Unwind with a Midweek Trip to Happy Valley
If you’ve ever been to the Penn State University area on a game weekend, you've seen the town at its busiest. While tons of fun, weekends also tend to be crowded and make finding a room in Centre Country, colloquially known as Happy Valley, a difficult task.
Visiting this area smack dab in the middle of the Keystone State during the weekdays is almost like visiting an entirely new destination. Take advantage of the quieter midweek’s shorter lines and fewer crowds to explore the region’s abundant outdoor recreation, thriving craft beverage scene and unique museums and history.
Read on for some of our favorite stops in this spot that’s easily accessible by I-80 and Route 322, about 3 hours west of Philadelphia and 2.5 hours east of Pittsburgh.
Surrounded by more than 750,000 acres of public lands, Happy Valley has an overwhelming amount of choice for outdoor fun, including state forests, parks, game lands, public lakes, bike paths and community parks.
Explore hundreds of miles of trails on foot or by mountain bike in Rothrock, Sproul or Bald Eagle Forests. Hike the famous Mount Nittany, named after a Native American warrior princess who was so beloved, that, as legend has it, her burial mound turned into the mountain overnight. Spot wildlife like deer, cottontail rabbits, turkey and even wild elk herds in these parts.
With all that land, there’s plenty of room to practice your golf swing as well, while enjoying the fresh air of the countryside and the leisurely midweek vibe. Designed by Edmund Ault, the 18-hole championship golf course at Toftrees Golf Resort in State College also has a driving range and putting green. Surrounded by lush greenery and on the banks of Bald Eagle Creek, Skytop Mountain Golf Club in Port Matilda has five sets of tees to accommodate players of all levels.
In honor of the school colors, the Penn State Golf Courses provide two 18-hole options: the Blue (7,214 yard, par 72) and the White (6,344 yard, par 72). Celebrating its centennial this year, the White Course was designed by famed architect Willie Park, Jr. and eight original holes/green complexes still exist. If it’s mini golf you’re after, Happy Valley Mini Golf Course offers 18 holes of family-friendly (and wallet-friendly) fun; they’re set to reopen in mid-April and stay open through October.
Happy Valley is rich in farmland, so don’t be surprised to see several farmers’ markets (outdoor and indoor) in your travels around the area, like the Boalsburg Farmers Market on Tuesdays. Go a step further and do a self-guided tour of the region’s rich agricultural history with the Happy Valley Agventures’ Agriculture Heritage Driving Tour. Drive along the roads to see working farms and Amish homesteads and pop in to try artisanal Amish cheese and homemade fudge at the Goot Essa cheese shop or yummy jams and chutneys at Tait Farm Foods.
Using more than 10,000 artifacts ranging in size from teacups to tanks, the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg tells the story of the state’s military. From April through October, on select Wednesdays and during specific hours of operation, the museum invites people with special sensory needs or medical concerns to visit for a more comfortable experience (i.e. background effects in the gallery are turned off and lower volume is used on the orientation film).
At the Columbus Chapel & Boal Mansion Museum in Boalsburg, patrons can find a lock of Napoleon’s hair, Christopher Columbus’ sea chest and 15th-century weapons, among other things, thanks to a family connection. In the 19th century, the mansion’s builder settled in Happy Valley with his French wife, who was a direct descendant of Columbus. She inherited the Columbus family castle in Spain and had the contents shipped across the Atlantic to this small Pennsylvania town.
The Penn State All-Sports Museum celebrates its athletes from more than 30 varsity sports using photographs, memorabilia, artifacts and trophies. Guided tours are available Tuesday-Friday (limited availability on the weekends, another reason why midweek is a great time to visit). Tours of Beaver Stadium are also available and include walking the stadium, experiencing the club area and seeing the Nittany Lion locker room.
Happy Valley is not only rich in nature and history, it’s also rich in food and drink. Get a (literal) taste of the craft brewing scene by joining the Central PA Tasting Trail, which includes four wineries, two cideries, two distilleries and three microbreweries. Sip on drinks like ZZerbert, a Lambic-style fruit beer at Happy Valley Brewing Company or the Peanut Butter Porter at Robin Hood Brewing Company. With fewer folks on the trail midweek, you won't have to wait as long to down that sweet nectar.
Don’t deny yourself two of the area’s most famous desserts as well. Penn State alums swear by the Grilled Stickies once sold at Ye Olde College Diner; though the restaurant has closed its doors, you can still get the stickies at many local markets. This sweet treat is essentially a baked cinnamon bun that is then grilled and served piping hot. Create a “Mount Nittany” by pairing it with a pint from Penn State’s Berkey Creamery, an industry icon when it comes to perfect ice cream. (Six days a year, industry pros flock to Penn State from around the world to learn the science behind it.)
Top it all off with a stay at The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle, one of the best eco-friendly lodges in the nation as voted by USA Today in 2021. With only 16 rooms at this lakeside location, you’ll have an easier time booking a stay midweek and you can enjoy some serenity from your own private balcony, watching the sun rise over the mountains or spotting the year-round sparrows, finches and cardinals flit about. Maybe bring a pint of that ice cream to your room for the cherry on top.