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The Great Outdoors

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When the weather gets warm and the kids get out of school, pack a lunch, pack the car and head outside for some family fun. The Susquehanna Valley offers plenty of places for children to run, play, explore, learn and get some much-needed fresh air. Follow our guide this summer, and never hear the dreaded “I’m bored!” again.

Lions, Tigers and Bears! Oh My!
It’s a fact: Kids are fascinated by animals, large and small. ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park next to Hersheypark lets little ones get a glimpse of more than 200 of our continent’s creatures, including elk, bison, prairie dogs, black bears, owls, roadrunners, and gray wolves. Lake Tobias Wildlife Park in Halifax offers a safari tour for the wild at heart and a petting zoo for a more tame experience. There’s also a reptile house and more exotic animals at the zoo, including African lions, alligators, zebras and monkeys. The “mane” attraction at Gettysburg’s Land of Little Horses is just that—miniature horses. Visitors can take pony rides or watch the little equines perform in the show ring. Pigs, goats, sheep and other cute critters also abound.

A Wild Ride
No Central PA summer would be complete without a trip to Hersheypark. With tons of rides and activities for kids of all ages, the park provides thrills and spills (and splashes) galore. A vacation hotspot for visitors from all over the world, Hersheypark tends to be packed on Saturdays, so go during the week and ride the popular roller coasters and water rides first. Dubbed “a kingdom for kids,” Dutch Wonderland specializes in rides for the tiniest of tots. With more than 30 rides and a water park called Duke’s Lagoon, this Lancaster attraction assures visitors will have a blast. Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg is about 70 miles from Harrisburg, but it’s a popular summertime destination for the region’s residents. A big draw is the park’s campground, where you can rent a log cabin or pitch a tent. Admission to Knoebels is free—visitors buy books of tickets for the rides and other attractions.

All Aboard!
For more than 175 years, the Strasburg Railroad has been delighting train enthusiasts of all ages as the nation’s oldest short-line steam railroad. Visitors can take a 45-minute ride through Pennsylvania Dutch Country seated in the restored Victorian-style coaches. The railroad’s most popular kids’ attraction, by far, is slightly more modern: Thomas the Tank Engine. Three weeks a year, Thomas pulls into the East Strasburg Station with Sir Topham Hatt to give rides to his young fans and their families (see page 55).

Take a Dip
Swimming is practically synonymous with summer, and there’s no better way to cool down when temperatures soar. Little Buffalo State Park in Perry County is a real hidden gem, with a large pool—complete with waterslides and a “sprayground”—right alongside Holman Lake. Kids can build sandcastles closer to home at Laurel and Fuller lakes in Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Cumberland County. Travel to Mt. Gretna Lake & Beach in Lebanon County for more sun and sand —and a giant over-the-lake swing.

Swing, Batter, Swing!
Little says “all-American fun” more than taking the family out to a ballgame. Our region is home to several minor-league teams, including the York Revolution, Lancaster Barnstormers and Harrisburg Senators. The teams play several times a week at home, and affordable ticket prices make it easy to root, root, root for your favorite home team. The Senators play at Harrisburg’s City Island, which offers batting cages, miniature golf and a beach for swimming in addition to the ballpark.

A-maize-ing Adventures
Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Lancaster County is “agri-tainment” at its finest, with a 5-acre interactive corn maze, wagon rides, pedal-kart tracks, a petting zoo and an obstacle course made out of hay. Maize Quest Fun Park in York County offers all sorts of mazes, both indoors and out, including ones made out of corn, rope, stone, and bamboo. In addition, there’s geocaching, gemstone mining and a Kid’s Castle complete with inflatable ponies for young lords and ladies to ride.

Go Green
Central Pennsylvania has miles and miles of scenic vistas and state parks perfect for hiking, biking and other great outdoor activities. Kings Gap Environmental Educational Center on South Mountain in Cumberland County has 16 miles of hiking trails, a garden and lots of educational programs for budding naturalists. Lake Marburg in southern York County’s Codorus State Park is a perfect spot for birdwatching, boating, fishing and picnicking. Head to Gifford Pinchot State Park in northern York County for more than 20 miles of hiking trails, as well as horseback riding, disc golf and biking. Afterward, cool down at the 340-acre Pinchot Lake. Lancaster is home to several parks, including Long’s Park, which boasts trails, tennis courts, playgrounds and a spring-fed lake. The park also hosts a renowned outdoor summer music series every Sunday evening through August.

Back in Time
On weekends in mid-August through October, transport your family to merry old England at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire at Mount Hope Estate & Winery in Lancaster County. Gorge on turkey drumsticks, take in a puppet show or jousting tournament, and watch glassblowers, blacksmiths and other artisans craft their wares. (Parents can even partake in the winery’s libations.) Commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War this summer by taking the family to our region’s most famous and hallowed historic site: the 6,000-acre Gettysburg Battlefields.  Kids can learn firsthand what it was like to be a Civil War soldier by “enlisting” in the army at the Museum and Visitors Center or observing Living History programs on weekends in the summer.

Resource Guide


Lake Tobias,

Land of Little Horses,


Dutch Wonderland,


Strasburg Railroad,

Little Buffalo State Park,

Fuller Lake & Laurel Lake,

Mt. Gretna Lake & Beach,

York Revolution,

Lancaster Barnstormers,

Harrisburg Senators,

Cherry Crest Adventure Farm,

Maize Quest Fun Park,

Kings Gap Environmental Education Center,

Codorus State Park,

Gifford Pinchot State Park,

Long’s Park,

Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire,

Gettysburg Battlefields,

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