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11 Top-Rated Small Towns in Pennsylvania

Written by Anietra Hamper
Jun 13, 2019

There are so many exciting ways to explore Pennsylvania, from the outdoors to museums to quiet drives through the mountains, and tucked in-between are small towns that are worthy of visiting. There's no doubt that Pennsylvania's big cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Allentown have visitor appeal, but planning a trip around the small towns in the Keystone State will give you a whole new perspective.

Your small-town visit through the Alleghenies or rolling with the windows down on the Dutch Country roads will give you a different kind of experience than what you might know about Pennsylvania. Find out more with our list of the best small towns in Pennsylvania.

1. Johnstown

Fall colors in Johnstown

Situated among the Allegheny region in Pennsylvania is the quaint town of Johnstown. Most people have probably heard of it because of the tragic flood that happened as a result of a bursting dam in 1889. Your visit to the town should include a stop at the Johnstown Flood Museum, which tells the stories of how the area was transformed after 20 million tons of water destroyed this steel town. The Heritage Discovery Center is another must-visit attraction that sheds light on the town's immigrant communities and the iron and steel industries in the area.

Johnstown has a strong arts scene, so you will enjoy visiting the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, one of five such galleries in southwestern Pennsylvania. You can also catch a performance by the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra or plan your trip around the nationally recognized Folk Festival, which draws all ethnicities to the region each year. If you want to add a quirky stop to your itinerary, you can say that you visited the Johnstown Inclined Plane, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world," built in 1891.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Johnstown

2. Lititz

Erb's Mill covered bridge, Lititz

You may have never heard of Lititz, Pennsylvania but you have probably enjoyed some of the great American treats that came from here. On your small-town visit, Lititz should be at the top of the destination list.

It is known as a foodie town and probably most known for the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, which was the first commercial pretzel bakery in the United States. Stop by for a tour and a lesson on pretzel twisting. Then, balance your salt with some sweet flavor at the Wilbur Chocolate Factory, which has been operating since 1894. They are famous for their Wilbur Buds.

Walk off the Lititz treats as you tour the neighborhoods in the Dutch Country town and admire the unique architecture of the homes and buildings reminiscent of the town's settlement in the 1720s. Notice the Moravian star, which hangs from most homes, hotel porches, and churches. It is a reminder of their heritage when the town was first established by Moravians, who wanted a region that was accepting of all religions. Rest for the night at one of the area's bed-and-breakfasts, like the Hammer Creek Hideaway Bed and Breakfast, which will add a homey element to your visit.

3. Jim Thorpe

Historic Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

The small town of Jim Thorpe was originally called Mauch Chunk, a name given to a nearby mountain by the Lenni Lenape Indians, meaning "Mountain of the Sleeping Bear." The town is nestled in the Lehigh Gorge, so it has beautiful scenery to accent the history, which the town represents. One of the best ways to enjoy Jim Thorpe is to walk along the winding streets that gave it its nickname of the "Switzerland of America." You can also meander along one of the many hiking trails to enjoy the scenic views of the gorge and the Lehigh River.

Soak in the historic Victorian architecture in the Old Mauch Chunk Historic District that has eight sites listed on the National Historic Register. Then, see where the tycoons of the coal and lumber industry lived along Millionaire's Row. Take a tour inside the Asa Packer Mansion Museum to see how the wealthy lived in the region in the 1800s.

4. Gettysburg

Gettysburg National Military Park

The town of Gettysburg got its notoriety for being the location of a famous Civil War battle and where President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. The town is one of the best places to visit in Pennsylvania for history fanatics who want to touch and feel an important part of American history. You can take a guided tour through the town and watch living history presentations. You can watch battle reenactments in the Gettysburg National Military Park and observe what soldier camps looked like.

Beyond the historical sites in Gettysburg, you can visit the surrounding rural community to stop by farmers markets and apple orchards. Shoppers can hit some of the boutique and antique stores that sell unique artwork and Civil War artifacts. There are lots of lodging options and B&Bs to compliment your historical visit to Gettysburg like the James Gettys Hotel and the elegant Federal Pointe Inn.

5. Bloomsburg

Bloomsburg Town Hall | wagon16 / photo modified

The charming town of Bloomsburg, located in the Susquehanna Valley, has a nice combination of art, architecture, and history. This small college town is easily walkable to see many of the shops, art galleries, and entertainment venues. Take your appetite to Bloomsburg because they have some unique eats that you can only find here, like specialty hoagie sandwiches in the cafes and made-from-scratch small batch goodies from local independently owned bakeries like Nannycakes Bakery.

Soak in the artsy side of Bloomsburg along Market Street, which runs through the main section of town. Visit the Artspace Gallery, which rotates exhibits every six weeks and features artwork for sale by local artists. Then, take in a performance at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, a resident theater company.

6. Milford

Raymondskill Falls, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Tucked within Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains is the town of Milford with a mix of architecture and conservation points of interest. The town has a number of Victorian homes that are beautiful to see. Start your visit at Grey Towers, which is a National Historic Site and former home of Gifford Pinchot, a previous Pennsylvania governor and the first director of the United States Forest Service. Take a guided tour of the mansion and gardens and learn about the role that the Pinchot family played in the U.S. conservation movement.

Plan a visit to the Columns Museum in Milford's Historic District. You can tour the 22-room mansion for insight into local history and architecture and see the famous flag that was draped from the Presidential box the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Make sure you plan some time outdoors in Milford at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, where you can take in some hiking, biking, and scenic waterfalls.

7. Lancaster

Amish buggy in Lancaster County

If you want to experience the heart and soul of Pennsylvania's Dutch country, plan a visit to Lancaster. It has a long history starting as the state capital from 1799 to 1812, but today it is associated with the Amish community.

Lancaster is best explored with no agenda, so that you can take in the countryside and Amish life as you pass the working farms and buggies that share the road with you. Pick up some fresh produce at the Lancaster Central Market at Penn Square. It is the oldest public market in the United States, where you can buy fresh baked goods, flowers, meats, and cheese from vendors operating there since the early 1700s.

To learn more about the region and the Amish community, stop by the Mennonite Information Center or schedule a guided tour. You can visit the Amish Farm and House that offers a tour inside an Old Order Amish home and farm. You can also hop on the Lancaster County Art Gallery Trail, which starts in Lancaster, and spend a day going to several towns that have galleries featuring pottery, paintings, and handmade crafts.

8. Lawrenceville

Butler Street Gatehouse | Eli Pousson / photo modified

Located on the fringe of Pittsburgh is Lawrenceville, which is made up of small local businesses and an ultra-creative neighborhood. The entire town is only 2.5-square miles. The Butler Street business district is the best place to start since everything is located in a two-block area near the Allegheny River. Take home a new favorite art piece from one of the galleries or boutique shops in town or plan a night out at Row House Cinema, which is a single-screen cinema with a total of 83 seats.

Stroll along Arsenal Park, a city park renovated out of the Allegheny Arsenal that was once a supply center for the Union Army during the Civil War. Next, visit the Allegheny Cemetery, which is one of the largest and oldest cemeteries in the United States. History enthusiasts will enjoy seeing some of the notable sites in this small town, including the Doughboy Statue; Arsenal Field, where Johnny Unitas played ball; and the Stephen Foster House.

9. New Hope

Autumn colors in New Hope, Pennsylvania| Thomas / photo modified

The town of New Hope is only about 30 miles from Philadelphia, but you feel like you are far away from the city. The historic town has an artsy flare with more than 200 shops and galleries to visit, where you can find inspiration. You can start at the Shops at Peddler's Village to peruse a variety of vendors selling everything from nostalgic candy and handmade soaps to sports memorabilia.

New Hope evolved from an industrial town to an antiques and arts community. You will see remnants of its past in the renovated gristmills and paper mills that are now businesses and homes. Hop on board the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad for a train excursion through Bucks County or plan an outdoor adventure tubing or kayaking on the Delaware River. For indoor activities, you can visit the Bucks County Children's Museum or spend an evening at the theater at the Bucks County Playhouse.

10. Strasburg

Strasburg Rail Road | LHOON / photo modified

Sitting at the crossroads of Philadelphia and Lancaster in the Pennsylvania Dutch county is Strasburg, which feels like a step back into another century. Strasburg was an important stagecoach stop and trading center in the 1700 and 1800s, so there are still elements from those eras that define the small-town existence.

Plan a trip on the Strasburg Rail Road to see thousands of acres of farmland as you ride on this authentic locomotive that was once used in the passenger rail and freight industry. After your train trip, stop at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania to learn more about the locomotive industry or spend some time at the National Toy Train Museum.

Strasburg is located in Amish country, so you can spend part of your trip appreciating the quiet culture. Visit The Amish Village to see how daily chores are handled or plan a three-mile ride in an Amish buggy at Ed's Buggy Rides. For a day outside on the farm, you can plan an adventure at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm to try a corn maze and see daily life on a working farm.

11. Wellsboro

Pine Creek Gorge

A fun small-town visit in the Pennsylvania Wilds region is Wellsboro, which has historic flare all the way down to the gaslights that line Main Street. Walk down the center of town, where you will notice Victorian-style architecture and oversized boulevards. The town offers some unique ways to explore the area: by covered wagon on the Old Covered Wagon Tours, by railroad on the Tioga Central Railroad, and by trolley on Tonys Tioga Trolley Tours.

Wellsboro is also the destination to visit if you want to experience Pine Creek Gorge, often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania." This scenic area carves a 1,000-foot gorge through forestland, stretching for 50 miles. There are also hiking, biking, and walking trails, and great wildlife-viewing opportunities in nearby Hills Creek State Park and Leonard Harrison State Park.

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Getting Outside: Pennsylvania is one of the most scenic states in the nation, with plenty of outdoor recreation and experiences to enjoy, from the national and state parks to hiking trails and top fly fishing regions. With so many rivers, like the Delaware and the Youghiogheny flowing through Pennsylvania, outdoor water recreation is second-to-none when it comes to white water rafting and kayaking in the rapids.

Where to Stay: There are many bed-and-breakfasts and historic inns throughout Pennsylvania, and campsites in the state and national parks. You also have the option of some luxury resorts in Pennsylvania and romantic getaways in the Poconos. The highest concentration of lodging will be in the bigger cities like Philadelphia, which has a range of hotels.

Weekend Getaways: Pennsylvania is a great destination for quick weekend getaways because the big cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are easily accessible, and the smaller towns like Hershey have enough to do for a full weekend all in one place.

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