The Raystown Lake Region of Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, is a hidden treasure, offering history, scenic views, and the best in outdoor recreation.
I was a guest of the HCVB, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Table of Contents
- 1 Raystown Lake & Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania
- 1.1 Raystown Lake
- 1.2 Historical Downtown Huntingdon
- 1.3 Trough Creek State Park
- 1.4 Isett Heritage Museum
- 1.5 Lincoln Caverns
- 1.6 Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau
- 1.7 Spring Flowers
- 1.8 Bear’s Paw Lodge
- 1.9 Dining
- 1.10 And Finally . . .
- 1.11 Map It!
- 1.12 We Would Love to Hear From You
- 1.13 Pin this Post!
- 1.14 Helpful Links
Raystown Lake & Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania
When I say I love to write about off-the-beaten-path locations, it basically means that I love telling our readers about places they never knew existed.
The Raystown Lake Region of Huntingdon County is one of those destinations, except this time, even I had never heard of this little spot of heaven situated in South Central Pennsylvania.
Until I was invited to visit, that is.
My “travel wife,” Melody Pittman from Wherever I May Roam, and I had had just completed a whirlwind tour of Presque Isle State Park and other sites around greater Erie, Pennsylvania. We hired a rental car and set off on a 4-hour drive south to this lovely location in the Allegheny Mountains.
We were totally blown away by everything Raystown Lake and Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, had to offer. It wasn’t just scenic beauty and outdoor recreation as you might expect, but history, architecture, cuisine, museums, caverns, and rustic-luxury accommodations, as well!
Raystown Lake is the largest lake entirely within the state of Pennsylvania. Covering 8,300 acres and stretching 28 miles from end to end, this manmade reservoir has become the centerpiece of Huntingdon County. Only 4% of the lake’s 118-mile shoreline has been developed, making it a perfect place to get lost in nature.
The Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Raystown Dam on the Raystown Branch, five miles above the Juniata River. Its purpose was to produce hydroelectric power, provide flood control, and create a body of water for outdoor recreation. Project construction began in 1968, reached completion in 1973, and was dedicated by then Vice-President Gerald Ford on June 6, 1974.
A pagoda at the dam overlook built in memory of project engineer James Paul Weaver with its framed view of the lake offers a perfect spot for sheltered outdoor ceremonies.
The Ridenour Overlook provides the best panoramic view of the dam, the lake, and miles beyond.
Historical Downtown Huntingdon
The historic town of Huntingdon is the seat of the Pennsylvania county that shares its name. Huntingdon was founded by William Smith in 1767 at the confluence of Standing Stone Creek and the Juniata River. The borough was later incorporated in 1796.
Early travelers through the area, including John Harris in a 1754 account, reported the existence of a Native American stone monolith measuring 14 feet high and 6 inches square. For this reason, the location that would become Huntingdon was initially called Standing Stone. In 1896, to mark the bicentennial of Huntingdon’s incorporation, town leaders erected a monument to replace the original marker removed by natives in 1754 and to commemorate the town’s first name.
The Huntingdon Borough Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places with 521 contributing structures that reflect a range of architectural styles popular between the late 1700s and early 1900s.
Buildings of note include the Smith Home (1797), former home of Pennsylvania Governor David R. Porter; the McMurtrie Mansion (1817), which now houses the county library; the Blair Company Building (1879), now an apartment complex; the Huntingdon County Courthouse (1883); and the Gage Mansion (1896), now a B&B.
One of Huntingdon’s historical homes, the Little House (1887), was built as a float for one of the town’s centennial parades. The miniature Victorian structure was renovated in honor of Huntingdon’s bicentennial in 1987.
While walking Huntingdon’s historical district, I was intrigued by the Walk Huntingdon community initiative. Signs posted around town encourage walkers, letting them know that it is not too far to walk to their next destination. Pedestrians can also use a QR reader on their mobile devices to access a map and written directions.
Melody and I joined our host on a custom walking tour around historic Huntingdon, but the nonprofit 4 and More Cultural District partnership offers free themed walking tours at 10:00 AM on Thursdays during the summer. Tour themes include history, architecture, ecology, and public art. Donations are accepted.
Trough Creek State Park
My favorite outing of our Raystown Lake Region itinerary was to the 541 acre Trough Creek State Park. It was a lovely, cool, overcast day, perfect for hiking and sightseeing.
Our first stop in the park was at the Copperas Rock picnic area where we watched a fly-fisherman practice his craft. Then, we headed out on a short hike along the Rhododendron Trail to three of the park’s notable features.
The trail brought us first to a suspension bridge which, although unverified, I suspect was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) when they were assigned to work the area between 1933 and the park’s opening in 1936.
Just beyond the bridge, we came upon Rainbow Falls, named for the spectrum of color that can be seen in its mist. The sun was not cooperating, so we didn’t see any rainbows, but the spring flow of water along the series of cascades presented the falls at its best.
Balanced Rock, a huge boulder that appears to teeter precariously at the edge of a cliff above Great Trough Creek, is located near the highest point on the trail. Authorities maintain the rock has not moved for thousands of years and is perfectly safe to visit.
Before leaving the park, we stopped to check out a roadside attraction, of sorts. The Ice Mine is not what its name implies, but rather an opening in the hillside that was probably dug by a prospector. The mouth of the cave functions as an air duct, releasing natural air conditioning in the spring and early summer.
Isett Heritage Museum
The Isett Heritage Museum was founded by local Huntingdon businessman and collector J. Melvin Isett on a 182 acre property on Stone Creek Ridge.
The museum contains more than 40,000 collected or donated items displayed in three of the property’s five structures.
Items on display are grouped according to historical periods or themes, as with the museum’s collection of motorized and non-motorized vehicles.
A tour through the museum’s many rooms are sure to stir nostalgia and bittersweet memories of days gone by. I recognized many displayed historical items that were once considered modern technology during my lifetime.
Who knew 8-track tapes are now ancient artifacts?
Perhaps the most meaningful part of our museum visit was the opportunity to meet Mr. Isett himself. The museum founder enjoys greeting museum guests in the lodge at the end of the 3-hour guided tours.
The museum is open to the public year round. Consult the museum website for admission dates, times, and contact information.
When you visit Lincoln Caverns & Whisper Rocks, a 1-hour guided tour will carry you through two stunning caverns located just below the surface of the ground along the William Penn Highway, 4 miles north of Huntingdon.
Lincoln Caverns has the look and feel of a vintage roadside attraction, which of course, it is.
The attraction opened to the public as Hi-Way-May Caverns thirteen months after they were discovered during construction of U.S. Route 22 in 1930. At the end of the first season, the property was leased by Myron Dunlavy, Sr. who ran the attraction as William Penn Caverns for five years.
When he purchased the property in 1938, Dunlavy renamed the attraction in honor of his favorite president.
In 1941, while out exploring sinkholes atop Warrior Ridge, his son Myron Dunlavy, Jr. discovered the caverns that would become Whisper Rocks.
The privately-owned attraction remains in the Dunlavy family to this day.
The subterranean rooms and rock formations at Lincoln Caverns closely resemble those I had seen at Florida Caverns State Park. I knew Florida had been underwater during earlier geologic periods, but I never would have thought the same of Pennsylvania.
But I saw proof of the state’s former location beneath a Paleozoic sea, as evidenced by fossilized seashells embedded in the cavern ceiling.
Plant roots from more recent times were in evidence, too.
Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks feature many varieties of speleothems, including some cave formations that resemble popcorn, necklace beads, and even bacon!
As you can see, a visit to Lincoln Caverns will not disappoint. The caverns are open daily March through December and by appointment throughout January and February.
Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau
I don’t typically include visitor centers in our stories, but the Huntington County Visitors Bureau is an exception to the rule.
First of all, the bureau is run by executive director Matt Price and marketing director Ed Stoddard, two uber-cool guys who are crazy in love with the Raystown Lake Region. If you stop by, one or both of them will be available to provide you the information you need to make the most of your visit to the area.
Secondly, the visitor bureau building is situated on a scenic overlook that makes it a destination all its own.
The overlook provides a view of the Seven Points Marina, a great place to rent pontoons and houseboats, or take advantage of the facility’s private boat ramp for a day use fee.
My next visit to Raystown Lake will be by houseboat!
Spring was busting out all over on roadsides and gardens during our visit to the Raystown Lake Region.
I found myself powerless over the countless varieties of iris, and our host busted me in a moment of weakness.
The varied shapes and colors made it difficult to pick a favorite.
Showy rhododendrons and fragrant lilacs were blooming, as well.
Even wildflowers did their part to contribute to the experience.
Bear’s Paw Lodge
As many of our readers know, PInebox is my getaway go-to in any season. This log cabin located in the mountains of North Georgia has been my favorite place on earth since 2003.
Bear’s Paw Lodge, our host accommodations while visiting the Raystown Lake Region, was just like visiting PInebox, except maybe a million times better!
A gated gravel road leads to this 6,400 sq. ft. custom-designed log lodge, situated on 40 wooded acres atop Piney Ridge.
Bear’s Paw Lodge is the definition of rustic luxury!
The centerpiece of the main floor is an open concept kitchen, dining, and living area, divided only by a double-sided stone fireplace. Inside amenities include a fully-equipped kitchen with tableware service for 16, a flat screen HDTV, and high-speed WiFi.
A coffee bar and laundry room are also conveniently located on the main floor.
The lodge has six bedrooms furnished with 4 king and 5 queen beds, and an equally impressive six bathrooms.
We had so much room that Melody and I had our own separate floors.
One bedroom (mine) is located on the garden level adjacent to a sauna and large multipurpose room.
With its prime location near everything the Raystown Lake Region has to offer, Bear’s Paw Lodge is perfect for vacations, weekend getaways, family reunions, destination weddings, and other small group events.
Here we offer a few suggested eateries where we dined during our visit to Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.
Stone Town Café & Gallery
The Stone Town Café is located in a Huntingdon art gallery of the same name. We ate at the café on a Friday night when they feature a specialty dinner and live music.
Marina Café at Lake Raystown Resort
The Marina Café at Lake Raystown Resort may have been my favorite dining experience during our visit. The ambience is casual, the portions are huge, and the view is spectacular. I highly recommend the chef salad and Philly cheesesteak sandwich.
After lunch we walked down to the marina to take closer look at the lake and monster carp feeding along the shoreline. Lake Raystown Resort is one of the few developed areas on the lake, and it offers a wide range of lodging, dining, event, and recreational amenities.
Standing Stone Coffee Company
A slice of breakfast quiche hit the spot at Standing Stone Coffee Company in Huntingdon. Standing Stone also offers free WiFi and self-service laundry, making it a perfect stop for backpackers and other travelers.
Since 1959, Top’s Diner has been serving up classic American fare. Conveniently located 4 miles east of Huntingdon on Route 22, it is great place to stop off for a cheeseburger and loaded fries.
The Riverside Grill at Edgewater Inn
Dinner took us to the Riverside Grill at Edgewater Inn located along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River. This country inn is built around an original 1762 farmhouse once owned by William Penn’s grandson John. The inn’s foyer and living area are housed in this section, and original logs from the historical structure are visible in the Juniata Room.
Dinner at the Riverside Grill began with lobster bisque, French onion soup, and peach sangria, continued with a savory Chicken Picatta pasta entrée, and finished with a Peach Melba Foster dessert.
And Finally . . .
I would later learn that Raystown Lake and Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, actually host more than 1 million visitors per year, making the region clearly not off everyone’s radar.
In 2009, Budget Travel Magazine named Huntingdon the coolest small town in Pennsylvania, and placed it at number 5 on a list of Coolest Small Towns in America.
Obviously, we were not the first to discover this hidden treasure, but I tend to agree with Melody, who calls Raystown Lake and Huntingdon County, “Pennysylvania’s best kept secret!”
Photo Credit: All photos of Howard and Melody provided by Ed Stoddard
We Would Love to Hear From You
We enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Have you ever visited Raystown Lake and Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania? If so, we would love to hear about your experience. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!
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