You probably won’t want to leave the peace and quiet of the cottage…but if you do, there are endless, wonderful things to do within a ten to forty minute drive.
To get to the Appalachian Trail, drive back out to Rte 183 and make a left out of the dirt road. Go approximately ½ mile and look for the parking lot on the left. It is a small lot and a metal gate blocks the trail. Follow the path. You will come to an intersection. Right, and then a quick left, at the stone marker will take you to Georgia. If you follow the trail (toward Georgia), you can hike about 4 miles to a wonderful inland lake which used to supply hydroelectric power to Bethel and some of the other villages in the 1920s. It is a good day-hike. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get there and back. Follow the white blazes on the trees.
Left will take you to a small pond. This is definitely worth a visit. Lots of frogs and newts. Nearby are the remains of the old Blue Mt Hotel which used to serve travelers on the mountain from the 1700s till 1904. See A Week in the Blue Mountains by Henry Shoemaker on the windowsill or online here.
To get to the bike path, and the Appalachian Trail toward Maine, go left on Rte. 183 less than ½ mile north to the state game lands parking lot on your right. Ride your bike or hike up the unpaved hill. The first road on the right is a fire road that parallels the Appalachian Trail and ends in Hamburg. The second road on the right is a fire road that dead-ends after about 5 miles. Both of these roads are positively lined with ripe wild blueberries toward the end of May.
Visit Hawk Mountain (610-756-6961) to view raptors soar the thermals. Hawk Mountain is a point along the Appalachian Trail about 17 miles east of the cottage. It is the highest point for many, many miles around and offers gorgeous views of the valleys below. The visitor center has lots of information about Hawk Mountain. A small fee will get you into this private preserve and will give you access to miles of marked trails. To get there, go about 2 miles on 183N then make a right onto 895E. Follow 895 for about 13 miles then make a right on Rt. 61. Rtes. 61 and 895 are concurrent for about a mile. Get in the right lane so that you can make a left via a jug-handle, cross 61, and continue on 895E. Follow 895 for 2.4 miles and make a right onto Hawk Mountain Rd. Follow the signs to the top!
Bear Creek Resort (see below in Winter Fun) has hiking and biking trails that are free and open to the public. Stop at the front desk to fill out a liability waiver.
Blue Marsh has about 40 miles of multi-use (hike, bike, challenging mt bike, equine, and cross country ski) trails. More trails extend throughout the state game lands that surround the Blue Marsh management area. See section on Swimming for directions.
3-D Outdoor Rentals (610-488-1900) provides kayaks, paddle boards, and bikes for 2, 4 or 8 hours in season so that you can explore Blue Marsh Lake. 3-D will deliver (and retrieve) kayaks, paddle boards, and bikes to the site—no need for you to fuss with racks. Bike helmets, life vests, paddles, and snacks are available, too.
This area offers a wealth of cycling opportunities. There are challenging mountain bike trails in the Blue Marsh Management area mentioned above in the hiking section. There is also a rails-to-trail that goes all the way from Pottsville to Philadelphia—with a few interruptions. To view the sections closest to the cottage, there is a beautiful map and other planning tools here. A guest also recommends the intersection of Rebers Mill Rd and Palisades Drive where the Tulpehocken Creek runs south off Blue Marsh Lake. Spokes Bike Shop has a great guide to local off-road cycling here, and JB's is here.
Another fascinating rails-to-trails opportunity is the 17-mile path along the Stony Creek. Miles of hemlock forest surround you on all sides. You’ll see deer, beaver, abandoned ghost towns and railway trestles. Beware it looks level but is not; there’s a 2% grade that peaks at Rausch Gap, and if you go all the way out to the gate at Ellendale, it is a l-o-o-n-g trip back. More pix and history.
If you’re interested in street biking, please don’t use Route 183. The traffic is dangerous, and sections have no shoulder at all. Instead, take a route that follows the base of the mountain then heads up it: go down the dirt road in front of the cottage parallel to the creek. When you come to the T in the village of Schubert, take Schubert Road left or right. Traffic will be minimal, and the road is level. If you want more of a challenge, head west (turn right). At Rte 501, turn right and about half a mile later turn left onto Bashore Street. Follow this to Rte 645, and head toward the mountain. You’ll be amazed at how steep the road gets (which is why it has little traffic). Motorcyclists love the challenge.
Whether you want to ride or watch high-speed cyclists, the Velodrome (610-395-7000) is the place to go. Yes, even you can ride the track at the Velodrome and, for a small fee, they will provide you with all of the equipment you need.
Didn’t or couldn’t bring your own bike? 3D Outdoor Rental (610-488-1900) can set you up with what you need.
The Rodale Institute (610-683-1400) is a 333-acre organic farm nestled in a glorious valley. It is open to the public everyday. You are invited to take a self-guided tour through cultivated fields and orchards, and near beehives. Rodale has special events throughout the year. Keep an eye on their website for information. The institute also has a wonderful bookstore which stocks hard to find books about sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices.
The Reading Public Museum (610.371.5850) maintains a 25 acre arboretum of exotic and native trees and shrubs. Free self-guided tours maps are available in the Museum Atrium, and adult education classes are held in the summer months.
The Rentschler Arboretum only 12 miles away overviewing Bernville is a nature sanctuary maintained by the same people who take care of the Appalachian Trail in this area. It has gardens, wildflower meadows, and a walking trail.
A place that we like that is empty all week long is a mile from the entrance to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Follow the directions to Hawk Mountain. When you have gone .2 miles on Hawk Mountain Road, you will have a choice of going left up to the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, or continuing right and traveling .8 miles more to a very private place to swim. Pass the horse farm that is on your left. Keep your eyes peeled for a wooden barrier—really just two posts set in the ground with a log across the top that has a State Game lands poster on it—and park in front of the barrier. Follow the path straight back—you will pass two ponds, one on each side—and the path dead-ends on the Little Schuylkill River. A path will lead you along the rivers edge. The river runs from ankle deep to nine feet deep…choose what you like. There is poison ivy along the path…so make sure that you are wearing long pants and shoes.
If you are looking for quiet and privacy, go to Blue Marsh during the week. Go south on Rte. 183 for about 8 miles (pass WayHar—stop for ice cream on your way back—pass the tattoo parlor—get a tattoo, go left following 183, pass the grocery store and the village of Bernville). Follow the signs for Blue Marsh “Dry Brooks Day Use Area” by taking a right at the church on the corner of rt. 183. During the week, there is an ‘honor box’ where you deposit a small fee per car. Pass the toll taker stand and follow the road to the parking lot. There is a sandy beach and miles of water for kayaking and boating.
If you want a festive weekend experience, go to Blue Marsh on a Saturday or Sunday. It will be packed! Lots of music, families, and picnics.
Year round fun — rain or shine
Believe it or not, while you are at the cottage, you are about a half-mile from the frontier of colonial America. (In fact, William Penn owned the land on which the cottage sits. Not all land in Pennsylvania was the private property of the Penn family…just several thousand acres.) The Appalachian Trail through this part of Pennsylvania follows the boundary of colonial Pennsylvania and the Native American territory. At the top of the mountain stood “Fort” Dietrich Snyder, a farmstead and outpost during the French and Indian War. If any Indian activity were spotted (back then the mountainside was denuded for charcoal), a runner would race down the mountain to Fort Northkill, a true garrison outside of Shartlesville. You can find its remains of Fort Dietrich Snyder to this day: go north past the monument and look for the two buckeye trees growing in the middle of a square of rubble and the well at the SW corner. If you see the sign for the Dolly Snyder spring (yes, Mrs Dietrich Snyder), you’ve gone too far. You can read more about the string of forts here. Bloody Spring Road, by the way, at the base of the mountain (you passed it on your way up) is named for the Indian massacre of the nearby Spatz family in 1757.
And speaking of the frontier, you are very close to… Daniel Boone’s Homestead (610-582-4900) where there's a very quaint museum. It's only about 40 minutes away. Another wonderful museum about colonial life is the Conrad Weiser Homestead (610-589-2934). Conrad Weiser was the ambassador (and a personal ancestor) who brokered peace between the colonists and the Iroquois nation. The homestead is about 15 minutes away in nearby Womelsdorf.
Ride the WK&S Railroad (610-756-6469). The railroad is run by a group of dedicated volunteer trainmen and women. They have seasonal themes: the Easter Express, the Santa Train, etc. This absolutely delightful little, six-mile steam engine run is fun for any age. The train can drop you off for lunch at Wanamaker’s General Store (610-756-6609) for sandwiches, a cool drink, and a walk back in time.
Explore the subterranean wonders of the magnificent Crystal Cave (610-683-6765).
If the weather keeps you indoors, you can visit the Leesport Farmer’s Market (610-926-1307) on Wednesdays (produce and food, livestock auction, flea market, craft fair); the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum (610-372-7333) for WWII reenactments and a large collection of 70 vintage aircraft, 42 of which are on display at any one time; or see the United States in miniature in a room about the size of two basketball courts at Roadside America. Author Bill Bryson calls it “ill-lit and a little dusty, but charming in a not-touched-since-1957 sort of way.” Supplement your nostalgia with a trip to the Port Clinton Peanut Shop, which has all the candies you used to munch on in your youth: wax lips, dots, rootbeer barrels, Turkish taffee, gold nuggets, even candy cigarettes and banana cigars (you thought they didn't make them anymore, didn’t you?), along with handmade confections like peanut turtles and chocolate-covered bacon. They have five different roasts of peanuts: the darkest taste almost like coffee beans, and the lightest roast is a flavor completely unlike any peanut you’ve ever had before. Then complete your tour with an egg cream, malted milkshake or float at the soda fountain at Adams and Bright drug store in Hamburg.
While they no longer offer tours of their factory except on Youtube (Remember when you could tour the Hershey chocolate factory and stick your fingers in the huge vats of molten chocolate?? Yeah, that’s why these places no longer offer factory tours), the Dieffenbach potato chip factory outside of the village of Host on Rte. 419 is still interesting. We locals still eat potato chips by the tin-load. Get a metal tin and watch them load it from a chute direct from the factory floor. Take some home for you co-workers; you’ll be a super-hero. Shhh, let’s keep it to ourselves that the best ones are cooked in lard. The ones in the brown bags are cooked in vegetable oil and suitable for vegetarians. Both are proudly gluten-free, but I don't think that’s going to win over your doctor.
Cabela’s sporting goods store (610-929-7000) is east on Rte. 78 about 15 miles and has an absurd quantity of animal dioramas.
The Allen Theatre in Annville (30 minutes drive) is a luxurious old-style movie theatres with a modern coffeehouse. Call 717-867-4766 to see find out their current showing or special entertainment.
There are quite a few big antique markets down Rte 422 in Adamstown.
If you love cars, then you will want to visit Jerry’s Classic Car and Collectibles Museum in Pottsville, about 30 minutes away. Also check out the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, about 32 miles away in nearby Hershey.
Bethel now has its own coffee shop! The Gathering Place (717-933-5958) doesn’t have a huge menu, but if you hunkering for a bagel sandwich and a cappuccino, it’s now only a few miles away. You probably won’t hear PA Dutch spoken at the Stammtisch, but if Dwight Miller, the local auctioneer, is holding court, you’ll hear some entertaining jokes. Hours at 6-11 M-F, 7-11 on Saturdays. Closed Sunday, of course.
And much, much more...
Check out the blue three-ring binder and the basket full of flyers on the windowsill on the right side of the fireplace for many more things to do and places to explore.