If you are out and about near Lancaster, PA, and looking for things to do, there are a variety of options that will entertain everyone in the family, whether you prefer exploring caves, hiking, biking and swimming in one of the area’s best recreation areas, or taking a leisurely ride through Pennsylvania’s farm country for a taste of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.
Crystal Cave Park
Kids and adults love “Pennsylvania’s Greatest Natural Wonder,” which was discovered in 1871 near Kutztown by two Pennsylvania Dutchmen, William Merkel and John Gehret. They called it Crystal Cave because of the sparkling diamond-like crystals that adorned its walls.
Fearing vandalism and damage, they leased the cave to farmer, Samuel D.F. Kohler, who bought it along with 47 surrounding acres in 1872 for $5,000, put up a rustic wood door to keep trespassers out. He set to work adding wooden stairs and pathways, illuminated the interior using kerosene torches and oil lanterns, and began charging 25 cents for admission, making Crystal Cave Pennsylvania’s first commercial cave and one of its first tourist attractions.
Several years later, Kohler built the Cave House (also called the Kohler Hotel) to attract overnight visitors, and used stagecoaches to transport them to and from Kutztown, the train station and the cave. He also held dances and hoe-downs inside the cave to entertain his guests, and sold beverages from a stand in the Crystal Ballroom, the cave’s largest room.
In 1923, the property was sold to the present owners, who made many improvements over the years to access and lighting. Today, you can descend 125 feet underground and take a guided tour to learn all about stalagmites and stalactites. There’s also a miniature golf course, museum, theater and nature trail on the grounds. Enjoy Crystal Cave from March 1 to the end of November, but bring a sweater; it’s always a cool 54°F down there!
Blue Marsh Lake
This man-made lake along the Tulpehocken Creek is a recreational hotspot, featuring boating, hiking, biking and bird-watching. And it’s just minutes from Reading and Lancaster!
With over 36 miles of trails that pass through picturesque forest and fields, picnic areas, a small beach and boat launches, Blue Marsh Lake is a great spot to enjoy the great outdoors on a beautiful day. The multi-use loop trail circles the lake and is suitable for walking, running, cycling and horseback riding. You can even enjoy ice boating, ice fishing and ice skating during the winter months.
Among the favorite spots is Stilling Basin, where the water is expelled from the dam. It’s become a popular fishing location and has a universally accessible fishing platform.
Hex Barn Art Trail
If a leisurely drive is more your style, an 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 Hex Barn Art Trail 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 happiness.
For other fun things to do near Lancaster, PA, or for help with trip planning, browse the Greater Reading Convention and Visitors Bureau website, or visit us inside the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in historic downtown Reading.