Tucked in the corner of southwestern Pennsylvania is a haven for nature lovers and city slickers alike.
My small hometown is nestled in the rolling Appalachian mountains and emerald fields of southwestern Pennsylvania just a few miles from Maryland and West Virginia. Most neighboring states (and much of the U.S.) view my area as a no man’s land in Amish country, and that description isn’t too far from reality. But the largely uninhabited and unrefined nature that surrounds the sleepy towns and farmlands I call home also makes great stomping grounds for hikers, bicyclists, kayakers, and general sightseers looking for a mix of city and country.
Not all of southwestern Pennsylvania is backdropped by cornfields and rural hamlets, though just a fifteen-minute drive outside of Pittsburgh’s iconic tunnel entryway leads to that exact setting. Nonetheless, the Steel City is a metro constantly rising in popularity and attracting droves of new arrivals from across the United States. Lovers of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates span worldwide with unwavering devotion to the black and gold, the home of the Primanti Bros and arguably the prettiest skyline in the entire U.S. from the crest of the mighty Mount Washington.
A quick drive through the city’s network of bridges lacing the Monongahela River is a spectacle of both modern and industrial-era city life intermixed with natural landmarks once home to the earliest Native American tribes on the eastern coast. No city on earth has a grander entrance than the picture perfect view from the Fort Pitt tunnel. Just ask anyone from Pittsburgh—they’ll gladly confirm.
Apart from its must-sees like the Duquesne Incline, Phipps Conservatory, Randyland art exhibit, and its many museums, Pittsburgh is also a melting pot of culture, artwork, and food. The strip district is a vibrant and historic neighborhood once a mecca of industry at the peak of the city’s steel empire. Its mills ultimately left, but the nearby shops and vendors remained, along with a mix of international markets selling everything from fresh fish at Wholey’s to Greek and Mediterranean goodies at Stamoolis.
Pittsburgh cuisine is heavily influenced by its diverse community of immigrants from Italy, Germany, and China, among many others. From fresh sausage and Calabrian peppers to handmade pierogies, grabbing a savory bite to eat is no challenge for the native Pittsburgher, or “Yinzer” as some might call them. All jokes aside, dose yinzers from da burgh sure do know dere food.
Restaurants like Apteka and DiAnoia’s Eatery in West Penn offer a delectable glimpse into Pittsburgh’s Eastern European influence with fresh pasta, cocktails, and vegan eats. A trip to Pittsburgh isn’t complete, however, without a stop by Primanti’s for a mile-high sandwich topped with fries, sausage, sauerkraut, and maybe a smidge of heartburn (totally worth it).
Roughly one hour south of Pittsburgh is a recreational playground nestled in the small town of Ohiopyle, home to a whopping 34 native residents, according to the 2020 Census. Don’t be deterred, however. The area comes alive with millions of tourists from April to October as nature lovers from across the U.S. flock to the surrounding state park for boundless adventure.
Ohiopyle spans across 20,500 acres of untouched natural beauty and is the southern gateway to the Laurel Highlands. The Youghiogheny River Gorge offers some of the best whitewater boating in the eastern United States, and even the lazier sections of the expansive river provide endless views of the lively PA forestry and wildlife. Boat and bike rentals are available in the center of town, along with a number of centrally located bars and restaurants like the Falls City Pub as well as quaint shops like the Oddly Enough boutique.
The park is home to dozens of hiking trails, waterfalls, and even natural waterslides, and it’s also a pitstop on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail system which runs from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.
Less than 4 miles from Ohiopyle State Park in the same rugged woodlands is Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s weekend getaway and a world-renowned crown jewel of residential architecture. The home was designed in 1939 and constructed over a waterfall in the Bear Run Youghiogheny tributary, an early biophilic design studied and revered by architects and designers for nearly a century. Frank Lloyd Wright was known for his integration of nature into the built environment, and what better setting than the Laurel Highlands?
Fallingwater was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and in 1991, it was named the “best all-time work of American architecture” by the American Institute of Architects. Most recently, the house was deemed a World Heritage Site in 2007, and it’s also famously listed in Smithsonian’s “Life List of 28 Places to See Before You Die.” The home is impeccably preserved and can be toured upon reservation here.
From a bustling industrial city to the quiet and reclusive countryside, southwestern Pennsylvania is an unexpectedly idyllic getaway year round with nonstop activity and stunning natural landscapes during every season. Whether you’re looking for a new city to explore or you’re an avid outdoorsman seeking boundless adventure, the no man’s land in small town Pennsylvania may just be the perfect destination for every man (and woman).