Raystown Perfect Nature's Playground in Our Backyard

By Cara Aungst

My husband and I got married in the Old Stone Church in Manor Hill in Huntingdon. We wanted an off-the-map venue and were captivated by the building, and its stories. There were doors, for instance, on each side of the pulpit, through which no living person ever went. Caskets shuttled in the door on the right, and after the funeral, they went out the one on the left, into the graveyard. We ourselves came in the back doors – the ones for the living – and stood on that cold wooden floor, 23 years old, cautiously hopeful, helplessly in love. It was unseasonably cold that September, and everyone wore parkas over their wedding clothes and sat in shuttered pews. We decorated with pots of chrysanthemums, and when we were done, we tucked them in our arms and took them with us. 

And then we went to Raystown. We changed out of our wedding duds, picked the flowers out of my hair, and played. All of us – the old college roommates, the new relatives, the aunts, the babies, and the coworkers. We ate picnic food – a cheeseball the size of a kid’s head, summer's-end fruit, locally-catered roast beef, and salads. We played volleyball, took boat rides, and ran under the trees that had turned a million colors of autumn just for that day. 

It was 2000, and those were the days before every moment was parsed and Instagrammed, but I remember the technicolor moments of that Raystown day as though each one had been hashtagged #RaystownPerfect. 

I have an affinity to Raystown, and not just for that day. It has outlined our life together. The early years with babies slathered in SPF 50 and an absurdly heavy swim bag. Kids in the boat. Packed lunches, bald eagle spotting, feeding the carp, lazy Sundays, sandals, sun tans, and kids falling asleep on the way home with pine cones in their laps. 

To feed a love of hiking, boating, kayaking, biking, tenting … heck, LIVING...  Raystown has been just an NPR radio program away from State College – close enough to go for just an afternoon or a weekend and yet worlds away. Just ask Matt Price, Executive Director of the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau. “If Happy Valley is home,” he says, “the Raystown Lake region is the coolest backyard ever.”

It's been voted one of 100 Best Scenic Views in America by Reserve America's The Camping Club, and it needs to be part of your summer. Take an extra day or two to kick back, reconnect and enjoy one of central PA's happiest places! You can go for a boat tour and be back in time for your reservation at Kelly's, or come in town for Arts Fest and stay for a long weekend at one of Lake Raystown Resort's exclusive villas. Where to start? We have a few ideas...

PLAY

The possibilities are literally endless, but we've come up with a few favorites! Take advantage of the easy rentals of boats, kayaks, watercraft, house boats, and more to enjoy a spontaneous weekend on 30 miles of pretty great water. Off the water, there's geocaching, hiking, biking, and more. Read on!

  • Take the crew water-skiing on a pontoon boat! Seven Points Marina,5922 Seven Points Marina Drive. Hesston, PA 16647, (814) 658-3074, www.7pointsmarina.com
  • The WildRiver Waterpark features two 380-foot twisting slides, the White Water Inner Tube Ride, the Atomic Blaster, heated swimming pool, and the Children’s Splash and Play Pool.
  • Captain Kirk Reynolds at Angry Musky Outfitter offers full service fishing charters depart from Lake Raystown Resort’s Marina. 
  • Proud Mary Showboat cruise offers a memorable adventure. Public sightseeing, and breakfast and dinner cruises are available, as well as private charters.
  • Kayaks, mountain bikes, paddleboards and inflatable floats are all available to rent from local vendors nearby or at Raystown Lake. Rothrock Outfitters offers a group tour that includes four kayaks, shuttle service and guiding on this placid, beautiful portion of the Juniata River. Top off your trip with a lunch at Standing Stone Coffee Company in Huntingdon. While you paddle these historic waters, you'll see interesting rock formations, and if you are lucky, a bald eagle! 814-643-7226 
  • Take a hike on hundreds of miles of walking trails. For an easy to moderate trail, we recommend  the Greenside Pathway – a two-mile loop in Seven Points Recreation Area past beach. With the trail made of 38,000 recycled tires, this walkway is easy on the knees and is navigable with strollers and wheelchairs. Taking the next step up? Try the Old Loggers Trail, a five-mile loop of varied terrain with an exquisite view of the lake. 
  • Ride a bike – the Allegrippis Trails at Raystown Lake have trails for all skill levels of mountain bikers.
  • Camp and enjoy s’mores – Pitch your tent, set up your RV or find a cabin. Start your campfire and look at the stars overhead while you tell stories with the kids. There are about 2,000 campsites in Huntingdon County!
  • Tour the caves – It's the 85th anniversary of Lincoln Caverns, and you can celebrate at the 11th Annual DISCOVERY DAYS at Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks on  June 27 and June 28, 2015 from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 pm. Enjoy special historic tours, workshops, children’s activities, and fun for the whole family at special prices! 814-643-0268, 
  • Take a boat ride – Two tour boats offer cruises on Raystown Lake.Take The Proud Mary listed above, or The Princess, which runs out of Seven Points Marina. 814-658-3074.
  • Go geocaching – Look for hidden treasures placed throughout the region. A fun “scavenger hunt” discovery activity for families.
  • Swim at the beaches of Raystown Lake. Two public beach areas are a great place to visit during your “Raycation.”
  • Ride Lower Trail – This 17-mile bike track is on an old railroad bed along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, mostly flat and great for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and nature viewing! 
  • Hike 1,000 Steps Trail - Originally built by quarrymen as a means to commute to work, this is now an iconic Huntingdon County hike. More than 1,000 stone steps run from the base to the top of the mountain (800+ feet of elevation change). But the climb is well worth it---the views of the Juniata River and surrounding mountains is spectacular. 

Where else but in Happy Valley can you plan a weekend that will include a Broadway show, world-class food and festivals, and an otherworldly mountain getaway only minutes away? Plan those days, pencil them in and fill them with things you'll remember for a long time. I hope they turn out to be as filled with as much food, friends, and unmitigated fun as my favorite Raystown weekend was, 15 years ago.

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