If you are lucky enough to get to spend time in Central Pennsylvania, you are in for an endless list of fun and family-friendly opportunities. There is no shortage of things to do and the area is full of history, sports, water activities, outdoor encounters, and culture. You can have any type of adventure you want in Central PA whether you are new to the area, a lifelong resident, or just visiting for a few days.
I, being a planner at heart, always research a new city and like to make a list of the available activities and fun local destinations. With five centrally located cities close to each other, Central Pennsylvania has proved to be a wonderland of family friendly entertainment options.
York, Harrisburg, Hershey, Lancaster, and Gettysburg, PA are all represented in “The Ultimate Bucket List For Family Fun in Central PA”. All activities have been kid tested and approved by my very picky kiddo and I can tell you that most she has asked to do more than once (or twice, or fifteen times). Enjoy!
York Area Fun
Roundtop Mountain Resort
Located a scenic drive from the highway, Roundtop Mountain Resort is a year-round destination. A ski mountain in the winter and an adventure and outdoor playground in the summer months. The piece de resistance is the outdoor ropes course and OGO ball. With access to the chairlift to enjoy the scenery, climbing walls, a maze, paintball, and other activities throughout the property, this is one activity that will fill up your whole day’s schedule!
Cost: Paintball: $26, ropes course: $34-45, adventure package (includes OGO balls, tree house zips, canopy crawl, cedar maze, bumper boats, chairlift ride, alpine traverse, and more): $30-40.
Steam into History
For train enthusiasts, young and older alike, Steam into History offers an amazing experience aboard a Civil War-era steam locomotive replica. History comes alive during your time on the steam engine as you are greeted by costumed re-enactors and surrounded by living history and fun activities.
There are special themed and historical events throughout the year to make the 1 or 2.5 hours long train ride even more of an experience so make sure to check out the website to plan accordingly.
Cost: Prices vary depending on which locomotive you are taking but range from $22-$28 for adults and $15 for children. Children 3 and under are free but must sit on a parents lap. Special summer pricing of $17 on Thursday make this a great time to visit.
30 Kid Friendly Things To Do in York, PA This Summer
We have compiled the ultimate guide of the top 30 Kid Friendly Things To Do in York, PA This Summer. Filled with both indoors and outdoors entertainment, the list includes many activities that are available year round.
Old time favorites such as the Park concert series mix well with baseball game outings and fresh fruit picking. The York Colonial Complex gives every visitor a glimpse into York’s colonial history, Central Market offers up delicious breakfast options as you take in downtown, and the York County Solid Waste Authority lets visitors tour their facilities and get a glimpse into the future of city management.
With so much to do in York, you are sure to find something to suit every member of the family.
Cost: Varies depending on activity.
Harrisburg Area Fun
The Pennsylvania Capitol Tour
There is something very patriotic, and fun, about visiting the place where our elected officials work and laws are made. The Pennsylvania Capitol Tour offers such an opportunity by providing guided tours of the Capitol building to the general public.
Aside from the majestic building and rooms, the Capitol tour also provides a chance for young people to learn more about their government through special child-friendly exhibits and interactive programs. Prepare to be impressed by both the Capitol building and all the information it provides upon your visit.
Yellow Breeches Creek Tubing
If there is one activity that we LOVE to enjoy every summer it is this one! Creek and river tubing is pretty self-explanatory: you buy the awesome River Run Tube (pool ones will just end up breaking so invest in a good one and use it over and over again), find a spot to launch from, and relax in the cool water for a few minutes or hours.
Here’s how it actually works at Yellow Breeches: we start by rounding up a few great friends, a cooler with provisions, and we drive to and park at Messiah College. Once the tubes are in the water we play the car game. The moms stay with the kids in the creek, playing and cooling off (and answering the million “are they back yet?” questions). Two dads head out in two cars and park one car down the river: for a one hour experience, we park at Simpson Park, for the two-plus hour experience we park at McCormick Park. Once they park one of the cars, the two dads come back to Messiah College in one car. This way we have a car at the end of our journey with a cooler filled with lunch and snacks- and a way to drive back and pick up the second car. It’s a fine-tuned operation and one that works wonders for us.
Word to the wise: get yourself a waterproof dry bag to take it into the creek with some packed lunch, your car keys, and your camera or phone. When you want to take a cool picture just open up the bag and take it! When the kids “need” a snack, just open up the bag and give them a dry granola!
I’ve seen groups with coolers in the creek (great idea too) and music playing, it really is a great way to spend a whole day enjoying the family and friends.
We like to end our day at McCormich Park because the water there is deep enough to play in and yet shallow enough that we don’t have to worry about the kids playing alone. They can walk up a few yards and keep tubing if they want or just swim and cool off in the water.
Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts
One of our favorite Science Centers, the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, is located in downtown Harrisburg. As ASTC annual science pass membership holders we always come back to the Whitaker.
What’s so special about this science museum? They incorporate traditional science center exhibits with newer robotics and movie opportunities. Younger kids have a whole section to themselves while the tween-aged kids can enjoy the weather simulator and make their own stop-motion pictures.
Cost: $16 for adults, $12.50 for kids (3-17). For an even better deal, look into getting a science center annual membership pass with ASTC
Shank’s Mare Outdoor Education Center
Shank’s Mare is a great opportunity to get outdoors and on the water- whether it be on a kayak, a SUP, a summer camp, or through one of their how-to clinics. The water sports opportunities on the Susquehanna River area are great and fun for the whole family- besides, isn’t this the summer your family should try Stand Up Paddleboarding?
Cost: varies by activity, rental, and time frame.
Sky Zone Trampoline Park
Let’s be honest: sometimes you just need to be indoors in the air conditioning while the kids jump and jump and burn off some energy. For those days, Sky Zone is a great option. Bonus: their pizza is pretty good! If you keep your special socks and take them the next time you visit Sky Zone you will get a $2 break on the standard price.
Cost: $11 for 30 minutes, $15 for 60 minutes, and $19 for 90 minutes.
Visit Historical Fort Hunter
Fancy touring an old mansion? How about learning about Pennsylvania history? Fort Hunter Mansion and Park offers many opportunities throughout the summer to engage with local history and enjoy a trip to this site.
Cost: Varies depending on program
Enjoy the Horse Races
This may be a bit less conventional for summer kids fun but… we love it! Live Thoroughbred Horse Racing is not active or educational (well, it can be) but it sure is fun. Mind you, we can only spend about an hour at the race track before the newness of it wears off- but that is one fun hour. The kiddo is able to follow along with the screens and the viewing window and she loves the idea of a horse race- the math of betting on a horse is a bonus.
Cost: Free to watch, the bets depend on you.
Haar’s Drive-In Theatre
You know you’re going to end up at the movies at some point during the summer months, so why not make it a drive-in movie theater! Haar’s is the embodiment of traditional summer movie watching and a great way to end a hot summer’s day.
Cost: $8 ages 12 and up, $2 ages 3-11
Hershey Area Fun
Chocolate World Free Ride
Hershey Park is NOT synonymous with free (or even cheap). But, right next door, you find Chocolate World. The secret: yes, it is full of merchandise for sale and activities that you have to pay for. But… there is also a FREE Chocolate World ride! For my kid and her friends, this ride was the coolest thing ever from age 2-8. A friend with her three girls and I used to take the kids there and get on the ride three, four, seven, ten times! The girls loved it! You can pack up your carry-on bag with lunch, take some pennies to throw in the water, and make a whole day out of it for the price of gas. Seriously, this is what we used to do. Of course, you can also buy some Hershey’s chocolate ice cream, any Hershey candy bar you desire and build your own candy bar (for a fee). Bonus: after the ride, you get a free piece of candy!
Cost: Free to enjoy the ride, other activities do cost extra
Indian Echo Caverns
Want to live out your Indiana Jones dreams while keeping the kids entertained? Indian Echo Caverns provide an underground cavern adventure, a gem mill mining experience, and a chance to play with farm animals- all in one place! Located 10 minutes from Hershey, the caverns provide a glimpse into the power of nature and what water can do given enough time!
The guided tour is very child-friendly and extremely informative. Our group asked a lot of questions and our guide not only answered all of them but did it with a smile. This is a walking tour (unlike others where you have to get into a small boat) and you need to dress for the occasion, but I can say without a doubt that it is a humbling and beautiful site to experience. And yes, the twists and turns did make me feel a bit like Indiana Jones.
Cost: $18 for adults, $10 for children
Lancaster Area Fun
Hands-on House Children’s Museum
If you have an 8 and under crowd, the Hands-On House Children’s Museum is a must! You can spend hours at this fun children’s museum and still have to pull the kids away at the end of the day.
From fishing and supermarket shopping to a dress up center and “working” factory, the Hands-On House is filled with interactive opportunities for kids to just be creative and build and make and have fun. It truly is an amazing, hands-on museum. My special recommendation: buy the annual membership. If you will be spending time in the area it will more than pay for itself.
Cost: $9.50 for adults and children.
Test Your Limits With Rock Climbing
Both facilities are clean, great with kids and families, and staffed with very helpful professionals.
Climbnasium is the more rugged and established older brother. With two floors of rock climbing walls and bouldering opportunities, Climbnasium is a great place to really learn the sport. There are multiple walls to play to different skill sets and physical abilities. Kids can easily find a wall to work through while the parents can challenge themselves right next door on a harder grade. There are no self-belaying walls here, this is all traditional rock climbing. With that in mind, at least one member of your party must know how to belay- and be able to demonstrate that ability to the man in charge. If no one in your family knows how to belay, someone will need to take and pass the course. It isn’t hard and the instructors do a great job at going through everything you’ll need to know- but it is something you need to keep in mind.
Spooky Nook Sports is the modern newcomer into the rock climbing family. There are two sections within Spooky Nook where thrill seekers can climb: The Nook Climbing Gym and The Clip ‘N Climb. The Nook Climbing Gym offers a wide open space where you can enjoy top-rope and lead routes, a giant freestanding boulder, and auto belay systems (no need for someone in the group to know how to belay). For a colorful and fun experience, kids love the Clip ‘N Climb section. Several “rock walls” with auto belay systems allow for kids to take more of a lead and climb through inflatable walls, light up walls, and the like.
We enjoy our time at both rock climbing centers and always go back to both. I can say this: when we want to have some fun coupled with exercise we head to Spooky Nook… but when we want to tackle some rock climbing skills and grow we head to Climbnasium. In the end, it’s all about your goal for the day.
As a note: both locations offer classes and summer camps!
Cost: At Spooky Nook: $15 for a day pass at The Nook Climbing Gym (shoes and harness rental are separate) and $13 for 1 hour at the Clip ‘N Climb section. Climbnasium: $14 for a day pass (shoes and harness rental are separate).
The Amish Village
Most people who visit, or live, in the central Pennsylvania region know about the Amish who live in the area. But, how much do you actually know about their daily lives, history, and community norms? The Amish Village is a replica of an Amish home and farm that is used to educate the public about their neighbors. The tours are conducted in small groups where questions are encouraged throughout and led by knowledgeable individuals who help you leave the tour with a gratifying sense of knowledge.
Cost: $9.75 for adults, $6.25 for children
Haines Shoe House
A fun roadside attraction, and quick hour long stop, the Haines Shoe House is a great opportunity to add to your quirky summer picture feed, catch a tour of the inside of a large shoe, and get some ice cream.
Cost: $5 per person
Cherry Crest Adventure Farm
The huge and family friendly Cherry Crest Adventure Farm is filled with activities for the whole family- from the youngest to your oldest child! Kids can bounce in the barnyard jump area, observe baby chicks recently hatched, slide down the large hay chute, build giant play log cabins, and enjoy much more! You can easily spend days here and will likely close the farm.
Insiders tip: Buy some of the apple donuts. Also, you are allowed to bring your own picnic lunch and eat in the large and covered picnic pavilion.
Cost: Farm Fun Pass: $12, Bounce Back Pass: $25, Season Passes start at $60
National Watch and Clock Museum
Let’s be honest: unless you are already predisposed to like the inner workings of clocks, this museum does not sound like the most entertaining place. BUT, it is!
With various exhibits ranging from the beginning of clocks to European monoliths to Japanese treasures, the National Clock Museum houses a large array of differing clocks, all of them impressive and displayed in a way to pick even the youngest child’s attention. For those whose kids like to have an activity, there is a great handout at the entrance to the museum that kids can complete as they tour the museum.
Cost: $9 for adults, $5 for children (under 5 enter free). There is also a Family Rates of $23 for two adults and all the children of the same household.
Turkey Hill Experience
Turkey Hill Experience is a large warehouse created to teach the public, in a fun and active way, about the science of ice cream. Using hands-on activities, technology-enhanced programs, and good old fashioned ice cream eating, this museum guides attendees through the farm aspect of ice cream, the laboratory part of ice cream, and the manufacturing section of ice cream.
During special homeschooling sections, Turkey Hill Experience becomes a giant lab in which kids of all ages can conduct experiments and learn even more about the hands-on science behind this loved treat.
Cost: $9.95 for adult admission, $9.50 for children’s admission, and kids 3 and under are free.
Go N Bananas Family Fun Center
Go N Bananas Family Fun Center is really a kids paradise. The list of fun activities within this center seems endless: ballocity, laser mazes, game zone, mini bowling, ropes course, spin zone, laser tag, a toddler zone, and, of course, food court.
With special packages to combine activities, it is easy to spend a few hours at Go N Bananas having fun and staying active. Because it is indoors, this is a great option for those 100+ degree heat days in the middle of summer.
Cost: You can buy a pass for a few hours ($19.99-$29.99) or pay for individual activities ($2-$8)- it’s up to you!
Hayloft Candles & Petting Zoo in Lancaster
Hayloft is a barn filled with wares and crafts from the local area. For kids, the real winner is the petting zoo attached to the property. It’s small and compact enough to enjoy with little ones and filled with enough variety that kids like to come back again and again. You won’t be here too long- but it will be enjoyable. My friend LOVES their ice cream!
Cost: Free to look at the animals and pet them (where allowed). There are machines where you can buy food to feed the animals if you want (usually .25-.50). Of course, the ice cream and souvenirs are extra.
Gettysburg Area Fun
Explore & More Children’s Museum
Explore & More Children’s Museum is a hands-on, delightful children’s museum. The charm of this children’s space lies in its non-commercialized atmosphere. The play areas have been created with kids in mind and are not meant to be perfect or gleaming- they are safe, loved, and well used. The craft section has everything a young artist could want to paint their own Picasso or build their own charms.
This has always been one of our favorite spaces and my child loves to cook in the traditional Colonial kitchen, make giant bubbles, climb into the worker’s tower, or just create with the myriad of educational and fun toys. This is one children’s museum that will thrill the kids and charm the parents too.
Cost: $7 for adults, $5 for children.
Utz Factory Tour
If “why?” and “how?” are typical questions heard around your house, the Utz Factory Tour is a great choice for your family! Why are factories so big? How are potato chips made? Why are hair nets necessary? How do the big machines work?
We love the child-friendly Utz Factory Tour because of the incredible access it allows with the tour set up- and because they offer it year round. An elevated walkway allows all children to view the work performed on the factory floor. With wide halls, small children can freely move around as older siblings listen to the recorded information at each section. Informative and fun, the tour ends with a free bag of their delicious chips. Trust me, the kids will be delighted.
Gettysburg Battlefield- Battlefield Tours and Ghost Tours
The Gettysburg Battlefield is well known for its historical significance to our country. The sacrifices and decisions made on the field continue to bring pride to our country’s citizens and thousands come to pay their respects and learn more about the events that transpired in this part of the country.
Tours are available for anyone who wants to learn more about the life and history of Gettysburg- self-guided and with a guide. Additionally, it is no surprise that a place with so much history and struggle is said to have its fair share of ghosts in its midst. Ghost tours are popular in Gettysburg and provide yet another layer to the stories of this town.
Children are welcomed at Gettysburg Battlefield sites and are encouraged to read the information provided and follow along with their families. For highly active children, a self-guided tour might provide more autonomy and ease of movement. There are also guided tours that cater to families with children and can help the kids understand the life of a child during that time period- and therefore identify with the information on a more personal level.
Cost: Varies depending on how you choose to tour Gettysburg- on your own or with a guide.
Horseback Riding Gettysburg
For the horse enthusiast in your family, Horseback Riding Gettysburg is an unparalleled experience. Expert guides will provide information as you stroll through the Gettysburg battlefields and learn about your horse and the history that surrounds you.
Cost: Varies depending on tour and length. A 1-hour historical tour costs $65 per adult and $65 per child.
When we first arrived in Central Pennsylvania we wondered what we would do with ourselves. Now, we wonder how we will ever fit everything we want to do into each day. The area has proven to be incredibly family friendly, affordable, and fun. We have loved our time exploring and getting to discover the many gems in the area and hope that you get to enjoy them as much as we have.
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