The best thing about taking the backroads on a trip is finding hidden gems. Pennsylvania's Route 26 is a perfect backroad in the Raystown Lake Region, loaded with unexpected things to see and do. Something about the untouched natural beauty of the lake and the historic small towns along the drive is particularly inspiring; There are plenty of artistic and cultural attractions along the way. From small but mighty museums to covered bridges to one of the world's largest coffee pots, the surprises along Route 26 near Raystown Lake keep coming.
Route 26 starts near Bald Eagle State Park, which is worth a visit in its own right. It's nearly 6,000 acres of pure Pennsylvania beauty, and features a massive lake, mountains, forests, wetlands, fields, and more. It's a popular spot for camping, especially during the summer when the lake's swimming beach is open. There are even rental yurts for those who want something comfier than a tent. In addition to hunting, fishing, and boating on the lake, there's also some great hiking. The 5.4 mile Lakeside Trail offers great views, and passes by some remains from a charcoal works that once operated in the area.
The small town of Lemont is home to a valuable asset to the local community of artists, the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania. The nonprofit organization is housed in a gallery/studio/shop space which hosts exhibitions and classes for and by local artists. It's a dynamic organization that brings together artists and those who appreciate the arts while encouraging diverse and ever-changing art experiences.
Penn State's Palmer Museum of Art is an unexpectedly amazing gem in the small town of State College. It boasts eleven galleries, a sculpture garden, studio space, and even a lecture hall ... it's pretty cool to imagine having a college class in such a space. Even the building itself is a work of art. Eight of the galleries are dedicated to displaying some of the 8,200 objects from the museum's collections. These range from American and European paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, and sculptures, to Asian ceramics, jades, paintings, and prints, and even objects from ancient European, African, and Near Eastern cultures. The Palmer Museum of Art is also a hub for the community, with events and programs for adults and children alike.
Art and culture go hand-in-hand, so experience something a little different at the Norwegian-inspired Inn At Solvang in Huntingdon. The home was built in 1938 by Huntingdon attorney C. Jewett Henry and his wife Phyllis, whose parents were immigrants from Norway. In fact, the name "Solvang" means "sunny field" in Norwegian. The Henry family still owns the house to this day; the son and daughter-in-law of the couple turned the home into the Inn At Solvang, a quaint B&B. Much of the decor is from 1938, and with 80 acres of grounds to explore, a stay here will be unlike anything you've ever experienced. Get a massage from their renowned masseuse, enjoy a freshly-made breakfast served on the family china, fish in their private trout stream, or just relax in the home while taking advantage of the modern amenities and conveniences.
The Palmer Museum of Art isn't the only university art museum on this route; there's also the Juniata College Museum of Art, which feels distinctly different from Penn State's museum. It's located in a 1907 Beaux-Arts building with a Tiffany-style dome that was paid for by famed industrialist Andrew Carnegie. You never know what you'll find on display here: objects from the collections, a traveling exhibit, or even a showing of student work. Juniata College itself is a picturesque liberal arts college with a cozy campus that's worth spending a bit of time exploring.
Head into the heart of historic downtown Huntingdon to experience small-town charm, old-school architecture, and some lovely public art. Established in 1787, the borough has been the center of commerce and social life for the county ever since. Tucked among some of the 19th and 20th-century buildings is intriguing public art worth discovering. From a monument crafted from the local fire department's old bell and massive mosaics to parks and gardens, there are all kinds of attractions, each with their own unique story. Don't miss the famed Standing Stone, erected in 1896; it's a replica of an even older stone believed to be a guide and marker for Native Americans in the area. Here you'll find a website with a walking tour of the highlights.
Another local gem is the Huntingdon County Arts Council. They also host a wide variety of events, from holiday shops at Christmas to folk music festivals to workshops on Ukrainian egg decorating. Many of the public art projects and murals around town are all thanks to the Arts Council. In addition to hosting events and workshops, their physical space also serves as a gallery that displays works from various artists. Whether they're helping professional artists get their work out there, or providing cultural opportunities for the community, they do a great job of spreading passion, inspiration, and creativity.
Really immerse yourself in the local community with a stop at Stone Town Cafe & Gallery. This cozy, homey restaurant is the perfect place to sit down and enjoy a meal or grab a quick breakfast on the go ... along with a few souvenirs. The menu offers salads, sandwiches, and breakfast favorites, along with a variety of baked treats. Anyone dining in will surely be charmed by the adorable patio and the variety of colorful, handmade jewelry and home furnishings for sale. Stone Town also just added a wine bar, which pairs perfectly with the live music offered on Friday nights.
Huntingdon's Log Cabin Gallery Shop is as authentic a store as they come. Supporting the craftspeople and artists of central Pennsylvania, the Shop offers a variety of goods, such as hand-forged iron, jewelry, photographs, Amish quilts, kaleidoscopes, toys, Russian wall art, and more. Their selection of locally-sourced offerings is constantly changing, so every time you visit will be a new experience. Browse the one-of-a-kind selection and pick up a souvenir to bring home.
As you approach Raystown Lake proper, take a moment to stop into the Raystown Lake Visitor Center. It's located on the shores of the lake in the Seven Points Recreation Area, offering beautiful views of the water. Here, you can get valuable info on things to do, where to stay, what to eat, and tons more for your time in the Raystown Lake area. With so many hiking and boating opportunities, plenty of museums and attractions, and tons more, advice can be valuable. And they even have a gift shop inside, stocked with locally-made goodies.
Is there anything cuter than a historic covered bridge? There are about a dozen scattered across the county, including the Halls Mill Covered Bridge. The Burr Truss bridge, built in the 19th century, is still standing strong, crossing over scenic Yellow Creek. It's been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980 and makes a perfect photo op for amateur and pro photographers alike.
Niche museums are the best place to learn stuff you never knew you needed to know. Bedford, Pennsylvania's National Museum of the American Coverlet is one such place. It exclusively highlights the history and design of woven bed covers used in America between 1771 and 1889. There are more than 50 hand-woven coverlets on display, and you'll learn all about how they were made and the role they played in everyday life in the early- to mid-19th century. The coverlets themselves are beautiful, with bright colors and elaborate patterns. The museum makes sure to change up the exhibits frequently, offers classes and events, and has a lovely gift shop as well.
Pigeon Hill Studios is part gallery, part frame shop, and part workshop. They specialize in painting and pottery, and hold frequent classes, exhibitions, and other events. It's a laid-back and encouraging environment that leaves lots of room for creative expression of all kinds.
For a more modern taste of the art in the area, head to Locality. It's a gallery/maker space/studio/performance art venue that serves as a hub for the art scene in Bedford. Whether you just stop in to see what happens to be on display, or you attend one of the space’s many, varied events, you're sure to find inspiration and a strong sense of community.
The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art is actually a group of five museums throughout the region. The Bedford location, housed inside a historic, 200-year-old home, features eight galleries of rotating exhibits, many of which have audio tours you can find online. The museum also includes a children's creativity studio, which is the perfect place for a family to visit on a rainy day, as well as a beautifully manicured memorial garden out back.
Winemaking is an art as well, so stop by Briar Valley Vineyards and Winery to sample the masterpieces the establishment is crafting. Briar Valley grows classic European grapes to make Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, and more in the vineyard, but the tasting room is located in historic downtown Bedford. As you sample your way through the wines, you'll find deep and fruity merlots, crisp Rieslings, bright Lembergers, and more. It's only $5 to taste them all, and you can bring your own food and snacks to enjoy while you sample away in the warm and comfy tasting room.
And you can't visit Bedford without stopping by The Coffee Pot, a classic bit of roadside kitsch. It was built in 1927, back when novelty architecture was wildly popular, as a lunch and coffee stand. It was originally built by David Berton Koontz to attract customers to his filling station just off the Lincoln Highway, and the building served as a diner and even a bar through the years, until it finally closed in the 1980s. It was almost demolished in the 1990s, but was saved, moved across the street, and restored.
From museums and local studios to roadside kitsch and one-of-a-kind museums, Route 26 offers a glimpse into the variety of art and inspiration Central Pennsylvania has to offer. Add in rich local history, natural beauty, and special small towns, and you've got a road trip unlike any other.
Banner Photo Credit: Shutterstock/ Christian Hinkle (571112290)
The Raystown Lake Region of Pennsylvania has opportunities aplenty to breathe in the fresh air, walk through the forest or enjoy the unspoiled shoreline scenery. Bring your boots, kayak, fishing pole and mountain bike to really get the most out of your time in Huntingdon County.