"Happy Valley" sounds like the name of a town from a 1950s sitcom... but it's actually a real place. The State College area of central Pennsylvania earned the nickname back in the 1930s, as the area felt unaffected by the Great Depression, and the name stuck. Today, the moniker feels as relevant as ever. The region is marked by natural beauty, wineries and quaint B&Bs, college-town personality, and rich history. Around every bend might be a stellar local farm-to-table restaurant, an adorable antique shop, or a totally unexpected attraction. Here's our guide to getting happy in Happy Valley, PA!
Central Pennsylvania is a place of incredible beauty, both above and below ground. One of the state's largest caverns is Woodward Cave & Campground. It's been used as a show cave since 1926, and remains as impressive as ever, from its Square Room filled with delicate and rare cave formations like helictites and cave coral, to the Hanging Forest room with a jaw-dropping collection of stalactites and flowstone, to the Hall of Statues with the 14-foot-tall Tower of Babel-- one of the largest stalagmites in the region. There's also the Upper Room, with spectacular 60-foot ceilings, and the Ballroom, which was actually used for dances and events. The owners offer a campground with cozy, rustic cabins as well... and it's all adjacent to the Trout Lily Meadow, which blooms each year with one of Pennsylvania's most incredible displays of wildflowers.
Penn's Cave has been a tourist attraction since the 1880s, but its history goes back even further. There's a legend of a Native American maiden named Nita-nee and her French trapper lover, Malachi Boyer. As the story goes, the two were forbidden to marry and ran away to be together, but were eventually caught, and Malachi was thrown into the cave to die.
On a lighter note, the cave tour you'll go on when you visit is unique. The cave is filled with water, so the tour is in a boat. Admire the flowstone, curtains, cascades, draperies, pillars, and columns from the water, and listen as your guide identifies formations such as the Statue of Liberty or the Garden of the Gods. Above ground, Penn's Cave offers farm-and-wildlife tours, gemstone panning, labyrinths, and off-road mountain tours. There's also a cafe in an old hotel building that serves bison and delicious ice cream.
Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery boasts a six-acre vineyard set among the rolling, lush hills of Central PA. Cayuga, Seyval Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes flourish in this location, and once the time is right, they're lovingly crafted into award-winning wines. The vineyard offers tastings and sells bottles as well as bites and treats at the winery, so once the helpful staff find you a wine you like, you're free to purchase a bottle to enjoy. Bring along a picnic and enjoy views of the lake and mountains for a relaxing afternoon.
Happy Valley is home to world-class museums, too. The Pennsylvania Military Museum is a fascinating look at Pennsylvania's role in all branches of the military, particularly across the 20th century. The grounds feature tanks, howitzers, and other artifacts, as well as lots of memorials tucked away among the landscaped gardens. All in all, it's a lovely place for thought and reflection. The interior of the museum provides a wealth of information, and the institution itself hosts a massive variety of events, talks, re-enactments, and more.
Unexpected fun fact: Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, is home to the largest collection of Christopher Columbus artifacts in the country. The Boal family has been prominent in the area for centuries, having helped found the village and Penn State, among other things. One Boal, Theodore, married a descendant of Christopher Columbus, and had the Columbus Chapel brought from Spain to Pennsylvania. Inside, you can see an Admiral's Desk that belonged to Christopher himself, European fine art and two pieces of the “True Cross of Jesus.”
The mansion and the rest of the property are worth visiting as well. The collection of art, tools, antique furniture, weapons, and more was built up over two centuries through eight generations of Boals, and remains quite a sight to this day.
Given the immense natural beauty of the area, it'd be a mistake to not take a hike to soak it all in. The Shaver's Creek Environmental Center works with Penn State to provide programs that educate about the outdoors. In addition to the center's hiking trails, bookstore, raptor center that cares for local birds, discovery room packed with hands-on exhibits, and picnic areas, there's always an event going on. Campfires, fly fishing lessons, sing-alongs, festivals, educational talks, and tons more are among the kinds of fun offered at the center. Or come simply to enjoy Shaver Creek's hiking trails. A wide variety of trails wind through nearly 7,000 acres of woodland, marshland and hillside in Penn State's Stone Valley Experimental Forest and Rothrock State Forest.
Another stellar local winery is Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery. It focuses on drier whites and reds, but features around 30 offerings, with something to please every palate. The9.5-acre vineyard grows almost all of the grapes used in the wines, so Happy Valley considers itself a "farm-to-bottle” winery. Your first give wine tastes are free and additional tastes are a dollar or two, making it well worth a visit. The unique, award-winning ice wine is particularly special, and the winery staff even make fruit wines. The back patio is the perfect place to enjoy a bottle and some local cheese with crackers and salami.
The area has no shortage of accommodations, and one notable option is the Carnegie Inn. This boutique hotel has the stately, elegant atmosphere of a Scottish manor house, tastefully adorned with antiques. Think lots of wood and brass, fireplaces, and numerous windows and arched doorways. The location, in the forest at the edge of a prestigious golf course, adds to the atmosphere. In addition to luxurious rooms, the Carnegie has a library, a top-notch restaurant, and a wonderful spa, offering all kinds of services and treatments. If you're looking to spoil yourself, a stay at the Carnegie Inn will do the trick perfectly.
For an unexpectedly fascinating afternoon, stop into the American Philatelic Center, home to the American Philatelic Society and its research library. The American Philatelic Society is the largest non-profit organization for stamp collectors in the world, and their Center is housed in a former match factory. Their library makes up one of the most extensive and accessible collections of philatelic literature, covering topics like postal history, geography, detailed records, and much more. Society members offer tours of the facility where you can see vintage stamp-related objects like an antique stamp perforator, a 19th-century post office window, antique stamp boxes, and old-school postage vending machines.
Cozy bed and breakfasts can be found all across Happy Valley, but the Reynolds Mansion B&B is exceptional. The 1885 mansion's architecture is a unique blend of styles, offset by Old World-inspired decor. Handcrafted woodwork, stained glass windows, detailed molding, and inlaid parquet floors adorn the dining room, bedrooms, parlor, and billiards room. Of course, the owners still boast modern amenities; each of the eight guest rooms has its own bathroom, and some have Jacuzzi tubs or fireplaces. And, as if things couldn't get any better, guests are treated to a three-course gourmet breakfast each morning. Pro tip: stop into the Snuggery for a complimentary nip of brandy and some chocolates.
Curtin Village At Eagle Ironworks is a historic district that tells the story of Pennsylvania's iron industry. Curtin Village consists of 18 buildings and 3 additional structures, all from the Eagle Ironworks, which was in operation from the 1810s until 1921. Examples of preserved buildings include the iron master's mansion from 1830, a late-19th century Victorian style dwelling, and the 1847 Eagle Furnace stack, a waterwheel-powered furnace, as well as the remains of a grist mill, a number of worker's houses, and an overgrown canal basin. Some of the houses display objects of historic significance, like arrowheads found in the area and a former state governor's personal carriage from the Civil War era. Guided tours are offered on weekends from early June through late October
From breathtaking show caves filled with delicate formations and sweeping vineyards to fascinating museums and luxurious accommodations, it's hard to not be caught up in the magic of Happy Valley. You don't have to be visiting Penn State to appreciate the beauty and bounty of Central Pennsylvania.