Summer is just around the corner and everyone is looking for their next great outdoor adventure. Whether plans include a solo jaunt, a few days with friends and family, or a week-long vacation, Mercer County PA has dozens of outdoor spots that are home to amazing recreational opportunities. Hiking, biking, fishing, camping, and swimming are just part of what the area has to offer. There are summer events, historical settings, and—for those who want the ultimate rush—even skydiving.
Mercer County, located in northwestern Pennsylvania, has become one of the most visited tourist areas in the region, especially in the summer months. Visitors appreciate the County’s many lodging options, attractions, and outdoor activities that draw people from western Pennsylvania, as well as visitors from eastern Ohio, southwestern New York, and Ontario, Canada.
Start Your Adventure with a Relaxing Tube Ride Down the River
The summer months in western Pennsylvania are meant to be spent near the water, and many locations in Mercer County offer activities on their rivers and lakes, including paddling, fishing, and tubing.
Climb into an inner tube and let the gentle current take you down the Upper Shenango River. This low-stress, high-enjoyment water activity takes between one to four hours, depending on the river trail you choose. Casey Shilling, owner of Carried Away Outfitters, says that this tubing experience in Greenville is perfect for those who love to relax.
“The Upper Shenango is a smaller, more intimate river, and it’s completely surrounded by trees. Even though you’re close to town during your river tubing journey, it truly feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. This is a great way to get out of the city and get back to the outdoors. We only rent new equipment to our customers, and we take pride in giving you the best outdoor experience. Paddling or tubing is family-friendly, and we have equipment for all sizes and nearly all ages. Then, after a trip down the river in a tube or kayak, there’s still so much to do here – hiking and biking, great restaurants, tons of shopping, pristine golf courses, and even a wine and brew trail,” he explains.
Is paddling around more your style? There are single and double kayaks and canoes available at Carried Away Outfitters and another water adventure company in the Mercer County area, Pymantuning Rental and Information, for a day on the river or Lake Pymatuning. VisitMercerCountyPA has more information.
Another popular outdoor adventure area is the 1,860-acre Lake Wilhelm at Maurice K. Goddard State Park. A man–made reservoir, the lake was formed when a dam was constructed along Sandy Creek just north of Sandy Lake Borough for flood control and recreation.The surrounding landscape is breath-taking with abundant wetlands, mature forests, old fields, and farmlands providing for excellent opportunities for wildlife watching, including a pair of Bald Eagles which for many years have nested close to the marina. The nest provides wonderful opportunities for photographs.
Many recreational activities are available at the lake including kayaking, fishing, sailing, hunting, hiking, pontoon rentals, and a 168-space marina where people can rent a dock slip for their personal pontoon boats from May 1-October 31. Electric motors only are permitted on the lake west of the Interstate 79 crossing. In all other areas, the maximum horsepower is 20. A 12.2-mile paved multi-use trail surrounds the lake and is open year round.
The Best Fishing, Camping and Hiking Spots for Nature Lovers
Pymatuning State Park, at nearly 17,000 acres one of the largest state park in Pennsylvania, is home to a lake with a legendary feature: it contains a spillway so packed with carp that ducks easily walk on their wriggling backs, trying to snap up the food that people throw to the fish.
Besides this must-see experience, Dan Bickel, the park’s Operations Manager, says the state park is known for its fishing and camping. “Fishing is the park’s number one attraction. In fact, the lake is always ranked as a top family fishing destination, and more than three million people visit every year.”
Camping is another popular activity at the park. “There are two modern, upgraded campgrounds in the park at Jamestown and Linesville, with more than 400 campsites and cabins that can be reserved online. Some of campsites are pet friendly, too.”
Both campgrounds have amenities for registered campers, like nearby boat launches, playgrounds, beaches, and fish-cleaning stations. Shoreline fishing access is also available.
Hiking trails are plentiful in the Mercer County area, from easy walks to more difficult journeys. One of Mercer County’s best-known trail areas advertises the rather gruesome name of Hell’s Hollow. Bob Mills, owner of Hell’s Hollow Adventure Trail, says that the name was inspired by an early 1800s legend about a Native American named Harthegig who would torment children in the area. Eventually Harthegig disappeared, possibly killed by a local farmer, and his spirit is said to still haunt the area.
The Hell’s Hollow wildlife trail, however, is anything but scary. It’s a four-mile adventure that offers glimpses of native animal, bird, and plant species. There’s also a picturesque waterfall named Spirit Falls that draws hikers to the area.
If you’d rather ride the trail instead of walk it, there are trail buggies available that fit up to three people. Visitors are given a trail map and stops are marked, with historical areas described on the map including Lake Lackawonnock, named after the Indian chief who lived there, and the remains of the Iron City Iron Ore Furnace, built in the 1830s. Anyone is welcome to ride the trails, but you must be 18 or older to drive them. Dogs are welcome to take on the trail with their masters and must be on a leash.
“This trail is family friendly. Kids love it – they bring back flowers, leaves, rocks, and other things that they’ve found. We also offer hayrides and bonfires with hot dogs and marshmallows for groups that can be booked in the summer season,” said Mills.
For those who love thrills, the ultimate outdoor adventure is jumping from a plane and skydiving! Located in Grove City, Skydive Pennsylvania has instructors who tailor jumps – from first timers interested in tandem skydiving, to experienced jumpers who are looking for an even bigger adrenaline rush. VisitMercerCountyPA has more information.
History, Mixed with the Outdoors
Mercer County’s history often ties into many of its outdoor locales. The Greenville Railroad Park and Museum features Engine 604, the largest switch steam engine ever built, plus a coal tender, hopper car, and caboose. The exhibits in this outdoor park is a favorite for adults as well as kids, who can climb aboard a real train.
The restored home of one of Pennsylvania’s governors, the Bigler House, is located in Mercer County. Two of the Bigler family’s sons made their political mark in the 1800s – John Bigler moved to California during the Gold Rush and was later elected the governor of California while his younger brother, William, was elected governor of Pennsylvania. The Bigler family home, which was built in the now-uncommon antebellum Greek Revival style, was moved from its original location several times, and currently is located at Munnell Run Farm.
Perhaps Mercer County’s best-known historical figures are Frank and Julia Buhl. In the early 1900s, this married couple purchased more than 300 acres of farmland and developed the land into Buhl Farm Park. Today, the Park includes a golf course, fitness trail, dog park, tennis courts, kayaking, an outdoor pool, and playgrounds. It’s also host to a number of events and activities throughout the summer that are open to out-of-town guests, and welcomes more than 300,000 people a year. VisitMercerCountyPA has more information.
Must-See Outdoor Events for All Ages
Mercer County offers outdoor events for all ages and interests. On September 1, the Pedal the Lakes bike tour in Greenville includes 12, 32, 65, or even 100-mile treks through many northwestern Pennsylvania waterways and lakes. The Greenville Heritage Days on July 7-8 includes a car show that draws thousands who admire more than 400 classic vehicles. WaterFire Sharon is an art, music, food and performance festival that uses the Shenango River as the setting for dozens of floating braziers, flaming a top the water, with a custom soundtrack backdrop. This year, WaterFire takes place on July 21, August 18, and September 22. VisitMercerCountyPA has more information.