Monday, May 23, 2011

Plan a Staycation or Vacation in Harrisburg, PA

With gas prices inching closer to $4 in many parts of the nation, a lot people are staying close to home this summer for their vacation. Or maybe they are traveling to visit and stay with family members or friends to avoid a hotel or rental property. If you are staying close to home this summer, try exploring your home town or city to see what low cost fun and adventure you can find.

I am joining 85 other bloggers in almost all 50 states in The Year of the Staycation project, hosted by Toni, The Happy Housewife and Carrie, of Springs Bargains. We are all writing about fun and low cost summer ideas in our respective areas of the country. I will be posting all of the links to the other bloggers' sites for you to possibly plan out your summer vacation or staycation.

Harrisburg, Pa.

If you didn't know, I live in central Pennsylvania, very close to the state capitol of Harrisburg. Harrisburg is conveniently located right in the middle of Pennsylvania, in between the states two largest cities: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Harrisburg and the surrounding communities offer a variety of activities during the summer to make your 2011 Staycation exciting, fun, adventurous, yet inexpensive. There are activities for the whole family.

If you are looking for historical and educational activities, take a tour of a National Historic Landmark, the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Built in 1906, the "Capitol's centerpiece is a spectacular 272-foot, 52 million-pound dome inspired by Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome".

Not far from the Capitol is the State Museum of Pennsylvania. The State Museum offers "four floors of exhibits that represent Pennsylvania's story, from Earth's beginning to the present", a Planetarium and a 'hands on' play area, Curiosity Connection, for children 5 and under. Admission is $4-$5, depending on your age and there is FREE admission on the third Saturday of every month.

Also located downtown is the Whitaker Center , that offers an IMAX theater, Science Center, and a performance theater. The science center is 3 floors of exhibits, experiments and programs. It also offers a play/imagination area just for kids under 5. The performance theater is an intimate venue that hosts everything from national acts to local performers. Prices for the IMAX theater range from $8 - $9.50, depending on your age and prices for the science center range from $12.50 - $15, depending on age as well.

The National Civil War Museum As stated on the website, "the only museum in The United States that portrays the entire story of the American Civil War. Equally balanced presentations are humanistic in nature without bias to Union or Confederate Causes." Admission prices range from $7-$9, depending on age. There is a family pass available for 2 adults and up to 3 students(immediate family members).

If you are interested in military history, visit the Army Heritage and Educational Center located west of Harrisburg, in Carlisle.

Harrisburg throws some amazing outdoor festivals with the Susquehanna River as the backdrop:

The Patriot-News Artsfest is located at Harrisburg's Riverfront Park right along the Susquehanna River. It runs May 28 - May 30, 2011. Admission is $5 and is good for all three days and benefits community arts projects and scholarships. Children under 16 are admitted free. Activities include: Over 275 Juried Artists and Craftsmen from across the United States. Free Nonstop Entertainment on two stages in cooperation with Harrisburg Midtown Art Center. Kidsfest with a Children’s Stage/ Children’s Artist Market and a Children’s Activities Area hosted by Popcorn Hat Players.

Harrisburg Jazz and Multi-Cultural Festival. July 2-4, 2011.

The Kipona Celebration runs Sept 3-4, 2011 and is right along the Susquehanna River. Admission: FREE. Activities include Artfest featuring 150 different artists and craftspersons, live music and entertainment, Chili Cookoff, Classic Canoe race, a traditional Indian Pow Wow, and SO much more.

You could also venture just a few minutes west of Harrisburg to
83rd Annual Jubilee Day - the largest one day street fair on the East coast. Date: June 16, 2011 from 10 am to 9 pm. Location: downtown Mechanicsburg. Admission: FREE. The event features wares from local artists and craftsmen, as well as great food, fun games, and exciting amusement rides.

Amusement Parks and Zoos
Hershey Park -Located about 14 miles east of Harrisburg. From roller coasters and water rides to kiddie rides and music shows, there really is something for every one at Hershey Park. Other attractions at the Park are ZooAmerica and Chocolate World. Discount tickets can usually be found at Giant Food Stores. Picnic lunches and food are not permitted inside the park.

Dutch Wonderland is located about 40 miles east of Harrisburg, the heart of Amish Country/ Lancaster County. It is a great park geared more towards children ages 12 and under. Food is not permitted inside the park, but there is a Family Picnic Pavilion right outside the park. Old Mill Stream campground is right outside the park, within walking distance. My family camped there last year and we had so much fun. The cleanest bathrooms, I have ever seen.

Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is located about 25 miles north of Harrisburg. From a Safari tour to a petting zoo and reptile exhibit, this park is an exciting destination.

Knoebels is the largest free-admission park in America. It is also north of the city. Personally, we have never been there, but that is our loss as I have heard nothing but good things about the park, the campground and the whole experience.

The Great Outdoors
Harrisburg's City Island, right in the middle of the Susquehanna River, offers activities for just about everyone. Choose from an arcade and batting cages, miniature golf, a beach, a Carousel, a train, horse-drawn carriage tours of the island and the city, Riverboat cruises and so much more. It is also home to the Harrisburg Senators, the city's AA pro baseball team.

Gifford Pinchot State Park is located south of Harrisburg. It offers hiking trails, swimming, boating, picnicking, camping and so much more.

If you will be traveling to central Pennsylvania this summer, check out the inexpensive activities in Gettysburg, PA at Somewhat Crunchy.

Have you ever visited Central Pennsylvania? What are your plans this summer? Will you be traveling or staying close to home? Let us know in the comments.

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Photo Credits: Allie's Dad


  1. Great ideas! I love the way you organized this post.

  2. As a former resident of Hummelstown you posted some of my favorite Central PA spots! Great post!

  3. I've been to Hershey and had no idea I was so close to Harrisburg! Guess I'll just have to make another trip back that way!! Great list!

  4. Don't forget a great place to check out Gettysburg! Visit the battlefields.

  5. I found you through Heavenly Homemakers link...

    It probably is too far away to qualify as local, but I would list Knoebel's too, I love that place!

    Thanks for the list though, especially the fairs and such as I haven't grown up around here so I'm still learning those.

  6. Anonymous - Thanks for the recommendation. I just added it to the link. I have never been to Knoebels, but I have heard nothing but good things about it. We definitely need to make a trip there this summer.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. My husband and I loved Gifford Pinchot when we went. Beautiful scenery. The hikes vary in difficulty from easy (as in I could take my jogging stroller on them no prob), to harder, get lost in the woods types. The lake is gorgeous too!

  8. The state museum website says it no longer offers the 3rd Saturday free admission anymore. :(

    Also, I have gone to Knoebels MANY MANY times and highly recommend it!! It is great for the whole family since there is no admission price. Even people who do not like to ride rides will have plenty to do at the park and can always purchase enough tickets to ride just the train (for example) if they would like.


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