If you’re looking for a Laurel Highlands getaway, you’ve come to the right place for your itinerary. But I can’t take full credit.
One of the great advantages of being a travel writer is that I work with great organizations like GO Laurel Highlands that not only sponsor a trip but help plan itineraries to suit me and my traveling companions.
I often travel with my family but later in life I’ve realized that girlfriend getaways can be a whole lot more fun (sorry, honey!) than family trips. It’s all grown up activities and you’re usually all on the same page. Usually.
To get us on the same page, I polled my traveling companions, Shannon and Lindsay, and asked what they’d like to do on a trip to the Laurel Highlands. Between the three of us, we spelled out the following ideal activities:
- Hiking (we’re outdoorsy-ish)
- Shopping (we’re always ready to stimulate the local economy)
- Food and drink
- Filming locations (that’s Shannon’s specialty)
- Anything quirky (that’s my specialty)
Here’s what we came up with for our 3 night/4 day Girlfriend Getaway to Laurel Highlands.
Laurel Highlands Getaway: Day 1
The first order of business was getting there and getting settled. We all met in the heart of the Laurel Highlands at Ohiopyle, a sleepy little summer town right along the Youghiogheny River.
Lodging in Ohiopyle
Our lodging included a stay at the brand new Falls Overlook Lodge, a 6 bedroom, 1 bath condo that sits just over the White Water Adventurers shop.
Seems like an odd location but it was brand new, beautifully furnished, and included a balcony for people watching when we weren’t out playing explorers.
Once we established our “base camp” and claimed our bedrooms (I took the master!), we were ready for our adventure to begin.
TIP: Bring your food and supplies with you. The nearest large grocery store is over 30 minutes away. While there are smaller stores, including a few general stores in town, supplies are limited and many places close early.
Hiking in Ohiopyle
Our location was fantastic for hiking and we grabbed a map (if you don’t have one, head to the Ohiopyle State Park Visitors Center just across Main Street). We headed up the road and crossed a bridge giving us our first look at the Youghiogheny River.
TIP: Don’t look like an out of towner and guess how to say the river’s name, like we did. It’s pronouned Yocka-gainee, or “The Yock” for short.
Natural Water Slides
When heading south on Main Street, cross the bridge over the Youghiogheny and look for signs on the left for the Natural Water Slides area. There’s a small parking lot available if you’re driving but it does get pretty crowded during the day, especially on weekends.
You’ll need to travel down steep wooden stairs to access the slide area. The rock formation has created a natural water slide of sorts, although after our initial visit, we questioned if anyone actually used it as a slide. We happened to visit the day after a massive rainstorm and the water was pretty treacherous. You definitely wouldn’t have wanted to slide that day but as you’ll see, it is a recreational area that allows you to slide at your own risk (more on that later).
After visiting Natural Water Slides, we headed on foot up Ohiopyle Road following the signs for a well known landmark, Cucumber Falls. The road isn’t ideal for walking or hiking and it is hilly but well worth it once we arrived at the trail head.
Again, we had to walk down a trail with some wooden stairs for a beautiful view of the falls and some rocky outcroppings. We walked further down and found there was a well-marked trail that would lead us back to Ohiopyle through the woods and along the river without having the hit the pavement again.
Dinner in Ohiopyle
If you’re camping or you’ve brought groceries to do some home cooked meals at your base camp, you’re in great shape. If you’re planning to go out to dinner, be prepared for limited selections and early closures. Many places stop serving by 8pm (or earlier) even during high season.
We grabbed a sandwich and beer at the Ohiopyle House Cafe. We later learned from the locals that it’s better as a bar than a restaurant. I was satisfied with my portabello goat cheese sandwich but maybe because it was the only game in town.
TIP: Make dinner plans ahead of time and have a back up if your chosen restaurant doesn’t happen to be open. (This happened several times to us!)
Laurel Highlands Getaway: Day 2
If Day 1 helped us get the lay of the land and establish base camp, Day 2 was our chance to get out and really explore. And we did that on land and sea!
Whitewater rafting on the Youghiogheny
Although we all were excited to get active outdoors, we were all a little hesitant/nervous to face the Class III and IV rapids of the Youghiogheny River. In hindsight, we had nothing to worry about with our guide Ryan from White Water Adventurers.
Our one hour VIP tour ended up being a full 7 mile excursion on the Lower Youghiogheny. Although Shannon and I had been whtiewater rafting many years ago (and Lindsay was a total newb), we all needed a refresher and some confidence building. A few quick tips and we were off!
The river has three sections: the Upper (for a more adventurous rafting trip with class IV and V rapids), the Middle (which has calmer waters), and the Lower, which is where we paddled.
Although I was freezing (air temp 63, water temp 55), it was exhilarating and we laughed the entire time. We did require a nice warm shower upon our return for part 2 of our adventure – on land!
Shopping in Ligonier
About 45 minutes northeast of Ohiopyle is the quaint little town of Ligonier (if you’ve been to Gettysburg, it’s got a similar vibe). You’ll find Fort Ligonier there (a recreation of a British stronghold during the French and Indian War) but we were taken in by the town “diamond” complete with a gazebo that many say resembles the setting for Gilmore Girls.
In our shopping excursions, we found coffee shops, pet boutiques, candy stores, ice cream parlors, and shops full of unique finds. We all walked away with something to take home. Just be mindful that most stores close around 5pm!
Dinner in Donegal
With adventure and shopping behind us, it was time to settle in for the best part of a girlfriend getaway – food and drinks! We took the recommendation to make a reservation for dinner in Donegal at the Out of the Fire Cafe.
I can’t imagine this is a place you’d think to stop unless someone told you. So I’m telling you to go to this place!
They’re known for their mushroom soup and salmon, so we ordered both. In addition, we decided to create our own tapas-style meal but ordering ALL the appetizers along with beautifully created craft cocktails.
TIP: Make reservations for this cafe, which offers indoor and outdoor seating with beautiful views.
Laurel Highlands Getaway: Day 3
For our Day 3 adventures, we went for a few refined activities starting with Frank Lloyd Wright and ending with a few local beverages. And we didn’t miss a chance to get outdoors and enjoy some hiking!
Fallingwater (Exterior Tour)
Fallingwater is not a museum. It’s privately owned work of art. You will have to make a reservation for a tour. But don’t be disappointed if you can’t book the standard architectural tour (which includes a guided tour of the interiors).
Capacity is reduced at this popular attraction so you may not be able to make a reservation. As an alternative, you can book a Self-Guided Exterior Tour, which is what we did. You’ll pay a smaller admission price and still be able to roam the beautiful grounds. You’ll also be able to tour the exterior of Fallingwater which includes walking up on all of the patios and balconies.
And don’t forget to stop for that iconic photo!
Pour Tour in Laurel Highlands
After our morning at Fallingwater, we instantly transformed into Ladies Who Lunch by heading to a stop on the Pour Tour. This is a passport program for Laurel Highlands that gives you the ability to visit wineries, cideries, meaderies (yes, that’s a thing), breweries, and distilleries (not all on the same day, mind you).
Collect a stamp at each location after doing a tasting and you can ultimate get some Pour Tour swag! On this trip, we started at Greendance Winery for a tasting. Then we bought a bottle (Red Raspberry!) to share while we dined on lunch and dessert in their beautiful courtyard.
Hiking in Ohiopyle
After a day of wining and dining, we were ready to burn off some calories. We headed out for an evening hike around the falls. There’s a footbridge that crosses the Youghiogheny River onto Ferncliff Peninsula. We did an abridged hike and enjoyed an amazing view of the falls and of some of the hardwood forest.
TIP: Grab some food on the way back to Ohiopyle if you’ll be returning later than 7:30pm. Some restaurants closed early and we ended up eaten frozen pizza for dinner!
Laurel Highlands Getaway: Day 4
Day 4 was our travel day but we knew we could squeeze in a few more activities. We checked out more Frank Lloyd Wright and revisited a few places that deserved a second look.
Kentuck Knob Tour
Within minutes of our place in Ohiopyle sits a lesser known but equally as impressive Frank Lloyd Wright house. Whereas Fallingwater is focused on integrated with the waterfalls and embraced rounded corners, Kentuck Knob is a ranch-style house with no right angles. NONE. The design embraces triangles and hexagons and is truly a work of art.
As with Fallingwater, no photographs are allowed inside but the you can snap the exterior and the grounds, both of which are lovely.
After the tour, we chose to trek the 20 minute hike back to the Visitor’s Center and enjoy an amazing view and a sculpture garden along the way.
Natural Waterslides (one more time)
We had first view the waterslides on a Tuesday, right after a massive rain storm. And it looked like a suicide run to think anyone would actually treat this rocky area as a slide. By Friday, the water has calmed and we just had to see for ourselves if people were crazy enough to try the slide.
Sure enough, there were plenty of brave souls (be sure to check out my video footage below) that attempted and survived the slide, complaining only of a few battered and bruised body parts!
Lunch in Ohiopyle
We weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to each other yet so we planned one final meal together at the spot that everyone in Ohiopyle recommended we try, the Falls City Restaurant & Pub.
Finally, we got the meal we were looking for! Good food, good brews, and friendly people. Well worth the visit and a great way to end our trip together.
If you’re looking for adventure (indoor, outdoor, low-key, adrenaline-pumping), you’ll find something on a Laurel Highlands getaway and we’re already planning our next adventure there – this time with our families!
This trip was hosted by GO Laurel Highlands. Accommodations and some attractions were provided at no cost but the adventure and opinions were all mine!