20 Best One Tank Wanderings: Day Trips from the Cumberland Valley

All within a 2 hour drive of Harrisburg and the West Shore

By Rachael Benion May 27, 2024

Itching to get out of the Cumberland Valley or Capital Area for the day? There's a ton to do right here at home in Harrisburg and the West Shore, of course, but sometimes a road trip is the best kind of family fun! For everything closer to home, make sure to subscribe to my weekly newsletter to get the inside scoop on everything happening right here in Harrisburg and the West Shore.

To make planning easier for you, we've compiled a list of 20 places to explore within a 2 drive of home. All of the listed locations are outside Harrisburg and the West Shore. Since my crew has such a wide range of ages, most of these will work for everyone but I've made a note if they're better for younger kids.   

Is there a spot your family loves within driving distance of the Cumberland Valley or Capital Region that isn't listed here? Tell us about it by dropping me a line at

Please note: While we've done our best to keep information current and up to date, please check with attractions before heading out! Also *AHEM* This article contains affiliate links.  If you click on them and buy something, I might become rich and famous and you will score a good deal on some family fun.   

Allentown Area

1. Davinci Center (ASTC, Museums for All) - all ages

This hands-on science center in Allentown, PA is one of my family's top picks for a daytrip.  A super easy hour-and-a-half drive, you're unlikely to deal with traffic or travel stress.  Pack your lunches and hit the road, your kids of all ages are going to love the hands on fun!  If you're a kiddo at heart like me, you'll love it too.  I can guarantee you are going to ask yourself the same things I did; "how have I not been here before!" Davinci center just relocated to a much larger space and it's hard to believe they've packed in so much more science fun! 

Great for all ages.  As of our last visit, they only do the fun science shows (think liquid nitrogen, fire, exploding children) on weekends and we tend to be weekday warriors. Good distribution and sight lines so your older kids kids can split off a bit and still be supervised.  Easy parking and re-entry so we pack lunch and leave it in the car. We then retrieve it when we're hungry and grab one of the provided tables.  Davinci is a part of both the ASTC Passport Network and Museums for All program (see my notes at the end of the article for more information). 

2. Crayola Experience Easton - best for 10 and under 

A two story indoor play-space (plus a smaller version for toddlers), tons of opportunities for creative expression, and a great selection of fun science and tech experiences make this one of the best choices in the state for cold and rainy day fun.  We usually skip the shows in favor of more hands on fun.  

I adore this museum, and so do my kids, but there's some tricks to making it go smoothly.  Frankly, 90% of the time this place is magical, but there have been a couple of times when it was packed.  Do not go when schools are off such as a national holiday (our worst experience was on Columbus/Indigenous Peoples Day).  It's just not worth it.  If you've got the flexibility for a weekday trip, these are the best! Especially in the winter.  Weekends aren't usually bad either but expect some lines.  It isn't a bad idea to call and check their field trip and summer camp schedule if planning a trip between April and August, but this isn't 100% necessary.  Also know that it tends to really quiet down after lunch.  

My tween is getting a bit too old for this one and there's a bit of a complaint factor (but not too terrible really, he tolerates this one pretty well). He's been here a lot, though and that certainly contributes.  My biggest tip for the oldest sibling who may be close to outgrowing this, or any adventure, is to let them invite a friend.  I guarantee they'll both have a blast and find new ways to enjoy it.  You can check out certifiKID for an occasional good deal on tickets. The cafe is priced on the higher end and the hours are inconsistent so we tend to eat at a little cafe up the street or sneak food in (shhhh).   

Visiting Allentown? Check out our sister site, Macaroni KID Allentown, for events and fun in the Allentown area!

Greater Philadelphia Area 

3. Treehouse World - all ages

TheRiddler's Top Pick.  Treehouse World outside of Philly has it all: zip lines, obstacle courses, bungee trampolines, axe throwing and (of course) tree-houses!.  An easy 90 minutes or so from Harrisburg, this is a magical destination sure to please everyone in your family, from baby to teen.  They have something for everyone, and most attractions are both suitable and exciting for everyone to enjoy together.  Because the ride restrictions are based on weight, not age, children at just 20lb can enjoy almost everything the park has to offer.  Where else can you teach your baby to fly? 

The welcome center sells reasonably priced snacks and ice-cream but you'll want to pack a lunch. While usually a whole day, whole family adventure, check out "toddler time" in the spring and the fall for a fun half day less intense outing.  We sometimes will hit toddler time in the morning, then have lunch in the car on the way to Legoland to make a full day of it.  The crowds at Lego tend to thin after lunch so this works well on both ends.  

4. Legoland Discovery Center (with a side-quest to Jump-Star Trampoline) - best for 10 and under 

RhysiePiecie's Top Pick! Legoland Discovery Center is an easy daytrip located in the Plymouth Meeting Mall.  Besides lots of STEAM based Lego themed fun, my kids also love the pirate themed playground area (bring grippy socks), the 4D movies, and the Lego ride.  They do not allow re-entry, so if you do not want to rely on the small cafe, bring your lunch or eat before you go in.  The cafe inside is fine, but has limited options. 

It likely wont fill up your whole day, but the mall itself boasts lots of other fun.  DO NOT MISS the JumpStar trampoline attraction located right outside of Legoland.  The guys who run it are phenomenal and engaging and it's always an absolute highlight of our day. 

LEGOLAND® Discovery Centers - Save Over 30% 

View deal on CertifiKID

5. Please Touch Museum (Museums for All) - best for 8 and under

This museum has a soft spot in my heart from so many fond memories as a child.  It's only gotten better since I used to visit more than 30 years ago.  I recommend the unlimited merry-go-round bracelets as this is definitely something your kids will want to do over and over again.  A rotation of traveling exhibits keep it fresh.  

You might want to make other plans for your teens and tweens as this one suits the little-ones best.  Please Touch is a part of the Museums for All program (see my notes at the end of the article for more information).  Parking is easy and the commute isn't bad, you don't have to drive through the city.  

RiverKat discovers the Carousel 

6. Franklin Institute (Museums for All, ASTC Passport) - all ages

Rolandbot5000's Top Pick!  There's a reason this is always ranked as a top science museum in the entire Nation.  This place is amazing!  What really sets it apart though are the science shows.  Hit as many live shows as you can while you are here!  They are hilarious, engaging, interactive, and we never get tired of them.  Our personal favorites are "Ten in 10" and "COMBUSTION!".  It's nearly impossible to get to everything in just one day, so make a plan what's most interesting to your family and be ready to be flexible.  

It's an old building and especially at the entrance it can be hard to maneuver a bigger stroller or wagon, but once your in it opens up.  Park in the garage and don't forget to get it validated.  We actually LOVE the cafe here, so buy lunch.  It's yummy! We get in free using our ASTC passport so I can justify the splurge.  

Science is noisy, but not as noisy as TheRiddler

7. Camden Adventure Aquarium- all ages 

We love this aquarium just over on the Jersey side! If there's traffic and depending on exactly where you live, this one may break my 2 hour promise, but not by much.  On the more affordable side compared to other large aquariums, it is also more hands on, less crowded (generally), more accessible for my disabled kiddo, and just more kid-friendly. It's also more mom friendly - for example, though strollers are discouraged if possible, they are allowed and no one is going to give a harried mom any trouble about it. Walk the bridge over the shark tank, enjoy the numerous touch tanks and play areas, upgrade for some fun virtual reality - like all aquariums, there are plenty of amazing things to see as you explore the wonders of the deep, but what sets this aquarium apart are all the exciting things to do!  

There is ample outdoor parking at the adjacent lot and it seems like re-entry should be easy enough that packing your lunch and stashing it in the car wouldn't be an issue, but we like the food choices and the aquarium is large enough that I don't love the idea of wasting the time to go in and out.  We tend to buy our food here.

Adventure Aquarium - Save 28% 

View deal on CertifiKID

Lancaster Area 

8. Refreshing Mountain - all ages 

Unanimously, one of our most anticipated semi-annual adventures.  I have so many anecdotes about times when someone at Refreshing Mountain went above and beyond to bring joy to one of my kiddos. 

Your Refreshing Mountain adventure is sure to be full to the brim with playground time and hiking, zip lining and traversing the aerial obstacle course, rock climbing, pedal cars, farm animals, birds of prey and reptiles, archery and more.  

One of these days I need to get a few families together to book a block of cabins! Anyone up for a Macaroni KID family retreat?

Sometimes we pack, sometimes we take advantage of the affordable buffet style lunch, just depends on my mood and budget for the trip.  Both are excellent options and it just comes down to preference.  Special note - Refreshing Mountain is a Christian Retreat center and their beliefs are reflected in their policies and decor. That being said, they welcome families of any background or belief structure and I have never seen them approach anyone with anything but love and acceptance.  

9. Cherry Crest Adventure Farm - all ages 

MacMomma's Top Pick! This will be our 11th year as loyal customers and our 5th year as members at Cherry Crest Adventure Farms just outside of Lancaster PA.  There is tons to do for everyone in the family and it never gets old. We could go every weekend and never get tired of it!  Even on the busiest days there is plenty of room to spread out and you rarely find yourself waiting in line.  The food is great, the regular festivals and events are always a blast, and it's the right balance of play and adventure.  Even on the hottest days, misting fans and ice cold lemonade make it a pleasure.  When we are deciding what to do and this comes up as a choice, it's often unanimous.  

The food here is amazing and one of the draws: fresh hot buttered corn, cider donuts, kettle corn, fresh fudge, mmmmmmm.  Because we come here so often, we do often pack but if this is a special trip I strongly suggest eating here. The place is huge and I suggest bringing a wagon or stroller to stash your water bottles, lemonade, kettle corn, tired kids, animal feed and other day trip accoutrements.  You probably wont want to go back and forth to your car.  

10. The Lancaster Science Factory (Museums for All) - all ages 

This is an old haunt for us and we've been through a few remodels and plenty of additions. The Science factory just keeps getting bigger and better!  Several times we've arrived right when they open and still managed to close the place down because my kids are so engrossed in STEM fun.  The new climbing structure and recent addition of an outdoor area are certainly big draws, but the water table, bubble station, and K'nex station will never lose their appeal. We love it when we can get into the maker space.  We also notice and appreciate how much Science factory gives back to its community and that deserves a special shout out.  

11. Tiny Town (With a Side Quest to The North Museum of Natural History) - best for 8 and under  

Do you ever watch your kids play and feel really good?  Like, you just sort of know that this kind of dramatic play is helping them grow and develop - it's wholesome and imaginative and creative.  They're developing social skills and language skills and problem solving skills.  That's the feeling I get watching my kids play at Tiny Town.  But there's also definite mom perks here.  Outside of the huge play-space, which is set up like, you guessed it, a child-sized town complete with twelve impressive play-houses, is a lovely cafe area where parents can relax while their kids thrive.  You can take a minute to read a book, sip a coffee, or doom scroll, all while your kids are safe and happy. The staff is involved and on the floor, controlling the environment and gently guiding play.  Total honest moment here, can I tell you how refreshing it is NOT to have to make sure my kiddo is putting back every single thing they take out?  I can chase my kid around and clean up after them at home, for free, so its REALLY nice to have that off my plate for a couple of hours.  Don't get me wrong, I would never let them trash the place, but I don't have to stress out about every toy apple left in a mailbox or baby doll left in the grocery store.  

Tiny Town is good for hours of fun and you can definitely make a day of it, but while in Lancaster we usually plan to hit another local fun spot to make the most of our gas budget.  The North Museum of Natural History, just a few minutes away, is just enough to book-end a late lunch and make a perfect day in Lancaster. A morning full of dramatic play and social emotional learning with a late afternoon of STEAM gives the day a nice well-rounded feel.  My kids love exploring the main floor where they house most of the interactive kid's stuff. Fan favorites are the terrariums.  Upstairs at the museum generally features a rotating art exhibit and the basement houses an extensive collection of satisfyingly creepy taxidermy specimens, including (my favorite) a small curiosities section. Both are neat, but generally don't hold much interest for the little ones.  The main floor is where it's at for my crew. 

12. Hands on House  (Museums for All) - best for 8 and under  

This is a great children's museum with a nice variety of themes and experiences covering everything your kids want to play.  You'll find spaces for dramatic play, manufacturing, engineering, technology, art, gross motor play and more.  Check out the daily programming before you plan your trip.  There's always something cool and engaging going on. Shout out to the newish director for breathing new life into the place!  Highlights for our family are the art studio (limited hours) and the awesome playground.  Leave your teen or tween at home, this adventure may be more suitable for your kids 8 and under. 

Visiting Lancaster? Check out our sister site, Macaroni KID Lancaster, for events and fun in the Lancaster area!

Baltimore Area 

13. Port Discovery - best for 12 and under  

This fantastic children's museum in Baltimore is closer and easier than you may think. A fan favorite in my house is definitely the water room and plan ahead to get very wet.  We like to bring swimsuits but a change of clothes works just as well.  I also like to hit this room last as changing clothes feels like a natural conclusion to the day.  Although my tween is starting to outgrow most children's museums, he still enjoys this one very much!  I usually let him bring a friend to keep in entertained if we are in an area designed more for his younger siblings, but overall there is more than enough for him to keep busy and happy.  Definitely pack a lunch and stash it in the coat room.  There is a seating area when you are ready, and while they have pretty extensive vending options, it isn't exactly a cafe.  This is one where the family membership is worth considering.  You'll be surprised how easy this daytrip is, and you'll likely want to come back.  This museum does an absolutely commendable job at crowd control!  You know the feeling you get when you plan an excursion only to find out it's massive field-trip day?  Fear not, Port Discovery guides the flow so there is always a safe area or two for our neurodiverse crew.  I REALLY wish this were common practice.  As an added bonus, Port Discovery is part of the children's museum reciprocal network, so if you join at port discovery, you'll get 50% off admission at a couple more local hot spots (For example Hands-on-house in Lancaster and Keystone Kidspace in York).  You can sometimes find a coupon code on CertifiKIDso definitely check that out before buying tickets.  

14. Maryland Science Center  (Museums for All, ASTC Passport) - all ages  

This huge and flashy science center on the inner harbor is great for the whole family.  It's a blast and is full of hands-on interactive science fun!  Crowds can be a bit of a problem, particularly during field trips.  To help navigate crowds, check in with the children's play area at the start of your visit and plan when you will come back.  They will tell you when there will be no groups so plan to go back then.  After you put the reminder in your phone, if you've arrived close to the beginning of the day (which I recommend), start at the top of the museum and work your way down so you are moving against the flow of traffic.  If your feeling overwhelmed, The Shed can offer you a crowd controlled area where you can complete a fun science challenge with your family.  Likewise, the lab on the second floor is an amazing quieter space where your older kids can complete a series of chemistry experiments (3rd grade and up, but younger siblings can come in with older participants). It's a bigger day and plan to go home tired, and maybe prepare for a bit of sensory overload if you need to reserve some spoons (IYKYK), but it's worth the effort.  

Misc. Regions

15. Clyde Peeling's Reptile Land - all ages

Clyde Peeling's Reptiland outside of Williamsport, PA and about a 90 minute trek, makes a perfect adventure when you’re looking for something a little different than your typical zoo.  It's an easy drive from the Harrisburg area and a definite crowd pleaser. If you've got the stomach for it, consider going on the last Saturday of the month when they feed the Komodo dragons. We happened to be there by chance a couple years ago for the feeding and my kids STILL talk about it. Upgrade your tickets to include bird feeding and the souvenir photo. Even if you don't care about the photo itself, the one-on-one time with the snake or baby alligator and zookeeper is priceless. Try to visit the aviary first thing when you arrive.  On busy days, the birds can get full by the afternoon.  They don't have a cafe, but there is plenty of picnic seating.  Re-entry is a piece of cake, so we like to bring packed lunches which I grab from the car when we're ready to eat. 


16. Lewisburg Children's Museum (Museums for All, ASTC Passport)- best for 8 and under  

My kids love this children's museum in Lewisburg.  It's set up in an old high-school building, with each exhibit/themed play-space in a different classroom. This makes it super easy to supervise your kids while they explore each room.  It's a great mix of children's museum favorites like a grocery store area, glow nook, and dramatic play stage and more unique attractions like a digestive tract themed climbing structure. We love the ample opportunities for gross motor play.  Leave your teen or tween at home. While there are a few things they would enjoy, particularly in the space and science area, overall, this adventure may be more suitable for your kids 8 and under. Lunch can be a bit tricky, there is no where to eat inside the museum.  We usually pack heavy snacks/brunch to eat in the car right when we arrive and then pick up a very late fast food lunch on the way home. On your way home, if you're a thrifter like me, you may want to stop at the nearby community aid, it's the state's largest thrift shop and I always score something fun! 

17. Penn's Cave & Wildlife Park- all ages 

Take a boat ride through America's only all water cavern and then enjoy a safari ride through the wildlife park at this majestic family day trip destination near State College, PA, an easy (and pretty) 90 minute drive from the Harrisburg Area. Upgrade to add the maze to your package, I was surprised how much my kids all enjoyed the maze (while I enjoyed some ice-cream and peace and quiet at a nearby picnic table).

18. Land of Little Horses - all ages, but stronger little kid focus 

RiverKat's Top Pick!   Snuggle Zippy, the world's friendliest zebra, make friends with Hoagie the worlds... prettiest... llama, go on a train ride, see a unicorn, ride ponies, and much more at this family friendly animal themed park.  A little shout our to the amazing staff too - you can tell they really care.  When River tossed a shoe off the long wagon ride, the staff went on a personal rescue mission to retrieve it. You all know how quickly and easily a mini-catastrophe like that can cut a fun trip short.  

19. Knoebels Grove - all ages

MacDaddyo's Top Pick (don't tell Jason that's his new review nickname). There's a lot to love about Knoebels Grove. First of all, as far as amusement parks go, its a bargain.  There's no fee to get in, and much like a local carnival, they use a ticket system.  We tend to go on bracelet days though and get unlimited rides.  The food choices are fantastic! I also enjoy the small interactive performances and activities throughout the park.  It feels laid back and small town but has a lot to satisfy even your thrill-seeker.  It's a great day at a fun amusement park that wont leave you broke and exhausted.  

20. National Zoo - all ages

I love Washington DC, but you may notice it conspicuously missing from the list until now.  There are a tremendous number of amazing daytrips in and around DC , but they take a bit more effort and planning.  Although the wonders and education that DC has to offer are well worth planning around traffic, considering parking, figuring out food, and navigating crowds and the Metro, this list is meant to be more of a "hop in the car and go" sort of thing.  While DC is spectacular, it's not exactly easy. I couldn't send you this list, however, without including the National Zoo.  With its ample parking, variety of food options, and location in the upper north-west corner of the city, it makes it a significantly easier destination for families than many other attractions in DC, and it's a spectacular zoo!  (And now is when you want to click SUBSCRIBE to get my newsletter so you're one of the first to get my "Guide to Visiting DC with Lively Kids" - a work in progress coming at you soon). Choose your departure time by planning ahead with WAZE as it can give you a fairly accurate prediction of traffic.  Hitting the beltway during rush-hour can easily add an hour or more to the normally only 2 hour drive.  Parking will cost you, but the zoo, part of the Smithsonian Network, is free. 

*The ASTC Passport Program:  The ASTC Passport program is a reciprocal museum membership program that allows members of participating local museums to visit other science and technology centers around the country free of charge.  There are some restrictions regarding mileage (your home museum cannot be too close to the participating museum- for example both Whitaker Center and The State Museum are ASTC Passport participants, but you cannot use a State Museum membership to get into the Whitaker Center.  All of the museums I have listed as ASTC museums in the article, I have successfully used my State Museum or Whitaker Membership to get my family into free of charge on multiple occasions.  Pro Tip: Before traveling to one of the more expensive museums on the list, such as the Franklin Institute, it would be wise to instead purchase an affordable family membership to The State Museum.  It's often more affordable for the annual membership than a single day trip to the Franklin Institute.  

Purchase a State Museum Family Membership ($75) HERE
Purchase a Whitaker Center Family Membership ($149) HERE

(You only need ONE ASTC passport membership to get into the ASTC participating centers free of charge, but I am listing both options as both have excellent programming.)

** Museums for All is a program to help museums be accessible and affordable to everyone. Present your SNAP, TANF, WIC, EBT, or Access card at these museums and ask for the Museums for All program and your admission will be reduced to $3 or less per person.