Looking to visit a charming, small community where everyone knows your name? Try on these Pennsylvania towns for size.
While millions of people live in the biggest cities in Pennsylvania, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians live in rural, small towns dotted across the state. Some of these towns may have just a handful of residents. Talk about communities where everyone knows your name!
We put together a list of very small towns in Pennsylvania—some with fewer than 2,000 people and others with fewer than 200. No matter their size — or perhaps because of it — each of these small towns is worth visiting.
Ohiopyle may be small, but this river town is well known in Southwestern Pa. as a premier destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The main attraction, the Youghiogheny River, runs right through Ohiopyle, and so does Ohiopyle State Park. In 2020, the population of Ohiopyle was just 38, but you’re likely to see many more than 38 people enjoying the town on any given weekend. Take to the river by kayak or raft and experience some of the best whitewater this side of the Mississippi, and then visit some of Ohiopyle’s excellent local businesses, like Ohiopyle Bakery and Sandwich Shoppe, Ohiopyle Coffee Company, or Falls City Pub.
The “Antiques Capital of the US” is a small town, straddling Lancaster and Berks counties. While just under a couple thousand people live in Adamstown in Lancaster County, the Berks County part of Adamstown has a population of just 83. In Adamstown, the obvious attraction is the “antique mile” (which is actually seven miles) along Route 272, where dozens upon dozens of antique markets, antique dealers, and flea markets have set up shop, both indoors and out. Thousands of people visit Adamstown each year to embark on their own treasure hunts, and we advise you to do the same.
With a population of roughly 57, Smicksburg is one of the smallest boroughs in the state. But it has a wealth of charm. Among the rolling hills of the Indiana County countryside, there are a number of local businesses selling crafts, art, and country-style food. Also, many Amish people live in Smicksburg, and they sell their furniture and other goods at shops around the town.
Plus, for such a small town, Smicksburg hosts a number of special events for the community, such as a “cookie tour” in December, a fall festival, and a summertime strawberry festival.
Volant, part of the Greater Pittsburgh Area, is located around an Amish settlement in Southwestern Pa. The town’s population is about 126, which makes sense considering that Volant takes up just about 0.12 square miles of land. Yet the small footprint lends itself to several things to do, like visiting Volant’s winery and cidery or shopping old-timey Main Street, where one can find antiques, art, sweet treats, handmade goods, and more. The gristmill, which was the centerpiece of Volant since the town’s inception in the early 1800s, now serves as the home of local shops. Visit this small town for rural relaxation combined with fun events, historic charm, and modern amenities.
Portersville is close to beautiful Moraine State Park in northwestern Pa. and the park’s Lake Arthur attracts many visitors to the area. Those who frequent Moraine State Park may also choose to spend time in Portersville (population 227), where they can prepare for a camping or glamping trip by stocking up at Portersville farm markets or indulging in gifts at Portersville artisan shops. The town hosts a number of community events throughout the year, but one of the largest is the Portersville Steam Show, which showcases old-fashioned steam engines and other historic equipment three times per year in May, August, and October.
The tiny town of Montrose in far northeastern Pa. thrives because of its tight-knit community of fewer than 1,300 people. Even with a small number of residents, Montrose has many fun shops and businesses in its downtown area. The Historic Montrose Theater, for example, is about a century old and still shows popular films. Indeed, the theater — as well as several other buildings built between 1812 and 1935 — are part of the Montrose Historic District. The town leans into the old-timey charm with special events — like old-fashioned Fourth of July and Christmas celebrations — designed to mimic celebrations of yesteryear.
Infamous Centralia is tiny for a harrowing reason: an underground mine fire that forced the evacuation of the Columbia County town. The coal fire began burning in 1962, and it’s been burning ever since. But the town didn’t become aware of the toxic gasses until two decades later, and in 1983 the federal government began paying residents to leave. In 1992, the feds tried to force residents to leave, but today four Centralians still live in this very small town.
Because parts of Centralia are still technically public property, you can still visit to catch a glimpse of the abandoned roads or the areas where smoke rises from crevasses in the ground. However, note that Centralia can be dangerous due to the coal fire, and you should not stop in the town unless you’re prepared to be careful.
While Eagles Mere has a permanent population of around 150, that population balloons in the summertime because of amenities like the stunning Eagles Mere Lake and the quaint, historic business district. While anyone can visit Eagles Mere, one must be a member of the Eagles Mere Association (even a temporary member) in order to enjoy the lake and other resort town activities, like hiking trails and tennis courts.
However, it’s entirely possible to visit Eagles Mere and then spend time outdoors at nearby Worlds End State Park—which is open to the public.
The Pennsylvania Chautauqua is the Pa. base of the Chautauqua cultural movement, and it’s located in the little town of Mount Gretna. Founded in the late 1800s (and most popular then), proponents of the Chautauqua movement believe in the importance of the arts, recreation, as well as religion—and importantly, they stress spreading these ideals to the masses. From the 1870s on, the Chautauqua Institution led informal educational programs in many lovely, Victorian small towns, with Mount Gretna in Lebanon County being the town of choice for the Pennsylvania Chautauqua.
Today, Mount Gretna — population less than 200 — has many of the same summertime attractions that appealed to the Pa. Chautauqua back in the day, such as a beautiful lake and entertaining theater shows. Plus, you can still participate in summer programs sponsored by the Pennsylvania Chautauqua.
Chester County’s Saint Peters is a historic village that was once a company town, built in the late 1800s for workers in the nearby iron mines. As industry declined, the town slowly transitioned into a tourist destination. And indeed, Saint Peters Village is located just an hour from Center City Philadelphia.
In this small town, you can trek the winding paths of hiking trails in the woods surrounding French Creek, visit a number of excellent restaurants or an artisan bakery, and shop for treasures in the town’s specialty shops. The downtown area is perfect for strolling—and to muse on what Saint Peters was like decades ago.
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