by: Nancy Bishop
Nestled in picturesque northeastern Pennsylvania near the Pocono Mountains, Columbia & Montour counties offer things to do to satisfy everyone – from the outdoor enthusiast to the history buff. Here are my top 10, in no particular order:
- Ricketts Glen State Park
- Montour Preserve
- Knoebels Amusement Resort
- Historic Covered Bridges of Columbia & Montour Counties
- Covered Bridge & Arts Festival
- Briggs Farm Blues Festival
- Bloomsburg Fair
- Bill’s Old Bike Barn
- Berwick Christmas Boulevard & Winterfest
- Benton Rodeo
With more than 13,000 acres, Ricketts Glen State Park, located at 695 State Route 487, above Benton in Columbia County, is one of the most scenic areas in all of Pennsylvania. The park is annually one of the most popular in the state, for good reason. Ricketts Glen is home to the Glens Natural Area, a National Natural Landmark. Hike the Falls Trail and explore the Glens, which has a series of wild, free-flowing waterfalls, each cascading through rock-strewn clefts in this ancient hillside. The 94-foot Ganoga Falls is the highest of 22 named waterfalls in the park. Old growth timber and diverse wildlife add to the scenic landscape and inspiring beauty.
The 245-acre Lake Jean offers swimming and boating (electric motors only). A boat rental concession operates during the summer season and offers rowboats, paddleboats, kayaks and canoes. Ten modern cabins are available for rental year-round and the park also has 120 campsites. To learn more about Ricketts Glen State Park, visit their official website.
Located off Route 54 near Danville, the Montour Preserve is a hiker’s paradise with 11 trails located around Lake Chillisquaque, a 165-acre reservoir on the middle branch of Chillisquaque Creek. An Environmental Education Center is located near the entrance to the Preserve and is a great place for kids and adults alike to learn about some of the region’s history, animal inhabitants, and more. If you’re out exploring the trails or enjoying the lake, you may just spot a majestic bald eagle overhead, as they will occasionally nest around the lake.
While visiting the Preserve, visitors can enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the many lakeside pavilions, try their hand at fishing in the lake, or visit the Montour Preserve Fossil Pit, which consists of approximately one acre of exposed Mahantango Formation shale. Formed some 395 million years ago during the Devonian Period when much of Pennsylvania was covered by a warm, shallow sea, these shales are particularly rich in fossils. The best part? You can keep anything that you find!
March is an especially great time to visit the Preserve, namely for the annual Maple Sugaring Open House. This year’s open house is planned for Saturday, February 29, during the hours of 9:30am – 1:30pm, and again on Saturday, March 14, during the hours of 12:00pm – 4:00pm. On Saturday, February 29, the program will include a pancake breakfast from 9am – 11am (tickets must be purchased in advance) and outdoor demonstrations at the sugar shack and sugar bush from 9:30am – 1:30pm.
On Saturday, March 14, the program will include both an indoor and an outdoor component. The two-hour program begins in the Environmental Education Center with a short talk and film on the cultural and natural history of maple sugaring. This is followed by a short walk to the sugar shack and sugar bush to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of maple sugaring. Attendees may choose to attend the indoor and/or the outdoor portions of the day’s programs. Maple products will be available for purchase on both dates as in previous years. Participants should dress for the weather. The sugaring open house programs are free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Jon Beam, Assistant Director, Montour Area Recreation Commission at: JBeam@MontourRec.com.
The Montour Preserve is open from dawn until dusk daily year-round. The Visitors’ Center is open Monday – Saturday from 8 AM – 4 PM during mid-February through mid-December. It is open Monday – Friday from 8 AM – 4 PM during the winter season (mid-December through mid-February). The Montour Preserve is managed by the Montour Area Recreation Commission. To learn more about the Montour Preserve, visit their official website.
Regardless of whether you are a local to the area or a potential visitor from outside the area, Knoebels Amusement Resort is an absolute can’t-miss each year. Visit America’s largest free-admission amusement park and make new memories the old fashioned way with classic rollercoasters, kid-friendly rides, swimming, camping, golf and attractions for the whole family!
Whether you want a tame ride or a thrill, Knoebels has it all. Be sure to try the Phoenix, a classic wooden coaster that has been ranked as the top wooden roller coaster in the world for the past two years at the annual Golden Ticket Awards, presented by Amusement Today. This nostalgic favorite always offers a thrill that won’t disappoint. A fast ride with upwards acceleration and a “double out and back” layout has passengers flying through the air and catching a bird’s eye view of the rolling, tree-covered hills. Aptly named, the Phoenix was reborn at Knoebels in 1985 after rising from the ashes of its history as the “Rocket” roller coaster, which was built in 1947 in San Antonio TX.
Another favorite is “Flying Turns”, a trackless wooden bobsled coaster that is the only of its kind in the world. Each car leaves the rails for a ride controlled only by the forces of gravity and momentum. A modern remake of an old Coney Island classic, this ride will not disappoint adrenaline seekers. The park also has classic rides like bumper cars, the ferris wheel, and a historic carousel.
Want to take a break from the action? Not a big ride fan? There are plenty of other attractions at Knoebels for the casual amusement park fan. Take a tour of the museums, visit the bald eagle habitat, try your hand at mini golf, or enjoy an immersive 4D movie experience. You can even watch live demonstrations from the Black Smith and Lost Logger in the Americana section. Just down the road from the park, you even can enjoy 18 holes at Knoebels Three Ponds Golf Course. For more information about Knoebels Amusement Resort, visit their official website.
Pennsylvania is the state with the most covered bridges remaining in the country, with approximately 200 bridges. Columbia and Montour counties are home to 25 of the state’s covered bridges. This places the counties as having the third highest number of bridges in the entire United States, only behind Parke County, Indiana and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. No two covered bridges are alike and each one has its own history, personality and story to tell. Columbia County alone has 19 bridges, Montour County has two covered bridges and four additional bridges span the divide between Columbia & Northumberland counties. Explore on your own or join the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau for its 7th annual Covered Bridge Bus Tour in May of 2020 (call the Columbia-Montour Welcome Center at 570-784-8279 for details). Many of the bridges are located on quiet dirt roads or in small town parks, so the journey to each will be a pleasant trip into the rural countryside.
Perhaps the most iconic highlight of the area’s covered treasures are the East and West Paden “Twin” Covered Bridges. They are one of only two sets of twin bridges in the country. If you are interested in visiting the area’s historic historic covered bridges, you can find more information right here.
Situated in the beautiful surroundings of Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, the Covered Bridge & Arts Festival has something for everyone. More than 350 craft vendors & 38 food vendors, amusement park rides, free parking & free admission make it a fun excursion for the family. The festival annually draws over 150,000 visitors over the course of the four days, making it one of the largest craft shows in the state.
Also offered on several days during the festival are guided bus tours to several of the Columbia County covered bridges – including the Twin Covered Bridges. The traditional journey includes the following bridges: Paar’s Mill, Esther Furnace, Davis, Hollingshead, Rupert, Josiah Hess, Stillwater, East & West Paden (the “Twin Bridges”), and occasionally the Johnson Bridge (time permitting). Tickets must be purchased in advance for the bus tours.
The 39th Annual Covered Bridge & Arts Festival will take place October 8 – 11, 2020. For more information about this year’s festival, please visit the official Covered Bridge & Arts Festival web page.
The annual Briggs Farm Blues Festival is gearing up for its 23rd annual show this year on July 9-11, 2020. One of the most-awarded blues festivals in the country, BriggsFest continues to provide world-class blues music in a family-friendly environment. There’s something for everyone to enjoy – from farm-fresh sweet corn and soul food to a vendor village and free hay rides pulled by red antique tractors. Located on Route 93 only a few miles north of Interstate 80, Briggs Farm is easy to reach and offers camping as well as easy access to nearby hotels. To find out what’s playing on BriggsFest’s three stages in 2020, visit Briggs Farm’s festival website.
Anyone familiar with Central Pennsylvania will be able to tell you about the Bloomsburg Fair. The Fair is celebrating its 165th year in 2020, and will run from September 25 – October 3. Check out the agricultural exhibits and the national act concerts – see Brad Paisley on September 27th and Chicago on October 2nd, just to name a few. However, the biggest draw to the Bloomsburg Fair is undoubtedly THE FOOD. Whatever you could imagine – funnel cakes, cheesesteaks, bacon flavored cotton candy, 50 different flavors of egg rolls, cinnamon ice cream, apple dumplings, deep fried pickles or oreos, corn dogs, caramel apples, pierogies – you can find it at the Bloomsburg Fair. Amusement rides, demolition derby, tractor pulls, horse races, tigers, and wild west shows are all just added bonuses. For more info, head over the the Bloomsburg Fair’s official website.
Bill’s Old Bike Barn on Rt. 11 between Bloomsburg and Berwick is a must-see experience for everyone, both young and old. Bill’s has amazing displays of motorcycles and memorabilia from all around the globe. Each time you visit you’re sure to find another item you missed on your previous trips. The front room of motorcycles is impressive enough, but then you’ll find the military display in the next room, complete with foxhole, a ’45 NOS Military Bike, a 30-caliber machine gun, and even palm trees finished off with Spanish moss! No detail was left out, right down to the 1940 military parachute that covers the display. Also, a 1913 Harley Silent Grey Fellow and a 1914 Triumph have taken their place along with vintage European carousel horses and pristine Moto Guzzi’s and the incomparable 1909 Peugot.
Bill also collects 1939 New York World’s Fair memorabilia, which is displayed along Main Street in Billville, the little village constructed inside the building that is complete with a mock mansion, smoke shop, music store and a 1939 New York World’s Fair Bar. Countless other rooms display oddities and collectibles that Bill has found over the years. One of his most recent additions was an entire room devoted to Mickey Mouse memorabilia, which is an absolutely incredible sight to see.
Bill’s Old Bike Barn is open year-round Thursdays & Fridays from 10 AM – 6 PM, Saturdays from 9:30 AM – 3 PM, and Sundays from 1 PM – 5 PM. Admission is just $5.00. For more information, visit Bill’s Old Bike Barn’s official website.
Every night in December, Market Street in Berwick comes alive with lights, animatronics, singing displays, and decorations on the annual Berwick Christmas Boulevard. Bring the whole family and drive the one-mile route to enjoy the festive displays and wave to Santa from the warmth of your car. On December 1st, the Christmas Boulevard powers up its lights, while the town also plays host to the Berwick Winterfest. The sidewalks will be packed with delicious foods, toasty drinks, and craft vendors. Other activities include free cookie decorating, horse & carriage rides, a gingerbread house contest, crafts, face painting, marshmallow-roasting stations, live music and ice-sculpting. Find more information about the Christmas Boulevard and Winterfest and plan to pay Berwick a visit in 2020.
Cowboys and cowgirls from across the country come to northern Columbia County each July to compete in activities such as bull riding, barrel racing, calf roping, bareback bronc riding, and more at the Benton Rodeo grounds. If you’ve never been to a rodeo before, you’re in for quite a show. The Benton Championship Rodeo is considered one of the finest rodeos east of the Mississippi, with competitors vying for top honors each night.
The rodeo will be celebrating its 36th anniversary in 2020, and will host the Championship Rodeo and Frontier Days Celebration from July 14 – 19. For more information about this year’s upcoming rodeo, visit the Benton Rodeo Association’s official website.