“The Sweetest Place on Earth” is rich in chocolate and history, along with amusement park fun. Hershey, Pa.’s location, however, might just be the most enticing attribute of all, as it offers easy access to other vacation-worthy destinations, from the battlefields of Gettysburg to another amusement park in small-town Elysburg.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country is just 45 minutes from Hershey, and offers a plethora of cultural fun, including Amish buggy tours. Kids especially enjoy train rides on the Strasburg Railroad, along with visits to the Choo Choo Barn. Dutch Wonderland is easily a day trip in itself, too, and features shows and rides for families with young children. New in 2014, it also offers an attraction called Exploration Island, where little tikes can search for dinosaur fossils!
When you build up a BIG appetite, head to Shady Maple Smorgasboard, a true institution in the area. Afterward, satiate your sweet tooth with a visit to the Turkey Hill Experience, where you’ll have chance to create your own ice cream flavors and sample them in a testing lab.
Tour the historic (and famously haunted) battlefields and cemeteries of Gettysburg, where President Abraham Lincoln also delivered The Gettysburg Address in 1863. If you’re traveling with teens, you’ll especially enjoy a candlelit outing via Gettysburg Ghost Tours. Also visit The Land of Little Horses for pony and wagon rides (or simply to ogle the adorable animals), followed by a stroll through downtown Gettysburg, where charming shops, cafes and more history abound. Gettysburg is just under an hour’s drive from Hershey.
It’s not as exciting as Lancaster and Gettysburg, but Harrisburg is right next to Hershey and offers a few museums and sites that might be of interest to your family. If you have a history buff in tow, for example, he or she will enjoy The National Civil War Museum — it has more than 4,400 artifacts, some that were once in the hands of General Robert E. Lee and President Abraham Lincoln. The whole family will like the Whitaker Centre, which features a science museum and performing arts and IMAX theaters.
Other attractions of note — especially if you live in Pennsylvania — include the Pennsylvania State Capitol and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. If you visit in January, you might also like the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which features fantastic food and a petting zoo and is held at the PA Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.
4. Roundtop Mountain Resort
Slightly closer to Hershey – about 40 minutes away – Roundtop Mountain Resort offers families the chance to ski and snowboard between visits to Hershey’s Chocolate World and The Hershey Story, should you visit during the winter months. Small in size, the resort also offers snowtubing opportunities, along with several children’s programs. And even if you visit in the summer months (the most popular time to visit Hersheypark), Roundtop Mountain Resort offers zip lining, a ropes course and paintball.
5. Indian Echo Caverns
Search for treasure in underground caves — originally inhabited by the Susquehannock Indians — at Indian Echo Caverns, located just three miles from Hershey in Hummelstown, Pa. Guided tours are 45 minutes in duration; other highlights include an authentic teepee and covered wagon for photo ops, along with a petting zoo, playground, picnic areas and a gift shop for souvenirs. Indian Echo Caverns is open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the remainder of the year. Admission is free for children age 2 and under, $8 for those ages 3 to 11, $14 for adults and $12 for seniors. Tip: Bring jackets (the caves’ temperature is consistently 52 degrees) and leave your bags in the car, as they are prohibited (though cameras are allowed).
6. Knoebels Amusement Resort
Nestled in the woodlands of Elysburg, Pa. and just over an hour from Hershey, Knoebels Amusement Resort is the largest free admission amusement park in America (patrons simply pay per ride; rates range from $1 to $3). It’s also one of the oldest – it opened in 1926 – with a storied past that includes the notable relocation (from San Antonio, Texas) and opening (in 1985) of The Phoenix, a wooden rollercoaster. The ride is currently one of four coasters at Knoebels, and will be joined by a fifth in 2015; the new ride, Impulse, is under construction in Germany and, upon completion, will tout a 90-foot vertical drop.
There are plenty of rides for little tikes and families to enjoy together, too, along with a giant swimming pool and waterslides. Free parking, picnic areas and entertainment are also provided. And almost as popular as the park itself are the surrounding campsites and cabins, the later of which sleep 6 to 16 guests at affordable rates – you’ll pay anywhere from $130 to $229 per night.
7. Utz Pretzel Factory
Also just over an hour from Hershey in Hanover, Pa., Utz houses a 600,000-square-foot facility with a giant observation gallery – kids love to watch (and smell) how the salty treats are made, from start to finish! Utz Pretzel Factory is open Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., though we suggest you call before your visit, as production times are subject to change. Self-guided tours are free and last 30 to 45 minutes.
8. Herr’s Factory Tour
For more treats, head to Herr’s Factory in Nottingham, Pa. (about two hours from Hershey, in the opposite direction of Utz Pretzel Factory), where you’ll enjoy a free tour of the facility, followed by samples of chips, served fresh from the production lines! Visit Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m to 3 p.m. (you can visit on Fridays, 9 to 11 a.m., but production isn’t guaranteed). Extended hours are offered the second week of July through the second week of August.