Just outside Pittsburgh sits a stretch of road so beautiful you won’t believe you were just in the city a few hours ago. It’s called the Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway, and not only is it a pretty drive, it’s packed with some remarkable historic sites, and even one of America’s most famous architectural gems. While you can stretch this drive into a 3-day weekend or use it as a base hub for side trips for days and days, here’s your must-see guide to the Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway.
Next up is Fort Ligonier, which played a vital role in the French and Indian War, decades before the Revolutionary War. It was here at this fort that America's first president, George Washington, cut his teeth as a 26-year old colonel. Much of the original fort grounds remain, and what has been destroyed over time has been lovingly reconstructed on the site. In addition to touring the fort, take a few minutes to visit the museum to learn more about the site's importance. Plus, they have a special George Washington Collection you’ll want to see.
The Somerset Historical Center is a perfect attraction along the scenic drive. It's a 150-acre rural history museum, that's just outside the historic town of Somerset, which itself oozes charm. The Somerset Historical Center runs the living history museum, which chronicles the heritage of rural life in southwestern Pennsylvania. There's an onsite covered bridge that's exceptionally photo-op-worthy.
Who can resist the opportunity to feed some animals right from the palm of your hand? Living Treasures Wild Animal Park in Jones Mills lets you do that while meeting over 300 animals from 50 different species. From alligators to water buffalo, they have a plethora of animals for you to enjoy. The park's one "can't miss" attraction? The big cats exhibit!
Then you'll come to what's arguably one of the most famous houses in America. Fallingwater is Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, and the Laurel Highlands Byway takes you right to it. Ever since the home was first opened for public tours in the 1960s, it has become one of Pennsylvania’s most popular tourist attractions. While you can technically buy tickets on-site, we HIGHLY suggest buying your tickets in advance since the tours fill up quickly.
If you have time, explore nearby Ohiopyle State Park, which is a phenomenal state park, that's nearly 19,000 acres of lush forests and hiking trails. But if you only have time for a short detour, visit the Cucumber Falls just off Ohiopyle Road.
While Fallingwater gets most of the attention, there’s another remarkable Frank Lloyd Wright home just a mere 7 miles down the road from his most famous masterpiece. Inspired by their friends, the Kaufmanns (owners of Fallingwater), Bernardine and I.N. Hagan asked Wright if he could design a house for them, despite the fact Wright was well into his 80s and busy with the Guggenheim, several other homes, and the Beth Shalom Synagogue. He agreed and designed the entire home, Kentuck Knob, with only one visit to the site. Opened for tours in 1996, the house and grounds are pretty spectacular. After your house tour, spend some time walking the grounds where you’ll find over 30 modern art sculptures.
Before George Washington commanded troops as a colonel at Fort Ligonier, he spent time at the Fort Necessity battlefield in the summer of 1754. Viewed as the first major conflict of the French and Indian War, the site is now a great place for people to learn about this major historical event and how it paved the way for the Revolutionary War. Start at the Fort Necessity Battlefield visitor center where you’ll learn more about the fort and the war, then head down the paved path to the actual battlefield and fort.
Whether you’re hoping to just get out of the city for a day or spend a long weekend enjoying the Laurel Highlands, the Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway is at the heart of all the historic sites and fun attractions packed in this part of Pennsylvania. The perfect time to travel this byway is late September through October, when the fall foliage is at its peak. Also, spring and early summer are nice as well, if you're looking to avoid crowds and enjoy some beautiful weather.