The essential day tripping towns from Pittsburgh | Spring Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The essential day tripping towns from Pittsburgh

click to enlarge A man walks across the Wheeling Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, W. Va. - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
A man walks across the Wheeling Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, W. Va.
Like a bear waking up from winter hibernation, Pittsburghers are ready to stretch their legs and explore. Now, it’s only spring, and the country is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means international travel is still barred, long-distance domestic travel is still discouraged, and any extended time outdoors might come with cold snaps and storms.

But there are plenty of great day trips to take from Pittsburgh, and many within a short drive or by train. Pittsburghers are probably more accustomed to taking that first spring trip down to Florida or the beaches of South Carolina, but the greater Pittsburgh area has scores of charming towns to visit. Strolling along a bustling Main Street, sampling some Appalachian treats, and discovering some lesser-known history are all easily accomplished at the following eight destinations.

So if you are up for about a 90-minute drive from Downtown Pittsburgh, think about exploring these great towns during the spring season. You can easily make a day of it and return to the comforts of home before nightfall, and still feel like you are escaping the everyday.


Beaver, Pa. — 45 minute drive

Head up the Ohio River and take a stroll along Third Street in Beaver, one of the nicest Main Streets in all of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Beaver is a dry town, so there are no bars to be found along the borough’s main drag, but that is easily made up for by a proliferation of bakeries and breakfast spots. Cafe Kolache (cafekolache.com) offers a wide array of baked goods to go with a morning coffee, not to mention their namesake kolaches, which are Czech sweet doughs filled with fruit, meat, or cheese. At the end of the Third Street business district, enjoy your pastries on one of the four tree-lined squares that make up the Beaver Historic District.

The region was originally settled by Shawnee Indians and after Europeans arrived, the area housed Fort McIntosh (beaverheritage.org/fort-mcintosh-historic-site), a frontier fort used in the Revolutionary War. The Fort McIntosh Park honors that history, and also provides great views of the Ohio River.

On your way out of town, stop at Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe (brightonhotdogshoppes.com) for some chili dogs, cheese fries, and malted milkshakes. The chain is popular throughout Beaver County, and the Beaver shop is one of the bigger versions, with an extra large menu.
click to enlarge View of the Stone Bridge from Point Park in Downtown Johnstown, Pa. - CP PHOTO: RYAN DETO
CP Photo: Ryan Deto
View of the Stone Bridge from Point Park in Downtown Johnstown, Pa.

Johnstown, Pa. — 90 minute drive or train ride

This small Rust Belt city is famous for its flood that devastated Downtown Johnstown. And though your first stop should definitely be the Johnstown Flood Museum (jaha.org/attractions/johnstown-flood-museum), the city has so much more to offer.

Johnstown is also one of the only day tripping destinations from Pittsburgh that can be accessed without a car. An Amtrak leaves daily from Downtown Pittsburgh at 7:30 a.m., and then returns to Pittsburgh, leaving Johnstown at 6:10 p.m. That gives you about nine hours to explore the small city. After the museum, ride the super steep Johnstown Inclined Plane (inclinedplane.org) to the top of Westmont. From there, take in the views with an italian meal at Asiago’s Tuscan Italian (asiagostuscanitalian.com), if or when you feel comfortable dining indoors.


Back down in Downtown Johnstown, the Central Park is a nice place to read and listen to the splashing fountain. Enjoy some brews at nearby Stone Bridge Brewing Company (stonebridge.beer) or a sundowner (chili-cheese burger with a fried egg) at the historic Coney Island Lunch (coneyislandjohnstownpa.com).

If it’s a hot day, head over to Coal Tubin (coaltubin.com) on Main Street, and they will shuttle you up to nearby Ferndale, and then provide you a tube to float back to Johnstown.

Ligonier, Pa. — 75 minute drive

It’s all about the square when it comes to visiting this quaint Westmoreland County town. The park at the center of town, known as the Diamond, is truly a gem. It even underwent a renovation in 2018, and it hosts farmers markets, performances, and events. The gazebo at its center is charming as can be.

Several small businesses surround the Diamond. It’s easy to grab a latte at Abigail’s Coffeehouse (abigails-coffeehouse.business.site), a salmon burger at The Kitchen on Main (thekitchenonmain.com), or a flavored soft-serve at Ligonier Creamier (facebook.com/ligoniercreamery), and then head back to the Diamond to enjoy your treat.

A short walk away is the historic Fort Ligonier (fortligonier.org), which is a reconstruction of the 18th century British fort that served as an important piece in how the British retook Pittsburgh from the French during the French and Indian War. The fort includes a museum with many wonderful artifacts.


If adventure is more your game, drive 14 miles south of Ligonier to the popular Wolf Rocks Trailhead (trailforks.com/trails/wolf-rocks-trail). The hike provides a great view of the Appalachian Mountains. For the kid in you, drive three miles up Route 30 to Idlewild, a fun-filled amusement park located in the woods.

Morgantown, West Virginia — 80 minute drive

Home to West Virginia University (wvu.edu), this college town has more to offer than just sports and partying. On your drive into West Virginia, take the last Pennsylvania exit off I-79, and grab some salt-rising bread in Mt. Morris, Pa. at Rising Creek Bakery (risingcreekbakery.com). This Appalachian specialty is worth the stop.

On the outskirts of town, the Core Arboretum (arboretum.wvu.edu) is a great place for a stroll among 91 acres of forest and wild flowers. The Caperton Trail is accessible from there, and runs two-miles into Downtown Morgantown along the Monongahela River. If you can transport bikes, it’s perfect for a ride.

Downtown is home to scores of restaurants, cafes, and bars. Apothecary Ale House & Cafe (facebook.com/ApothecaryAleHouseCafe) has the best beer selection around, and some free board games. During non pandemic times, you might even be lucky enough to ride Morgantown’s PRT (Personal Rapid Transit), which is a 1970s era autonomous transit system that ferries people between downtown and the WVU campus.

Oil City, Pa. — 95 minute drive

Western Pennsylvania was home to America’s first oil boom, and Oil City is the town it built. Formed at the confluence of Oil Creek and the Allegheny River, Oil City became headquarters to Pennzoil and Quaker State motor oil companies in the late 1880s. Its residents are called Oil Citizens.

The town center along Seneca Street is filled with some large and demanding old brick buildings that seem out of place in such a rural part of Pennsylvania. (That’s the old oil money showing.) Karma Coffee Company (facebook.com/karmacoffeeco) is a perfect place to grab an iced coffee and stroll. You can learn more about the region’s legacy at the Oil Region Alliance building (oilregion.org), and then walk down Justus Park for a view of the Allegheny.

To really explore “the Valley that Changed the World,” take a 15-minute drive up Route 8 to Oil Creek State Park. Home to the world’s first commercial oil well, you can learn about where our obsession with fossil fuels first started. The park is also home to hikes with waterfalls falling into ravines and chances for some spectacular views of Oil Creek. If you can transport bikes, a pleasant trail leads about 10 miles into Titusville.

Uniontown, Pa. — 70 minute drive

Uniontown was founded on July 4, 1776, but it was just a coincidence that it happened on the same day as the forming of the union of the United States of America. The city in Fayette County is more known for having a large concentration of coal barons in the early 20th century. At one point, it was home to the most millionaires per capita of any city in the U.S.

This legacy of wealth is evident in Uniontown’s downtown. Despite being home to less than 10,000 residents (Scott Township has more residents, for comparison), Uniontown boasts a wide array of magnificent buildings. In 1912, downtown Uniontown was home to 14 hotels, 13 theaters, and nine banks. A walking tour of the dozens of historic buildings includes stops at the gold-domed Thompson-Ruby Building, State Music Hall, and the Fayette County Courthouse, among others. Stop for lunch at Titlow Tavern and Grille (titlowtavern.net) for a wide array of Pennsylvania favorites.

After lunch, drive up Route 40 to visit Fort Necessity National Battlefield (nps.gov/fone), where George Washington attempted to hold off French troops, or explore Ohiopyle State Park (ohiopyle.co) with its wonderful hiking, white water rafting, and natural water slides. If you didn’t get enough architecture in Uniontown, two famous Frank Lloyd Wright houses call Ohiopyle home: Fallingwater (fallingwater.org) and Kentuck Knob (kentuckknob.com).

click to enlarge Market Street in downtown Wheeling, W. Va. - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Market Street in downtown Wheeling, W. Va.

Wheeling, West Virginia — 60 minute drive

Becoming the first West Virginia capital after the new state broke away from Virginia, Wheeling has some significant abolitionist history. After the Civil War, the city in the northern panhandle became known as Nail City, thanks to its prowess in the iron industry. The Wheeling Nailers (wheelingnailers.com), the city’s minor league hockey team, is named after this legacy. Watch a game at WesBanco Arena (wesbancoarena.com) if you're up for it.

Other activities in town include walking the Wheeling Heritage Trail along the Ohio River. Take a break in Heritage Point Park (wheelingheritage.org/project/heritage-port), which offers spectacular views of the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge, which dates back to 1849. It was once the largest suspension bridge in the world, and it's even older than Pittsburgh’s oldest bridge.

For eats in Wheeling, Coleman’s Fish Market (colemansfishmkt.com) offers famous fish sandwiches and other deep fried goodies, and there is also a DiCarlo’s Pizza location (dicarlos-pizza.com), where you can try the Ohio Valley regional pizza style (the one with the cold cheese). There aren't any shows to enjoy yet due to the pandemic, but the Capitol Theatre (capitoltheatrewheeling.com) is a must-see when performances start back up.

click to enlarge A cyclist rides along Main Street in Zelienople, Pa. - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
A cyclist rides along Main Street in Zelienople, Pa.

Zelienople, Pa. — 30 minute drive

Just a small Butler County town to some, Zelionople is going through a bit of renaissance. Perry Highway is seeing a good amount of development, including a recently completed project to restore the Kauffman House into a new restaurant, and an expansion for craft brewery Shu Brew (shubrew.com). The neon lights at the Strand Theatre (thestrandtheater.org) will also light up any day.

Plenty of shops, toy stores, and stores will keep you entertained during the day. Just off the main drag, Pittsburghers might be familiar with Burgh’ers Brewing (burgherspgh.com), which has a restaurant in Lawrenceville but is headquartered in Zelienople. The new facility in Butler County has a nice outdoor patio.

After enjoying the small town, drive up Route 19 and explore McConnell Mills State Park, which has wonderfully rigorous hiking along Slippery Rock Creek. The hikes are perfect for watching daring kayakers brave the fast moving creek.

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