The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ranks in the top third in both landmass and population density in the United States. The Keystone State contains a diverse mosaic of demographics and culture and is considered one of America’s most beautiful states. Known for steel and railroad production, Pennsylvania is also a leader in mushroom production – producing over 400 million pounds annually!
From the dense East coast and rust belt cityscapes of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, to the rolling fields, mountains, rivers, and small towns that litter the state’s highways, the second state to join the union, in 1787, has a little something for everyone.
Pennsylvania’s history is woven into the tapestry of our country. It reaches into the past of the young British colony and then a burgeoning independent nation.
The American story is told in part through the eyes of this great rust belt state and the people who have inhabited it for centuries – and through the 19 national parks and monuments that have preserved these stories.
Below are a few highlights and must visits.
It all began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The germ of an idea, borne of so many great minds, of a dream to one day, come true: a free nation without oppression or monarchical rule, a nation where all “men are created equal” (an idea we’re still trying to live up to). This national historic park right in the heart of Philly preserves the legacy of the birthplace of the founding ideals of the nation and protects world-renowned symbols of freedom and democracy like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both debated right inside the walls of Independence Hall, and today, visitors can walk in the footsteps of giants like Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and Franklin and imagine the excitement, exhilaration, and yes, trepidation of those heady early days at the very birth of a nation.
Long before the days and months spent debating what would eventually become the constitution of a new government, the right to do so would be hard-fought and won on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. No place holds as honored a place in the American heart as Valley Forge, where General George Washington’s army camped during the bitter, hard winter of 1777-1778. The national park that now commemorates the Continental Army’s brutal winter encampment features over 3,000 acres of monuments, fields, meadows, and forests memorializing the sacrifices of so many that made way for the freedom of so many more.
To further prove that it deserves its rightful place among the most influential states and territories in the American past, Pennsylvania also boasts a pivotal military outpost before the Declaration of Independence! A great battle took place at the present-day site of this national park, which sparked what became known as The French and Indian War. This long-time-coming conflict was a clash between British, Native, and French cultures and forces. It resulted in the French being largely removed as a powerful political or colonial force in the New World. In addition, the French & Indian War did as much as any other geopolitical event in those days to set the table for the coming American Revolution. Visitors can explore the museums and walk the battlefields and get a real sense of what life was like on the frontier of those wild, uncertain colonial days.