What are the best things to see and do in the Laurel Highlands?

Stephanie Anderson Witmer

The Laurel Highlands is known for its gorgeous natural beauty, so it’s no surprise that most of the area’s must-sees and must-dos revolve around the outdoors. But the region has a lot of other attractions including one-of-a-kind architectural masterpieces and fabulous spas providing much-needed rest and relaxation for weary travelers. Here are the five best things to see and do in Laurel Highlands:
 
1. Fallingwater. Beloved American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater in the 1930s for his friend Edgar Kaufmann. Surrounded by forest, rock and running water, the property in Mill Run, Pa. has been called one of America’s greatest architectural triumphs for Wright’s ability to create a home that harmoniously unites the natural world with the man-made.  Each year, more than 100,000 guests visit Fallingwater, which contains original furnishings and artwork. Advance reservations and tickets are required, and the site is closed Wednesdays and during the months of January and February.
 
2. Kentuck Knob. Not far from Fallingwater is Frank Lloyd Wright’s other famous southwestern Pennsylvania architectural masterpiece: Kentuck Knob (aka Hagan House) in Chalk Hill. 1953. While Kentuck Knob, which was commissioned in 1953, is not as famous, it’s a must-see for lovers of art and architecture. It’s a fine example of Wright’s Usonian design; and many sculptures adorn the garden and surrounding woods. Advance reservations and tickets are required, and the site is closed Wednesdays and during the months of January and February.
 
3. Ohiopyle State Park. Ohiopyle State Park, one of eight in the Laurel Highlands, is famous for offering some of the best white-water boating on the East Coast. Test the waters of the mighty Yough (as the Youghiogheny River is known in these parts — and it's pronounced "yawk") by raft, canoe or kayak. Follow Meadow Run Trail to discover two natural waterslides. Ohiopyle also has nearly 80 miles of hiking trails, more than 50 miles of bike trails, and nearly 12 miles of horseback trails. In the winter, bundle up for cross-country skiing, sledding or snowmobiling. Visitors can camp in Ohiopyle by staying at a campground or renting a yurt or cottage. If you get hungry — or thirsty — refuel or unwind at one of the many cafes and bars nearby.
 
4. The spas at Nemacolin Woodlands and Seven Springs. The award-winning Woodlands Spa at Nemacolin Woodlands in Farmington, Pa., boasts rejuvenating services for individuals, couples and moms-to-be, including manicures, pedicures, massages, facials, scrubs, wraps and more. Nemacolin also has a Kidz Spa, where little ones can get mini- nail treatments, stylish new ’dos and more. Named for a rare flower, the Trillium Spa at Seven Springs Mountain Resort offers guests a chance to unwind with a menu of relaxing spa services, including luxurious caviar-collagen facials and milk-and-honey body wraps. 
 
5. The Great Allegheny Passage. There may be no better way to really see a place than from behind the handlebars of a bicycle, and the Laurel Highlands provides one of the nation’s best bike trails. Connecting Cumberland, Md., to Homestead, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) is 141 miles of a nearly flat trail. The GAP winds its way across fields and along streams, with stopover spots for food and lodging in quaint small towns such as Ohiopyle, Confluence, Rockwood, and Frostburg, Md., just below the Mason-Dixon Line.

  • On November 12, 2012
    Stephanie Anderson Witmer answered the question: Stephanie Anderson Witmer

    What are the best historic sites in the Laurel Highlands?

    The Laurel Highlands is as rich in its history as it is in its scenic beauty. Some of the historic sites date back to the pre-Revolutionary era, including Bushy Run Battlefield in Jeannette, Fort Ligonier in Ligonier and Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Farmington. The Johnstown Flood Museum in Johnstown houses artifacts and exhibits about the devastating 1889 flood. The Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville commemorates a much more recent tragedy: the crash of the hijacked commercial airliner on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • On November 12, 2012
    Stephanie Anderson Witmer answered the question: Stephanie Anderson Witmer

    What is the best thing to bring home from the Laurel Highlands?

    Besides great memories, gorgeous photographs and sore muscles, you’ll want to take home some antiques as souvenirs of your trip to the Laurel Highlands. The three-county region is composed of small towns, most of which have long histories — and many antique shops or country stores. One standout is Mill Shoppe Antiques on Main Street in Rockwood, where antique merchandise is displayed in a Victorian parlor, library and dining room. You’ll need to plan your visit to this shop — it’s only open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment on weekdays and evenings. Throughout the year, the region hosts antique shows and flea markets in Somerset, Greensburg, Ligonier and Johnstown.
  • On November 12, 2012
    Stephanie Anderson Witmer answered the question: Stephanie Anderson Witmer

    What are the best Laurel Highlands food experiences?

    Ranging from the ritzy to the rustic, the Laurel Highlands is diverse when it comes to its food and libations. Here are the five best food experiences in the Laurel Highlands:
     
    1. Homemade pies and pastries. If there’s one thing rural Pennsylvania does well, it’s down-home desserts. Indulge your sweet tooth with fruit and cream pies with the flakiest of crusts, ooey-gooey sticky buns and cinnamon rolls, decadent donuts, and autumnal spicy-sweet pumpkin rolls — all made from scratch. The Country Pie Shoppe, with locations in Donegal and Mt. Pleasant, is one of the best family-owned bakeries in the area. Don’t expect to find delicate French pastries here. The desserts here are down-home and hearty, just like Grandma used to make.
     
    2. Local wine. Pennsylvania’s largest industry is agriculture, and while the region isn’t exactly Napa Valley, viticulture is alive and well here. Follow the Southwest Passage Wine Trail to discover delightful family-owned, small-batch wineries. The trail includes seven regional wineries — Christian K. Klay, Glades Pike, Greendance, Greenhouse, Raspberry Acres, Thistlethwaite Vineyards and Walnut Hill. Enjoying gorgeous mountain views while sipping a glass of wine made from traditional grapes or even fruit. What could be better?
     
    3. Hungarian food at the Darlington Inn. If you’re looking for authentic exotic flavors, look no further than this Ligonier gem.  Since 1996, owner Elizabeth Kastal and her family have shared Hungarian-Transylvanian cuisine made from scratch with guests. Satisfying comfort food is what you can expect here, including savory crepes filled with chicken or spinach, stuffed cabbage, Hungarian meatloaf, pierogies, chicken paprikash and goulash.
     
    4. The Ultimate Tasting Menu at Lautrec. Lautrec in Nemacolin Woodlands Resort holds the distinction of being a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant. In order to truly experience what Lautrec has to offer, splurge on the Ultimate Tasting Menu. The menu of elegant, European-style cuisine by chef Earl Morse changes with the seasons, but recent dishes included local Pekin (aka Long Island) duck, Maine lobster cioppino and grass-fed beef Rossini style. (Prix-fixe dinner menus, vegetarian and vegan tasting menus, and wine-pairing service for all menus are also available.) We suggest you dress up, and expect to spend at least two hours dining. But with cuisine this good, you won’t be in a hurry to leave.
     
    5. Beer from All Saints Brewing Company. While Pittsburgh gets most of the beer accolades in these parts, the Laurel Highlands deserves some attention too.  All Saints, a craft brewery in Greensburg, makes a beer for every palate, including Crimson Halo (an amber ale), Voodoo’s Child (a dunkel), All Saints Barleywine, and the lovingly named Laurel Highlands Pale Ale. Try seasonal beers on tap in the brewery’s tasting room or take a growler to go.
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  • On November 12, 2012
    Stephanie Anderson Witmer answered the question: Stephanie Anderson Witmer

    Where is the best nightlife in the Laurel Highlands?

    Nearly every small town in the region is going to have its share of local taverns and watering holes, but more upscale cocktail bars and lounges can be found at the resorts, such as Nemacolin Woodlands and Seven Springs. The Mariettaville Tavern at the Ohiopyle House Café serves more than 60 varieties of beer; the large deck with gorgeous views makes a great place to enjoy them. Another great choice for a night out is the State Theatre Center for the Arts in Uniontown, which books theatrical events, as well as national musical and comedy acts year-round, from Fiddler on the Roof to Larry the Cable Guy.
  • On November 12, 2012
    Stephanie Anderson Witmer answered the question: Stephanie Anderson Witmer

    What is the best way to see the Laurel Highlands in one day?

    Because the Laurel Highlands spans three counties, it’s not possible to see every nook and cranny in one day. This is a region teeming with natural beauty — so it’s a place you’ll want to savor rather than race through. If you can’t stay for the weekend (or longer) to eat, shop and ski, then take a scenic drive along U.S. Route 40. Driving along the Pennsylvania corridor of this Historic National Road will at least allow you to enjoy some of the area’s breath-taking views. As the road takes you through the southwest corner of Pennsylvania, on to Maryland and into West Virginia, the road cuts through some of the Highlands’ historic small towns, including Hopwood, Uniontown, Brownsville and Washington.
  • On November 12, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to eat in the Laurel Highlands?

    Dining possibilities in the Laurel Highlands are as vast and varied as the region itself. Diners can find ultra-luxe options that offer a true dining experience, or they can find quick, casual bites that satisfy without slowing down a day of sightseeing, skiing or spa-going. Here are the five best places to eat in Laurel Highlands:
     
    1. Nemacolin Woodland Resort’s Dining Collection. When you dine Nemacolin, you’re going to eat well — very well. The resort boasts four fine-dining restaurants — Aqueous, Sunset Terrace, Autumn and Lautrec — as well as four casual eateries and four seasonal spots. And there are five other onsite bars and lounges. Oenophiles can even get a tasty education with weekly wine tastings at Nemacolin’s own Académie du Vin. Whether it’s house-made granola or fresh carrot-ginger juice at the Elements Café, Wagyu skirt steak at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant Aqueous, or local farm-to-table fare at Autumn, there’s something for everyone — high-end, casual, vegan, gluten-free, healthy, decadent and everything in between.
     
    2. The Supper Club. To truly experience a place, you have to taste it, and the Supper Club provides  just that experience of the Laurel Highlands. Housed within the Greensburg, Pa., train station — a National Register of Historic Places landmark — the Supper Club focuses on comfortable elegance and a true farm-to-fork dining experience. The Supper Club gathers fresh, seasonal ingredients from more than 24 local farmers, foragers and producers. (A list of the restaurant’s farms and producers can be found on its website.) Reserve seats in the kitchen at the special chef’s table to enjoy a nine-course tasting meal with wine pairings.
     
    3. Sugar & Cream. Sometimes a freshly baked scone or cupcake and a cup of coffee before or after a day of sightseeing are exactly what you want to hit the spot. The new establishment located in the historic Greensburg train station offers pizzas, sandwiches, freshly baked pastries, and handmade sorbets and gelato in a slew of favorite and seasonal flavors.
     
    4. Out of the Fire Café. Donegal, Pa., is about as small-town as you can get, but the Out of the Fire Café certainly doesn’t feel that way. Many entrées are cooked on the restaurant’s hardwood smoking grill. The wild Columbia River smoked salmon and braised short rib and grilled quail are favorites. The restaurant is BYOB, so don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine or your favorite beer on your way.
     
    5. Tree Tops Restaurant. Situated in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Polymath Park Resort, it’s no surprise that Tree Tops and its menu are focused on fresh and organic ingredients. The architect designed homes, including Duncan House on the property and nearby Fallingwater that were in harmony with their natural surroundings. Tree Tops shares this same philosophy both in the design of its menu and the design of the restaurant itself. Specialties at this Acme restaurant include locally-caught trout, steaks and seafood.
  • On November 12, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to stay in the Laurel Highlands?

    The Laurel Highlands is a popular vacation destination, so there’s no shortage of places to stay. The area is known for its mountain resorts, which offer breathtaking and tranquil vistas,  as well as historical country inns and bed-and-breakfasts if you’re looking for something a bit more cozy and quaint. Here are the five best places to stay in the Laurel Highlands:
     
    1. Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. This is  the place to stay if you’re looking for luxury. The Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star rated property sprawls over 2,000 wooded acres in Farmington, Pa., and is both kid- and pet-friendly. The amenities include 36 holes of golf, a spa, 14 specialty boutiques, a dozen restaurants and lounges and a ski area — plus an art gallery, a wildlife preserve, field and equestrian clubs and an outdoor-adventure center. Guests have multiple lodging options ranging from grand European-style hotel rooms to entire upscale rental homes. Dogs also enjoy the good life at Nemacolin, which earned a Pet Proud® certification for its pet-friendly menus and swimming pools, as well as on-site grooming and veterinary facilities.
     
    2. Polymath Park Resort. If tours of Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob leave you wishing you could spend a night a Frank Lloyd Wright–designed home, then book a stay at Polymath Park Resort in Acme, Pa.  The resort includes four rental homes, one of which — the Duncan House — was designed and built by Wright himself in 1957. Wright’s apprentices built the other three Usonian-style homes on the premises — Blum House, Balter House and John Rattenbury’s Dream House. Children must be older than 6 to stay in the Duncan, Balter and Blum houses, due to the historical architecture.  
     
    3. Stone House Inn. Not far from Ohiopyle State Park, the Stone House Inn has been offering lodging to travelers for much of our nation’s history. Visitors arrive at the Farmington inn via automobile instead of covered wagon nowadays, but the property’s 19th-century charm hasn’t dwindled. Guests can choose from 12 B&B–style rooms at the inn or stay at one of several off-site cottages and cabins in the Ohiopyle area. Happy hour at the inn’s tavern attracts lots of locals, and the Stone House Restaurant is popular with visitors and regulars alike. Even your dog can enjoy the pooch-friendly porch.
     
    4. Summit Inn Resort. Just a hop and a skip from the Laurel Highlands’ most popular attractions, the historic Summit Inn Resort in Farmington is on the National Road. From its great porch, the arts-and-crafts hotel perched atop Summit Mountain offers a panoramic view of five counties. Guests can warm themselves by the massive stone fireplace while resting on original Stickley furniture. Historical documents and photographs adorn the walls, along with a Bavarian cuckoo clock. Over the years, the 94-room hotel has entertained a slew of famous guests, including Henry Ford and Presidents Harding and Truman. The resort is open from April through November.
     
    5. Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Although it’s mostly known as a place to ski, Seven Springs offers a great getaway for families, couples or friends any time of year. The large hotel houses 414 guest rooms and suites. If guests want to spread out, they can rent a condominium, townhouse, cottage or chalet for up to 20 people. Seven Springs is close to the major Laurel Highlands attractions, but there’s no shortage of things to do at the resort itself, from shopping and relaxing in the spa to fly-fishing and ziplining — and, of course — hitting the slopes in the winter.
  • On November 12, 2012
    Stephanie Anderson Witmer answered the question: Stephanie Anderson Witmer

    Where is the best shopping in the Laurel Highlands?

    Laurel Highlands is not exactly a shopping mecca. If big-city boutique shopping is what you’re looking for, make the relatively short trip  to Pittsburgh, particularly to the high-end shops in the Shadyside neighborhood. But before you go, first check out Main Street in Ligonier, Pa., a town that’s so quaint and picturesque, it looks like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. Check out the home accents and accessories at Amica, classic and collectible toys and kites at The Toy Box, and contemporary pottery, hand-blown glass, jewelry and art for the home and garden made by American artisans at Main Exhibit Gallery.
  • On November 12, 2012
    Stephanie Anderson Witmer answered the question: Stephanie Anderson Witmer

    What are the best things to do with kids in the Laurel Highlands?

    The Laurel Highlands is about as kid-friendly as you can get, with tons of adventures and activities both indoors and out that are perfect for children of all ages. From amusement parks to art museums, we found plenty to please even the most persnickety of pipsqueaks. Here are the five best things to do with kids in Laurel Highlands:
     
    1. Play at Idlewild Park & SoakZone. Idlewild Park in Ligonier is an award-winning park that has been a family favorite since its creation in 1878. Explore the Story Book Forest to meet Mother Goose and see favorite nursery rhymes and fairy tales come to life or take a trolley ride through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The Raccoon Lagoon is a 19-acre area filled with rides made just for the park’s littlest guests, and the Jumpin’ Jungle is am interactive play area with a climbing net, swinging bridge and three-story tree house. In warm months, cool off in the wave pools and water slides of SoakZone, the companion water park.
     
    2. Visit Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. While Nemacolin certainly is a great place for grown-ups to get away, it’s jam-packed with fun stuff for kids, too, making it a great destination for the entire family. The Adventure Center features a climbing wall, zip lines, mini-golf, ropes courses and paddleboats. The Wildlife Academy is home to animals like lions, a tiger and bears. Safari tours and train rides are available, as are trail rides on horseback and year-round sled rides pulled by a team of sled dogs. Indoors you’ll find a pool, arcade games and a bowling alley.
     
    3. Explore Laurel Caverns. Take kids off the beaten path at Laurel Caverns, Pennsylvania’s largest natural cave, in Farmington. The entrance to the caverns was created by a sinkhole dating back to the 1700s, and it’s now a popular destination for tourists, school field trips, scouting groups, spelunkers and rappellers. Guests can pan for gemstones or play mini-golf in the underground 18-hole course. As Laurel Caverns is also the state’s largest natural bat hibernacum, it’s closed from November to April, during the hibernation season. (If the idea of a real-life bat cave makes you a little squeamish, never fear: The caverns are virtually bat-free May through October.) Hiking-appropriate footwear and sweaters or jackets are recommended, as the temperature is roughly 52ºF year-round. 
     
    4. Tour Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Located in downtown Greensburg, Pa., the Westmoreland Museum of American Art is an ideal place to introduce kids to art and maybe inspire their own creativity. Plus, the peacefulness of a museum can be a welcome respite in a vacation otherwise filled with constant activity. The museum features art from famed American artists such as Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Louis Comfort Tiffany and James McNeill Whistler. Kids can explore art in the hands-on, interactive KidSpace, create a free art project on Sundays between noon and 3 p.m., or strap on a free Family Backpack full of games and activities.
     
    5. Go play outside! Since the Laurel Highlands region is home to eight state parks and two state forests, comprising more than 120,000 acres of natural beauty, there’s no shortage of good, old-fashioned outdoor fun in these parts. Kids will have so much fun hiking, biking, skiing, swimming, fishing and exploring that they’ll forget all about playing video games and texting their friends — at least for a few hours. The area is also home to three skiing and snowboarding spots: Hidden Valley Resort, Mystic Mountain at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Don’t know where to start? The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provides extensive travel information on its website.
  • On November 12, 2012
    Stephanie Anderson Witmer answered the question: Stephanie Anderson Witmer

    What are the best things to see and do in the Laurel Highlands?

    The Laurel Highlands is known for its gorgeous natural beauty, so it’s no surprise that most of the area’s must-sees and must-dos revolve around the outdoors. But the region has a lot of other attractions including one-of-a-kind architectural masterpieces and fabulous spas providing much-needed rest and relaxation for weary travelers. Here are the five best things to see and do in Laurel Highlands:
     
    1. Fallingwater. Beloved American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater in the 1930s for his friend Edgar Kaufmann. Surrounded by forest, rock and running water, the property in Mill Run, Pa. has been called one of America’s greatest architectural triumphs for Wright’s ability to create a home that harmoniously unites the natural world with the man-made.  Each year, more than 100,000 guests visit Fallingwater, which contains original furnishings and artwork. Advance reservations and tickets are required, and the site is closed Wednesdays and during the months of January and February.
     
    2. Kentuck Knob. Not far from Fallingwater is Frank Lloyd Wright’s other famous southwestern Pennsylvania architectural masterpiece: Kentuck Knob (aka Hagan House) in Chalk Hill. 1953. While Kentuck Knob, which was commissioned in 1953, is not as famous, it’s a must-see for lovers of art and architecture. It’s a fine example of Wright’s Usonian design; and many sculptures adorn the garden and surrounding woods. Advance reservations and tickets are required, and the site is closed Wednesdays and during the months of January and February.
     
    3. Ohiopyle State Park. Ohiopyle State Park, one of eight in the Laurel Highlands, is famous for offering some of the best white-water boating on the East Coast. Test the waters of the mighty Yough (as the Youghiogheny River is known in these parts — and it's pronounced "yawk") by raft, canoe or kayak. Follow Meadow Run Trail to discover two natural waterslides. Ohiopyle also has nearly 80 miles of hiking trails, more than 50 miles of bike trails, and nearly 12 miles of horseback trails. In the winter, bundle up for cross-country skiing, sledding or snowmobiling. Visitors can camp in Ohiopyle by staying at a campground or renting a yurt or cottage. If you get hungry — or thirsty — refuel or unwind at one of the many cafes and bars nearby.
     
    4. The spas at Nemacolin Woodlands and Seven Springs. The award-winning Woodlands Spa at Nemacolin Woodlands in Farmington, Pa., boasts rejuvenating services for individuals, couples and moms-to-be, including manicures, pedicures, massages, facials, scrubs, wraps and more. Nemacolin also has a Kidz Spa, where little ones can get mini- nail treatments, stylish new ’dos and more. Named for a rare flower, the Trillium Spa at Seven Springs Mountain Resort offers guests a chance to unwind with a menu of relaxing spa services, including luxurious caviar-collagen facials and milk-and-honey body wraps. 
     
    5. The Great Allegheny Passage. There may be no better way to really see a place than from behind the handlebars of a bicycle, and the Laurel Highlands provides one of the nation’s best bike trails. Connecting Cumberland, Md., to Homestead, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) is 141 miles of a nearly flat trail. The GAP winds its way across fields and along streams, with stopover spots for food and lodging in quaint small towns such as Ohiopyle, Confluence, Rockwood, and Frostburg, Md., just below the Mason-Dixon Line.