An Active Adventure in Lancaster County
Published: June 2009
By Heather Smith MacIsaac
20 great fall things to do in Lancaster County, PA
Turn the radio down and let the speedometer dive on a drive through Lancaster County. Along its two-lane byways, horse-drawn buggies and Amish boys on foot-powered scooters set the pace. The slow speed makes "I spy along the roadside" games easier, brings fall foliage into focus—from a blur of trees to leaves as brilliant and distinct as snowflake patterns—and encourages serendipitous refueling: How about root beer at one farm, apple pie at another?Here's a county just perfect for substituting an enthusiastic "Hey, why don't we stop?" for the plaintive refrain "We never get to stop."
Follow a route that starts in Lancaster and makes an appetizing loop through pretzel country.
1. Pick up an acceptable stranger from the Mennonite Information Center, which provides guides who ride in the car with you to explain Amish and Mennonite beliefs and customs while you tour the area. Mennonite Information Center 2209 Millstream Rd., Lancaster; 717/299-0954.
2. Play hide-and-seek among the 23 buildings that make up the Landis Valley Museum. From a shed housing Conestoga wagons (which originated in Lancaster County) to the pottery shop turning out traditional redware, you get more than a glimpse of Pennsylvania German life in the early 1700's. The museum celebrates Harvest Days, October 10-11, and offers Halloween wagon rides to the pumpkin patch, October 24-25. Landis Valley Museum 2451 Kissel Hill Rd., Lancaster; 717/569-0401.
3. Zoom from the past at the Landis Valley Museum to the future across the road at the Hands-on House, Children's Museum of Lancaster, an interactive museum for 2- to 10-year-olds. Hands-on House, Children's Museum of Lancaster 2380 Kissel Hill Rd., Lancaster; 717/569-5437.
4. Breathe deeply as you watch the workers in the Candy Kitchen at the Wilbur Chocolate Co. make peppermint patties and peanut-butter meltaways. See who can eat the fewest Wilbur buds (drops of chocolate bigger than a chip, flatter than a Hershey's Kiss). Wilbur Candy Americana Museum & Store 48 N. Broad St., Lititz; 717/626-3249.
5. Explore your way through the Heritage Map Museum, where maps spanning five centuries are on display. Heritage Map Museum 55 N. Water St., Lititz; 717/626-5002.
6. Do the twist with the Mennonite ladies in prayer bonnets as they sing hymns while rolling out pretzels. Martin's Pretzel Bakery 1229 Diamond St., Akron; 717/859-1272.
7. On October 10, indulge in an apple dumpling at the Ephrata Cloister, formerly home to one of America's earliest communal societies. A hushed (or is it haunted?) atmosphere still lingers in the 12 medieval-style buildings. Ephrata Cloister 632 W. Main St., Ephrata; 717/733-6600.
8. Immerse yourselves in farmyard fragrance at the livestock auctions every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday in New Holland. Retired racehorses go on the block on Mondays. From September 30 through October 3 the Farmers' Fair comes to town. 717/354-5880.
9. Play the farm-sign game: the least likely combination of products on a sign—PEAS, GOAT MILK, HONEY, HORSE BLANKETS—wins. Be sure to sample as you go.
10. Look for homemade root beer, sold by the quart, half-gallon, or gallon (in glass jugs), near the intersection of Route 23 and Churchtown Road, in Churchtown.
11. Give a prize to the first person to identify the long-horned, longhaired creatures grazing by the side of Route 897 near Peters Road, outside White Horse. (Just so someone in the family knows, they're Scottish Highlander cattle.)
12. Dodge the buggies parked outside and home in on the candy bins at Centerville Bulk Foods, an Amish-run supplier of groceries and dry goods. Centerville Bulk Foods 3501B Scenic Rd., Gordonville; no phone.
13. All aboard the Strasburg Railroad for a 45-minute ride to a pumpkin patch and maize maze (clue to this year's trail: it's Noah's Ark cut through the cornfield). On October 31, the 11th annual Ghost Train, a haunted ride with Halloween legends and spooky sound effects, pulls out of the station. Strasburg Railroad Co. Rte. 741 E., Strasburg; 717/687-7522.
14. Hike to the Chickies Rock overlook for a panoramic view that soars, like the bald eagles you may spy, 200 feet above the Susquehanna River. Chickies Rock Park Rte. 441, near Marietta; 717/299-8215.
15. Impart some local wisdom to your children via the paper place mats at the Country Table Restaurant. Over chicken pot pie, you can keep in mind that "a soft answer turneth away wrath." Kids get wooden nickels to exchange for cookies from the bakery next door. Country Table Restaurant 740 E. Main St. (Rte. 230), Mount Joy; 717/653-4745.
16. Bring back a new home for Fido from John S. Buffenmyer, who makes doghouses in graduated sizes. Don't have a pooch?Pick up a trellis instead. John S. Buffenmyer Co. 544 W. Main St. (Rte. 230), Mount Joy; 717/653-4455.
17. Tour the Manheim Country Store, a fully stocked 1860 establishment, then head to today's equivalent, Dollar General Store, to rummage through the racks of $1 toys. Manheim Country Store Museum 60 N. Main St., Manheim; 717/664-0022. Dollar General Store 347 S. Main St., Manheim; 717/664-4550.
18. Pick up some local lingo from a $2 booklet, Quaint Idioms and Expressions of the Pennsylvania Germans (Aurand Press, Lancaster). When your kid says he forgot to "butz his gums" before he came in the house, you can retort with, "You little honswarsht; wait till I get my hands on you."
19. Bring an extra sweater to wear during a bone-chilling reading from Edgar Allan Poe by an actor dressed as the spinner of horrific tales. Edgar Allan Poe: Evermore runs from October 23 to November 15 at the 200-year-old Mount Hope Mansion. Mount Hope Estate & Winery 83 Mansion House Rd., Manheim; 717/665-7021.
20. Count silos in the dairy country around Hershey. They store the corn that feeds the cows that produce the milk for 33 million chocolate Kisses a day, a few of which end up on your pillow if you spend the night at the Hotel Hershey or Hershey Lodge. Information and reservations: 800/533-3131.