Who says day trips are a summer activity? With the perfect to do list, you can enjoy a day of traveling and an array of activities that are both fun and warm and cozy. And if that sounds good to you, we can’t think of a better place to travel than California, Pennsylvania.
Located along the Monongahela River in Washington County, the borough of California is best known for the California University of Pennsylvania. And sure, it’s worth walking through the school’s campus if you’re able to. However, this lovely town has more to offer to visitors than college-esque hotspots! Let us show you what else is worth visiting:
- One place worth visiting is the California Public Library. The best libraries are housed in beautiful old buildings, and this one is no exception. Set inside an old train station, the library even displays a caboose displayed on its lawn. With a historic location and daily activities, this library is a great spot for a traveling family.
- If you feel like bundling up and exploring more of the outdoors, the California Union Memorial Park isn’t far from its library. The memorial park houses the local cemetery, where one of the town’s founders lies. Soldiers from the War of 1812 and the Civil War also lie at rest here. Interestingly, there are two 60-foot retaining walls plastered with old grave markers, instead of the stones being buried in the ground. California Union Memorial Park is not an average cemetery, and is worth your time if weather permits a visit.
- But if you’d rather stay indoors, you may want to visit the California Area Historical Society. Housed in a building that’s over one hundred years old, the society houses records on the history of Washington, Greene, and Fayette Counties, the Civil War regimental history, and local history. They focus in genealogy and history alike – so you may be surprised by what you find here.
California is a surprising center of history in Pennsylvania, and well worth your time and attention. As with all small towns, confirming seasonal hours before your visit is highly recommended!
Ready to plan a trip to the historic area of California, PA? In addition to Googling other local activities or browsing our website bio on the town, you can visit our website calendar to see upcoming activities!
Have you ever heard of Nemacolin Castle? Don’t let the shared name of an infamous Pennsylvania resort fool you – Nemacolin Castle is arguably the Mon Valley’s finest house museum. It’s primary name is Bowman’s Castle, although Nemacolin Castle is a common nickname for the structure. Built in present-day Brownsville, it’s approximately one hour away from Pittsburgh. Best of all, this Pennsylvania historic landmark is open year round, with volunteers offering tours of the castle interior and its spacious grounds!
The History Of The Castle
According to the Nemacolin Castle website, the structure was built “at the western terminus of the Nemacolin’s Trail on the east bank of the Monongahela River.” Nemacolin Castle was built around the site of the area’s original local trading post. The trading post has roots in the 1780s – but construction on the castle began during the mid-to-late 1790s, at the hands of Jacob Bowman.
Jacob and his wife were the first of three generations to live in the structure. In the beginning, the building housed a new trading post on its ground floor, and a single room above that. It was as Bowman family grew – the couple had nine children total – that a broad hallway was added to the building.
Upon Jacob’s passing in 1847, the house passed on to Nelson Bowman, who added an east wing and a brick tower to the ever growing building. Nelson, and one of their sons, lived out their days in the home. It was after the son and his widow passed that The National Historical Society purchased the house and began to open it up to the public as a museum.
The Castle Today
Currently the structure is maintained and operated as a house museum by the local Brownsville Historical Society nonprofit group. Nemacolin Castle is one of a handful of 1850s buildings that stands and survives today, and the building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975. It’s fascinating history of trade and family love makes it a wonderful attraction for visitors of many ages.
Best of all, the historical society offers tours year-round of the gorgeous structure. They just ask that prospective visitors contact them at 724-785-6882 or at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Why Google “historic houses near me” when this one is so close? We cannot recommend a visit to Pennsylvania’s own castle enough. Guests may also be interested in the town of Brownsville, home of the beautiful building!
’Tis the season – for travel and holiday cheer! The winter season is an under-appreciated time for local travel and exploration. Many Pennsylvania and even West Virginia towns offer plenty to do during the chillier months of the year. Museums, for example, are a great go-to as you travel and unplug for your normal routine. This blog is for the museum lovers out there – and will help you find some off-the-beaten-path exhibits this season!
Donora, Pennsylvania – 27 Miles From Pittsburgh
The borough of Donora is located in Washington County, alongside the Monongahela River. The town has an industrious history, with stories of steel-making, coal-mining, agriculture, and more. In addition to a long history of creation and production, Donora houses the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum. A member of the Heinz History Center’s History Center Affiliate Program, the museum is dedicated to preserving and remembering 1948 Donora smog – an event that tragically killed 20 people and left 7,000 ill. This single event in Donora’s history helps to shine a spotlight on environmental dangers, residential welfare, and more – and is well worth a visit. Interested in visiting? Contact the museum to confirm their operating hours!
Brownsville, Pennsylvania – 40 Miles From Pittsburgh
Brownsville was once a frequent destination point for travelers who were heading west via the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers. Today the town is a lovely place to escape busy city life – it has two historic districts, and the area by design celebrates its rich history and local scenic beauty.
Museum-wise, Brownsville houses the Frank L. Melega Art Museum and Monongahela River, Rail, and Transportation Museum. The art museum collects, preserves, interprets, and exhibits the artworks of Frank Melega – an Indiana-born son of a coal miner with an artistic talent that earned him recognition from prestigious organizations across the country. And if art isn’t quite your thing, the transportation museum displays an impressive collection of artifacts and archival materials related to the history of river and rail transportation in this region. Between the two, you’ll be sure to get your fill of historic things this season. (Be sure to call before visiting this museum, as its hours are limited!) Interested in visiting? Be sure to contact both museums to confirm if they are operating on seasonal hours.
Fairmont, West Virginia – 90 Miles From Pittsburgh
While West Virginia is commonly recognized for its outdoor activity options, Fairmont has plenty to offer in the way of museums and history. The Marion County Historical Society & Museum combines both of these things, featuring a diverse collection of historic things from across the centuries. The museum’s focuses include the Revolutionary and Civil War, coal mining, the glass industry, railroad lines, and more. This charming museum will help you settle into the state, understanding a little more about the factors that shaped it. Interested? Here are their hours of operation!
As a bonus, if your schedule matches theirs – their hours are very limited – the Telephone Museum will be your next stop. With switchboards, pay phones, test boards, and more, this little museum is a fabulous tribute to the history of the telephone.
Morgantown, West Virginia – 75 Miles From Pittsburgh
Morgantown may house West Virginia University, but it’s not just a college town by any means. Morgantown has consistently been rated as one of the top small cities in America to live or start a small business. Historically, the area was highly contested due to its location and resources. Today visitors can get a glimpse of the area’s glass and coal heritage at the Morgantown Museum. This city-sponsored museum and nonprofit aims to promote local and regional history and to make it accessible to the citizens of Morgantown and visitors to the region.
These are just some of the delightful museums hidden throughout our river towns. If any of them grabbed your interest, we definitely recommend planning a little holiday trip – you won’t regret the chance to shop and learn as you head out of town for a seasonal trip!
Ready to plan a trip? In addition to Googling local activities, you can visit our website calendar to see upcoming activities in many local Mon River Towns.
*Always check the most recently posted museum hours before planning a visit, as some museums may adjust their hours for the holidays or for the winter after the publishing of this blog.
Think that it’s too late to get out on the water this year? Think again! Many paddlers love kayaking in the fall even more than the summer. Cooler temperatures and fall foliage create a beautiful ambience for a day of paddling this time of year.
If you do have plans to paddle this season, however, you should hold off on googling for beautiful places to kayak. Before planning any water activities, it’s important to brush up on the safety tips that will keep your river trip safe, warm, and relatively dry. That means always obeying the following paddling guidelines:
- Always wear a PFD. A PFD, or Personal Flotation Device, is a critical part of any kayaking trip. PFDs are your first line of defense during an emergency spill into the water. Even the best swimmers need to wear PFDs, just in case. (Pro-tip: If you find regular lifejackets particularly uncomfortable, you can purchase a kayaking specific life jacket!)
- Don’t try to push your skill level. You should never go kayaking in an area or environment that you are not comfortable with; for example, a beginner may not want to paddle in an area with a stronger current. (Another pro-tip: the ideal kayaking environment has protection from wind and waves, a good access point for launching and landing, lots of places to go ashore, and minimal motorized boat traffic.)
- Check your paddling forecast. While autumn is a beautiful season, weather can be unpredictable. If you have plans to go kayaking, make it a priority to check the forecast the day of your trip and to dress accordingly. By the way…
- Dress appropriately. It’s important to never wear cotton while paddling, as this material dries much too slowly to keep you comfortable after a paddle-related spill or splash. It’s also important to not trust a single layer of clothing with the job of protecting you from winter temperatures and chilly river water. A base layer, and insulating layer, and an outermost waterproof layer is the minimum dress recommendation for paddlers right now. Ultimately you’re better off overdressing and removing some layers of clothes than being too cold on the water! Having a change of clothes waiting for you at the end of your trip is also always a good idea – just in case.
- Stick to the shore. River traffic is always something to watch out for while paddling. Depending on the river you paddle on, there can be a variety of bigger boats passing by at any time. These boats always have the right of way, so avoiding them and paddling along the shoreline is a safety must.
- Always check on conditions ahead of time. Rough waves and overly chilly gusts of wind are telltale signs that it’s not a good day to go paddling. If you can, it’s also best to compare the speed of the river on paddling day versus its normal flow. If the river is running faster than normal, conditions may not be optimal for a paddle.
- Stay hydrated. Temperatures may not be as brutal as they were in the summer, but kayaking is still an activity that can lead to dehydration if you’re not careful. Bring a couple of water bottles on any river trip, and take breaks every 15 – 20 minutes to stay hydrated.
- Never paddle alone. Always head out onto the water with at least one friend, if not in a group! It’s important to stay with that friend or group at all times – kayaking is a very safe activity, but sometimes emergencies happen. Having a buddy with you will ensure that, should an accident occur, help is ready to pull you from the water.
For safe, warm, and dry river adventures this fall, keep these tips in mind!
Ready to hit the water? Visit our website today for more information on boat launches and marinas, paddling trips, and guidance on navigating locks and dams. We can’t wait for you to join us on the water and to explore the gorgeous kayaking areas near you this season!
Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau has completed a comprehensive, in-depth look at visitors to the region, including the counties of Fayette, Somerset, Westmoreland. This research area overlaps with much of the Mon River Valley.
The Mon River Towns are working with Cosmitto on social media outreach. Here is a recent presentation to the Mon River Valley Coalition.
An awesome boating event to try out touring kayaks and paddle boards on the Monongahela River.
Who doesn’t love a good farmers market? Fresh local produce and small business wares hold a special place in many of our hearts. And if there’s one thing Pennsylvania has plenty of, it’s farmers markets! Even better, these markets are hosted in scenic Pennsylvania river towns, many of which include beautiful places to hike.
Shopping and nature…that sounds like the perfect combination for a weekend trip! So before planning your next long drive into the great outdoors, hold off on typing “scenic hikes near me” into Google and consider visiting these lovely towns and farmers markets.
- Elizabeth (15 Miles From Pittsburgh) – The Elizabeth Homemade-Homegrown Market kicked off its 2017 season earlier this month, and will operate every second Saturday from June to October. Organized by the owner of local business Yogastyle Studio, the event has caught on thanks to the number of local craft makers and farm vendors. The market works with local nonprofit development groups and is a great place to find fresh produce, homemade one-of-a-kind jewelry, soap, and crafts. Our Recommendation: Elizabeth is a great daytime or weekend destination. Keep an eye on their farmers market on Facebook, and plan on taking some time to walk around this beautiful area. The market runs from 9am to 1pm, so you’ll have plenty of time to wander in Elizabeth’s busy and charming downtown. It features historic buildings and an authentic feel, not to mention a number of trails worth venturing onto. You’ll especially want to check out the Grand Theatre, built in 1902 as a Vaudeville House; today it’s one of the few remaining single screen movie theatres operating in the Mon Valley.
- Monongahela (17 Miles From Pittsburgh) – Named for the river it borders, this river town’s farmers market runs every Friday from June to October, in Chess Park, from 3-6pm. The beautiful market operates next to the park and runs into the heart of Monongahela Main Street District. Our Recommendation: Don’t settle for following this event on Facebook! Take a day off from work, make the quick drive south, and kick off your weekend with a dose of local beauty. Chess Park is absolutely worth taking a stroll through, before or after you shop. You’ll also want to explore Monongahela as a whole, which houses sites important to the Whiskey Rebellion as well as the local Underground Railroad. If you can, you’ll definitely want to check out an event at the Monongahela Aquatorium as well, as nothing compares to this unique riverside venue!
- Morgantown (75 Miles From Pittsburgh) – If you’re itching to venture out of Pennsylvania, Morgantown is a mere 75 miles away in West Virginia. While the town is quieter than usual in the summer – when most West Virginia University students head home – it still has plenty to offer visitors, including a farmer’s market that operates every Saturday from 8:30am to noon at Morgantown Market Place. Our Recommendation: Take an entire weekend to explore Morgantown. The area was once prime settlement territory, meaning it’s packed full of history. You can catch a glimpse of the area’s glass and coal heritage at the Morgantown Museum and in display cases at the Seneca Center. The area is also full of theaters, museums, parks, and eateries – plus a handful of microbreweries. If you’re the outdoors type, you won’t want to miss the chance to paddle on the nearby Cheat River or Big Sandy Creek, as both are beautiful places to kayak. Save some energy to hike the trails of Coopers Rock State Forest!
As you can see, these four towns offer a great combination of shopping and outdoor exploration. You’ll absolutely want to keep them on your list of places to visit, especially as you search for beautiful places to kayak, for scenic hikes near you, or for your next great farmers market find. Want to find out exactly what’s happening in these towns, as well as their sister Mon River Towns? Visit our website calendar anytime to find out what’s happening, and remember to save the date for your next adventure!
The days of summer may be winding down, but there’s still plenty of beauty to enjoy in western Pennsylvania and its communities! The cooling weather means that now is the perfect time to get outdoors – and the changing leaves will soon provide a glorious backdrop for hikers. No need to google for scenic hikes near you – we have a few ideas already!
The following are a sampling of local Pennsylvania towns with accessible trails and a welcoming spirit. There’s no need to travel far for your fall foliage tours this year; these river towns definitely have you covered:
- Elizabeth, PA. Located right in Allegheny County, the borough of Elizabeth sits 15 miles south of Pittsburgh. Elizabeth’s downtown area features great shopping and dining options – making it a great, affordable day trip destination! This fall, consider walking through this quiet town – you can enjoy the changing leaves and autumn weather as you stroll along the Monongahela River, which the town sits by. Elizabeth is also home to Round Hill Park – a 1,100-acre park with walking trails, picnic areas, and a working exhibit farm. Elizabeth’s quiet river walkways combined with these walking trails mean that you’ll get to enjoy some beautiful sights during a quieter day out and about. It all makes for the perfect day trip!
- Fredericktown, PA. In the summer this Washington County town is a great spot for paddling along scenic Ten Mile Creek. As the seasons change, however, hikers and cyclists will be able to enjoy the foliage along Greene River Trail! This beautiful 5.2 mile walking and bike trail runs alongside the Monongahela River, giving visitors a chance to explore what was once coal mining country. Today you’d never know about this industrious past, as the area is lush and green – although soon the trail will be lit with vibrant autumn colors instead! Like Elizabeth, very little travel is required if you visit this trail, making Fredericktown a fantastic day trip location for those on a tight budget.
- Rices Landing, PA. In addition to being rich in local history – including the travels of George Washington and coal barges – Rices Landing is a beautiful spot to watch the autumn settle in. The Greene River Trail that passes through Fredericktown also passes through Rices Landing. So depending on your interests, perhaps you’ll want to venture to Rices Landing to combine a little history with your day of hiking!
- Greensboro, PA. Called “Delight” by the Mingo Indians who originally inhabited the area, Greensboro continues to live up to its name as it develops beautiful riverside trails and more for nature lovers to take advantage of. Drive to the area and you can explore the Greensboro Walking & Biking Trail – it stretches 1.25 miles along the Monongahela River, starting at Mon View Park. You can also step onto The Warrior Trail, which runs for 67 miles and follows ridge tops for most of its length. Despite its name, Warrior Trail offers one of the easiest hiking paths across Greene County, as well as some of the county’s most spectacular views! Not bad for a location that’s a mere hour and a half away from Pittsburgh!
- Fairmont, WV. Interested in trekking out of Pennsylvania for your fall foliage tour? With a population of just over 18,000, the quiet and small West Virginia town of Fairmont is a fantastic seasonal getaway location. Fairmont is actually the home of the first Pepperoni Roll, and you can even visit the Country Club Bakery – the home of the first roll – before heading out on a hike! Fairmont is home to two rail trails, or railway tracks converted to paths and walkways. One trail, the West Fork River Trail, runs for 14.5 miles, providing beautiful scenic views of the river and surrounding foliage to bikers, hikers, and more (as the trail is wheelchair accessible). And if you’re looking for a shorter trek, the three mile long Marion County Trail (MCTrail) runs from the Mon River Trail South marker to Prickett’s Fort State Park and Morgantown Ave. This destination may be out-of-state, but it’s well worth the trip!
- Morgantown, WV. While better known for West Virginia University and “The Mountaineers,” Morgantown’s beautiful setting makes it a fantastic destination spot for fall foliage seekers. The town includes numerous options for hikers, including the trails of Coopers Rock State Forest. Visitors may also consider traveling the 6-mile paved Caperton Trail, which follows the Monongahela River and passes through several local parks. And if that’s not enough, the western endpoint of the Deckers Creek Trail is located in Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park, which Caperton Trail passes through. Start booking those hotels now, guys – you’ll thank yourself when you’re out on the trail of your choice!
As you can see, western Pennsylvania and even neighboring West Virginia has a number of cool and scenic hikes to help you get out and about this season. You’ll absolutely want to travel to at least one of these towns. Don’t forget to take a moment to find out exactly what’s happening in these towns this fall, too! You can visit our website calendar anytime as you plan your great fall adventure.
It’s a 90 minute drive outside of Pittsburgh, nestled between the Monongahela River and Cheat River. “It” being Point Marion – a town once known for its role in the Pennsylvania glass industry. Today Point Marion is filled with historic sites and architecture, not to mention trails and fishing opportunities. And in a new development that will really resonate with nature lovers, Point Marion has something else to offer this beautiful summer – kayak rentals that allow people to explore this beautiful public space via the water.
Local resident and now entrepreneur Vicky Evans has been the driving force behind this new paddling launch point. Throughout 2017, Vicky has worked under the umbrella name of Mon River Rec while tapping into the Mon River Town organization as a local resource. Vicky has a degree in recreation and parks management and a long history of working in the outdoors as a conservationist and an outdoor recreation planner, mostly with the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s safe to say she’s “always been interested in the outdoors and in helping people get out there and enjoy them as well.”
As a resident, Vicky quickly realized through her own experiences that the town’s location makes it one of the best places to kayak in western Pennsylvania. Point Marion sits near a fork in the Monongahela River, providing kayakers with more places to paddle as they journey up and down the water. That’s because in addition to splitting off into the Cheat River, the Mon meets up with Dunkard Creek near Point Marion. And both the creeks and the quiet Cheat River are traffic free – no boats, no barges, no locks…nothing but water!
Ironically, the woman behind the kayak boat launch project is relatively new to the kayaking scene. She admits to being “mostly a dry land kind of person” in the past, as her experience prior to running Mon River Rec involved more biking and hiking.
“It’s added a new dimension to my life,” Vicky says about the project. “Now instead of waking up in the morning and going for a bike ride or walking the dog, I’m calling up friends to go on the river.”
Paddling up and down the Mon has never been easier in Point Marion, thanks to the kayak rental that opened in June 2017. A reservation made through Vicky ensures that visitors can use one of her six flatwater recreational kayaks during their exploration. (No tandem kayaks are available, so paddlers must be comfortable using a single kayak.)
Here’s how it works once a date and time is set: paddlers meet Vicky in Point Marion at the kayak boat launch. She brings the boats and life jackets, and kayakers bring any extra items they may want as they explore the local creeks and paddle up and down the Mon. Vicky then sends paddlers on their way, and meets them back at the launch at the end of the trip. It’s a simple but effective system, and Vicky has been thrilled with the response to the launch so far. One person stands out in her mind – a woman who came on a Monday for a couple of hours. “The lady came back on Friday with her son, and they went out for another two hours or so,” Vicky remembers.
But perhaps the most touching part of it all is how important this project really is to former land-lover Vicky. Mon River Rec has given her a chance to work with her son and to continue – even in retirement – to help people enjoy the beautiful nature scenes around them. And she already knows what she would like to do as the project continues.
“We definitely want to be environmentally friendly,” according to Vicky. Now a regular paddler, Vicky has already come back from her adventures in boats overflowing with trash. That’s why, “In the future we definitely want to plan a clean-up paddle, because it’s important.”
Clean-up paddles would certainly add an entire new dimension to Vicky’s work – and would fit in perfectly with her current adventures in Point Marion, as there’s “just a whole new area for me to explore and make a positive difference.”
Are you interested in exploring the beautiful waterways around Point Marion? It’s easy to make a reservation and get out on the water. Contact information and pricing is listed below – so be sure to get in touch and plan your day-trip before the summer’s end!
We recommend bringing the following items with you when you kayak:
- A Hat
- A Wetbag
- Water Shoes
If you wear a bathing suit, an overshirt or tank top is recommended – the sun can be quite hot during the summer!
Be advised that all kayakers are required to be fitted with a life jacket before their paddle. All visitors will want to work with Vicky during this process to ensure that their life jacket fits and is fastened correctly, both to comply with state regulations and to guarantee that the jacket will keep paddlers afloat in the river should an accident or emergency take place during a paddle.