Pennsylvania’s Best Kept Secrets:
Huntingdon and Raystown Lake
When I first heard of Raystown Lake and Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, I’ll admit that they sounded and looked like imaginary places judging by the pictures in the travel brochure. Never in my life (and I lived in neighboring West Virginia for 44 years) had I heard either of those places mentioned. At a travel conference, I met a native of Huntingdon who talked up the destination for its outdoor activities. My ears perked up when he mentioned that Raystown Lake had the only lake with houseboats in the entire state. What? I should go there! So I did.
I traveled to Huntingdon, in the Central Pennsylvania Allegheny Mountains, with my friend Howard of Backroad Planet. As it happened, the town was celebrating its 250th birthday and was geared for a star-studded celebration. Huntingdon was recognized as one of the coolest small towns by Budget Travel Magazine readers in 2009. So what was the appeal of Huntingdon and Raystown Lake? Allow me to share my travel experiences with you.
Charming and Historic Downtown
Huntingdon’s historic downtown, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offers local shops, art, and superb restaurants, all within a walkable city plan. The town has a distinct appeal that charmed me at once. The buildings have beautiful architecture flanked by lovely trees and flowers. Don’t miss the stunning Huntingdon County Courthouse, circa 1796.
Huntingdon also has Instagram-worthy downtown murals. Take in some shopping in unique shops like Stone Town Cafe & Gallery (local artisans), Reeve’s Gift Boutique, and Rothrock Outfitters, your one stop shop for anything and everything outdoors. Look for the town’s Standing Stone (dubbed by the Native Americans) in one of the oldest continually inhabited Pennsylvania settlements, Huntingdon. Downtown Huntingdon, Pennsylvania is beautiful, filled with historic and elegant architecture.
The Many Outdoor Attractions
Raystown Lake is a nearby man-made lake built by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The dam project, which ran from 1968 to 1978, came at a cost of $76 million dollars to construct and was for hydropower and flood control. It attracts more than two million visitors per year who flock here to witness the stunning Pennsylvania mountainous terrain. Views are best from the Ridenour Overlook.
It is easy to get caught up in the beauty of Raystown Lake with 118 miles of shoreline to offer, and its natural setting. Houseboats, cabins, lodge rooms, campsites (700 in total, ranging from primitive to hook-ups), and hotels are all nearby and available to rent. Raystown Lake draws more than one million visitors per year to Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
While visiting the are, Howard and I participated in some light hiking at Trough Creek State Park and Suspension Bridge & Rainbow Falls. Howard is a major waterfall lover so Rainbow Falls pleased him very much. The falls were gushing in full force; we were grateful for the previous rains. Since I had on slippery shoes, I held back from the steepest part of the hike. Howard went forward, hiking up a steep trail brought him to the overlook of Balanced Rock, another lovely spot. Keep your eyes open for bald eagles, a popular sight in this region. If trails are your thing, Huntingdon County has hundreds of miles of them.
A Unique Trail System
The Allegrippis Bike Trails System (mountain bikes) has a plethora of options for the novice or pro riders with 36 miles of “buttery smooth” stacked-loop bike trails. People from surrounding states and Canada drive here just to put their bikes on these trails. In winter, the multi-use trails are also used for shoe hiking and cross-country skiing. While we were there, families were visiting from many other states to take a ride on the highly desirable site.
Luxury Living in the Mountains
Howard and I stayed at a private mountaintop retreat, Bear’s Paw Lodge, handcrafted by a former owner and his wife. The stunning 6,400 square foot lodge, which sleeps around 25 (6 bedrooms, 6 baths), felt loved and its decor was immaculate. Rustic chic cedar and pine woods added a level of sophistication to the massive home. We were in our own paradise! A large wrap-around deck afforded us views of the wooded landscape, with plenty of wildlife to watch in its 40 private acres.
The home is furnished with a stone double-sided fireplace, gourmet kitchen, impressive furnishings, handmade furniture, and a built-in sauna. A gas grill and fire pit were available outdoors for our use. The luxury and beauty of Bear’s Paw Lodge made it very hard for us to leave!
Tasty Eats in the Huntingdon Area
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all tasty treats during our Raystown Lake & Huntingdon trip.
We had breakfast at Standing Stone Coffee, a downtown Huntingdon favorite. Here, I tried my first Baked Oatmeal, a Pennsylvania specialty, which was absolutely amazing! I have never been an oatmeal fan because of the consistency, but this dish, bursting with chocolate chips and topped with steamed milk, was great! I ordered the Quiche (spinach, smoked bacon, and Swiss) and Tomato Florentine Soup. Both items were impressive. Not being a coffee drinker, I skipped the Espresso bar, but Standing Stone’s coffee and drinks are highly recommended.
At lunchtime, we stopped at Lake Raystown Marina Cafe, which was just opening for the season. The cafe offered outdoor or indoor seating and had huge windows for overlooking the pretty lake and collection of impressive boats. We ordered the Chicken Boca (their signature sandwich), Pulled Pork Nachos, and Chef Salad. The Chicken Boca, a grilled chicken breast on delicious focaccia bread with prosciutto ham and provolone cheese, was quite delicious. The garlic mayo (oh yeah!) and balsamic glaze really heightened the flavor combination. My Chef Salad was piled high with large amounts of both ham and turkey, cheese, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, bacon, and hard-boiled eggs. The dressing tasted homemade and was palate pleasing. Our service was top-notch.
Dinner at a Historic Site
For dinner, we traveled to the Edgewater Inn, in the nearby town of Alexandria. This small 20-room hotel (with service more in the line of a bed and breakfast) is dotted with a beautiful landscape featuring oak, pine, and sycamore trees. This original farmhouse, built by the grandson of William Penn in 1762, runs along the stunning Juniata River. In 1947 it became a dairy farm and converted back to a private retreat and inn, in 1964. Due to its location along the river, Edgewater Inn is a great spot for kayaking or water activities. A historic, rustic barn is on site for weddings and special functions. Live music and entertainment are some of the Inn’s special features. Food at the Riverside Grill in Alexandra, minutes from Huntington, Pennsylvania is truly fabulous!
Riverside Grill, the Edgewater Inn’s restaurant, features gourmet dishes prepared with lovely presentations that you will be happy to sink your teeth into. You will want to start your meal with the luscious Crab Dip paired with toasted crostinis. Both the Lobster Bisque and French Onion Soups were hits with our table as well. The pasta dishes are so good that I recommend going straight to that part of the menu when deciding on your order. The Fettuccine Carbonara (bacon and mushrooms in a Parmesan cream sauce) tasted excellent and definitely filled me up. Peach Melba Foster is Riverside Grill’s dessert specialty. Bourbon-laced peaches with brown sugar and butter topped French vanilla ice cream and were drizzled with a tangy raspberry coulis. Yum!
After dinner, we enjoyed touring the property, guest rooms, and the barn.
A great rainy day activity, or one that will totally thrill collectors wanting to stroll down memory lane, is the Isett Heritage Museum. Located on Stone Creek Road, this quirky museum will help you rekindle memories of yesteryear from its enormous collection of antiquities. Three buildings house memorabilia of all types and genres. Everything is organized in a neat fashion and you could seriously be here for days browsing. Each item seems to spark a new conversation between visitors. Isett Heritage Museum currently boasts 40,000 antiquities and memorabilia items.
The Raystown Lake Visitor Center is another unique spot in town, surrounded by lush, forested ridges. Its warm and cozy feel, with playgrounds, pavilions, and incredible flowers and trees, made this a place for exploring nature. Be sure to check out their great gift shop as well in this fabulous natural setting.
Pennsylvania’s Best-Kept Secret
My trip to Raystown Lake and Huntingdon has been one of the highlights of my year. I loved the opportunity to explore so much natural beauty and then on the flip side, delight in the tasty eats and interesting shops. This is one destination you will be reading and hearing about a lot in the future when the word gets out.
FYI: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia residents will only have a two to three-hour drive to get to Huntingdon.