My family likes easygoing vacations (like Disney) or unusual vacations (like Finland). So they were a little surprised when I suggested a road trip through New York and Pennsylvania for our family vacation this summer. But I’ll be honest, there’s a reason.
My son is 16 (and a half!) and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel that looming college departure on the horizon. I want to squeeze as much out of these next two years as I can. So this summer, I wanted to make sure that our trip wasn’t just about the destination, but also the journey.
Our East Coast Road Trip Itinerary
I started with a handful of ideas in mind for our East Coast road trip. Maybe a trip to Niagara Falls, a place I visited when I was in college. Maybe finally take my son Evan to see the Dark Skies of Cherry Springs State Park. Maybe finally make it back to Corning, NY where I spent a few days for a travel conference. And then a loop started forming in my head.
I reached out to a couple of destinations to see if they would be up for helping me planning a teenage adventure trip for the family – with activities that would keep us entertained but not exhausted. And here’s where we ended up going.
We started in our home state of Maryland and planned our stops to minimize how long we were in the car. We tried to set a max driving time of about four hours. That’s when my teen starts getting antsy.
First Stop: Corning, New York
Explore Steuben, representing Corning and the Finger Lakes, offered us a two night hosted stay and did a fantastic job of planning teen and budget friendly dining destinations as well as activities that surprised my teen (and me!).
Second Stop: Niagara Falls, Canada
Just a short two and half hours from Corning, I chose this destination (my husband insisted on the Canadian side) and activities on my own but still think I did a pretty good job of balancing touristy stuff interesting activities. We also stayed here for two nights, which I felt was plenty.
Third Stop: Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania
Only two hours from Canada, Allegheny National Forest (ANF) is a region in Northwest Pennsylvania that includes tons of natural resources as well as small quaint towns. Visit ANF hosted us for two nights in the region with the right mix of indoor and outdoor activities.
Fourth Stop: Potter-Tioga Counties, Pennsylvania
Our final stop included two nights, courtesy of Visit Potter-Tioga, a two county region in North Central Pennsylvania known for dark skies, quaint towns, and the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. We took advantage of most of these!
After that fourth stop, we were about four hours from home with plenty of memories to carry us through the summer and plenty of ideas for weekend getaways in the fall!
Here are some of the recommended highlights from our trip.
Corning and the Finger Lakes
As mentioned, I worked with Explore Steuben, representing the Visitors Bureau for Steuben County, New York. We stayed in the heart of Corning at the clean and modern Hilton Garden Inn, which is walking distance from several of the places we visited. Highlights that your teen might love:
If a museum about glass sounds dull, you’d be in line with what my husband and son were thinking but I knew better. The Corning Museum of Glass is 50% science and 50% art and had my son telling me soon after arriving, “This place is way cooler than I thought.”
After a morning indoors, we headed to the third best state park in the United States, Watkins Glen State Park, known for its amazing waterfalls. Lots of walking and stair climbing were involved at this destination but it was well worth the view. Pro Tip: go during the week if you can to minimize the crowds!
Because mom (me!) loves outdoors and animals, we had great activities the following day, starting with my first ever horseback ride!
The sisters of Mountain Rose Horse Farm made it easy for all of us to quickly learn the basics of horsemanship. Then they guided us a one hour ride through their 90 acre farm. We never thought we would love this experience as much as we did but vacation is definitely for trying new things!
We also got to experience a safe encounter with bison at the Mud Creek Bison Ranch. From the comfort of our car, we viewed a bison herd on a local ranch in upstate New York. Once you’re done the tour, you can stop into their restaurant, shop, and event space for a taste of the bison too.
Our visit to the area wouldn’t have been complete without visiting a winery in the Finger Lakes. Bully Hill Vineyards was the perfect stop for a quick tour and light wine tastings. And even if you’re not a drinker, their restaurant offers a delicious lunch with a view of Keuka Lake.
Looking for more info? Check out my dedicated post on our trip to Corning and the Finger Lakes courtesy of Explore Steuben.
Niagara Falls, Canada
Canada vs New York was a hotly debated topic in my house. The hotels seemed nicer on the American side but the views were definitely better on the Canadian side. And with the exchange rate, it’s like getting 25% off of everything! We ended up staying at Old Stone Inn Boutique Hotel which was a nice hotel away from the super touristy hustle and bustle. But there is a lot to do in the area so we were intentional with our chosen activities.
First stop was an unusual one: Bird Kingdom, an attraction touted as the “World’s Largest Free-Flying Indoor Aviary.” My son is a bird guy so I thought this would be fun. It was great for an hour or so and we splurged so we could handfeed to lorikeets!
Next, we planned to get up close and personal with the Falls while learning about their power as well. We headed to Niagara Parks Power Station, completed in 1905 to serve as a power station. It’s been retired but now makes a great educational landmark especially with their outflow pipe being turned into a tunnel that takes you directly to the based of the Falls!
Further downstream, the power of the water picks up again creating some of the toughest rapids in the world. Walk alongside this section of the Niagara River at the White Water Walk.
On our way out of the region, we couldn’t resist stopping by the American Falls and riding the iconic Maid of the Mist, which is the original boat tour company. Although there’s a similar boat tour on the Canadian side, the crowds and ship on this side was more to our liking.
Allegheny National Forest
Just over the border where New York meets Pennsylvania, you’ll find a rural region that not only has beautiful natural scenery but also boasts remarkable historic origins for several major industries.
In the area, the easiest location to stay is in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Here we split our hosted visit between Willow Creek Cabin Rentals, where we found ourselves enjoying solitude in the middle of the forest, and the Best Western Plus in downtown Bradford. The locations were perfect to get us to our activities.
Hiking is, of course, a huge draw to the region but even if you don’t have time to check out the trails, the Kinzua Bridge State Park & Kinzua Sky Walk is a must see. When a tornado ripped down half of an old railroad bridge, the other half was converted to a sky walk, complete with a see through platform if you feel so bold!
If the weather doesn’t cooperate or if you want to spend a little time indoors, check out the Zippo/Case Museum & Flagship Store, a fabulous look at the original Zippo lights and Case knives still headquartered in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Don’t judge me if I happened to buy my teen both a lighter AND a knife!
Surprised that the Allegheny National Forest region is so much more than a forest? Dive in deep with my post on our trip to ANF courtesy of the ANF Visitors Bureau.
Potter and Tioga Counties, Pennsylvania
As we headed east to our overnight destination of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania and a stay at the quaint motor lodge known as the Canyon Motel, we hit a few destinations to give us the history of the region before we immersed ourselves in it.
Located just past the town of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, is an unexpected treasure right off of Highway 6. The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum might sound as exciting as a piece of wood, but it actually gives you insight as to how the lumber industry flourished and decimated the Pennsylvania forests along the way.
One of the start attractions to the area is the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, a region that we accessed primarily through Colton Point State Park. The vistas are easily accessible and gorgeous but can be appreciated even more after seeing how the lumber industry once stripped the land.
Although the view from the top is arguably the best, you can also immerse yourself in the canyon itself with a covered wagon ride with Ole Covered Wagon Tours. after a lovely ride in, we were able to hike up to a waterfall before making our way back out of the canyon.
Read more about my trip to the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon courtesy of Visit Potter-Tioga.
Planning Your East Coast Road Trip
Just remember that the East Coast is huge and there’s so much to see! Start by picking a region you’d like to explore and do your research.
I had the good fortune of working with the visitors’ bureaus in three out of four destinations. They helped me plan my itinerary, figure out where to stay, and find activities that my teen wouldn’t totally roll his eyes at. The good news for you is that the same resources are available to you if you’re looking at a road trip like this.
Short of that, it’s great to rely on first hand experiences (like mine!) and Google reviews. In fact, I try to make it habit to leave a review for every major stop we make.
When you’re planning your road trip, be sure to factor in the weather and the season (we caught the mountain laurels in bloom!) and be flexible with your plans. I promise you’ll make more memories that way!