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As a guy with a car blog, I have a big confession to make. It took me a long time to really enjoy driving. I grew up in the non-Chicago part of Illinois — the part that’s nothing but cornfields. Roads there were painfully boring. There were zero twists, zero hills, and not a single thing to be excited about, other than every now and then taking the I-74 bridge over to Iowa.
Then I moved to Pennsylvania. The autumn leaves had just begun to turn, and one short trip through the rolling hills of Appalachia made me fall in love with driving. There’s no better adrenaline rush than traversing two-lane highways and taking in the state’s rich history, culture and wildlife. These routes are a few of my favorite PA scenic drives that I think you’ll enjoy.
Pennsylvania Route 6
National Geographic dubbed it one of the country’s most scenic drives — Pennsylvania Route 6 is my favorite road in the Keystone State. It stretches for 427 miles and runs through 19 state parks, six state forests and the Allegheny National Forest. As you might expect, the fall foliage here is a breathtaking sight to behold.
Other popular attractions on Pennsylvania Route 6 include the Pine Creek Gorge — also known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon — and the Kinzua Skywalk, a 600-foot glass walkway with amazing views of the Kinzua Gorge.
Route 6 is one of the most popular PA scenic drives that attracts people from New York, Ohio and even Canada, so it can get busy with tourists during the fall months. Be sure to practice mindful driving habits and go at a safe pace. Speed traps are common, especially around small quiet Victorian towns like Galeton and Wellsboro.
The National Road
Built between 1811 and 1834 at the wishes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, US Route 40 — better known as the National Road — was the first federally-funded highway in America. This historic road crosses six states and was integral to helping nineteenth-century pioneers expand America’s western borders.
Only 90 miles of the National Road pass through Southwest Pennsylvania, but this small stretch is full of excitement. History buffs will especially love it. The first things you might notice are the highway’s historic artifacts, including the stone mile markers and toll houses people used 200 years ago. It’s one of the few PA scenic drives with all of the original architecture still standing.
You should also pay a visit to the Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Farmington to learn about the beginnings of the French and Indian War and pay your respects at General Braddock’s grave. Then, the road will take you west to Brownsville and Nemacolin Castle, where you can enjoy a view of the Monongahela River and learn about everyday life in early America.
Arriving after dark? For the thrill-seeking visitor, Nemacolin Mansion offers ghost tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Along with all of the rich history, the National Road takes you through the heart of the Appalachian foothills and is full of hiking trails, campgrounds and other outdoor activities.
Conestoga Ridge Road
Nestled in the heart of Lancaster County between US 322 and PA 10, Conestoga Ridge Road is literally a trip back in time. It runs straight through Amish and Mennonite country, where the same families have lived since the 18th century. While most PA scenic drives can show you historical sites and artifacts, Conestoga Ridge Road has the real thing.
The quiet landscape is dotted with quaint meadows, rolling streams and the occasional roadside farm stand with delicious homemade food. Keep an eye out for Amish barns — which can be identified by their lack of electricity lines — and don’t be surprised if you find yourself driving slowly behind a horse-drawn buggy.
After experiencing Pennsylvania’s Amish and Mennonite culture, you should head west to Churchtown to explore the area’s Welsh mining history. Settled for its rich iron ore deposits, this town still has a rich community of craftsmen who once supported the region’s farmers and iron forge employees.
Afterwards, stop by Historic Poole Forge in Navaron. Beloved by photographers and history buffs alike, this former iron plantation allows visitors to explore its spectacular Ironmaster’s Mansion Hotel along with the paymaster’s house, tenement houses, lime kilns, and covered bridge that date back to 1859.
Cumberland Valley’s Parks
Cumberland County is a beautiful stretch of land just outside the state capitol of Harrisburg. Once you get out of the city and cross the Susquehanna River, you will eventually find yourself in Cumberland Valley’s parks. This area is one of the lowest-lying valleys in the Appalachian Mountain range and has almost a 360-degree panoramic view of the mountains.
Most PA scenic drives are known for their fall foliage, Cumberland Valley’s views give you a new perspective. You almost feel like you’re inside a bowl. Interestingly, bird activity is a popular outdoor attraction here — Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch on Kittatinny Ridge is full of eagle, hawk and raptor activity.
If you drive southwest on Interstate 81, you can pay a visit to the Michaux State Forest and might encounter some small Mennonite communities. If you drive south on Route 15, you will eventually cross into Adams County and drive through Gettysburg — a town that needs no introduction.
Washington’s Trail 1753
George Washington had a knack for finding scenic roads. The historic Washington’s Trail commemorates his first military achievement. During the winter of 1753-54, the 21-year-old inexperienced commander trekked through hostile territory to deliver an evacuation order to French troops at Fort Leboeuf.
The trail runs roughly parallel with the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. It starts in northern Maryland, passes Fort Necessity, then takes you right past Pittsburgh, Moraine State Park and the historic French Creek. Western Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains are also some of the most beautiful mountains in the entire Appalachian range.
Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway
The 68-mile Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway is a popular destination for car enthusiasts, motorcyclists and bicyclists alike. The roads are extremely well maintained and have generous pedestrian trails. When you drive through this area, sometimes it doesn’t feel like a real place. Everything is perfect, especially the roads that run through Ohiopyle State Park.
Other attractions include the waterfalls at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house and his Kentuck Knob. Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art is nearby for the artsy types. This small southwestern pocket of PA is also home to numerous distilleries that have been in operation for hundreds of years. Just make sure you sober up before you get on the road again.
Pennsylvania is a Driver’s Paradise
Next time you’re looking to enjoy the great outdoors, hop behind the wheel and take a drive through one of the PA scenic routes listed above. Whether you’re looking for history, culture or wildlife, Pennsylvania’s scenic byways will make you fall in love with driving all over again!
Original publish date 2/9/2016 – Updated 7/8/2023