If you’re trying to stretch the budget for your vacation in Reading, PA, you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of free things to do in the area for everyone in the family, including some hidden gems and American treasures!
Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
Hopewell Furnace is America’s finest example of an 18th century iron plantation. It was built at the dawn of the American Revolution in 1771 by Mark Bird, a colonel and quartermaster in the Continental Army who supplied cannon, cannonballs, shot and shell to George Washington’s forces. It’s most productive years were during the mid-1800s, when it produced iron for Civil War weapons. Take a self-guided tour and explore 14 restored structures in this national park, including the big house, smoke house, blacksmith shop, charcoal house and schoolhouse. Special reenactment events are held during the summer months.
Tour the GoggleWorks
GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in downtown Reading takes its name from its 5-story building’s original use as the Willson Goggles factory. It was renovated and adapted for use as a community art and cultural center for Berks County and Central and Southeastern Pennsylvania, and is the largest, most comprehensive interactive arts center of its kind in the country. Inside, you’ll find galleries, artist, dance and music studios, a wood shop, movie theatre, glass-blowing facility, and ceramic and jewelry studios as well as a café and gift shop. Admission and parking are free.
Covered Bridge Trail
Download our guide and take a self-guided driving tour of historic covered bridges through Berks County’s scenic rolling hills and farm land. There were 45 covered bridges built in Berks County between 1834 and 1885. Five beautiful examples remain and, with the exception of Wertz’s Covered Bridge, are open to vehicle traffic, including:
- Dreibelbis Bridge – The 172-foot-long bridge, sometimes called the Dreibelbis Station Bridge, was built in 1869 and spans Maiden Creek. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
- Griesemer’s Mill Bridge –This 124-foot-long covered bridge was built in 1832 over Manatawny Creek and is the oldest in Berks County. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
- Kutz’s Mill Bridge – Crossing Sacony Creek at Greenwich Township in Berks County, the 93-foot-long Kutz’s Mill Bridge was built in 1854 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
- Pleasantville Bridge – Built in 1852 over Little Manatawny Creek, this covered bridge is 128 feet long and 16 feet wide. It was recently refurbished and is in beautiful condition.
- Wertz’s Covered Bridge – Also called the Red Covered Bridge, this is the longest single span covered bridge in Pennsylvania, stretching 220 feet across the Tulpehocken Creek. Built in 1867, it serves as the walkway entrance to the Berks County Heritage Center.
Hex Barn Art Trail
Another enjoyable scenic self-guided driving tour will take you on a journey through northern Berks County where you’ll discover many examples of the best-known symbol of the Pennsylvania Dutch – hex signs – painted on barns throughout the area. The 28-mile route begins in Kutztown and ends near Hamburg, guiding you to dozens of these uniquely American folk art symbols. No one knows for certain why the Pennsylvania Dutch decorated with these colorful “barn stars,” but they’re thought to have originated in the late 1700s. You’ll see examples of the sun, moon and stars, pinwheel designs, and maybe even the distelfink, a symbol of good luck and tranquility.
Nolde Forest and Hiking Trails
Outdoor enthusiasts, hikers and backpackers will be delighted with the 10 miles of trails through the rolling hills, woodlands, streams and ponds that cover Nolde Forest’s 665 acres. Owned originally by hosiery baron Jacob Nolde in the early 1900s, the land was planted to create a coniferous forest. A Tudor-style mansion was added in the 1920s and serves today as the home for the first environmental education center operated by the Bureau of State Parks. Enjoy well-maintained trails, picnicking, fishing in Angelica Creek, and a variety of public events and informative programs throughout the year.
There are so many free things to do in Reading, PA! Follow the hex signs and covered bridges, picnic in Nolde Forest, tour Hopewell Furnace or the GoggleWorks, and much, much more. Call the Greater Reading Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 443-6610, and let our travel consultants help you plan your weekend getaway.