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101 cool things to do in and around Lancaster County: Roots, wolves, Mount Gretna, Shady Maple and more

  • 18 min to read

On May 10, 1729, Pennsylvania's fourth county, Lancaster, was officially incorporated. In the 290 years since then, the county has gone through many changes, but one constant remains - Lancaster is a place worth celebrating. Whether you're a lifelong resident or a newcomer, there's always something new to discover in Lancaster County. Here are 101 ways to get started.

- Meet the Speedwell wolves on a tour of the Wolf Sanctuary of PA, an 80-acre natural refuge north of Lititz. Guided tours include stops to see some of the packs and hear their stories, as well as learn about wolf biology and conservation.

- Treat your taste buds to raspberry soft-serve ice cream from the House of Pizza in Willow Street. This seasonal favorite has a fan club all its own.

 -Cheer on your favorite hometown heroes at a firemen’s tug-of-war competition. The granddaddy of them all takes place at the New Holland Farmers Fair, where local firefighters have been digging in their boot heels every fall for more than 50 years.

- Browse the shops in Lititz – where you’ll find everything from fashions, furniture and antiques to specialty stores offering gourmet foods, coffees and teas, candy, vintage clothing, fiber arts and more. Then take a moment to relax and feed the ducks at Lititz Springs Park.

- Pedal your way through the county’s scenic farmland and covered bridges during the Lancaster Bicycle Club’s Lancaster Covered Bridge Classic held every August. Choose routes ranging from 16 to 100 miles, with proceeds benefiting covered bridge restoration and bike-related initiatives.

- Get a bird’s eye view of Lancaster County on a hot air balloon ride. The United States Hot Air Balloon Team offers daily rides launching from Bird-in-Hand and a balloon fest in early September.

- Sample multicultural cuisine at a variety of downtown restaurants during a Taste the World walking tour, held the second Friday of the month from May to October. The self-guided tour features a different theme each month.

- Wind your way through a corn maze in the fall and take a hayride to pick pumpkins at several county farms, including Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Ronks, Oregon Dairy in Lititz and The Country Barn in Lancaster.

- See a show at the Fulton Theatre, Lancaster’s own regional theater, a National Historic Landmark and the oldest continuously operating theater in the United States.

- Take in an aria without leaving the area. Opera Lancaster has been presenting productions featuring local, regional and national performers since 1952.

- Watch a demonstration of letterpress printing in early 20th-century America at the Heritage Press Museum in downtown Lancaster.

- Relieve the winter doldrums in February with a trip to the Lititz Fire & Ice Festival, where you can stroll a winter wonderland of ice sculptures outside and sample entries in the chili cook-off inside.

- Pet some dogs and watch them play at Beau’s Dream Dog Park at Buchanan Park, at the corner of Race and Buchanan avenues and next to Franklin & Marshall College.

- Let the good times roll while skating to your favorite tunes at Castle Roller Rink.

- Take a picnic and check out the view high above the Susquehanna River, at the Chickies Rock County Park overlook in Columbia.

- Pick some fresh fruit at one the county’s orchards. Call ahead because many orchards offer a phone message letting you know what’s in season.

- Make some time to visit North America’s largest collection of watches, clocks and timekeeping instruments at Columbia’s National Watch and Clock Museum.

- Do some scenic shopping during October’s Bridge Bust arts, crafts and food event on the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge spanning the Susquehanna River from Columbia to Wrightsville.

- Visit the nation’s first pretzel bakery, right here in Lancaster County. In 1861, Julius Sturgis purchased the 18-century stone building on East Main Street in Lititz (and presumably some dough). Today, in that same building, people are still twisting dough into that familiar shape. The Sturgis Pretzel House is a delicious piece of history where you can tour the building and roll your own pretzel.

- Spend a day at Roots Market in Manheim and Green Dragon in Ephrata. If you can’t find it at one of these markets, there’s a good chance it doesn’t exist. From cheeses and crafts to computer games and collectibles, the local farmers markets and auctions literally have something for everyone.

- Stuff your face at Shady Maple Smorgasbord’s 200-foot buffet in East Earl. Visit on your birthday and eat for free. Hint: Wear an elastic waistband.

- Attend one of the county’s 20-plus mud sales, so named because of the condition of the ground during the spring thaw. These fire company benefit sales offer everything from furniture and quilts to antiques and tools. There’s plenty of homemade food, too. Hint: Wear boots.

- Enjoy a sunny summer afternoon in Mount Gretna, strolling the tree-lined streets of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua and its charming Victorian cottages or relaxing at the nearby lake and beach. Top it off with a sundae at the Jigger Shop.

- See a movie at Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse, a downtown Lancaster venue showing independent, foreign and documentary films. Hint: Arrive early to secure one of the comfy couches.

- Wander downtown Lancaster on a Music Friday, held the third Friday of every month, when shops and restaurants extend their hours and host live music.

- Take in a show for children or grownups at the Lancaster Marionette Theater, where owner and puppeteer Robert Brock pulls all the strings – from creating the marionettes to writing and performing. Afterward, visit the John Durang Puppet Museum, named for the 18th-century Lancaster native who was considered the first American-born actor.

- Attend the Manheim Farm Show parade in October, a roughly hour-long procession of trucks, tractors, marching bands, youth sports teams, organizations, EMS and more. Visit the food court beforehand or afterward for just-made treats, including French fries and funnel cakes.

- Shop Lancaster Central Market, the oldest continuously running public farmers market in the country. More than 60 vendors offer local produce, locally sourced meat, poultry and more.

- Grab a picnic basket and a blanket and enjoy a meal on the grounds of a local vineyard, such as Nissley Vineyards in Bainbridge or The Vineyard at Grandview in Mount Joy. Hint: Add a bottle of wine.

- Immerse yourself in the long-ago days of merry olde England at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, complete with jousting knights, kings and queens, and a colorful array of villagers, from magicians to mud beggars. Hint: Satisfy your appetite with a giant turkey leg.

- Stop and smell the flowers at Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve, along the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River in Conestoga. The 84-acre preserve has over 100 spring wildflower species and 50 species of birds, along with fox, deer and eastern box turtles.

- Have a pint in a true English-style pub experience without having to cross the pond. Bulls Head Public House in Lititz recently added the “best beer bar in the country” by a 2018 USA Today reader’s choice poll to a growing list of accolades. Make it a proper pint and order a cask-conditioned Bull Head Mild.

- Travel back in time to the North Museum in Lancaster and see fossils and bones of ancient animals such as the reptilian predator known as Rutiodon that ruled over the tropical, swampy environment 215 million years ago that would later become Lancaster County.

- Watch the mud fly during some high-octane competition at Buck Motorsports Park south of Lancaster, where you’ll find tractor pulls, monster truck showdowns, demolition derbies and more every weekend, April through September.

- Paddle down the scenic Conestoga River in a canoe or kayak. The Class I river runs for 60 miles and empties into the Susquehanna.

- Grab a tube at Sickman’s Mill and take a relaxing 2-mile float down the Pequea Creek. While you’re there, tour the 19th-century flour and grist roller mill.

- Enjoy a heaping helping of chicken pot pie, Lancaster County’s classic comfort food, and help a good cause at the same time. Fire companies in Bird-in-Hand, Leola, Gap and East Petersburg hold fundraising dinners every year.

- Take a relaxing walk in a hidden gem located just outside of Lancaster. The Tanger Arboretum features a large variety of plant life including a dwarf conifer garden. It’s open seven days a week from dawn to dusk – and it’s free to tour.

- Tour Wheatland – the 22-acre Federal-style mansion where James Buchanan – the 15th president of the United States – lived for two decades.

- Join the Lancaster Liederkranz – Lancaster’s German cultural club – for some traditional German songs, dances and culinary delights. Prost!

- Celebrate Latin American culture with the Latin American Alliance’s Festival Latinoamericano – which takes place every September in Long’s Park. Dance away all the delicious calories from the Latin dishes you’re sure eat to the sounds of merengue, salsa and bachata.

- Attend one of the free Sunday outdoor concerts held June through August at Long's Park. The summer series has been hosting top musical acts for more than a half-century.

- Discover your inner ninja warrior on the indoor obstacle courses at recRoc in Lititz and Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim. These venues also offer bouldering and/or rock climbing opportunities for beginner and advanced climbers.

- Buy vegetables, pumpkins, pies or other baked goods at a roadside stand. For Lancaster's five favorites, as selected in a recent poll, see bit.ly/favoritestands – and don’t forget to check the comments, where readers shared more favorites.

- Head downtown to Penn Square on the Friday after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season with the Mayor's Tree Lighting and Tuba Christmas. Cap off the evening by visiting Santa.

- Tickle the ivories during the summer months on one of the public pianos set up at 12 outdoor locations around Lancaster city as part of Music for Everyone’s Keys for the City program. You can play a tune year-round on a 13th public piano, located indoors at Park City Center.

- Check out the schedules of events at Lancaster County’s colleges and universities. Many of the arts and cultural offerings are free and open to the public.

- Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Whoopie Pie Festival at Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn in Strasburg. Eat your fill of the Lancaster County treat and then some at a whoopie pie eating contest, go on a whoopie pie treasure hunt, play whoopie pie checkers or create your own whoopie pie. It’s enough to make you yell, “Whooooopie!”

- Take yourself out to a ballgame at Clipper Magazine Stadium, home of the Barnstormers, Lancaster’s very own professional Atlantic League baseball team.

- Join the Lancaster County Bird Club and help to observe birds in the area’s many diverse habitats and preserve native bird life.

- Grab a plate and head over to the Sertoma Chicken Barbecue – the world’s largest chicken barbecue (certified by the Guinness World Book of Records) – which takes place at Long’s Park on the third Saturday of May.

- Donate to a community benefit organization at the Extraordinary Give – Lancaster County’s 24-hour day of giving – which takes place in November. Since its inception six years ago, the people of Lancaster have raised more than $31 million for worthy local causes.

- Explore the river town of Marietta during Marietta Day. The annual late-spring festival features street food, locally-made arts and crafts, games and live music.

- Find funky collectibles and retro clothing at one of the many vintage shops on the 300 block of North Queen Street in Lancaster.

- Scream for ice cream and enjoy a farm-to-cone treat at one of these county spots:

Fox Meadows Creamery, Ephrata: Choose from 24 flavors made on site with milk from the family’s dairy farm. Stop at the right time and you can watch it being made.

The Milkhouse at Oregon Dairy, Lititz: Try one of their 25 hand-dipped flavors, then visit the deer, goats and Patches the pig.

Lapp Valley Farm, New Holland: Butterfat from their Jersey cows makes this small-batch ice cream possible. After your treat, view the cows and pet the calves.

Pine View Dairy, Lancaster: Pick up some homemade ice cream and farm-fresh milk, and pet the calves.

Fox Meadows, Oregon Dairy and Lapp Valley Farm are also stops on the new Pennsylvania Ice Cream Trail. Hint: Download a passport at visitpa.com/scoops and visit six stops by Oct. 31 to get a free T-shirt.

- Get your pop-country music fix at I-105 Turkey Hill Fallfest. For one day in October, the Overlook Community Campus becomes a country music fan’s paradise. Fallfest features a full slate of national and local bands and musicians, cold beer, hot food and a family-fun vibe.

- Celebrate flight at Community Days, the free biennial air show that takes off at Lancaster Airport. The event features a variety of aircraft on display and available for rides, a parade of planes, food and more. The next show is scheduled to arrive in 2019.

- Taste a Wilbur Bud. From the 1930s until 2016, the sweet smell of Wilbur Buds produced at the Wilbur Chocolate Co. factory would infuse the air of Lititz. The factory has shut down, but Wilbur Buds are still for sale at the retail store across the street from the factory building and they’re as good as ever.

- Ride a rail trail. Lancaster city is becoming more and more bike-friendly, but nothing beats a ride on one of the counties many rail trails. The area’s rich ties to the railroad industry might be history, but the old trails are still being put to good use. Some to trails to check out include the Lititz/Warwick Trailway, Northwest Lancaster County River Trail and Conewago Recreational Trail.

- Learn and have fun at the same time. The Lancaster Science Factory is an interactive learning center housed in a reclaimed factory building featuring classes, exhibits and workstations where children can experiment and learn about science, technology, engineering and math – and be excited about it!

- Sample some pepper jam and shoofly pie at Kitchen Kettle Village. What started as a simple family jelly business has expanded into a village-sized shopping experience located in Intercourse featuring more than 40 shops, lodging, restaurants and special seasonal events.

- Gain an appreciation for how work was done back in the day by attending the Thresherman’s Reunion on the grounds of the Rough & Tumble Engineers Association in Kinzers. The annual event features old-fashioned steam traction engines and hit-and-miss gas engines, antique tractors, an operating sawmill, a working blacksmith shop and more.

- Discover the history of northeastern Lancaster County with a visit to the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley’s Theodore Sprecher Museum. Housed in the Connell Mansion, a Victorian home built in 1869 on the corner of Oak and Main streets in Ephrata, the museum includes three floors of displays and period rooms, all free and open to the public.

- Sink your teeth into a sweet and juicy home-grown tomato sandwich at the annual Washington Boro Tomato Festival held in Pennsylvania’s unofficial tomato capital: Washington Boro. Enjoy chicken corn soup, live music and family activities, too. Hint: Grab lots of napkins.

- Tour the stone house just south of Quarryville that is the birthplace of famed inventor and Lancaster County native Robert Fulton.

- Pay respects to Lancaster native Gen. John Reynolds – the highest ranking officer to die at Gettysburg – buried in Lancaster Cemetery.

- Stroll Gallery Row, the hub of Lancaster’s flourishing art scene and what many view as the catalyst for the downtown’s revival. The stretch of art galleries spans the first and second blocks of North Prince Street. Extra points if you visit during a First Friday celebration.

- Run the Stoudts Brewing Distance Classic, an October 12k directed by the Lancaster Road Runners Club and sponsored by Stoudts Brewing Company. Finishers get a pint glass, a loaf of fresh-baked bread and a free beer. Hint: Tuck some beer money into your running shoes in case you’re extra thirsty after the race.

- Explore the Susquehanna River by paddleboard or kayak. Rentals from Shank’s Mare Outfitters are always a good option.

- Try a toasted cheeseburger at the Ephrata Fair, billed as Pennsylvania’s biggest street fair. It’s an Ephrata Fair tradition.

- With Lancaster County’s reputation for high-quality produce, it’s no surprise that celebrity chef and “Good Eats” host Alton Brown discovered the “world’s best salad” right here in the city. Go to LUCA and taste one for yourself.

- Take the ultimate fitness test and enjoy the scenery along the way with the KTA Trails Challenge, a daunting 50K that takes trail runners and hikers through the steep hills, rocky terrain and deep ravines of the Conestoga Trail, state park trails and the Mason-Dixon Trail System.

- Chug into Strasburg for a day devoted to trains big and small. The historic Strasburg Rail Road, founded in 1832, was initially used to freight hauling and transportation. These days it’s best known for family fun. Take your children to see Thomas the Tank Engine when he pulls into the station or experience a murder mystery aboard the train. Also in Strasburg, The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania offers a collection of more than 100 historic locomotives and railroad cars. On a smaller scale, see your favorite trains in toy form dating back to the mid-1800s at the National Toy Train Museum. Or check out the 1,700-square-foot miniature model train layout at The Choo Choo Barn. Hint: Be sure to pick up the free scavenger hunt sheet at the desk.

- Have a scary good time at haunted attractions such as Jason’s Woods and Field of Screams. (Halloween seems to last for nearly two month in Lancaster.)

- Channel Tarzan and Jane on a canopy ziplining tour at Refreshing Mountain in Stevens, where you’ll also find sky bridges, ropes courses, climbing towers and other outdoor adventure challenges.

- Belly up to a table at the Town Hall Restaurant in Blue Ball for a bowl of their famous oyster stew. A mainstay in the town for more than 50 years, the restaurant is much the same as it was back in the day. They still have a milkshake counter and only take cash. The Town Hall is a favorite with locals, but people come from all over just to try the stew, which is made from scratch and then poured in the bowl right at your table.