My husband and I were looking for a fall getaway from our Brooklyn home. York, Pennsylvania, about three hours from New York City, two hours from Philadelphia, and just over an hour from Baltimore, was where we decided to go.
A small city surrounded by gorgeous countryside, York proved to be a great choice. I’m a sucker for a rail trail, so York’s Heritage Rail Trail was high on my list, but there were so many more things to do.
We explored York’s downtown, just looking at beautiful historic buildings from the outside. You can also follow a self-guided historic site trail.
York, which was briefly the first Capital of the United States, is the birthplace of the Articles of Confederation. In 1777, after meeting one day at Lancaster, Congress moved to York so that the Susquehanna River would separate Congress from the enemy.
But we weren’t planning a revolution or succession, just a fun weekend for two. Here are the details about what we found to do.
Biking Adventure in York
I had hoped to run or bike along the heritage rail trail, but I injured my back and wasn’t up for a run or a long ride. My husband and I tried a different kind of biking: the American Rail Bike.
This unique adventure was on custom-built heavy four-person bikes that are actually on old railroad tracks. This is one of those fun things the whole family can do. A woman in our group had a five-month-old baby strapped to her chest while she rode, another multi-generational group had a couple of people in their 80s and yet another family had elementary school-aged children.
Basically, you just need a couple of people who are comfortable pedaling and powering the 1000 or so pounds of bike (plus people) on each rail bike.
After a quick orientation and photos, we were off. A guide biked alongside us because when we got to the end, he used a turntable to turn each bike around. We spent about two hours total, biking seven miles and waiting for our bikes to turn around. This rail trail adventure is open from spring to fall.
Northern Central Railroad Trail, officially known as the Torrey C. Brown Trail, covers nearly 20 miles in Maryland, stretching from Ashland Road in Hunt Valley to the Mason-Dixon Line
More on the Rails – Leaf Peeping
There are steam train rides along the Heritage Rail Trail. We did this the next day, with Northern Central Railway of York. The steam train rides leave from New Freedom, where there is a small rail museum.
I thought this would skew young, but there were many people even older than us, without kids or grandchildren. The Fall Foliage rides are an interesting way to see the changing leaves. And people come outside and wave to the train as you go by.
Train rides are an hour, two and a half hours, or three hours. There is also an option to bring your bicycle on board one of the longer rides and cycle back on your own power.
You can ride all the way to Maryland, to the Mason-Dixon Line, or just bike back to New Freedom.
History in York
The York County History Center has eight sites, including the Historical Society Museum, the Agricultural & Industrial Museum, the Colonial Complex, and the Fire Museum. There are hands-on exhibits and walking tours of historic sites around downtown York.
And just walking around downtown York and reading the historic markers is fun and informative. I learned that the first national Thanksgiving was held here.
Eating in York
There are so many delicious places to eat in York. We needed longer than a weekend! Start at York Central Market House, open every day except Sunday. You can forage from over 50 vendors, from breakfast foods to pizza, and crepes. Middle Eastern specialties, and a sit-down Italian restaurant. We had fantastic vegan food at Hype and perfect espresso from Take Five. My husband, Rob, wants to go back for Roburrito’s food truck.
We also enjoyed the upscale Revival Social Club, which had no vegetarian entrees, but had plenty of delicious vegetarian sides and appetizers: spicy General Tso’s cauliflower, wild mushroom bruschetta, pumpkin arancini, plus soups and salads.
Drinking in York
Explore York has developed the “Good Libations Trails” – the Mason-Dixon Wine Trail; the Susquehanna Ale Trail and the Keystone Craft Spirits Trail so you can find local wineries, breweries, and distilleries in York County.
We checked out three of the breweries right in downtown York. Collusion Tap Works had over two dozen small-batch beers on tap, including several tasty IPAs. The extensive food menu has cheesesteaks, (you are close to Philadelphia) burgers, and flatbreads. Gift Horse Brewing Company has a huge beer garden and there was live music when we were there. You can also get handheld food like burgers and burritos And Mudhook Brewing Co., in York Central Market House, has its own beers, plus cocktails using Pennsylvania spirits.
Orchard Valley Farm, in York County, has pick-your-own apples, plus pumpkins, mums and gourds. We had planned to pick apples, but it had rained and it was quite muddy So we picked up bags of apples, a quick and efficient way of getting a bushel of fresh fall fruit. Depending on the season, you can also pick peaches, strawberries, raspberries, and cherries.
Brown’s Orchards & Farm Markets has a giant market where they sell their own produce, fresh pressed apple cider, and house-baked goods. You can also buy local honey, jam, or pickles to bring home. You won’t go hungry. There is a coffee bar, and a sit-down cafe for breakfast, lunch, or ice cream.
If you want to drive a little further, go to the Amish farms in Lancaster.
SheBuysTravel Tip: This is Pennsylvania dairy country. There are no vegan ice cream options. If you have a lactose-free or vegan child (or husband), distract them with a giant cookie. From personal experience, it works.
Utz has a free self-guided factory tour, open Monday – Thursday. This is where Utz pretzels, Hanover Potato Chips, and Zapp’s chips are made.
If you want to make something, Sunrise Soap Co. has a Creation Station where you can make your own soaps, bath bombs, or lotions.
Note: Harley-Davidson Factory Tours are temporarily closed.
More Outdoors in York
Rocky Ridge County Park has 12 miles of hiking trails, a Hawkwatch Program where you can help count migrating birds, and an observation deck overlooking the Susquehanna Valley. The annual holiday walk-through “A Festival of Lights” trail runs post-Thanksgiving to the end of the year.
Nixon Park has six miles of hiking trails. The Nixon Park Nature Center, open Tuesday – Saturday, has live animals and hands-on displays focused on Pennsylvania’s natural history. There are also hiking trails in Mount Pisgah, within Samuel S. Lewis State Park, in York County.
If you are a fan of minor league baseball, check out WellSpan Park (formerly PeoplesBank Park) where the York Revolution plays professional baseball.
Culture in Downtown York
We saw the opening night of the York Symphony at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, in the heart of downtown York. The historic theater offers free family-friendly movies on First Fridays, comedy shows, Touring Broadway productions, and pop and rock music.
Where to Stay in York
At The Yorktowne Hotel, you can experience luxury for less. The newly renovated hotel, in the heart of York, is a National Historic Landmark. Just outside York, the Inn at Terra Farms is a bed and breakfast on a flower farm. Jackson House Bed & Breakfast is right on the Heritage Rail Trail. Both B & B’s were built in the 1800s.
Where to Stay – Forever
We toured Lebanon Cemetery, the final resting place for York County’s African-American community. Former slaves, war veterans, and prominent clergy, doctors, and teachers are buried here. A group of volunteers has uncovered and cleaned over 800 headstones.
Prospect Hill Cemetery has burial grounds of soldiers from every American war. Just down the street from Lebanon Cemetery, Prospect Hill offers free tours of its 100 acres. The historic cemetery opened in 1849.