You could visit State College, Pennsylvania, and spend hours debating the merits and achievements of Penn State athletics. You could even try to figure out what exactly a Nittany Lion is? Or you could leave the diehard fans snug in their blue-and-white bubbles and trust that the Nittany Lion is a mountain lion that hasn’t roamed the slopes of nearby Mount Nittany in more than 125 years. If you take the second option—and you should—you’ll be able to spend every waking minute of your 48 hour visit to State College hiking, biking, fishing and imbibing your way around this picturesque college town.
It’s a popular spot to hike, but since you’re in Nittany Lion country, may as well hike Mount Nittany. The trail’s only 4.6-miles long but it’s dog-friendly (keep them on a leash, please) and has some excellent view of town and campus, so make this one of your first stops to get acquainted with the landscape. There are numbered spots along the trail, and most follow it going from 1 to 10, but if you go the other way—10 to 1—you’ll conquer some thigh-quivering stairs first thing and earn a little more solitude on the trail.
A longer hike, and one where you can earn more alone time as you put more miles under your boots, is Pennsylvania’s Mid State Trail. This 320-mile trail bisects the state, running from Maryland to New York and going right by State College on the way. Where should you hike? Where shouldn’t you? The network of trails, roads, loops, spurs and connectors look like lace draped over the mountains. None of these trails will lead you wrong but they can lead you in circles, so pick up a trail map at one of the outfitters in town before you set out.
If you brought your mountain bike or trail running shoes, you’re in the right spot. Rothrock State Forest and Bald Eagle State Park are home to some big endurance events. The multi-stage Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Race stops here for some tough single-track rides, and the Tussey Mountainback Ultramarathon and 50-mile Relay Race make use of the terrain to test competitors. If you’re that tough, put these on your calendar, but if you just want to go for a nice long run or ride, you can follow their courses for as long as you please.
Since State College is a college town, go for that undergrad experience and dine at some student favorites. Start breakfast at Original Waffle Shop, but show up early or it’s lunch for you. Later, go with Ye Olde College Diner where they serve those greasy college staples—burgers, fries, gravy fries—and a local classic, the Grilled sticky, a grilled cinnamon bun that will mean extra miles on the trail but it’s worth every bite.
Fishing those immaculate Pennsylvania streams is a passion in these parts and you’re likely to find other anglers on any water where you care to cast a line. Don’t let that stop you, they’re here for the same reason you are: wild trout waters.
Many of the streams and rivers here are rife with wild trout, and along Spring Creek, Little Fishing Creek, Big Poe Creek (which is stocked each spring), and Little Juniata River, even a novice angler stands a good chance of reeling in a few over the course of an afternoon. Since fly fishing is hot here, head to TCO Fly Shop where you’ll find some folks ready with stream recommendations and the skinny on what the local trout are hungry for.
For a trail of a different sort, check out the Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail. So there’s no stellar mountaintop vista to hike to and very little chance of seeing a bear along this trail, but you will get to stop by a dozen breweries, wineries and distilleries and taste why they call this place Happy Valley (ok, that actually goes back to the Great Depression when jobs were still available in the area, thanks to the university, but you get the joke). High points include Happy Valley Brewing Company and Otto’s Pub and Brewery for the beer fans; Barrel 21 Distillery & Dining and Big Springs Spirits for fans of the hard stuff; and Seven Mountains Wine Cellars, Keewaydin Cider Mill and Elk Creek Café + Aleworks for those who want something a little different.
You could rough it but why not stay in style at the Carnegie Inn & Spa where you can get a massage for those aching thighs, sit down for one of the classiest meals in town, or spend a day on the golf course.
Hudson House Bed and Breakfast is small, sits in a meadow surrounded by farmland and mountain views, and gives you the feel of country life, all while being only five minutes from town.
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Spat’s Café & Speakeasy offers something a little different than the usual college town dinner: a taste of New Orleans. This restaurant serves Cajun and Creole dishes and they do them right.
The Dining Room at the Nittany Lion Inn is one of only a handful of restaurants in town that are of the high-end, mind-blowing, worth-every-cent variety, so if your stomach guides your trips, make this a stop.
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Libations & Nightlife
For a broad range of beers close at hand, dodge the typical college crowd and head to Zeno’s Pub, a basement bar where you’re more likely to encounter grad students and budding beer nerds than the drink-what-you-got beer noobs.
Local Whiskey is the only place you need to know if you’re a fan of bourbon, whisky or whiskey or just want a damn good cocktail.
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