Want a quick getaway from Philadelphia? Pack the car and see these natural, historic, and charming attractions on a budget without leaving Pennsylvania.
These days, if you have free time for a day trip, you’ll want to have a plan before you go. Know where you’re going and what there is to do once you get there so you don’t waste a precious free day. You don’t need to plan every minute, but you’ll want to know your options—and there are many options for day trips from Philadelphia.
Keeping in mind that it can be a bit expensive to travel by car right now, these day trip ideas keep you in Pennsylvania while saving a little gas money. If you choose to stay off the turnpike, you can save money on tolls. Often, taking back roads leads you to beautiful roadside scenery and only adds a few minutes onto the trip.
Before you get in the car, consider these four trips that will have you back in Philadelphia the same day you left.
Ricketts Glen State Park
If your goal is to spend the day in the great outdoors, it doesn’t get more beautiful than Ricketts Glen State Park. Get an early start and drive about an hour and a half to the park’s 13,193 acres of nature that run through Luzerne, Sullivan, and Columbia counties. Within those acres is Glens Natural Area, a National Natural Landmark. There are 22 named waterfalls on the marked 7.2-mile Falls Trail system.
You don’t have to hike the entire length to glimpse the beautiful falls. Choose the Evergreen Trail, and you’ll hit the 36-foot-tall Adams Falls within a couple of minutes of your hike, a loop of just a little over one mile. In addition to hiking the trail system, Ricketts Glen offers boat rentals, fishing—including ice fishing in the winter—areas to picnic in, and hunting in season within designated areas. On your way home, stop at Ricketts Glen Hotel for dinner. The hotel’s restaurant serves Italian American fare and is open to the public.
If your idea of Bethlehem is a city with nothing but a steel mill that hasn’t operated in several decades, you haven’t been keeping up with what is happening with this vibrant community. Yes, the Bethlehem Steel Plant is still there—now known as SteelStacks which hosts concerts, comedy shows, and more. The train tracks that ran alongside the steel plant several stories up are now a walking path with stairs leading to it. While walking the path, you can stop and read about the history of the steel mill.
Bethlehem is full of history, and its downtown is also full of great restaurants and shops. The oldest bookstore in the country is there, the Moravian Book Shop, which also has a brewery and an Asian fusion restaurant inside. If you visit between the middle of November and the middle of December, don’t miss the Christkindlmarkt that’s considered one of the best holiday markets in the country. Stay in town for dinner and then attend a performance at Civic Theatre before driving the hour and a half back to Philadelphia.
Brandywine Valley Wineries
Grab a designated driver and journey about an hour southwest to the Brandywine Valley where some of the region’s best wineries welcome guests to their tasting rooms. Start at Va La Vineyards in Avondale, a family farm near Kennett Square with a small but quality selection of lauded estate wines. Then head to Galer Estate Vineyard that’s located behind Longwood Gardens. Bring a picnic and enjoy a tasting of Galer’s award-winning wines or buy a bottle to enjoy while looking out onto the vineyards.
From Galer, head to Chaddsford Winery or Penns Woods Winery (or both if you have the time). If you’re going on the weekend, both wineries accept reservations. If you’re looking for a great place to get dinner before heading back to the city, stop at the farm to fork White Dog Cafe in Glen Mills and keep the day’s eating/drinking local theme going.
Valley Forge National Historical Park
Grab the family and spend the day in the Valley Forge National Historical Park, which features 3,500 acres of monuments and woodlands commemorating the Revolutionary War generation and their resilience to overcome adversity. It’s a day in nature and a history lesson all in one, all about a half hour outside of Philadelphia.
On your way there, stop at G Lodge Cafe for breakfast, a local favorite with delicious food that won’t break the bank to feed the whole family.
The Junior Ranger Program gets kids excited about the day trip. Download and print an activity book before your visit that kids complete while touring the park. Tour the Encampment—a 10-mile driving loop with nine major tour stops—by car, by bike, or by a 90-minute trolley tour (weekends only). In the fall, join a park ranger on Saturday nights for an interactive evening by a campfire to listen to stories of Valley Forge and the American Revolution.