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Spotlight: Carlisle

Explore Civil War sites, bask in colonial history or hike untamed wilderness

Nestled in the Cumberland Valley, the Pennsylvania town of Carlisle invites travelers to enjoy preserved architectural gems and enhance their understanding of early life in the United States. Oh, and visitors can also have lots of fun in the process.

Begin with a self-guided tour of the town to learn about its role in the Civil War and in the Underground Railroad, the system of safe houses and secret routes taken by escaped slaves on their way north. The town even offers a mobile app to augment the tour with additional information in the form of streaming text, images and audio and video clips. Tour stops include the Old Courthouse building, Dickinson College and the Bentz House, where Frederick Douglass spoke in 1872.

Also worth a visit is the Carlisle Barracks, the second-oldest Army post in the U.S. The barracks survived the Revolutionary War only to be burned down by Confederate troops during the Civil War. It was later rebuilt as a school for Native Americans. Legendary athlete Jim Thorpe attended school here; now the barracks is home to the U.S. Army War College.

Admire the craftsmanship and staying power of 18th-century architecture that graces the streets of Carlisle. Stops include the Steven Duncan House, a stone structure built in the 1750s, and First Presbyterian Church, the oldest public building in Carlisle, where citizens met in 1774 to condemn the closing of the port of Boston by the British.

2009 WRT SpeedWerx - Walls

2009 WRT SpeedWerx – Walls

Cars and Carlisle

Fast-forward a few hundred years and see the best of American and foreign automakers on display at any of nine annual car shows, held at the Carlisle Fairgrounds. Visit the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center and peruse military might on display along the one-mile Army Heritage Trail, an interactive loop dotted with equipment and vehicles such as the M-46 Patton tank and a Huey helicopter. Ready for speed? The Williams Grove speedway thrills spectators with some of the most exciting 410 sprint car racing in North America.

The Carlisle Theatre entertains patrons with a lively schedule of plays, musicals, choral events and movie screenings. The American Artisan Gallery showcases the talents of local makers, who create unique works in several media, including glass, ceramics, metal and fine art.

Enjoy the outdoors on a hike along the Appalachian Trail; the Cumberland Valley stretch is the midpoint of this legendary trail, and where you can stop in at the Appalachian Trail Museum—the nation’s only museum dedicated to hiking. Along the trail, you’ll often see herons and water birds resting and feeding at Conodoguinet Creek.

Take the ice-cream challenge at Pine Grove General Store, where consuming a half-gallon of the sweet treat earns victors a celebratory ice cream scoop for their trophy room. If you prefer a faster touring pace, hop on two wheels for a scenic bike ride from Carlisle to several nearby scenic stops including Boiling Springs, where the Carlisle Iron Works Furnace still stands. One of the earliest blast furnaces, this structure was built in 1761.

Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau

Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau

Pastoral Pennsylvania

Get to know the ins and outs of Pennsylvania’s natural wonders at Kings Gap Environmental Education Center, where children’s activities and interpretive programs for the public teach visitors about the 2,500-acre forest on Pennsylvania’s South Mountain. Also on site is the Cameron/Masland Mansion; built around 1900 from local stone, it’s now open for self-guided tours on Sundays through the summer, as well as during weekends in December, when the mansion gets “dressed up” in festive decorations for the holidays.

Cast a line into one of several great spots for fly-fishing in the Cumberland Valley. Big Spring Creek, Children’s Lake and Opossum Lake are great for trout, and you can fish year-round at Laurel Lake and Mountain Creek. Take the boat out on a sunny day at North Middleton Park, where Conodoguinet Creek is easily accessible. On shore, cast a few horseshoes or just take a leisurely walk around this 15-acre retreat.

If the temperature drops, keep young family members entertained for a day at Carlisle Sports Emporium. This indoor arcade cures bad-weather blues with a variety of games and activities for guests of all ages and skill levels. Enjoy a more laid-back time hitting a few balls on the course at Cumberland Golf Club or Mayapple Golf Club.

Toast to a great vacation at Molly Pitcher Brewing Company, named for a famed Revolutionary War heroine who loaded and swabbed an artillery piece during the battle of monmouth despite incoming British fire. Even the locally crafted beers and brews carry out the colonial theme. Sip on Patriot Pale Ale or Minuteman Mild while you’re here.

If a good wine is more to your liking, visit Castlerigg Wine Shop for Pennsylvania vintages to sample along with small bites to complement each varietal.

For More Information

Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau
Pennsylvania Tourism