8 Best Things To Do in Happy Valley, PA for Outdoor Lovers (+ a Bonus)
Updated: Mar 22
This post is sponsored by Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.
Most people think of Happy Valley, PA as simply farmland surrounding Penn State University, but they couldn’t be more wrong! I have to admit, I’m guilty of this stereotype myself, and I grew up in Pennsylvania. It may surprise you to hear that Happy Valley, PA is actually a top destination for outdoor recreation. Exploring the area, I was so pleasantly surprised by the variety of outdoor activities available. There’s something for everyone! What’s better, Happy Valley lies within a day’s drive from many major Eastern US cities:
Pittsburgh, PA: 2.5 hours
Baltimore, MD: 3 hours
Washington DC: 3 hours
Philly, PA: 3.5 hours
Cleveland, OH: 4 hours
Buffalo, NY: 4 hours
Rochester, NY: 4 hours
Newark, NJ: 4 hours
Norfolk, VA: 6.5 hours
Raleigh, NC: 7.5 hours
Just north of State College lies some of the most beautiful, quiet, and unique natural areas I’ve ever experienced. The rugged beauty and world-class outdoor activities make Happy Valley a must-visit destination for outdoor adventure lovers. Check out this list of the best things to do in Happy Valley, PA to help plan your trip!
1. Hunt for Happy Valley’s Only Waterfall in Sproul State Forest.
Did you know Happy Valley, PA has waterfalls? I didn’t…which made the hunt for this one all the more fun! It’s a relatively moderate hike along the Chuck Keiper Trail to one of the area’s most hidden gems- Yost Run Falls. There’s also a smaller (yet still beautiful) bonus falls just beyond Yost Run called Kyler Fork Falls. All things considered, it isn’t much effort for a big reward. We navigated to both falls using Jim Cheney of Uncovering PA’s guide and found it exceptionally accurate.
Beyond the waterfall adventure, you can also enjoy the quiet, rugged hillsides of the largest state forest in PA. Sproul State Forest covers 305,450 acres in Clinton and Centre counties and is considered part of the Pennsylvania Wilds Region. This region of PA offers 2 million acres of public lands where you can stargaze in dark skies, view one of the largest wild elk herds, and much more!
2. Explore and Spot Wildlife in Bald Eagle State Park.
Located in Centre County, PA, Bald Eagle State Park features 14.5 miles of hiking trails, a 1,730-acre lake, and several unique habitats that attract a wide variety of wildlife. Open every day of the year, there’s something for every type of adventurer here- wild and tame, young and old.
Here are a few activities I strongly recommend for your visit:
Hike the Lakeside Trail along the base of Bald Eagle Mountain.
This trail follows the lake shore and also parallels a railroad track. The underpass tunnels are pretty neat to explore too!
Enjoy fishing, swimming, kayaking, and more in the lake.
It’s the perfect spot to relax or cool off in the warmer months.
Take the Swamp Oak Trail to a magical area featuring a giant Swamp White Oak Tree!
Estimated to be around 277 years old, this White Oak is the largest recorded Swamp White Oak tree in the state of Pennsylvania! One thing I love about this trail (and most trails in the park) is that it is gentle and very family-friendly.
Spot all types of waterfowl & other wildlife (like Bald Eagles) throughout the park.
You’ll likely find herons, gulls, geese, and osprey around the lake. The area is a major flyway for migrating birds (along with butterflies and dragonflies), so it is a bird-watchers dream! The park also offers several environmental education and recreation programs like guided walks and hands on activities, as well as annual programs for children.
3. Visit Black Moshannon State Park, Featuring Pennsylvania’s Largest Bog.
Another beautiful PA park, Black Moshannon State Park is 3,394 acres in size and is surrounded by 43,000 acres of the Moshannon State Forest. Similar to Sproul State Forest, there is more of a remote feeling to this park for those who enjoy being off the beaten path. Interestingly, most of the water appears black here due to plant tannins that color it as it flows through wetlands and bogs. Hiking the Bog trail is a must! It’s a short boardwalk trail that offers amazing views of the bog, including plenty of opportunity to spot unique plants and animals.
I’d also suggest connecting to the Moss Hanne Trail through the forest & wetlands. it is very green and serene! Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking, biking, swimming, camping, etc. all year round here.
If you’re a more adventurous hiker, try taking the Ski Slope trail to the highest point in the park + the old Philadelphia-Erie Turnpike mile marker.
4. Sample Local Craft Beer at The
Dead Canary Brewing Company.
Is there any better way to celebrate a successful day of adventure than with a cold beer?
Located in Historic Philipsburg, PA, The Dead Canary is a community-focused brewery with a wide variety of beers- from hazy IPAs to dessert stouts. There’s a beer here for everyone! When we stopped in after visiting Black Moshannon State Park, it was quite busy, and we could easily see why. The atmosphere is great, and the beer is just as good as the vibe! The Dead Canary does not serve food, but usually has food trucks. Check out their social media pages for upcoming events like live music!
5. Refuel with a Delicious Meal in a Unique Setting at Brown Dog.
Everyone needs to eat right!? Also located in Philipsburg, PA, the Kitchen at Brown Dog Catering is a must-stop when you’re in the area.
Recently opened in 2018, the restaurant strives for an atmosphere of “approachable elegance,” and they definitely deliver! The eclectic décor is both strange and elegant, and the food is very reasonably priced. I highly recommend the lobster mac n' cheese if it’s on the menu. It was outstanding, as was the service! Be sure to hit up Coco’s coffee house too. In the morning, the restaurant serves coffee and baked goods like muffins, pastries, cookies, bagels, etc.
6. Climb to New Heights in Rothrock State Forest.
Just 20 or so miles from State College, Rothrock State Forest is 96,975 acres in size with 300 miles of hiking trails in Centre, Huntingdon, and Mifflin Counties. Those looking for a challenge can opt for a hike on the Mid-State Trail to spectacular vistas like Indian Wells Overlook. The Mid-State Trail is a 326-mile cross country trail, of which 42 miles run through Rothrock. This large state forest also features 16 miles of the Standing Stone trail, offering hikers plenty of great overlooks, geologic formations, and ROCKS (contributing to PA’s nickname “rocksylvania”). Rothrock also has abundant mountain biking trails, horseback riding, snowmobiling, cross country skiing & more.
7. Visit Rothrock Coffee in State College For Coffee + Breakfast.
We can’t talk about Rothrock without talking coffee! If you’re a coffee lover, you have to try Rothrock Coffee’s small-batch, farm-to-cup, uber-fresh coffee. It’s not surprising they were voted best coffee in State College, PA. Whether you need a quick pick me up on the way to your adventure or a place to hang out a while, Rothrock has a modern, spacious café you’re sure to love. If you’re like me and you can’t leave a good coffee shop without taking some coffee home, the Creekside blend was recommended to me, and I’m going to pass that recommendation on to you. It's delicious!
8. Base Your Stay at The Nature Inn.
Located right in the heart of Bald Eagle State Park, this 16-room lodge is a nature lovers' paradise. Not only will you find peace and quiet here in this tranquil setting, The Nature Inn totally immerses you in nature. It’s one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed. I loved that we could be on a hiking trail within seconds of walking out the door and that we could bird-watch right from the balcony of our room. Each room is named for a species of bird and comes with a pair of binoculars for you to spot them with! The fresh coffee and complimentary breakfast in the morning were great to start a day of exploring.
My suggestion for a perfect day here? Catch the sunrise over the lake while you sip your coffee, then spend the day watching wildlife, exploring the hiking trails, and enjoying the lake.
The Nature Inn is convenient to all of the places described in this post, making it the perfect home base for the best Happy Valley, PA trip. If you’re traveling with family, they have quite a few educational and play-focused areas for kids too!
BONUS: If You Have the Time, Take a Trip Over to Raystown Lake!
Raystown Lake is roughly 30 minutes from State College and is a PA must-visit. It’s the largest man-made lake in the state, and its shimmery blue water will have you thinking you’re way out West. In the summer, you can hike, swim, paddle, kayak, and even cliff jump here!
I strongly recommend catching sunrise or sunset from Hawn’s Overlook. If you’re more adventurous, several segments of the Standing Stone Trail lead to incredible overlooks. You’ll probably have to cross some boulder fields along the way, but that’s all part of the adventure. I personally loved the Throne Room, Thousand Steps Trail to Shorb’s Summit, and Stone Mountain Hawk Watch.
A few tips to keep in mind:
Please do your part to preserve and protect these parks by making sure you are familiar with the 7 principles of Leave No Trace.
If hiking (or pursuing other related outdoor activities), be prepared with the ten essentials.
As part of your trip planning process, check park websites for updates on events, closures, or other important information that may impact your visit.
Visit the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau’s website for more ideas and fun things to do in the area!
I hope you found this post helpful to plan the perfect trip to Happy Valley, PA.