Drive Time from NoVA: 2 hours
Small Town Charm
Carlisle is the cutest town you’ve probably never visited. Its paramount attractions are easy to access—unspoiled wilderness and a downtown bursting with youthful energy, thanks to the town’s two colleges. The community is known for being environmentally conscious and artsy, with residents selling produce, crafts and baked goods at a weekly farmers market called Farmers on the Square. Carlisle has a bountiful selection of drinking and dining options, with seven downtown breweries and cideries that are part of the Cumberland Valley Beer Trail. Stretching across the County are 46 miles of the Appalachian Trail, including its midpoint, making it a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Choose a welcoming inn or wellness resort to visit this Pennsylvania town in the Cumberland Valley with an array of cultural and recreational opportunities.
Carlisle is a pedestrian-friendly town, so begin with a walking tour of the Historic District to see well-preserved 18th- and 19th-century buildings bordering tree-lined streets. Most shops and restaurants are clustered along High and Pomfret Streets, including Issei Noodle, a Japanese noodle house where there’s always a line (but worth the wait) and 1794 The Whiskey Rebellion, a cocktail bar featuring whiskey tastings and sustainable bistro fare. Locals rave about the fresh-roasted beans and breakfast at Denim Coffee.
Liquor is a theme in these parts, with breweries popping up all over, like Market Cross Pub & Brewery, with 250 domestic and international beers on tap. Catch live music on Thursday nights at Molly Pitcher Brewing Company, named for the Revolutionary War heroine who’s buried in Carlisle’s Old Public Graveyard.
Carlisle’s motto is “Shop the block,” to encourage support for stores like Whistlestop Bookshop, a student favorite, and Georgie Lou’s Retro Candy, selling retro and handmade candy, pop culture gifts and 200 kinds of craft soda. Cooking enthusiasts adore the Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School, with its warehouse of cookery supplies, classes and demos.
Take a walk on the Dickinson College campus, founded in 1783 by physician Benjamin Rush. Rush was a patriot who marched in the Revolutionary War and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The school’s Federal-style buildings were designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, an architect of the U.S. Capitol, and the college’s The Trout Gallery is open to the public.
Several clashes occurred in the region, including the famous Whiskey Rebellion, an uprising of farmers and distillers that brought George Washington to Carlisle. From 1879 through 1918, Native Americans from Cumberland Valley attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which was located on the grounds of the United States Army War College. Today, Army officers go to earn their masters in strategic studies. Walk the Army Heritage & Education Center’s Heritage Trail to discover milestones in Army history and see cool exhibits like a Civil War encampment and M-18 Tank Destroyer.
The Appalachian Trail Museum is located at the midpoint of the AT in Michaux State Forest. The museum houses artifacts from hiking pioneers both past and present and operates the Ironmaster’s Mansion, a hostel for thru-hikers. These facilities are inside Pine Grove Furnace State Park, which has other recreational pursuits like biking, boating and swimming, plus Class 1 fly-fishing streams teeming with trout.
Make it a Weekend
Allenberry Resort is a family-owned escape in the woods. Guests can take advantage of the spa, eateries, saltwater swimming pool and stream access for fly-fishing. The recently renovated resort is known for playhouse performances and homemade sticky buns. Lodging options include private cottages, houses and lodges. Carlisle House Bed and Breakfast is a luxurious townhouse in the Historic District with 10 classically appointed guest rooms. The location is ideal for exploring the town, and the owners pamper guests with small touches, like complimentary snacks, beverages and breakfast. It includes free parking as well.
What the Locals Know
“What doesn’t make Carlisle unique is the better question to ask. You almost never run out of things to do,” explains Stephanie Patterson Gilbert, the owner of Georgie Lou’s Retro Candy in downtown Carlisle. She says the community has a diverse mixture of families who have lived there for generations, like hers, and Army War College families and Dickinson College students that have lived all over the world. “It helps Carlisle stay youthful and evolving.” She loves the unique ways history and modern living coexist in Carlisle, and the activities and experiences the area can provide, such as Appalachian Trail hiking, fly-fishing and historical sites. “We have such a hardworking, dedicated and talented community of business owners in downtown who’ve put together some of the most unique retail and dining experiences I’ve seen anywhere,” Gilbert says. “You can experience all of that for small-town prices at a small town pace.”