Between Laurel Mountain in the east and Chestnut Ridge in the west sits Ligonier, a small town marked by history and gorgeous views at the gateway to Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands.
Located at the intersection of the historic U.S. Route 30 (The Lincoln Highway) and PA 711 in Westmoreland County, Ligonier has been ranked one of the Most Charming Small Towns in America by Country Living magazine and honored by Scenic Pittsburgh with a Regional Scenic Beauty Award.
“It’s a very cozy little hallmark town that’s very walkable,” says Eric Knopsnyder, director of public relations and community outreach for GO Laurel Highlands, the official destination marketing organization for Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.
GO Laurel Highlands is based in Ligonier, and Knopsnyder says that is intentional.
“Ligonier is a great base from which to see the Laurel Highlands,” he says. “It’s a perfect place to stay whether you don’t want to go to a park that day and just experience town, or if you do go out and do a lot of hiking and skiing and you come back and get a meal here.
It’s a great place to center yourself here and see all the highlights the Laurel Highlands has to offer.”
The doorstep of the Laurel Highlands
A tributary of the Kiskiminetas River, the Loyalhanna Creek travels 50 miles through the Laurel Ridge near Donegal. It turns northwest five miles northwest of Ligonier and flows through Latrobe, passing through Loyalhanna Lake to join with the Conemaugh River at Saltsburg.
Loyalhanna Creek serves as the median of Route 30, beginning in Latrobe and continuing until The Lincoln Highway becomes a four-lane road again near Idlewild & SoakZone.
Water sports like kayaking and canoeing are abundant on the Loyalhanna. The Loyalhanna Watershed Association offers a variety of programs and resources. Public access is available at the Loyalhanna Nature Trail across Route 30 from Giant Eagle. A swinging bridge crossed the creek at the nature trail from the early 1900s until it was destroyed by a flood in 2019.
Laurel Summit State Park
This six-acre park is 2,739 feet above sea level and is notably several degrees cooler than the towns surrounding it.
Spruce Flats Bog is accessible via an easy, quarter-mile trail. Bogs are rare at such a high altitude, and the trees bend due to strong westerly winds in a shape known in German as Krummholz, or “crooked wood.” Parking is available along Laurel Summit Road.
The Wolf Rocks Trail is known for its hiking, mountain biking and snowshoeing opportunities. This 4.3-mile loop is moderately challenging and takes about 90 minutes to complete. Hikers can see hardwood trees, mountain laurels and sandstone boulders. The Wolf Rocks overlook is a large sandstone outcrop that showcases the stream valleys. Parking is available along Linn Run Road.
Laurel Mountain State Park
Laurel Mountain State Park was one of the first ski areas in Pennsylvania when it opened in 1939. It was owned and operated by the Mellon Family until 1958, when the family made the resort public. Laurel Mountain features the largest ski drop in Pennsylvania at 761 feet.
Ligonier Valley Trail
The Ligonier Valley Trail and Bikeway links Fort Ligonier, the Compass Inn, Ligonier Valley Railroad Museum and Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. The trail offers access to dining and shopping throughout the borough. The route traverses parts of the original Lincoln Highway, and will one day connect to Idlewild & SoakZone.
Linn Run State Park
Linn Run State Park offers 612 acres for hiking and picnicking and features nine rustic cabins available for rent. Formed from Grove and Rock runs, Linn Run is a free-flowing stream perfect for trout fishing.
Hikers can brave large boulders on the Adams Falls Loop Trail for about a mile to see a beautiful mountain waterfall, rhododendron plants and hemlock trees.
For an easier trek, try the half-mile Flat Rock Trail. This out-and-back trail runs along Linn Run and features remnants of the McGinnis Rod and Gun Club.
Visitors can hike, snowshoe or run along Grove Run Trail, a four-mile moderately challenging loop that travels into neighboring Forbes State Forest. The Pittsburgh, Westmoreland & Somerset Railroad cut through both parks from 1899 to 1916 to haul logs to the sawmill in Ligonier.
Forbes State Forest
Offering 59,000 acres of outdoor recreation in Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties, Forbes State Forest encompasses the high ridges of the Laurel Highlands, including the 3,213-foot Mount Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania. It is also known for Fish Run Falls, a waterfall near Linn Run Road. Stone aqueducts from the Pittsburgh, Westmoreland & Somerset Railroad also remain near this trail.
Forbes State Forest boasts nearly 250 miles of mountain biking for beginners to experts. For beginners, try the Intro to Laurel Trail, 14.3 miles that span the entire Laurel Ridge. Parking is along Laurel Summit Road near the warming hut.
The Beam Rocks Overlook is just a quick hike away with an incredible view of the northeast Laurel Highlands. Parking is along Laurel Summit Road.
The state forest is also a popular cross-country skiing and snowshoeing destination.
Fishing is abundant along the many creeks in the forest.
Gateway to the Laurel Highlands
The 125-mile “leaf peeper” Discover Fall – Scenic Driving Tour Northern Loop travels through Ligonier along the Laurel Highlands Scenic Byway (PA 711 North). This four-hour adventure showcases some of the best autumnal colors in the state.
Ohiopyle State Park is just 45 minutes away in Fayette County for whitewater rafting, hiking, biking and “all of the outdoor stuff you can possibly want to do,” Knopsnyder says.
Ingrained in the history of the nation
Fort Ligonier was an important staging area for the Forbes Expedition of 1758 during the French and Indian War and provided a passage for British communication and supplies to Fort Pitt. In its eight years of existence, the fort was never taken by an enemy.
The reconstructed fort includes the fascine battery, outer retrenchments and structures in the lower historic area, as well as the recreation of artillery pieces, wagons and other equipment. The museum is open daily through November and on weekends through the winter.
Fort Ligonier Days is a three-day festival with a reenactment of the Battle of Fort Ligonier and includes nearly 200 craft vendors, 30 food vendors, live music, a parade, and a 5K walk and run. The 2023 festival takes place Oct. 13-15, and typically draws 100,000 people to the region.
Compass Inn Museum and Historic Site
From 1799 to 1852, the Compass Inn was a popular destination for travelers on the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Turnpike. The original inn was built with logs and a stone wing was added in 1820. Henry Clay, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson and President-elect Zachary Taylor were among some of the guests.
Today, the museum features docents dressed in 1830s period clothing, and the cookhouse showcases an authentic and working beehive oven and hearth. The blacksmith shop includes a functioning forge. Authentic barn houses remain, as well as a restored stagecoach and Conestoga wagon.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, May 1 through Oct. 31, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Candlelight tours are offered on weekend nights November through mid-December.
If you go
Shops, dining and family fun
“I’m always amazed by the amount of tourism that Ligonier brings,” says Amy Beitel, executive director of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Any day I can be walking down the street and someone asks me where a particular store or restaurant is, and they are from all over.
“We have great dining, some of the best around,” she adds.
- Ligonier Outfitters offers outdoor clothing, gear and equipment.
- Celtic Culture sells unique goods from Ireland and the British Isles.
- Scamps Toffee is a woman-owned confectionary that makes locally-made toffee, bark and popcorn.
- The Kitchen on Main is a handcrafted, open-concept kitchen specializing in classic gourmet flavors.
- Ligonier Tavern & Table offers modern comfort food, and fine wine and craft beer in a Victorian house.
- At Carol & Dave’s Roadhouse Restaurant, try Carol’s award-winning meatloaf, giant burgers or jumbo shrimp at this old-fashioned bar and grill outside on the deck.
- Sweet Rust Distilling is an independent bottler specializing in an American take on Scotch whiskey. There is a tasting room and a farm-to-table restaurant offering a variety of upscale choices.
- Try a homemade waffle cone at Ligonier Creamery, which serves homemade hand-dipped ice cream and specialty desserts.
Check out the Ligonier Country Market on Saturdays through Sept. 30, from 8 a.m. to noon. With 130-plus vendors, this market is the third-largest in the state. Visit the night market every third Thursday of the month.
Idlewild & SoakZone
A family-favorite amusement park, Idlewild & SoakZone opened in 1878 along U.S. Route 30 as a campground. The oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania and the third-oldest in the U.S., the park is well-known for its several distinct areas. Story Book Forest features character scenes from fairy tales and nursery rhymes. In 2015, the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Trolley Ride replaced the iconic Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood Trolley Ride. Olde Idlewild features 11 classic rides, including the historic wooden Rollo Coaster, built in 1938. Ride down the Serpentine waterslides at SoakZone or let the kids explore Captain Kidd’s Adventure Galley.
The Outdoor Guide Series is underwritten by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council as part of its effort to promote the outdoor recreation economy in Pennsylvania and neighboring areas.