31 Oct Weekend Escape: Exploring Outdoors in York County, PA
Just a two-hour drive from East Coast hub cities like Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, York County, Pennsylvania, makes for a great weekend escape. Known as “The White Rose City,” York played a defining moment role in early American history when it served as the place where the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation (the first Constitution) in 1777.
Today, York is a famous factory tour destination, even billing itself as the “Factory Tour Capital of the World”. The city has a long history associated with manufacturing and is the birthplace of the coal-burning locomotive and the iron steamboat. Although neither is made here anymore, York is home to Harley-Davidson’s Vehicle Operations, the company’s largest facility, which sprawls out over than 230 acres. You can tour the shop and see how motorcycles are made. The York Barbell Company is also headquartered in York County, and beyond the factory, it features a museum dedicated to the pursuit of strength.
I, however, came to York, to explore another side of the area: its outdoor scene. Here’s how to spend a weekend playing in nature.
Just a 30-minute drive east from the city is Native Lands County Park, which feels like a whole different world. Situated in the rolling green hills, right on the banks of the Susquehanna River at the very heart of the Susquehanna Riverlands, it’s a wonderful heritage and outdoor attraction. At Native Lands you can enjoy incredible views and hiking trails that take you along a historic Susquehannock Indian settlement site and to the Dritt Family Cemetery.
The park also connects to the Zimmerman Center for Heritage, a 1740s stone home right on the Susquehanna River. Inside, you can learn all about the Susquehanna Indians, John Smith’s explorations of the Chesapeake Bay, and early American culture and exploration. The center is also home to the only permanent collection of Susquehanna River art that exists anywhere. I spent some time examining this collection, and loving how it shows how artists over the centuries have been inspired by the scenic beauty of this area and river. There is also a collection of Susquehannock Indian artifacts onsite that were excavated here. While outside, you can linger on the floating dock, letting nature inspire you the way it did the artists.
Just a few minutes’ drive from the Zimmerman Center is Shank’s Mare, a mom-and-pop style outfitter where you can find a lineup of outdoor adventures and rental equipment. I decided to rent a kayak and paddle the fishing creek where I am surrounded by trees like hemlock and pawpaw. I paddle solo, but the shop offers guided tours of the river as well.
After a day exploring, I was hungry, and happy to find there was somewhere I could grab a meal by the water before heading back to town for the night. The Accomac is a historic inn that sets the scene for this restaurant’s seasonal, local, and farm-to-table offerings. When it comes to ordering there are heartier options, but fish is definitely a delicious staple here, whether it’s served up in tacos or a fun take on an open-faced crab cake melt.
York County has the best of both worlds when it comes to water and the mountains, so on the second morning I headed out to Roundtop Mountain Resort, an adventure-themed park that’s great for families, located at the highest point in the county, and home to a full day’s lineup of activities.
One of the things you will notice when you first arrive is the OGO Ball, which is a giant inflatable ball also known as a zorb. The inside is filled with water before you climb in and roll down the hill. It feels like being in a giant water slide and can move up to 20 miles per hour and is a wild experience that I completely enjoyed. Beyond the OGO Ball, there are zip lines, bumper boats, a giant waterslide, interconnected climbing features and in winter even skiing. Also onsite is a food court with a bar selling a wide variety of drinks.
After spending the first half of the day in childlike play at Roundtop, I decide to spend the afternoon indulging in some adult fun: tasting wine on the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail, which is also located near town. Running from York County all the way south to Carroll County, Maryland, the trail is home to many of the family-owned vineyards that put Pennsylvania on the winemaking map. The wineries host two signature events, festivals, concerts and other events throughout the year, and you can get a taste for what is coming up by heading to www.masondixonwinetrail.com.