Presque Isle Bike Trail. Photos via Visit Erie.
Presque Isle Bike Trail. Photos via Visit Erie.

From the small town to the big and bigger cities, here are some ideas for your next getaway.

We love Pittsburgh, but we also love a good weekend getaway. Explore a new destination just a short drive from Pittsburgh, and when you come home, maybe you’ll be inspired to seek out new sights in the Steel City.

Where Nature Meets History: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Distance from Pittsburgh: ~3 hours and 20 minutes

Photo via NPS and Autumn Cook

Leave the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers for a weekend and travel to the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers; here you’ll find the charming town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia all meet. Harpers Ferry is a must-visit destination for Civil War history buffs as well as those interested in adventure sports. You can raft and tube the two rivers as well as hike 22 miles of beautiful trails.

But most famously, Harpers Ferry was the site of a raid by John Brown and his party of armed abolitionists. The assault on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry—which failed in its attempt to start a widespread slave revolt—helped lead to the Civil War. Brown was hanged for his efforts, and his last words that “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood” were ultimately proved correct.

The town itself, a national historic park, is full of Civil War museums, historic buildings, as well as shops and restaurants. 

The Small Town: Fayetteville, West Virginia

Distance from Pittsburgh: ~3 hours and 30 minutes

Visitors to this West Virginia small town—the population is less than 3,000—may have originally booked their trip simply to visit the New River Gorge. And while the views of the gorge are certainly breathtaking, the little town of Fayetteville punches above its weight with its lively culture: art, shops, restaurants, and more. People have noticed—Fayetteville was named by Smithsonian one of the best towns to visit and  Budget Travel named it one of the coolest towns in the US.

Fayetteville is the perfect place to combine small town touring with adventure. You can spend the mornings rafting the whitewater of the New River or hiking the nearby trails, and then spend the afternoons meandering through the eclectic shops and galleries of downtown Fayetteville. Check out Water Stone Outdoors to pick up your mountain essentials and then browse the vintage wares at locally owned The Hobbit Hole. For art fans, we recommend the Love Hope Center for the Arts, a gallery that hosts local Appalachian artists. In the evenings, you can grab a bite to eat and drink at one of the local breweries, like Freefolk. While many restaurants and other spaces host live music around Fayetteville, Freefolk hosts monthly jam sessions—just bring your own instrument!

The Big City: Cleveland, Ohio

Distance from Pittsburgh: ~2 hours and 20 minutes

Photo by Eric Drost

Sure, some diehard Pittsburgh sports fans wouldn’t be caught dead in Cleveland, but we encourage you to just visit on a weekend when no sports are happening. We may not agree with their teams’ fans, but the mid-size city with an industrial past (hmm, seems familiar) has a ton of cool stuff to do.

The biggest attraction in Cleveland is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—it’s not only a hall of fame of some of rock’s greats, but it’s also a museum devoted to the genre. Besides its main exhibits detailing the history of rock and roll, there are often live music events at the hall of fame—and for fans of Peter Jackson’s Get Back docuseries, there’s currently a popular Beatles exhibit.

You should also explore the downtown area—perhaps on a walking tour? Make sure you see the historic Public Square, downtown’s central plaza, as well the Cleveland Arcade, a palatial, Victorian-era indoor shopping center—the first in the US!

Outside of the city, you could take a day trip to Cedar Point and its roller coasters, which is about an hour away. Or you could head for the trails at Cuyahoga Valley National Park—yes, there’s a national park that’s less than 30 minutes from downtown Cleveland!

The Bigger City: Washington, DC

Distance from Pittsburgh: ~4 hours

Photo courtesy of Washington.org

Once you’ve visited the museums in DC, it’s hard not to be ruined for all other museums. This is not to say that the museums in Pennsylvania aren’t fantastic—we at The Keystone are certainly loyal to both the Philadelphia Institute of Art and the dinosaurs of the Carnegie Natural History Museum. But thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, the museums in DC are almost all entirely free. And there are many—so take your pick! Would you like to visit the National Air and Space Museum or the National Museum of American History—or both? Will you remember to reserve passes for the National Museum of African American History and Culture? Can you make time for the National Museum of the American Indian—and its fabulous food court, the Mitsitam Cafe? Be sure you know DC’s museums offerings before your trip!

You will also likely want to tour the different monuments, like the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Want a pro tip? The monuments are particularly lovely—and much less crowded—if you tour them at night.

DC, however, is much more than monuments and museums. You can explore some of the District’s culture outside of federal politics by visiting neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and U Street. For a taste of the real DC, be sure to stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl. 

The Beach: Erie, PA

Distance from Pittsburgh: ~2 hours

All right, it’s a lakefront, not a beach on the ocean—but Erie is only two hours away and the Great Lakes are “vast inland freshwater seas” according to the EPA. So, you might as well consider a trip to Erie a beach trip! The best “beaches” in the area can be found within Presque Isle State Park, and you’ll be able to choose among several beaches depending on your wants and needs, like if you want to play beach volleyball, set up lunch at a pavilion, or have access to a children’s playground.

You can spend time outside of the water, but close to it, in Erie as well. Presque Isle is host to a 13.5-mile trail that’s great for bicycles, roller skates, or four-wheeled surreys.

Other getaway ideas from The Keystone:

How to Spend a Weekend in Gettysburg

How to Spend a Weekend in Hershey, Pa.

How to Spend a Weekend in Lancaster County