Pennsylvania is called the “keystone state” because of its central location among the original 13 colonies. But Pennsylvania’s "keystone" role has not been limited to mere geography. On the contrary, the state has and continues to be an economic and political pillar in the fabric of America. With topography that covers the spectrum – mountains, rivers, streams, farmland, oil wells, mines, and mills – Pennsylvania boasts an industrial and manufacturing economy that resembles its northern neighbors, as well as an agricultural prowess that likens to that of the southern states. Politically, Pennsylvania was once the capital of the United States, the venue where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the site of numerous key battles of the Revolutionary War. Today, as the sixth most populous state, Pennsylvania remains a major factor in federal elections, and is considered one of the most significant “swing” states on Election Day.
For tourists, visiting such a state that has been so instrumental in the founding and development of the country undoubtedly involves soaking in a bevy of cultural and historic attractions. Pennsylvania is certainly rich with history – from the site of General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, to the battlefields of Gettysburg, to the Civil War trails, to the Liberty Bell which was used to summon Philadelphians for the reading of the Declaration of Independence, to Independence Hall where the signing of the famous document took place. But visitors should not forget the natural beauty of Pennsylvania either, a state graced with 21 national and state forests, more than 100 state parks, more than 2,500 lakes including the great Lake Erie, and thousands of miles of rivers. You can enjoy everything that is great about the outdoors here, whether it be camping, fishing, hiking, biking, boating, or swimming.
Pennsylvania was first settled by the Native Indians, among them the Iroquois, Lenape, Susquehannock, Shawnee, and Eriez. The Dutch were the first to explore the region and lay claim to it, but the first actual European settlement was by the Swedes in 1644 at Tinicum Island. In 1655, the Dutch attacked the Swedish colony and incorporated it as a Dutch colony. In 1664, however, the British ousted the Dutch and took possession of Pennsylvania. King Charles II then granted, William Penn, a tract of land in 1681. He led a group of Quakers to colonize the area. The Dutch, Swedes, and Finns already living on the land granted Penn were granted citizenship. The religious freedom granted to residents in Pennsylvania also attracted new immigrants including the Welsh, Irish, Germans, Scots, and French Huguenots.
During the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania hosted the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. George Washington and his army also camped out during the winter of 1777 at Valley Forge. Many battles like the Battle of Germantown and the Battle of Brandywine also took place on Pennsylvanian soil. After the war
The Swedes, Finns, and Dutch already in the new land were granted citizenship; soon came Welsh, Germans, Scots, Irish, and French Huguenots. Of these, the Germans left the strongest imprint on the state's personality. Commercial, agricultural, and industrial growth came quickly, and all these resources were contributed to the Revolution. In Pennsylvania, Washington camped at Valley Forge, the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the Constitution drafted. Pennsylvania also hosted the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Philadelphia when the Constitution was drafted. For a brief period in the 1790s, Philadelphia also served as the temporary U.S. capital while Washington was been laid out. During the Civil War, Gettysburg near Harrisburg in Pennsylvania was the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address and where the major turning point in the war – the Battle of Gettysburg – took place.
After the Civil War, Pennsylvania became one of the most industrialized states in the U.S., a powerhouse in manufacturing and mining. When American steel and coal declined in the 1970s, the state turned to service industries like transportation, healthcare, retail, and tourism. Today, Pennsylvania remains one of the more economically thriving of the states.
Pennsylvania is divided into seven tourist regions. In the northwest is the Great Lakes Region, an unspoiled land of lush forests and streaming rivers. There are miles of scenic trails that can be enjoyed by bikers and hikers. Lake Erie is the highlight of this region. The seven-mile beachfront has been designated a national natural landmark known as the Presque Isle State Park. Lake Erie attracts boaters, fishers, campers, and party animals as the lake hosts a lively nightlife scene. The nearby Erie National Wildlife Refuge is also popular among bird-watchers. Wine tasters are drawn by the fine wines grown in the lake region. And those interested in the cultural arts will enjoy the theatre productions, concerts, and art galleries that take place around the lake.
The Great Lakes Region has some history to it as well. In Titusville, the first oil discovery in Pennsylvania was made in the 1850s. The oil creek where the find was made is now the Oil Creek State Park, popular among canoeists, kayakers, and cross-country skiers. Its 6,250 acres are open to hunting as well, and you’ll find rabbits, deer, and moose, among others. The park has a museum as well that showcases artifacts related to the oil drilling that continued until the early 20th century. Titusville along with other towns in the region are also notable for their idyllic charms. These towns feature old-fashioned storefronts and Victorian-period homes.
Pennsylvania’s north-central is known as the Pennsylvania Wilds region, which features mountains, forests, and wilderness bluffs. The highlights include Cherry Springs State Park, Allegheny National Forest, and Pine Creek Gorge, among national and state parks. Every imaginable outdoor thrill can be had in the region, from camping, to fishing, to hunting, to bird-watching, to hiking, to mountain biking, to whitewater rafting. Be sure to check out the state’s Grand Canyon at Pine Creek Gorge and the dark sky preserve of Cherry Springs State Park.
Northeast Pennsylvania Mountains
In the northeast is the Northeast Pennsylvania Mountains region. It is the state’s ultimate vacation getaway, featuring mountain trails and ski resorts, including the world-famous Poconos. The Pocono Mountains are particularly popular among New York City residents who escape during weekends or holidays to the luxurious resorts, bed and breakfasts, or vacation homes of the Poconos to relax or otherwise hit the slopes of the half-dozen ski resorts in the area. Outside of the Poconos is the Delaware Water Gap, equally inviting for outdoor enthusiasts, offering camping, fishing and hiking spots. On the historical side, the northeast also has railroad and coal-mining heritage museums around Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.
Pennsylvania’s southwest region features the state’s second largest city Pittsburgh and its suburbs. Pittsburgh is an industrial city offering thriving cultural arts scene. You can check out Broadway shows, symphony performances, and art museums like the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. But Pittsburgh is also a big sports town; you can enjoy a Pittsburgh Penguin’s hockey game, a Pittsburgh Steelers football game, or a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. The city’s restaurants are excellent as well, featuring superb ethnic foods. Outside of the metropolitan area, you’ll find a “rust belt” rural countryside of quaint towns, charming village inns, and antique shops.
Central Pennsylvania is known as the Alleghenies or Allegheny Valleys region. This area is beautifully sprinkled with unspoiled state parks and forests, the perfect setting for wildlife-watching and scenic hiking. The region is also dotted with Victorian towns and small communities. Antiquing through the Alleghenies is also a serious pastime for some visitors.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country
In the south just east of the Alleghenies, you’ll find a region known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country. This is the land of Amish farmers where land is farmed without machinery. The state capital, Harrisburg, is also located here. The country roads in this region wind through small towns, quaint villages, farmers’ markets, and antique shops. The main highways run past factory outlets and amusement parks. The highlight of this region are the historic Revolutionary War battle sites near Harrisburg and the city of Hershey, the chocolate capital of the U.S. and home to Hersheypark – the entertainment theme park centered around chocolate.
Pennsylvania’s southeast is home to Philadelphia and the countryside beyond the metropolis. The state’s south-easternmost edge harbors Philadelphia. Its metropolitan area offers world-class restaurants and shops, fine art museums and theatre productions, and historic attractions like Brandywine Battlefield, Valley Forge, Independence Hall and Liberty Bell. However, outside of Philadelphia in the countryside, you’ll find roads that wind through farmlands. The highlights along the way include small quaint towns, local wineries, and bed and breakfasts.