As a guy with a car blog, I have a big confession to make. It took me a long time to really enjoy driving.
I grew up in the non-Chicago part of Illinois. The part that’s nothing but cornfields. Roads there were painfully boring. There were zero twists, zero hills, and not a single thing to be excited about, other than every now and then taking the I-74 bridge over to Iowa.
Then I moved to Pennsylvania. The autumn leaves had just begun to turn, and one short trip through the rolling hills of Southwest Pennsylvania made me fall in love with driving.
The interstate is still the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B. But when I have a little more time, I love taking a drive on one of Pennsylvania’s smaller highways and getting a closer look at the state’s rich history, culture and wildlife. These routes are a few of my favorites:
The National Road
Who said you have to visit St. Louis to experience the “gateway to the west?” Built between 1811 and 1834 at the wishes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, US route 40 was the first federally-funded highway in America. This historic road crosses six states and was integral to helping nineteenth-century pioneers expand America’s western borders. As you explore the 90 miles that pass through Southwest PA, keep an eye out for the highway’s old-timey stone mile markers and original toll houses and inns.
The National Road is a must-drive for any history buff, and one of the best scenic roads to drive in PA. Stop by Fort Necessity National Battlefield to learn the beginnings of the French and Indian War and pay your respects at General Braddock’s grave. Then, travel west to Brownsville to visit Nemacolin Castle where you can enjoy a view of the Monongahela River and learn about everyday life in early America. Arriving after dark? For the thrill-seeking visitor, Nemacolin Mansion offers ghost tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Conestoga Ridge Road
Take Route 23 through the heart of Lancaster County and take a trip back in time. Nestled in the rolling hills of Amish and Mennonite country, this quiet landscape is dotted with quaint meadows, rolling streams and the occasional roadside farm stand. Keep an eye out for Amish barns — which can be identified by their lack of electricity lines — and don’t be surprised if you find yourself driving slowly behind a horse-drawn buggy.
After experiencing Pennsylvania’s Amish and Mennonite culture, how about heading west to Churchtown to explore the area’s Welsh mining history? Settled for its rich iron ore deposits, this agricultural town still has a rich community of craftsmen who once supported the region’s farmers and iron forge employees. Afterwards, stop by Historic Poole Forge in Navaron. Beloved by photographers and history buffs alike, this former iron plantation allows visitors to explore its spectacular 1700’s Iron Masters Mansion, paymasters house, tenement houses, lime kilns, and covered bridge that date back to 1859.
Grand Army of the Republic Highway
If you want to take a road trip in the northern part of the state, US-6 — also known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway — has tall mountains, bucolic farms and the majestic Pine Creek. Drive through the lush hardwood Allegheny National Forest, and be sure to take a detour on Route 3011 to visit Kizuna Bridge State Park. Built in 1882, this 301-foot tall iron structure was once the tallest railroad trestle in the world. Though a 2003 tornado downed 11 of the 20 support towers, you can still explore 600 feet of the structure on a special walking path. Visitors who are not afraid of heights can peek through a glass floor at the valley 225 feet below.
If you keep driving a few hours east, you’ll find historic Wellsboro, a quaint Victorian small town that is home to Pine Creek Gorge. Nicknamed “Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon,” this topographical wonder stretches over 45 miles south with depths of nearly 1500 feet. If you’re as comfortable on two wheels as you are on four, a bicycle detour along the Pine Creek Rail Trail can be a gentle yet scenic way to admire steep canyon walls and sparkling waterfalls.
Next time you’re looking to enjoy the great outdoors, hop behind the wheel and take a drive through beautiful Pennsylvania. Whether you’re looking for history, culture or wildlife, Pennsylvania’s scenic byways will make you fall in love with driving all over again!