8 Nearby Winter Getaways for Chills and Thrills

There's much more to winter travel than jetting off to a warmer climate. Here are eight destinations within a three-hour drive of Pittsburgh that will entice you to leave the nest this winter.

Canaan Valley resort state park/photo courtesy of tucker county visitors and convention bureau

There’s more to travel than summer escapes — and there’s much more to winter travel than jetting off to some warmer climate. Whether you’re after an outdoor adventure, cozy conversation, world-class dining or luxurious relaxation, there are all-season destinations nearby that’ll tempt you to leave the nest this winter.

We’ve picked eight of our favorite escapes — all within a three-hour drive of downtown Pittsburgh and all with attractive options for couples, families, those who want to embrace the frosty outdoors and those who’d rather curl up by the fire. Each of these destinations features amenities at a variety of price points to ensure you’ll find winter fun within your budget — from simple log cabins to a $2,599 per-night weekend stay in the presidential suite at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort’s Chateau Lafayette.

Don’t let your bags gather dust until spring — grab your coat and hit the road.

Molly brannigans/photos by chuck beard



Drive time: 2 hrs, 15 mins
Miles: 130
GPS: 626 State St., Erie PA

Did you know? The Erie Maritime Museum [150 E. Front St.; 814/452-2744, flagshipniagara.org] is home to the third reconstruction of the U.S. Brig Niagara, a ship that played an integral role in the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812 and now serves as a vehicle for sail training.

Spencer House Bed & Breakfast/photos by chuck beard


Early winter in Erie is a brisk and variable season, perfect for walks on the best days, wining and dining in any weather and cozy weekends planned around warm-up stops.

Best-known to Pittsburghers for summertime beaches, Presque Isle State Park is an all-season wonderland, and the trek back up Peninsula Drive from the park is the perfect time for browsing in the area’s unique shops, boutiques and galleries.

Options on West Lake Road include the funky Oregon Antique Boutique [3436 West Lake Road; 814/836-0737, facebook.com/Oregon-Antique-Boutique-132095603504049/?fref=ts] for candles, primitives and vintage décor. It’s a season and place for grown-up adventures, so prepare to snuggle up. But if you can’t leave the children at home, Erie will keep them happy, too.

Erie Maritime museum


What to Do:

❄ For Couples: Up for an intimate nightcap? Scotty’s Martini Lounge [301 German St.; 814/459-3800, facebook.com/scottys.martini], a perfect blend of hipster hangout and old-fashioned corner bar, serves the best martinis in town, often accompanied by live jazz. (Warning to the smoke-averse: It’s also a cigar bar.) As an alternative, settle into the neighborhood pub atmosphere at Lavery Brewing Company [128 W. 12th St.; 814/454-0405, laverybrewing.com] for a taste of Erie’s burgeoning craft-beer industry.

❄ For Families: For 12 years, the Polynesian-themed Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park & Resort [8091 Peach St.; 814/217-1111, splashlagoon.com] has been drawing families with kids to shake off winter-induced cabin fever. Covering more than an acre, Splash Lagoon includes a wave pool, a 12-level climbing tree, an elevated ropes course, nine slides, multiple restaurants and hot tubs (for weary adults), and is connected via walkways to three adjacent hotels. Little ones also may enjoy the weekend public-skating sessions at the JMC Ice Arena at the Erie Zoo and Botanical Gardens [423 W. 38th St.; 814/864-4091, eriezoo.org], open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

❄ For the Adventurous: Steal away to Presque Isle State Park [301 Peninsula Drive, Suite 1; 814/833-7424, presqueisle.org] for a solitary walk on beaches bejeweled by the first glaze of ice, which will form towering dunes by winter’s end. Watch for — or join? — the hardy folks who, by mid-January, are ice fishing in tents or small huts. Or venture onto the interior trails to hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, take in nature, waves and stunning glimpses of the city across Presque Isle Bay during a drive around the park’s 13-mile loop.

❄ For the Indoor Set: Warm up downtown with a fireside lunch in an Irish pub atmosphere at Molly Brannigans [506 State St.; 814/453-7800, mollybrannigans.com] before heading around the corner to soak up a little culture at the Erie Art Museum [411 State St., with main entrance on East Fifth Street; 814/459-5477, erieartmuseum.org]. Current exhibitions include “Art of the Comic Book,” a collection of original art, rare issues and related materials, including work by Erie’s own John Totleben.

❄ For a Splurge: While you’re shopping on West Eighth Street, don’t miss the more luxurious options at The Shops at the Colony [West Eighth Street between Peninsula Drive and Pittsburgh Avenue; 814/833-7903, shopsatthecolony.com], including original art by regional and national artists at Kada Gallery [2632 W. Eighth St.; 814/835-5232, kadagallery.com]. Another option for fine art is D’ Hopkins Denniston Gallery [5 W. 10th St.; 814/455-1616] in the heart of downtown. Among other offerings, it specializes in the work of African-American artists.

Spencer house Bed & Breakfast


Where to Stay:

A getaway with your partner calls for sophisticated lodging. Lovers of antique charm will enjoy their choice of six uniquely furnished rooms at Spencer House Bed & Breakfast [519 W. 6th St.; 814/464-0419, spencerhousebandb.com], a restored 1876 mansion in Erie’s “Millionaire’s Row” historic district. If modern ambience and back-to-back lobby fireplaces (a plus in Erie in winter) are more to your liking, the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel [55 West Bay Drive; 814/454-2005, sheratoneriebayfront.com] offers the city’s best lodging on the harbor’s edge.

Where to Eat:

Erie’s dining scene is vibrant and eclectic. Make a meal of sumptuous appetizers from the contemporary Latin/Asian menu at sleek 1201 Kitchen [1201 State St.; 814/464-8989, 1201restaurant.com], go casual with flatbread pizza and beer at U Pick 6 Tap House [333 State St., No. 110; 814/520-5419, upick6.com], or savor upscale Italian in a remodeled former corner bar at charming Mi Scuzi Ristorante [27th and Myrtle streets; 814/454-4533, miscuzirestaurant.com].

What’s Nearby:

Venture out into the countryside with a scenic drive on East Lake Road (Route 5) toward North East, Pa., for a little wine tasting. Two dozen wineries in the region offer lots of options, but if you can choose just one, South Shore Wine Company [1120 Freeport Road, State Route 89, North East; 814/725-1585, ss.mazzawines.com] is not to be missed. Its historic stone cavern, a remnant from the birth of the local wine industry in 1864, is a perfect place to cozy up for sips on a winter day. While in North East, pop in to Cork 1794 [17 W. Main St., North East; 814/347-9078, facebook.com/TheCork1794] for an upscale casual dinner in an eclectic space that includes a table in the bank vault. Save room for general manager Mikey Ellis’ signature cheesecake but go light on the handcrafted cocktails — it’s a 14-mile drive back to Erie.

photo courtesy of gateway lodge


Cook Forest State Park

Drive time: 2 hrs
Miles: 95
GPS: 113 River Road, Cooksburg, PA

Did you know? Cecil B. DeMille shot the Paramount Pictures’ film “Unconquered” in the Cook Forest area in 1946. It starred Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard.

Forest Cathedral — Longfellow Trail/photo by richard cook


The 8,500-acre Cook Forest State Park [814/744-8407, dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/cookforest] is filled with thousands of virgin white pine and hemlock trees of such beauty that the area is designated as a National Natural Landmark.

Go with family, friends or your significant other for a back-to-nature getaway that provides plenty of outdoor activities — and lots of restaurants, shops and lodging when it’s time to come in from the cold. It’s also a perfect place to literally unplug; cell-phone service is spotty at best, although some accommodations do offer Wi-Fi.

Cross-country skiers have their choice of three groomed trails in the state park. There are plenty of additional trails along the Clarion River at nearby Clear Creek State Park [38 Clear Creek Park Road, Sigel; 814/752-2368, dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/clearcreek]. Don’t have skis? Rent them at Cooksburg Dry Goods [115 Riverside Drive, Cooksburg; 814/744-8300, cookriverside.com/drygoods.htm].

photo courtesy of gateway lodge


What to Do:

❄ For Couples: Most suites at the Gateway Lodge [Route 36, Cooksburg; 814/744-8017, gatewaylodge.com] offer a private outdoor balcony and an in-room Jacuzzi adjoining a gas fireplace. Rustic cabins also are available, each with its own fireplace and kitchen. On many weekends, the lodge offers a chef’s tasting dinner for two by candlelight, with wine pairings and live music. Before dinner, take a winter carriage ride along River Road in Cook Forest.

❄ For Families: Pack your skates and try out the ice-skating pond adjacent to the Clarion River along River Road. The pond is lighted for night skating and includes fire pits where skaters can warm up or roast a hot dog. Near the skating pond are slopes perfect for sled riding or snow tubing.

❄ For the Adventurous: About a half-hour’s drive from Cook Forest, you’ll find more than 300 miles of groomed snowmobile trails winding through the Allegheny National Forest [131 Smokey Lane, Marienville; 814/927-6628, www.fs.usda.gov/main/allegheny]. The Forest Lodge [44078 Route 66, Marienville; 814/927-8790, theforestlodge.net] offers trail access just outside the doors of its guest rooms.

❄ For the Indoor Set: Take a class at the Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living [93 Quiet Creek Lane, Brookville; 814/849-9662, quietcreekherbfarm.org]. Options include aromatherapy, local-foods potluck, contra dance lessons and, for the December holidays, a gingerbread open house and a wreath-making session.

❄ For a Splurge: The Woods Spa at Gateway Lodge offers a variety of packages, ranging from head-and-foot massage to fusion stone-relaxation massage.

hominy ridge lodge and cabins/photo by richard cook

Where to Stay:

The Cook Forest area is filled with secluded, rustic cabins perfect for couples seeking to hide away in the woods. At the Hominy Ridge Lodge and Cabins [13964 Route 36, Clarington; 800/851-6377, hominyridge.com], guests can relax in an outdoor hot tub. Families or those looking to rough it may favor the Evergreen Cabins [13278 Route 36, Cooksburg; 814/752-2247, evergreencabins.com], Cook Riverside Cabins [115 Riverside Drive, Cooksburg; 800/680-0160, cookriverside.com] or Campers Paradise Campgrounds and Cabins [37 Steele Drive, Sigel; 814/752-2393, campersparadise.net]. As an added bonus, all offer pre-chopped and split firewood.

blackbird distillery/photo by Richard cook


Where to Eat:

Grab a specialty pizza, a sandwich, a burger or a full dinner at the Iron Mountain Grille [10638 Route 36, Clarington; 814/752-2486, ironmountaingrille.com]. One of our favorites is the pulled-pork sandwich, topped with cole slaw. The restaurant also offers live entertainment Friday and Saturday nights on most weekends. In the market for some moonshine — the legal kind? Visit the Blackbird Distillery [93 Blackout Alley, Brookville; 814/849-0915, blackbirddistillery.com], to sample 16 varieties of  bottled moonshine; you’ll also find smoked meats and cheeses, homemade pepper mixes, barbecue and wing sauces, and more.

forest cathedral/photo by richard cook


What’s Nearby:

The Forest Cathedral natural area [Longfellow Trail, Cook Forest State Park] is filled with old-growth hemlock and white pines that soar nearly 200 feet in the air. Locals say a hike through the Longfellow trail “is as close you can come to the Redwood Forest in this region.” History buffs will enjoy the Cook Forest Log Cabin Inn [Forest Road, Cook Forest State Park] environmental-learning classroom, which contains displays, taxidermy animals and logging tools from early lumbering days. Or take an approximately 45-minute drive to Gobbler’s Knob [1548 Woodland Ave., Punxsutawney; 814/618-5591, groundhog.org], where the lead-up to Groundhog Day begins Jan. 30 with a variety of events. Planning to join Phil in person on his big day? Arrive no later than 3 a.m.

photos by chuck beard


Seven Springs Mountain Resort

Drive time: 1 hr
Miles: 60
GPS: 777 Waterwheel Drive, Seven Springs PA

Did you know? There’s no business like snow business for Herman Dupre, the son of Seven Springs founder Adolph Dupre. After applying for his first snowmaking patent in 1973, Herman Dupre — who once ran Seven Springs along with his wife, Sis, — eventually founded HDK Snowmakers, which today is one of the leading manufacturers of snowmaking technology in North America.

If the first thing you think when you hear the words Seven Springs Mountain Resort [800/452-2223, 7springs.com] is “snow,” followed quickly by “ski,” you’re right (and right again), but the family-friendly mountain destination has more to offer than just skiing and snowboarding, although there’s a lot of that, too.

Originally owned by Adolph Dupre — he commissioned Antarctic explorer Finn Ronne to develop ski slopes on his one-time farm — Seven Springs opened around 1935 in the lush Laurel Highlands. At the time, the resort was little more than a hill with a mechanical rope tow for skiers. Today, the multifaceted facility hosts more than 1 million overnight and day guests each year. It offers activities such as golf, mountain biking, hiking trails, snow tubing, clay shooting, zip-line courses and much more.

As much as some things have changed, however, Seven Springs above all remains a destination for those in search of fresh powder, a scenic atmosphere and the thrill of whipping down a mountain at full speed.

Trillium Spa

What to Do:

❄ For Couples: After hitting the slope with your significant other, hit up the resort’s Trillium Spa for a decadent après-ski couples massage. The spa’s Couples Suite features side-by-side hydrotherapy soaking tubs, a fireplace, in-room shower and massage tables. For sore muscles, try a Warm Stone Massage ($330 per couple for 80 minutes).

❄ For Families: The question here isn’t if there’s something to do, it’s what to do first. Besides skiing (the resort offers lessons for just about every age group) and snow tubing, Seven Springs has an indoor bowling alley, miniature golf, an arcade and a swimming pool. For skiers and snowboarders, there are seven parks and pipes that range from the kid-friendly Arctic Blast and Riglet Park to the rail-heavy The Streets. Cap off your day by raiding the buffets at the casual Slopeside Restaurant. Even your pickiest eater is guaranteed to find something to like there.

❄ For the Adventurous: Seven Springs has 33 slopes and trails, but if you want to face your fears at the top of a mountain — and you’re an expert skier — try the aptly named Goosebumps Slope, which is dedicated to mogul skiing and snowboarding. Think you’re the next Shaun White? Show off your moves at The Spot, which features the Superpipe, an Olympic-sized halfpipe.

❄ For the Indoor Set: We don’t blame you for not wanting to go out in the cold. Instead, warm up with a spicy bloody mary at the Alpine-inspired Bavarian Lounge while enjoying a fantastic view of the slopes. On weekend nights, the lounge features live acoustic sets. If you’re in the mood for craft beer, be sure to check out the recently opened Foggy Brews, where 50 beers from around the world are on tap at its 100-foot-long bar.

❄ For a Splurge: Pamper yourself with a manicure and pedicure at the Trillium Salon. If you’re really feeling indulgent, try a Golden Caviar Facial ($205) at Trillium Spa. For dudes, there’s the Gentlemen’s Vitality Facial ($115).

Where to Stay:

Most visitors probably are familiar with the Main Lodge Hotel at the nerve center of the resort, but there also are plenty of nearby condos and townhouses available to rent for a weekend. For families, check out the resort’s eight adorable private cottages. For larger groups, Seven Springs’ nine charming rental chalets — each with a stone fireplace — are a great choice.

Order a glass of wine from the award-winning list at Helen’s Restaurant. The farm’s original homestead, Helen’s specializes in rustic food made with local and organic ingredients. Don’t skip dessert; order the decadent crème brûlée.

What’s Nearby:

Along with Fallingwater [1491 Mill Run Road, Mill Run; fallingwater.org], two other Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpieces, Kentuck Knob [723 Kentuck Road, Chalk Hill; 724/329-1901, kentuckknob.com] and Duncan House [187 Evergreen Lane, Acme; 877/833-7829, polymathpark.com], are a short drive from Seven Springs. On non-snowy days, link up to the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage [888/282-2453, atatrail.org] system of hiking and biking trails.

Rebecca’s Bistro/photos by Chuck Beard

Holmes County

Drive time: 2½ hrs
Miles: 120
GPS: Millersburg, OH

Did you know? Holmes County contains the largest Amish community in Ohio and frequently dukes it out with Lancaster, Pa., for the distinction of housing the largest Amish community in the nation, according to the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau.

Heini’s Cheese Chalet


Cheese samplings. Wine tastings. Sleigh rides through the snow. Country shops and hearty country food. Looking for a relaxing, slow-paced weekend away? You don’t have to forgo electricity and modern conveniences to enjoy Ohio Amish country, but you will experience all of the luxuries of a simpler way of life. Welcome to Holmes County.

The Wallhouse Hotel


What to Do:

❄ For Couples: Spend a day indulging in good cheese and wine. First, stop at Heini’s Cheese Chalet [6005 County Road 77, Millersburg; 330/893-2131, heinis.com], where you can sample all of the varieties they make in-house. Next, head to Dover, Ohio, 15 miles down the road and stop at Breitenbach Wine Cellars [5934 Old Route 39 NW; 330/343-3603, breitenbachwine.com]. Keep in mind: Ohio law requires you to pay at least 25 cents per sample.

❄ For Families: Pretend you’re Willy Wonka for the day and get a glimpse of how the candy is made in the viewing gallery at Coblentz Chocolate Company [4917 State Route 515, Walnut Creek; 330/893-2995, coblentzchocolates.com]. The Farm at Walnut Creek [4147 County Road 114, Sugarcreek; 330/893-4200, thefarmatwalnutcreek.com] offers horse-drawn sleigh rides when snowfall measures three or more inches throughout the winter months (Monday-Saturday, reservation-only tours take off every hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). The tour stops and allows riders to feed the eclectic collection of animals — giraffes are usually the favorite — and ends with hot chocolate and cookies.

❄ For the Adventurous: Hike to Dundee Falls [Dundee-Wilmot Road, Dundee; tuskyvalleyohio.com/directory/entertainment-recreation/dundee-falls], part of the Beach City Wildlife Area, It’s a beautiful, frosty sight during the wintertime and a tougher (but manageable) trek when it’s icy than it is in the summer months.

❄ For the Indoor Set: Shopping opportunities are plentiful in Amish country. The Amish are known for their furniture-making skills; if you’re in the market, stop at Schrock’s Heritage Furniture [4760 E. Main St., Berlin; 330/893-2242, schrocksheritagefurniture.com]. For three floors of Christmas items, including decorated trees in all styles, collectibles and full rooms devoted to Santa and snowmen decorations, stop at Tis the Season Christmas Shoppe [4363 State Route 39, Millersburg; 330/893-3604, tistheseasonchristmas.com].

❄ For a Splurge: Stay at The Wallhouse Hotel [2870 Cove Lane, Walnut Creek; 330/852-6105, wallhousehotel.com], where you can enjoy the indoor saltwater pool and gas fire pits on the outdoor patio year-round. A special package includes services at nearby Rig & Co studio and spa [3205 State Route 39, Walnut Creek; 330/893-4902, rigandco.com].

Tis the Season


Where to Stay:

Visit the Oak Ridge Inn [4845 Township Road 403, Walnut Creek; 800/723-6300, oakridgeinn-walnutcreek.com], where each of the eight rooms is centered around a different wood theme with handcrafted furniture. The largest, the Oak Ridge Presidential Suite, features its own Jacuzzi and gas-log fireplace so that you can hide away on cold nights and enjoy the rolling, snow-covered hills outside your window. Manager Joseph Duarte calls the view at dusk in winter “better than a Thomas Kinkade painting.”



Where to Eat:

Start at the Der Dutchman [4967 Walnut St., Walnut Creek; 330/893-2981, dhgroup.com], featuring Amish cuisine served in buffet or sit-down style. Another option is Rebecca’s Bistro [4986 Walnut St., Walnut Creek; 330/893-2668, rebeccasbistro.com], built inside a former log cabin. The menu changes weekly, but the signature tomato basil soup always is available, and you can purchase a bottle of Rebecca’s herb dressing to go. The Chalet in the Valley [5060 State Route 557, Millersburg; 330/893-2550, chaletinthevalley.com] is known for its fondue and atmosphere — it resembles a Swiss chalet.

What’s Nearby:

It’s easy to celebrate the holiday season in Holmes County. Take the annual cookie tour hosted by local hotels [christmascookietour.com] on Dec. 12 and 13 or attend the production of “Christmas in the Country,” through Dec. 12, at the Amish Country Theater [3149 State Route 39, Walnut Creek; 888/988-7469, amishcountrytheater.com]. The show takes you through the origin of Amish Christmas traditions set to holiday music.

photos by Chuck Beard


Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

Drive time: 1½ hrs
Miles: 70
GPS: 1001 Lafayette Drive, Farmingto,n PA

Did you know? You don’t need to leave Fido out of your trip to Nemacolin. While you’re dining at Lautrec and lounging in the Cigar Bar, your pooch will be enjoying a luxury vacation at Nemacolin Wooflands Pet Care Center, with on-site (doggie) spa services available.

Those fortunate enough to have spent time at Nemacolin Woodlands [724/329-8555, nemacolin.com] — the sprawling resort in Farmington, Pa. — are familiar with the getaway’s draws. World-class dining, indulgent spa packages, competitive golf and upbeat nightlife options (including the Lady Luck Casino) lure repeat visitors to the destination in Fayette County.

Perhaps the rarest opportunity offered at Nemacolin, however, is available only in winter: The chance to ride through a snowy landscape behind the resort’s dogsled team. Two dozen Alaskan huskies take guests for a 30-minute ride across Nemacolin’s golf courses. To be fair, the dogs are still up for the task in the warmer months, via a wheeled cart, but how can you pretend you’re competing in the Iditarod under those conditions? In December, the resort’s holiday decor is its own attraction.

“We have 17 Christmas trees up,” says Julie King, Nemacolin’s advertising manager. “We have a lot of people who come just to take in the winter decorations.”

Throughout the winter, the Mystic Mountain ski area offers seven slopes and patient instruction for those learning the sport. Every February, Nemacolin’s Winterfest weekend (next scheduled for Feb. 6) brings a “party on the snow” bash, King says, to the Laurel Highlands. Of course, the best trip to Nemacolin may be one spent simply relaxing in luxury.

What to Do:

❄ For Couples: Opt to stay at Falling Rock, Nemacolin’s on-site boutique hotel, for a surprising array of romantic options (say, lavender-scented aromatherapy baths and a 10-option pillow menu). The two-night Couples’ Escape package costs $2,010 for a suite and comes with a $600 resort-wide credit that can be used for spa treatments or fine dining.

❄ For Families: Kids will have no shortage of entertainment at Nemacolin, from playful workouts in the Hardy Girls Gymnasium to nature education at the Wildlife Academy. Be sure to visit Nemacolin’s menagerie of animals, which includes a Bengal tiger and a group of very content-looking mountain goats.

❄ For the Adventurous: While Mystic Mountain is a great place to learn to ski, it also provides challenges for more seasoned athletes. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available as well, as is snowboarding at the Yeti’s Lair terrain park.

❄ For the Indoor Set: For $30 per person, sign up for a wine-tasting course at Nemacolin’s Académie du Vin. Each edition of the weekly tasting series spotlights a different region and its wines, offering samples and food pairings.

❄ For a Splurge: Reserve the chef’s table, with wine pairings, at Lautrec. The AAA Five-Diamond restaurant makes room just outside the kitchen for one party of up to eight guests each night; Chef Kristin Butterworth will discuss each course with your group. Reservations are required for this exclusive evening, which costs $360 per person (the same experience without wine pairings costs $250 per person).

Where to Stay:

Nemacolin offers accommodations at a variety of price points, ranging from $209 per night for a midweek stay in one of the guest rooms at the Lodge to prices in the thousands to rent full homes on the property.

photo by richard cook


Where to Eat:

In addition to signature restaurants Lautrec, Aqueous and Autumn, Nemacolin also houses a half-dozen casual dining options and as many bars and lounges.

What’s Nearby:

Add an outing to Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater or a winter’s hike through Ohiopyle State Park [dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/ohiopyle], both about a 20-minute drive from the resort.

photos courtesy hidden valley resort


Hidden Valley Resort

Drive time: 1½ hrs
Miles: 70
GPS: 1 Craighead Drive, Hidden Valley, PA

Did you know? New Year’s Eve isn’t just for kids at Hidden Valley. The resort holds a family-friendly countdown to the New Year in its Alpine Room that features balloon animals, face-painting and a disc jockey spinning tunes.

As is the nearby Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Hidden Valley Resort [814/443-8000, hiddenvalleyresort.com] in the Laurel Highlands is owned by The Nutting Co., which also owns the Pittsburgh Pirates. In another resemblance to Seven Springs — its former competitor — Hidden Valley is known as a family-friendly skiing destination.

Unlike the significantly larger Seven Springs, however, the smaller, more laid-back Hidden Valley stands out as a great place for kids and, ahem, adult novices to learn how to ski and snowboard. Included in Hidden Valley’s 26 slopes and trails are a large number of beginner slopes, plus two terrain parks.

In a state of decline before the Buncher Co. bought it in 2007, the resort underwent extensive renovations after the Nutting family took it over in 2013. Among the improvements: The old cafeteria has been replaced by the Sunrise Sunset Cafe, a food-service area offering a variety of items, and the Clock Tower restaurant has been renovated and its menu updated. The rental shop also has been upgraded, and roofs have been replaced on all major buildings.

“We’ve done a lot of sprucing up around the mountain,” says Katie Buchan, communications manager for both resorts.

What to Do:

❄ For Couples: Brides-to-be, take note! Romance, enhanced with efficiency, is alive and well at Hidden Valley. Besides offering scenic wedding-reception venues, including the large Alpine Room (with a maximum guest capacity of 250) and the more intimate Lakeside Room, which is — you guessed it — on a lake, the resort has a team of professionals tasked with making your wedding a success.

❄ For Families: Get your little ones or not-so-little ones (there’s no shame in being an adult learner) on the slopes with Hidden Valley’s “fun-based learning” Snowsports School. The resort overhauled its ski school last year to include shaped snow that naturally controls the new skiers’ speed and direction, placing the focus on “going” rather than stopping. “It’s fun,” Buchan says. “We’ve had a great response to it.”

❄ For the Adventurous: Sure, there are some expert-rated slopes at Hidden Valley, but it’s a big thrill to belly-flop onto a bagel-shaped inflatable snow tube and careen headfirst down one of the resort’s slippery chutes. Bonus: Every Thursday is Tube-a-Palooza night, which includes an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring pizza, hot dogs and hot chocolate.

❄ For the Indoor Set: Cozy up and take in a view of the mountain from the lodge’s go-to gathering spot for skiers, the slopeside-based Glaciers Pub. Just because you didn’t take a turn down the icy trails doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a beer and a giant warm Bavarian pretzel.

❄ For a Splurge: Head to the Trillium Spa at Hidden Valley for an indulgent warm stone pedicure ($80 for 80 minutes) followed by an Aromatic Moor Mud Wrap ($95) designed to soothe sore muscles and stimulate your body’s circulation.

Where to Stay:

For easy access to the slopes, book a room at The Inn at Hidden Valley, which offers a number of lodging packages. If you’re looking for a more rustic getaway, check out the secluded Hufman Lodge [1454 Laurel Hill Park Road, Somerset; 814/445-7725, dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/laurelhill] at nearby Laurel Hill State Park. Able to accommodate up to 14 guests, the five-bedroom lodge has a large private deck overlooking the park and the Laurel Mountains, perfect for watching the sunset.

Where to Eat:

Enjoy a family meal and a stunning view of the mountain at the resort’s revamped Clock Tower Restaurant. Or, go off the grid and venture to nearby Ligonier. The charming historic town is filled with locally owned specialty shops, inns and restaurants such as The Kitchen on Main [136 E. Main St.; 724/238-4199, thekitchenonmain.com].

What’s Nearby:

Bundle up for a trek to the 63-acre Laurel Hill Lake [1454 Laurel Hill Park Road, Somerset; 814/445-7725, dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/laurelhill], just a hop, skip and jump from Hidden Valley, for ice fishing. All 15 of Laurel Hill State Park’s hiking trails (which range from easy to more difficult) are open for snowshoeing in the winter months.

photos via flickr creative commons

State College

Drive time: 3 hrs
Miles: 140
GPS: 243 S. Allen St., State College, PA

Did you know? The Nittany Lion, Penn State’s mascot, is named for the eastern mountain lion, believed to have once inhabited Centre County and Mount Nittany. While many scientists believe the subspecies to be extinct, occasional reports of sightings suggest there may still be a few Nittany lions left in the wild.

photo via flickr creative commons


On a half-dozen Saturdays each year, more than 100,000 people travel to State College to watch the Penn State Nittany Lions compete inside massive Beaver Stadium, the third-largest stadium by capacity in the world. But visitors who confine themselves to the tailgate-and-game routine may miss out on much of what Penn State University and the charming town of State College have to offer.

On campus and off, visual and performing arts from students, faculty and touring artists fill Centre County with cultural opportunities. First-rate accommodations welcome those seeking relaxation, while a selection of dining options demonstrates there’s more to eat in town than Creamery Ice Cream. And while you may balk at the college bar scene in day-to-day life, if you’re on vacation, you’re never too old to throw back a few drinks at the All-American Rathskeller [108 S. Pugh St.; 814/237-3858, theskeller.com] or the Phyrst [111 E. Beaver Ave.; 814/238-1406, phyrst.com].

Even if you can’t get your hands on football tickets — or if you’d rather not face the challenging and costly task of trying to book a hotel room on a game weekend — you still can make it a sports fan’s trip by taking in Penn State Basketball at the Bryce Jordan Center [127 Bryce Jordan Center; 814/863-5500, bjc.psu.edu, gopsusports.com] and hockey at the new Pegula Ice Arena [250 University Drive; 814/865-4102, gopsusports.com].

photo via flickr creative commons


What to Do:

❄ For Couples: Make a reservation for the “Very Romantic Lion” package, which starts at $305 per night, at the Nittany Lion Inn [200 W. Park Ave.; 800/233-7505, nittanylioninn.psu.edu]. You’ll arrive to find chocolates and champagne in your room, enjoy a candlelit dinner in The Dining Room and wake up to breakfast service.

pegula ice arena/photo by chuck beard


❄ For Families: In addition to regularly selling out Penn State hockey games, the Pegula Ice Arena also serves as a community resource with ample opportunities for visitors to lace up a pair of skates. No experience or equipment is necessary; check the schedule for public skate times [gopsusports.com/pegula-ice-arena/schedule-events.html].

❄ For the Adventurous: Hiking Mount Nittany is a student tradition offering breathtaking views of Happy Valley — just prepare for some ice and keep an eye out for bears (which we’ve heard generally won’t bother you if you don’t bother them). For a slightly less taxing challenge, try snow tubing at nearby Tussey Mountain [301 Bear Meadow Road, Boalsburg, Pa.; 814/466-6266, tusseymountain.com].

state college theater/photo by chuck beard


❄ For the Indoor Set: Grab tickets for live music, theater, movies and more at the historic State Theatre [130 W. College Ave.; 814/272-0606, thestatetheatre.org]. Built as a movie theater in 1938, the State was converted into a multi-disciplinary performance space in 2006.

❄ For a Splurge: Select the “Ultimate Indulgence” package at the Carnegie Inn & Spa [100 Cricklewood Drive; 800/229-5033, carnegieinnandspa.com], which includes two nights’ deluxe accommodation, dinner for two and $250 worth of spa services.

Where to Stay:

Can’t book a room at the Nittany Lion Inn or Carnegie Inn & Spa? Try the 130-year-old Reynolds Mansion Bed and Breakfast in nearby Bellefonte [101 W. Linn St., Bellefonte, Pa.; 814/353-8407, reynoldsmansion.com].

otto’s pub and brewery/photo by chuck beard


Where to Eat:

Sample the hoppy creations at Otto’s Pub and Brewery [2235 N. Atherton St.; 814/867-6886, ottospubandbrewery.com] — and get some beer pretzels. Fans of Cajun cuisine should make a reservation at Spats Café and Speakeasy [142 E. College Ave.; 814/238-7010, spatscafe.com].

What’s Nearby:

Consider spending a night at the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park [201 Warbler Way, Howard, Pa.; 814/625-2879, natureinnatbaldeagle.com] and keep an eye out for the nesting pair of bald eagles nearby.

winter sports photos courtesy tucker county convention & visitors bureau; add’l photos by cindi lash

Tucker County

Drive time: 3 hrs
Miles: 150
GPS: 211 First St., Parsons, WV

Did you know? Hikers and bikers will enjoy exploring the ruins of old “beehive” coke ovens that line the rail trail between the towns of Thomas and Douglas, W.Va.

Canaan Valley Resort State Park


Studded with peaks that range in elevation from 3,200 to nearly 4,500 feet, Tucker County, West Virginia often refers to itself as the “Top of the Mountain State.” Its bowl-shaped Canaan Valley is the highest large valley east of the Mississippi River, and its combination of elevation and geography often result in snow on the ground from Thanksgiving to spring. For decades, heavy snowfalls have drawn skiers to Tucker County, where today they can choose from more than 79 slopes and trails, eight lifts and other popular resort options, but the area also is a year-round respite for visitors from western Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Wooded and pastoral, Tucker County teems with preserved wilderness in the sprawling Monongahela National Forest [200 Sycamore St, Elkins; 304/636-1800, www.fs.usda.gov/mnf] and state parks, as well as shops, dining and brewpubs, and a thriving arts scene in Davis and Thomas — unspoiled small towns a short hop from U.S. Route 219 and the county seat of Parsons. Timberline Four Seasons Resort [254 Four Seasons Drive, Davis; 304/866-4801, timberlineresort.com] and Canaan Valley Resort State Park [230 Main Lodge Road, Davis; 800/622-4121, canaanresort.com] boast some of the largest winter snowsports options in the eastern United States, and both continue to add new amenities, as does Blackwater Falls State Park [1584 Blackwater Lodge Road, Davis; 304/259-5216, blackwaterfalls.com].

The Purple Fiddle Cafe/photo by cindi lash

What to Do:

❄ For Couples: The Cooper House Bed & Cocktail [114 East Ave., Thomas; 304/851-4553, cooperhousebandc.com] offers four quirkily named guest rooms — all television- and child-free — with private baths and Wi-Fi in a charming, renovated house next door to The Purple Fiddle Cafe, Brews & Stage [96 East Ave., Thomas; 304/463-4040, purplefiddle.com], a regionally renowned venue for live music. Or reserve one of The Golden Anchor Cabins [18 Nautical Way, Dryfork; 304/866-2722, goldenanchorcabins.com] not far from the ski resorts, each with fireplace, hot tub and sweeping views of the Dolly Sods Wilderness, a unique ecosystem within the national forest.

❄ For Families: Timberline Four Seasons Resort and Canaan Valley Resort State Park are packed with options and offer packages to appeal to families with little ones. Jessica Scowcroft, executive director of the Tucker County Convention and Visitors Bureau, notes that parents also may consider renting one of many private homes or condos adjacent to or a short walk from the slopes. “That way, it’s easy to go in and out, get warm, get a nap or a bite to eat,” she says. Canaan Valley’s tubing hill and new beginning-skier area — complete with mechanized “magic-carpet” tow — are popular, and Blackwater Falls State Park offers an updated sledding hill with snow-making equipment and its own magic carpet, Scowcroft says.

❄ For the Adventurous: Outdoor recreation abounds, with downhill skiing available at Timberline and Canaan Valley and cross-country skiing at Canaan Valley, Blackwater Falls State Park and White Grass Ski Touring Center [643 Weiss Knob Ski Road, Davis; 304/866-4114, whitegrass.com]. Timberline boasts the 2-mile Salamander Run, the longest trail in the region, while Canaan Valley contains the longest (1,200 feet) tubing park in the mid-Atlantic states. While the national forest and state parks contain trails of varying difficulty, truly diehard backpackers will find a challenge by hiking or snowshoeing into the rugged Dolly Sods.

The White Room Art Gallery/photo by cindi lash


❄ For the Indoor Set: Browse for one-of-a-kind pieces in The White Room Art Gallery [14 East Ave., Thomas; 304/621-2008, thewhiteroomofthomas.com] or Buxton & Landstreet Gallery & Studios [571 Douglas Road, Thomas; 304/657-4572, facebook.com/buxtonlandscapegallerystudios] which exhibits work of local artisans in a converted coal company store. Then settle into a cozy chair to savor a latte — or a signature cocktail — in the TipTop coffee shop, bar and bakery [216 East Ave., Thomas; 304/463-4455, facebook.com/tiptopthomas].

❄ For a Splurge: Can’t book one of the in-demand rooms at The Cooper House Bed & Cocktail or a pretty, Victorian suite at The Meyer House Bed & Breakfast [287 Thomas Road, Davis; 304/259-5415, meyerhousebandb.com]? Realty companies that handle rentals of private homes and condos will help you to locate a lushly equipped spot to crash. Locals also suggest keeping an eye open for Rudolph’s restaurant, rumored to be opening soon in Thomas.

Where to Stay:

In addition to resorts and motels, private homes, cabins and condos may be rented. Lodgings at Canaan Valley Resort State Park, which recently completed a $34 million renovation project, range from 160 upgraded rooms with flat-screen TVs and refrigerators, to cabins, cottages and campsites. For local flavor, don’t miss the historic Bright Morning Inn [454 William Ave., Davis; 304/259-5119, brightmorninginn.com], with a piano in the front lounge, private baths, Wi-Fi and hearty breakfasts. Children and “well-behaved pets” are welcome, as are larger groups in the nearby Doc’s Guest House.

TipTop coffee shop, bar and bakery/photo by cindi lash


Where to Eat:

On weekends, it’s first-come, first-service for dinner options such as red pozole with chicken, beef bulgogi and rice, or green curry vegetables and shrimp in the cafe at White Grass Ski Touring Center; remember that it’s open only for lunch on weekdays. Sirianni’s Pizza Cafe [William Avenue, Davis; 304/259-5454, facebook.com/thesiriannispizzacafe/timeline], draws groups of all ages to the funky interior of what was once a steamship office. Try the chicken- and- portobello-laden Mike Goss pasta — named for the manager — and oh yes, the lemon-chess or strawberry-rhubarb pies are worth the calories.

What’s Nearby:

Mountain State Brewing [1 Nelson Blvd., Thomas; 304/463-4500, mountainstatebrewing.com] is the largest full-scale microbrewery and distributor in the state, with other outposts in Morgantown, W.Va. and Deep Creek Lake, Md. If you visit Blackwater Falls State Park, don’t leave without stopping at nearby Blackwater Brewing Company [912 William Ave., Davis; 304/259-4221, blackwaterbrewingwv.com], where owners Lincoln and Amanda Wilkins create small batches of prize-winning, European-style craft beer. Newest of the region’s three breweries is Stumptown Ales [390 William Ave., Davis; stumptownales.com], which opened earlier this year; its name is a homage to the county’s lumbering past. Hop-centric brews shine; for now it’s open Thursday-Saturday nights and on NFL Sundays.


But wait — there’s more. Next: four spots a bit farther away but just as fun. 

Feeling Ambitious?

Don’t mind driving a bit longer for a change of scene? Plan a cold-weather jaunt to one of these regional favorites.



Holiday Valley Resort

Drive Time: 3½ hrs
Miles: 205
GPS: 6557 Holiday Valley Road, Ellicottville, NY

Git Aht (of state). If you’re craving a change of snow scenery for your next ski or snowboard trip, make the trek north to Holiday Valley Resort [716/699-2345, holidayvalley.com] in Ellicottville, N.Y. Boasting 58 slopes, three lodges and one thrilling mountain coaster, Holiday Valley — consistently ranked among the East Coast’s top resorts — is spread over four distinct mountain faces. If the skiing doesn’t draw you in, the picturesque village of Ellicottville will. Although it’s only 1 square mile in size, the tiny town is packed with locally owned restaurants and bistros, specialty clothing and ski boutiques, and other charming shops. If you stop by the Ellicottville Brewing Co. [28 Monroe St.; 716/699-2537, ellicottvillebrewing.com] be sure to sample the Blueberry Wheat beer. Topped with (of course!) blueberries, it’s a local favorite. —JS

photos courtesy of HERSHEY PARK


Drive Time: 3½ hrs
Miles: 215
GPS: 100 West Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, PA

Hersheypark Christmas Candylane has been attracting visitors for decades, and if you think about it, what better time is there to visit a chocolate-themed amusement park [800/HERSHEY or 800/437-7439, hersheypark.com] than around the holidays? You can enjoy Hershey hot chocolate, ice skate, ride select rides (roller coasters are open this year for the first time), view live reindeer and see the holiday light show, NOEL. Admission to the park also includes admission to nearby ZooAmerica. Elsewhere, you can get a whiskey or chocolate facial at the Spa at The Hotel Hershey or embark on a liquid-chocolate testing session at the Hershey Story Museum. –LD


Kalahari Resorts & Conventions

Drive Time: 2½ hrs
Miles: 170 miles
GPS: 7000 Kalahari Drive, Sandusky, Ohio

Even though you’re in Ohio, and it may be snowing outside, it’s always 84 degrees and sunny inside America’s largest indoor waterpark. Kalahari Resorts & Conventions [888/707-7149, kalahariresorts.com/ohio] is an “all-under-one-roof” resort, so you never have to deal with fickle weather patterns during your visit. The waterpark includes a water rollercoaster, lazy river, swim-up bar and whirlpool spas, among other things. The Spa Kalahari & Salon and Spa Kalahari Jr. offer services for children and adults, and there are several on-site restaurants, including the Kalahari Pizza Pub. Leading up to Christmas, the resort is transformed into a “winter wonderland” and offers special holiday activities. –LD

photos courtesy of peek’n peak resort and spa


Peek’n Peak Resort & Spa

Drive Time: 2½ hrs
Miles: 145 miles
GPS: 1405 Olde Road, Clymer, NY

For 50 years, Peek’n Peak Resort & Spa [716/355-4141, pknpk.com] in western New York has drawn Pittsburghers who enjoy Alpine and cross-country skiing in winter, golf in summer and proximity to cultural (but seasonal) opportunities at the famed Chautauqua Institution [Route 394, Chautauqua; 716/357-6250, ciweb.org], the Lake Erie wine country and nearby mix of pretty Victorian, Amish and lakeside villages. Winter visitors to Peek’n Peak also may enjoy a new Boardercross course, snow-tubing or a soothing, apres-ski sojourn to the Serenity Spa by Aveda. Although winter brings a hiatus for arts and entertainment events at Chautauqua, you still can get a pop-culture fix by visiting the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum & Center for Comedy [2 W. Third St.; 716/484-0800, lucy-desi.com] in Lucy’s hometown of Jamestown, N.Y. –CL
Sean Collier, Richard Cook, Lauren Davidson, Cindi Lash and Jessica Sinichak are Pittsburgh Magazine editors. Freelance writer and former newspaper journalist Jeffrey Hileman has lived in Erie for more than 27 years and makes the most of all it offers, both day and night and in all seasons. He works in communications for Edinboro University.

Categories: From the Magazine, Hot Reads, Things To Do