Not every getaway has to mean shelling out cash for entry fees and admission tickets. Plenty of great attractions in Pennsylvania are completely free.
Budgeting for a vacation can be rough, especially when everything is getting more expensive. Luckily, not every getaway has to mean shelling out cash for entry fees and admission tickets. Plenty of attractions in Pennsylvania are completely free.
Read on to find out about destinations in our state that will have you spending time outdoors, learning about history, or soaking up art and culture, all without having to pay a dime.
Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon
That’s right, Pennsylvania has its own “Grand Canyon.” Though it is much smaller than the OG, the canyon—officially named the Pine Creek Gorge—is nearly 50 miles long and in some places more than 1,400 feet deep. Hiking trails and great views abound. Visit the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, set between Leonard Harrison State Park and Colton Point State Park, near the state’s north central border with New York.
Ricketts Glen State Park
Ricketts Glen State Park may have been a national park if not for the budget woes of the Great Depression and World War II scuttling the National Park Service’s plans. Fortunately for us, the picturesque area with more than 20 named waterfalls became a Pennsylvania state park. Here, you can hike the old-growth forest on scenic trails, chasing as many of these waterfalls as you desire. Ricketts Glen is located in the northeastern part of the state, about an hour west of Scranton.
Randyland, created by artist Randy Gilson, is both an outdoor museum and an explosion of color on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Randy’s garden, ripe for exploration, is filled with plants, murals, and found objects collected from upcycling and dumpster diving. The art space is open just about every day. It’s free to enter, and, if he’s home, it’s free to chat with Randy.
The Liberty Bell is one of the most recognizable symbols of the United States, and you can see it up close—for free—in Philadelphia. The bell used to hang in the Pennsylvania State House, which is now Independence Hall. On its very first ring, it cracked—it was then melted down and recast, though as we know, it eventually cracked again.
Pennsylvania is home to more than 200 covered bridges, more than any other state. Many of the state’s covered bridges are still in use today. You can tour the covered bridges in your area and the rest of the state on a self-guided driving tour. Bucks County has created a tour of its 12 covered bridges. Washington County has published a tour of its 23 covered bridges, and hosts the free Covered Bridge Festival along with Greene County. Plus, you can visit the most covered bridges of any county in the state—25—in Lancaster County.
Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site
Fans of the creepy and macabre should enjoy this historic site in Philadelphia, a former rental home of gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe. The author and poet lived in Philadelphia between 1838 and 1844. The site, which is free to visit and is run by the National Park Service, includes exhibits about Poe’s life and work, a basement that looks like the one in the short story “The Black Cat,” and a large raven statue in homage to Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven.”
Appalachian Trail Museum
The Appalachian Trail is free to hike, and the Appalachian Trail Museum in Gardners is free to enter. At this museum, which sits at the midpoint of the trail between Georgia and Maine, you can learn about the history of “the AT” since its founding 101 years ago and hear the stories of some of its most famous thru-hikers. There are also some trails (of course!) around the museum that offer great hikes—fortunately, they’re not as long as the nearly 2,200-mile AT. But perhaps the museum will inspire you to tackle that extended hike one day.
There are plenty of places to swim for free in natural bodies of water in Pennsylvania, whether you go to the beaches of Erie at Presque Isle State Park, a nearby lake, or community swimming holes in your area. Check the PA Department of Natural Resources and Conservation website to search for state parks in your region, and then see if park amenities include any lakes with swimming beaches. There are also many free, roadside spots for swimming, especially in the more forested parts of our state. Smithton Beach in Belle Vernon is a popular spot.
More Free Destinations to Check Out
Science History Institute, Philadelphia
Wagner Free Institute of Science, Philadelphia
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, Philadelphia
Valley Forge National Historical Park, King of Prussia
Malcolm Gross Rose Garden, Allentown
Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton
Adamstown’s Antique Mile, Adamstown
Pennsylvania State Capital, Harrisburg
Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum & Candy Emporium, Gettysburg
Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg
Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg
The Frick museums and grounds, Pittsburgh