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Check out the Happy Valley Inspiration Guide Here!
by Natalie Dupuis
There’s nothing quite like winter in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania: the feeling of a deep breath of cold air filling your lungs, the smell of fresh snow and wood-burning fireplaces, a drink (perhaps from the Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail) that warms you from the inside out. Whether you’re bundling up to play outside or looking to be cozy indoors, #HappyValleyPA has winter activities for visitors of all ages.
Tussey Mountain is made up of 50 acres of ski slopes, and is less than 15 minutes from Downtown State College. The Snow Tube Park is primed for winter family fun. Hop on a tube and let the park do the work - you’ll get towed to the top of the run, and then fly down the lane, enjoying the views along the way. Experienced skiers and snowboarders have access to the Terrain Park, while those new to the sport (or anyone who needs a refresher) can take a private or group lesson from one of the friendly professionals. Slopes and lifts are open to skiers and snowboarders carrying a season pass or daily ticket.
Head over to the brand new Axemann Brewery in Bellefonte, where the owners have transformed a historic factory into the largest taproom in Happy Valley. Their hit beer, Blue Stripe, is a game day must-have, and their other varieties celebrate local flavors and influences. While you’re there, explore Bellefonte! It recently made Only in Pennsylvania’s list of Best Downtown Areas, and has a unique collection of restaurants and shops.
The original flour mill dates back to 1796, and has recently been restored into an elegant 16-room inn, cocktail bar, restaurant, and event space. Throughout its history, the mill played an important role in the Underground Railroad and was a critical contributor to the local economy for more than 200 years. Today, the rooms at The Inn at Gamble Mill are sophisticated and modern, while celebrating the original architecture of the building. The Republic is the mill’s cocktail bar that serves classic, cultivated drinks; the restaurant, Creekside, is known for its creative dishes that are in tune with the season and made from locally-sourced ingredients.
If you’re looking to bring a souvenir home, stop by Way Fruit Farm in Port Matilda. All of the fruit is grown on the property, and the vegetables are sourced from local neighbors. You can find fresh baked goods made in-house each day at the Way Café, Bakery & Deli. There’s an area for kids to play while you shop for your favorite jam, or browse the unique hand-crafted work of local artisans. Tip from the locals: the apple butter will knock your warm winter socks off!
When the winter cold sets in, head underground where this all-water cave (#seeitbyboat) is always a pleasant 52 degrees.
Penn’s Cave & Wildlife Park is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, with tours hourly from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. In December, the cave is open weekends only from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with tours hourly from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
America’s only all-water cavern and wildlife park is closed in January, but opens again in February for weekend-only tours. Daily tours resume in March.
Penn’s Cave is closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
The Penn’s Cave Gift Shop, which is located inside the Visitors Center, features a variety of unique gifts, including rocks, crystals and gem specimens; adult and children’s clothing; plush animals; educational books and toys; local honey and maple syrup; and popular Penn’s Cave souvenirs.
The Cave Café, also located in the Visitor Center, is a great place to grab lunch – farm-raised bison burgers are on the menu – or a snack before or after a tour.
Happy Valley is filled with spaces to get in touch with your artistic tastes, but the most notable museum is The Palmer. It’s the largest museum collection between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022. With more than 10,000 works, The Palmer features American, African, Asian and European art, as well as studio glass, ceramics from a variety of eras and cultures, and modern and contemporary works. Thanks to its connections to Penn State and the community, The Palmer is an admission-free museum.
At the Re Farm Café at Windswept Farm, you can literally see the farm from your table. Your meal at Re Farm will feature seasonal vegetables and fruits grown on property or by a trusted local partner. Everything is so fresh, in fact, the menu changes each week to accommodate what’s ready to be used from the garden. The sustainable practices at Re Farm support the environment, the local economy, and nourishes the community. Re Farm also offers cooking classes if you book ahead of your visit. Another farm-to-table restaurant that supports local farmers is Pine Grove Hall - enjoy Sunday brunch or a cocktail while you listen to live music.
What’s a visit to Happy Valley without a stop by Penn State? While football gets a lot of attention, winter sports at PSU are highly competitive and a great night out. The Lady Lions and men’s basketball teams are looking forward to having fans back in the Bryce Jordan Center after a season without them due to Covid-19. The PSU wrestling team is on the hunt for a national title, with their most recent championship win in 2019, so any match you see will be highly competitive. And the Pegula Ice Arena is home to the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams, who are ready for fans to return and recreate the energy that is unique to Penn State athletics. Add in a visit to the Penn State All-Sports Museum to take in all the history and tradition for every sport.
You don’t have to look far to find an outdoor activity in #HappyValleyPA - there are more than 750,000 acres of public lands around the region. Four state forests are within driving distance, so you can bike, ice fish, snowshoe, or hike to heart’s content. For the budding or professional photographers out there, the snow-covered trees along the Harvest Fields Community Trails are picturesque for landscape shots or wintery family photos. After your photos, get the whole family involved in a geocaching adventure - it’s like a giant scavenger hunt throughout Happy Valley with more than 50 caches to find. See the area in a new way!
Discovery Space is designed to spark creativity and curiosity in your children through science and technology. There are more than 45 interactive exhibits that your kids can play with and explore - the current featured exhibit is all about marine life. Discovery Space also offers various programs for different age groups, so check in to see what’s available when you’re visiting. Your kids could explore anything from circuitry to air pressure to recycling as part of their experience.
The recently renovated Scholar Hotel State College is a cozy Downtown home away from home. It’s in the original Glennland Building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places as it was built in 1933. While it has been updated and designed for extended stays, it honors the history of the building. Amenities include a restaurant, bar, fitness center, and marketplace in case you need a snack or forgot to pack your chapstick. The hotel is an easy walk to Penn State’s Main Campus for a lecture or sporting event, as well as the State Theater for a performance, and lots of shopping and eateries.
The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle in Howard is a hotel stay that’s unlike any other. Voted the No. 1 eco-lodge in the country, the 16-room hotel has expansive views of the FJ Sayers Reservoir, forest and gardens. You can walk right out of the hotel and embark on the 14-mile trail system, either on foot or using complimentary snowshoes or cross-country skis. For those traveling with little ones, you’ll have access to a great sledding and tobogganing hill. And if you aren’t up for more outdoor exploration, you can stay cozy with a book and hot chocolate by the fire in the hotel’s Great Room.
No matter how you choose to spend your time, winter in Happy Valley is filled with opportunities to soak in the beauty of Central Pennsylvania, and make memories that will last a lifetime.
Still looking for more ideas for any season? See the Happy Valley Bucket List