7 Wonderful Reasons to Visit Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands in Winter

Snow and natural beauty may be reason enough to visit the Laurel Highlands. And if it is, then I timed this trip perfectly. There was a common refrain heard over and over again during my visit to the Laurel Highlands: “we are having a real Pennsylvania winter. This is what winters used to be here.” What does that mean? It means the region was experiencing snow and a lot of it. And this was perfect as this trip was planned around wintertime activities.

**Disclaimer: This was a hosted stay, however, all opinions are my own. I strive to provide my readers with my most authentic sentiments.

Winter in Laurel Highlands

Table of Contents

While snow is never guaranteed in the Laurel Highlands, Mother Nature surely cooperated during this February visit. And it couldn’t have been more delightful. At the higher elevations, ice and snow hung heavy on the tree limbs. At the lower levels, wide-open rural farmlands were blanketed in white. And soul-soothing walks in the woods were enhanced by the sound of ice-encrusted snow crushing beneath one’s feet and the melodic whisper of a nearby stream.

Even without wintery weather, the Laurel Highlands offers many opportunities for adventure, including winter sports and sylvan hikes. If you enjoy more refined activities you will find awesome architecture, adorable small towns, history, and more. 

Winterwonderland in Laurel Highlands

Finally, despite almost constant winter precipitation during my stay, getting around the Laurel Highlands proved to be easy. Because wintery weather is commonplace in this area, Pennsylvania’s DOT and the local municipalities do a great job keeping the roads drivable.  And if the weather doesn’t permit you to get out, I’m going to tell you where you can find a fireplace to curl up beside and let it snow!

Where is Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands??

The Laurel Highlands are located in the Southwestern part of the state of Pennsylvania, about 1 hour from Pittsburgh. The region which covers the counties of Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland borders on West Virginia and Maryland and is not far from the Ohio state line. Visitors from Cleveland, Akron, Baltimore, and Washington DC can all expect to arrive in around 3 to 3-1/2 hours.

Philadelphians can reach the Laurel Highlands in around 4-1/2 hours and it’s an easy straight shot out the Pennsylvania Turnpike. From New York City you can expect around a 6-hour drive. But once you arrive you will find plenty to keep you occupied if you decide to spend the week.   

(COVID-19 Notice- At this time,  if you plan to visit any of the sites listed in this post, you should check with the establishment beforehand as COVID19 restrictions may be in place.)

Try Winter Sports at Seven Springs Mountain Resort

Perhaps the biggest wintertime draw to this area is the ski resorts. Skiers and snowboarders from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio flock here. 

I’m not a skier but snow tubing at Seven Springs Mountain Resort was on the agenda. By the time I arrived roads were becoming coated with ice, especially at the higher elevation.  Day trippers were fleeing for home. However, this made for some crazy fun snow tubing. I think at one point icicles actually formed on my eyelashes. 

Because of the rapidly deteriorating road conditions, I spent the night at the resort. This worked out well as it gave me an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the onsite amenities. Seven Springs Mountain Resorts has something for every member of the family as well as skiers and non-skiers. After a day on the slopes, visitors can soothe their body at the full-service Trillium Spa, or take a dip in the indoor pool. Kids can play games in the arcade or hit a round of miniature golf as a family.  

7 Springs Mountain Resort

Enjoy a cocktail in the lodge or one of the other onsite lounges. There are multiple dining options from grabbing a slice of pizza slopeside with the kids to an intimate night out at Helen’s where you can enjoy high-end culinary experiences with wine pairings. But no matter where you decide to dine, be sure to check out the baked goods at Gingerbread Dreams. To die for!!

Marvel at a Snow-covered Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

Architecture enthusiasts and nature-lovers alike will thoroughly enjoy a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Built in 1939, for the Kaufmann family, this UNESCO-designated site is one of Wright’s premier works typifying his organic style of incorporating art and nature. It is the only Wright property to come into the public domain fully intact including the original art and Wright-designed furnishings.

Fallingwater

I knew Fallingwater would be a highlight of my trip. I had visited once before many, many years ago. But I was looking forward to seeing this architectural masterpiece coated in snow. And it did not disappoint. Despite the home being closed for tours, I could have spent all day here exploring the 450+ acres surrounding the home and taking photographs.  The trails around the home are well maintained and exploring the grounds is easy.

Go for a Hike at Ohiopyle

Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania’s largest State Park, draws outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year. Weather conditions during my visit didn’t allow me to do a lot of hiking but I was able to visit some of the more easily accessible waterfalls. The park offers miles of hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty. The Youghiogheny River runs through the park and offers some challenging rapids for whitewater rafting during warmer weather. 

Before heading into the park, visitors must pass through the tiny village of Ohiopyle. I fell in love immediately. It was just such a charming little place with a bowstrung truss bridge built upon the piers for the original bridge that once carried trains from Cumberland MD to Connellsville PA. Today it serves as a biking and hiking path along the Great Allegheny Passage. Visitors are welcomed by a brightly colored mural, a general store, and an outfitter. And of course, there is a little church perched upon a hill.

But the real greeter at Ohiopyle is an orange tabby cat by the name of Tonto!! This little fellow was hanging out in the parking lot of the visitor’s center. Being the animal lover that I am I needed to check to make sure he wasn’t freezing as it was only 20 degrees. I opened my car door and without hesitation, he hopped in. I was tempted to take him home but he was wearing a collar with a tag that read “My name is Tonto. I’m fine. I live here.” Not looking worse for wear, and speaking with the woman at the visitor center I decided this little guy didn’t need my care. But I could have snatched him up in a second. Oh, and did I mention he was wearing the cutest blue and green plaid bowtie??

Tonto the Official Ohiopyle Greeter
Tonto!

Stay in a Cozy Cabins in a 18th Century Village

What could be more magical than waking up in a cozy cabin with a crackling fire in a stone fireplace and a layer of freshly fallen snow?  Well, I suppose a cabin resort with a full-scale 18th-century village complete with a mercantile building, a tavern, a chapel, and even a sugar shack might fit the bill.

This is exactly what you will find at Oak Lodge, a family-owned and operated resort on 800+ acres. The resort offers luxury amenities include a spa, yoga instruction, an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, plus, over 10-miles hiking trails accessible from the property, ideal for snowshoeing. 

The Chpel at Jimberg Village

In addition to luxury cabins, with soaking tubs perfect after a day exploring, Oak Lodge’s accommodation options include a 4-rooms with king-sized beds located at the lodge plus a 4-bedroom/3-bathroom 19th-century farmhouse with full kitchen facilities. Cabins and lodge accommodations include a scrumptious and satisfying full breakfast.

Oak Lodge, offers everything you need for both a relaxed and luxurious escape.

Explore the the Rockwell-esque Town of Ligonier

Ligonier is a little slice of Americana. The focal point of Ligonier’s downtown is a bandstand situated in the center of town (“the Diamond”) where visitors and locals enjoy live weekly entertainment all summer long. What could possibly be more American?? In addition to weekly summertime concerts, the diamond is the site of festivals throughout the year, including a winter ice carving festival.

But the premier annual event is Fort Ligonier Days, a three-day town-wide event featuring food, entertainment, parades, crafters, and more. However, the centerpiece of the weekend is the reenactment of the Battle of Fort Ligonier, a consequential clash of the French and Indian War.

Just 2-hours from Laurel Highlands is Happy Valley, the home of Penn State University, Victorian Bellefonte and Bald Eagle State Park. You won’t want to miss this area during your Pennsylvania road trip. 

Whether you are visiting on a festival weekend or not, this little town deserves a visit. It has everything you would expect in a small Pennsylvania town plus much more. Stroll the boutique shops on the “diamond” or grab a coffee at one of the local coffeehouses and enjoy a break in the parks. This town has everything from an old-school barbershop to a family-owned candy store to an art gallery, theater, and even a bar with a bowling alley. And of course, don’t forget to stop at the creamery.  

O'Shea's Downtown Ligonier PA

Pay Your Respects at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville

Every visitor to the region should take a bit of time (allow 2-1/2 hours) to explore the Flight 93 Memorial, the site of the September 11th crash of Flight 93 near Shanksville. Of course, 2021 marks the 20-year anniversary of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Flight 93 Memorial Tower of Voices

Situated high on a mountain, the Memorial site, part of the National Park Service includes a visitors’ center, the Memorial Plaza, the Wall of Names, and the Tower of Voices. Though the park service does clear the roads, weather conditions, permitted me to only visit the Tower of Voices, a 93-foot-tall musical instrument greeting visitors upon entering the site.

The Wall of Names and the Memorial Plaza which follows the debris path to the crash site sits a few miles away in a farmer’s field. Though it was disappointing not to be able to take in the entire memorial, the snow, ice, and clouds added a certain solitude that may be absent on a bright summer day. 

Enjoy a Bit of Nightlife at Live! Casino Pittsburgh

Laurel Highlands isn’t all outdoor fun and cute little towns. Visitors can also experience a bit of nightlife at the nearby newly opened Live! Casino Pittsburgh. This small casino offers all the action you would expect from a much larger gaming venue; table games, slots, FanDuel Sportsbook, including a lounge with a 40′ TV screen, plus multiple bars, restaurants, event space, and even a bowling alley. 

Live Casino Pittsburgh

When you tire of the action, grab a bite to eat at Guy Fiery’s American Kitchen + Bar. This casual dining spot offers tasty modern comfort foods in a setting inspired by the retro design of a 1940’s diner. The eatery has a fun family atmosphere and is accessible from the exterior so there is no need to ever step foot on the casino floor.

Whether it’s peace and solitude that brings you to the Laurel Highlands or if it’s an adventure you seek, you will find it here and so much more.  

Susan Decoteau-Ferrier

Travel writer/blogger, photographer. Avid potter and wanna-be artist. Wife, Mom to 6 fur kids, gardener, coffee snob.

32 Comments:

  1. Puloma Banerjee

    Very exciting post on Laurel Highlands.Frank Wrights Falling water and try snow tubing and stay in one of those luxury cabins!

  2. What an eclectic place to visit.

    My favorite part of your blog was the Flight 93 memorial. I’ve seen the 911 memorial in New York, but have not heard as much about the Flight 93 memorial. Thank you for sharing the video. To make a musical instrument out of the memorial carries so much emotion with it. It even reads through your video.

  3. I had never heard of Lauren highlands but now I want to visit just to stay in those quaint cabins

  4. Those frozen waterfalls are beautiful!

  5. Thank you for sharing so many details about visiting Laurel Highlands! It looks like a great place for a trip. I’d especially enjoy visiting Falling Water and Oak Lodge. I didn’t know about the memorial and am glad you shared the video, it looks very moving.

  6. Wow. It is quite the winter wonderland.

  7. I really want to visit the Flight 93 memorial. That day really did change my life.

  8. I knew about the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Pennsylvania, but admittedly I didn’t know much else about the Laurel Highlands area. This article will be great for helping us to build an itinerary when we visit! We are outside of DC, so not too far!

  9. Laurel Highlands looks like a lovely place for a winter destination! I’ve been to PA a lot for my previous job but would love to go back and explore more. I love visiting charming small towns and with it covered in snow it’s so beautiful! I’d definitely want to go snowtubing, see Fallingwater and meet that cute Tonto! 🙂

    • I was surprised by how much great stuff there was to do in this area. I’m originally from PA (Philadelphia area) and when you drive through the state you start to notice a certain something about small towns there.

  10. Awesome post! Sounds like a beautiful Winter vacay. I love PA, all year round. I’ll have to put Laurel Heights on my list. I would have wanted to take Tonfo home too!

  11. This is so great! For some reason, I have never thought about visiting Pennsylvania. I really want to now after reading your post!

  12. This area looks so picturesque in the snow. Definitely a great place to visit if you like to get outdoors whatever the weather!

  13. This is amazing! I would love to try snowboarding and if that wasnt enough the frozen waterfalls look absolutely stunning! I’ve never thought about what happens to waterfalls in winter.

  14. Gorgeous photos and looks like there is loads to do there

  15. Laurel Highlands in Pennsylvania is a very interesting place to visit. I love skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking. I would love to try tubing and also to see cute little towns with a history. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater looks amazing. The Memorial Site is an important place to visit and Tower of Voices is a very impressive and unusual. Cat Tonto is a charmer. You made him famous. Thank you for sharing your article.

  16. So many things to do here-I would try the lodge and Fallingwater for sure!

    • Oak Lodge was so great. I could have just curled up there and watched the snow fall. And Fallingwater is really worth seeing. If for no other reason to marvel over the time in which it was designed and built.

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