information you need to know about the best time to see autumn leaves in your area. Take a look at the DCNR fall foliage report and then make a plan to check out the leaves, perhaps via hike or scenic drive.
Go on a hike
Fall hiking is the best. The trees are beautiful, it’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, and the bugs are not out in full force to attack you. (Except ticks, which are always out in full force to attack you: Make sure to wear bug spray!)
Pennsylvania has so many trails to hike, whether you’d like to trek through steep mountainous regions, gently sloping valleys, or even urban areas with walking paths. Strap on your boots and listen to the satisfying crunch of leaves under your feet.
We recommend looking to the PA State Parks for ideas of where to take a hike in our state. Entering Pennsylvania state parks is always free, and you can be sure that the hiking trails are well-maintained.
Go on a scenic drive
Hiking through fall foliage is great, but you know what else is great? Sitting and seeing fall foliage. That’s why a scenic drive through a particularly beautiful area is such a great autumnal activity. The best drives are on smaller highways or backroads—not the interstate, of course.
We recommend driving the Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway in Southwestern PA, the countryside of Clarion County close to Northwestern PA, the Bucktail Trail Scenic Byway in Central PA, Route 6 in Northeastern PA, and River Road in Southeastern PA. Stop at a gas station, pick up a drink and a snack, and relax while you enjoy the “show.”
Go to a haunted house
It’s spooky season! The time when people all across the country intentionally, indeed pay good money, for a beheaded clown to chase them through a vacant department store filled with rooms of fake blood and revving chainsaws. Pennsylvania is no different, for we have plenty of vacant department stores and haunted attractions. Some of the best haunted attractions in the state are: Scarehouse near Pittsburgh (a haunted house that Guillermo del Toro liked), Reaper’s Revenge near Scranton (featuring a haunted hayride and other scary attractions), and Shocktoberfest near Reading (sort of like a spooky-season-only amusement park, if you find horrific scares amusing).
Visit an amusement park
PA amusement parks are terrific to visit during fall because many of them host their own fall festivals. During the day, spooky attractions are typically family-friendly, while at night, you may find haunted attractions and actors in costume sneaking around to scare you. The entirety of Lancaster’s Dutch Wonderland’s Happy Hauntings is geared toward children; the ghosts and ghouls are nice! Knoebels’ Hallo-Fun near Harrisburg has daytime activities like pumpkin painting for kids while at night the train ride becomes haunted. And at Pittsburgh’s Kennywood, Phantom Fall Fest introduces scares and haunts, including haunted houses, after dark.
Go to a pumpkin patch
In Pennsylvania, we don’t just grow a lot of apples. We also grow a lot of pumpkins—the second most in the country, in fact. Celebrate the fall season by taking home the picture of autumn: a pumpkin.
You can go to a pick-your-own pumpkin patch or visit a “patch” where the pumpkins are already picked and on display. Most family farms or agritourism destinations near you should currently be peddling pumpkins, though you can also check a map of PA pumpkins to find a local pumpkin patch.
After you take it home, your pumpkin could be nothing more than a decorative gourd, or you could turn it into a horrifying (or cute) jack-o-lantern. If you go the jack-o-lantern route, you can roast the pumpkin seeds!
Tailgate for a football game
It’s football season, though I’m not here to judge whether the Steelers or Eagles will do better this year. I’m here to judge you if you don’t catch a football game at all, whether you shell out hundreds of dollars for a professional game, you set up a lawn chair for your little cousin’s peewee game, or you put a game on TV in the background while you eat chips and salsa. (OK, the bar is low.) Everyone knows tailgating is all about the food anyway! You can make your own game day snacks (Pennsylvania Dutch soft pretzels, anyone?) or pick up a veggie tray or two at your local grocery store.
Go to a corn maze
It’s been established that Pennsylvania grows a lot of crops. That includes corn! In fact, the state is home to award-winning corn mazes with creative designs, patterns, and pictures in the maize. Sure, you won’t be able to see the design unless you take a small plane over the maze … but isn’t it better to get lost in a rendering of Yellowstone National Park than a plain-old cornfield? You likely have a corn maze near you this fall season, but if you want to travel for some of the best mazes in PA, check out the maze at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm near Lancaster (which is currently honoring the U.S. National Parks) or the Coolspring Corn Maze in Mercer (which is currently honoring a patriotic dinosaur).