Too much grown-up stuff can get monotonous. Thankfully there are plenty of destinations that are entertaining, challenging and just plain fun … for the whole family.
Cherry Crest Adventure Farm
When Donna and Jack Coleman unveiled their first corn maze 20 years ago, they had no idea they would become leaders in what has come to be called agri-tainment. Of course, the corn maze – this year’s design pays homage to the first maze and takes the shape of a train – continues to be the main draw (and has become one of the longest-running mazes in the country). Visitors can also indulge in all things farm living: from the food (everything from funnel cake to gluten-free offerings) to attractions such as the Discovery Barn, the Farm Experience Center, Baby Chicks Hatchery and the Barnyard Activity Tent. New this year is Country Pig Races, which is located in its own barn (with seating). There are also amusement-park inspired rides that have a farm twist. And, there’s a quaint shop in case you want to take your décor in a farmhouse-chic direction. One guest reviewer called Cherry Crest “the Disney World of corn mazes.”
FYI: The corn maze opens July 4 and operates through Halloween. It goes into high gear in September and October, when the popular Flashlight Maze draws crowds from near and far on Friday and Saturday nights. In July and August, Chery Crest is open Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Weekday hours vary after school resumes. 150 Cherry Hill Rd., Ronks. Details: Call 687-8143 or visit cherrycrestadventurefarm.com.
The Little Mermaid/Gretna Theatre
Poor Ariel may be playing second fiddle to those sisters from Frozen, but rest assured she still has her fan base. From July 9-19, Gretna Theatre will be hosting the full Broadway production – with music by Alan Menken – of this beloved story that’s based on the Hans Christian Andersen classic. You could make a day of it and spend the afternoon swimming at Mt. Gretna Lake (mtgretnalake.com) and then have an indulgent dinner at The Jigger Shop (jiggershop.com). Details: Call 964-3627 or visit gretnatheatre.com.
Hands-on House Children’s Museum
“Play and learn together” is the motto of this museum that encourages children and parents to engage in the custom-designed exhibits that offer activities that relate to their themes. There’s also an outdoor garden area to explore. Classes that delve into a wide range of subjects are geared for ages 2 to 10. The museum is open seven days a week during the summer months. 721 Landis Valley Rd., Lancaster. Details: Call 569-KIDS or visit handsonhouse.org.
Families with small children will love this amusement park that promotes togetherness! There are rides geared strictly to children, while others can accommodate the entire family. New this year is the Bon Voyage Balloon Chase. Duke’s Lagoon is a tropical-island themed play area. And there’s a Dino Dig for budding paleontologists. The always entertaining high divers perform in the Aqua Stadium. Kid-friendly restaurants and snack shops abound, and there’s even a Character Breakfast for tykes. Open daily, 2249 Lincoln Hwy. East, Lancaster. Details: Call 1-866-386-2839 or visit dutchwonderland.com.
Kids of all ages love all-things railroading. Strasburg is a railroader’s playground. Ride the rails to Paradise aboard the Strasburg Rail Road. Smaller guests will be enthralled by such special events as Thomas the Tank, which visits three times per year. There are also opportunities to ride the rails with Santa and the Easter Bunny as well. For adults, The Great Train Robbery is coming up July 18. Strasburg’s versions of Bonnie and Clyde have hearts of gold: They donate the money they “steal” from passengers to the Clinic for Special Children. Trains roll every day in July and August beginning at 11 a.m. Bring a picnic and enjoy the fresh air: two groves are located along the route. 301 Gap Rd., Ronks. Details: Call 866-725-9666 or visit strasburgrailroad.com.
Across the road, you’ll find the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, which will be hosting Model Railroading Days on Aug. 22 and 23. Details: Visit rrmuseumpa.org. Also nearby is the National Toy Train Museum, which offers a wonderful mix of history and the newest technology. Details: Nttmuseum.org. The Choo Choo Barn is also a must-see, offering 1,700 square feet of hand-built, animated figures and vehicles around and through which 22 trains make their way. Details: Choochoobarn.com.
Keep the railroad theme going for lunch or dinner: The décor at Isaac’s (Shops at Traintown) is inspired by a dining car. Details: Isaacsdeli.com. And, for your sweet tooth: Don’t miss the Strasburg Creamery on the Square. Details: Strasburg.com.
Turkey Hill Experience
Part museum, part education, the Turkey Hill Experience is all fun. Learn how Turkey Hill Dairy went from a local company to a global force. Sit in a vintage milk truck, “milk” a mechanical cow, star in your own commercial and, here’s the good part, savor samples of the company’s tea and ice cream. The newest attraction is the Taste Lab, a hands-on exhibit through which you can make your own ice cream flavor (the exhibit has proven so popular that reservations are needed). Open daily, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., through August. 301 Linden St., Columbia. Details: Call 844-847-4884 or visit turkeyhillexperience.com.
Since it opened its doors in 1953, the mission of this Lancaster landmark has been to inspire “curiosity, discovery and a lifelong appreciation of nature, science and cultures” through its exhibits, planetarium shows and special events. After being closed for an extended period for remodeling and refurbishing purposes, the North Museum is back and better than ever. Colorful and engaging hands-on exhibits are the new norm. Technology rules. The planetarium is now the SciDome Theatre and boasts the world’s first Spitz-cove-mounted SciDome XD Touch system. The museum is open daily through the end of August. 400 College Ave., Lancaster. Details: Call 291-3941 or visit northmuseum.org.
Known for its fabulous display of roses, Hershey Gardens has increasingly become more family friendly thanks to the addition of The Children’s Garden, a whimsical area that boasts 32 displays and hands-on activities, and the Butterfly House, which is home to as many as 400 butterflies representing nearly 25 North American varieties. 170 Hotel Rd., Hershey. Open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily through Labor Day (Butterfly House closes at 5 p.m.). Details: Call 534-3492 or visit hersheygardens.org.
Village Greens Miniature Golf
This Strasburg institution offers two challenging courses that wind their way over 13 acres of gorgeous gardens and water features. A full-service snack bar is also on the premises. The course is open daily through Labor Day. 1444 Village Rd., Strasburg. Details: Call 687-6933 or visit villagegreens.com.
2015 Women’s U.S. Open
In case you haven’t heard, the 2015 Women’s U.S. Open is being contested at Lancaster Country Club, July 6-12. While some levels of tickets are sold out, as of early June, daily tickets for practice rounds, championship rounds, and the 1761 Club Badge, which provides daily admission and other perks, were still available. While we wouldn’t advise it for young children, budding golfers in middle and high school would no doubt enjoy the excitement that only a major championship can provide. Details: 2015uswomensopen.com.
Beau’s Dream Park
Four-legged guests will enjoy an outing to Lancaster’s premier dog park, which is located in Buchanan Park. Soon to celebrate its second birthday, the park was a gift to Lancaster from Angela Bauman and her dog, Beau, who won a contest sponsored by Beneful Dog Food. The park is divided into two sections: one for large dogs and the other for smaller visitors. The sections are divided by a deck-like structure where owners can socialize. The park has received kudos from USA Today (#1) and Destination Travel magazine. Details: Cityoflancaster.com and Facebook.
Lancaster Science Factory
This hands-on, interactive tech and science center is geared to children in grades K-8, and features 60+ exhibits that relate to the physical sciences, engineering, technology and math. Open since 2008, it welcomed more than 41,000 visitors last year. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun., 12-5 p.m. All that learning will undoubtedly make you hungry. Check out The Baker’s Table in the Cork Factory Complex, which offers breakfast items, salads, sandwiches and sweet indulgences. 454 New Holland Ave., Lancaster. Details: Call 509-6363 or visit lancastersciencefactory.org.
This family-friendly destination offers 4,000 square feet filled with all-things candles, homemade ice cream (with farm-fresh toppings), and a petting zoo whose residents range from the farm variety to the exotic (a kangaroo just joined the menagerie). New this year is a boardwalk that encircles the pond. Bring a picnic and enjoy a day in the country. 99 S. Groffdale Rd., Leola. Details: Call 656-9463 or visit hayloftcandles.com.
Manor Township Enola Low Grade Rail Trail
Here’s your chance to get out and enjoy some fresh air! Just south of Washington Boro, along River Road, you’ll find the Manor Township segment of the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail. Once a railroad bed, the trail has been resurfaced, making it ideal for walking or riding bikes. The scenery is spectacular and includes the Susquehanna River and steep, tree-covered cliffs. Smaller kids will enjoy watching boaters fish and water ski. There’s railroad memorabilia , too, including a restored caboose that provides the perfect backdrop for photos. Don’t forget to take the dog along! Details: Manortwp.org or Facebook.
Speaking of the Susquehanna, there are wonderful places to enjoy the scenery up and down the river. Upstream you’ll find Lancaster’s newest trail: the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail, which includes the much-photographed White Cliffs of Conoy (access the trail off Race Street in Bainbridge). Of course, Chickies Rock always wows visitors. Further downstream you can access the Enola Trail in Conestoga Township. Another popular place to view the river is from the Pinnacle Overlook in Holtwood. And, the views are simply spectacular at Susquehannock State Park in Drumore Township.
Hole in the Wall Puppet Theatre
The 50-seat theater, which opened in 1990, is the creation of Robert Brock, who serves as artistic director. His aim is to educate and entertain his audiences. In addition to the family-friendly shows, the theater offers shows for more grown-up audiences; plus it is home to the John Durang Puppet Musuem, which boasts puppets from around the world, as well as from shows that were staged over the past 25 years. Performances geared toward children run approximately one-half hour, but parents will be equally as entertained. Aladdin & His Magic Lamp runs through August 18. Performances are offered Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 11 a.m. Details: Call 394-8398 or visit hiwpuppets.org.