Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has long been known for its authentic Amish experiences — buggy rides, one-room schoolhouses, and shoofly pie. It’s a family destination, but now even more so thanks to the addition of the Cartoon Network Hotel and the expansion of the Lancaster Science Factory.
In early 2020, the first-ever Cartoon Network Hotel opened in Lancaster. The animation-themed hotel amuses children and adults with network cartoons like The Powerpuff Girls and We Bare Bears. All 159 rooms, including four dream suites, are tricked out with brightly colored cartoon characters — on walls, on linens, even on shower curtains. Many rooms have bunk beds, too.
The onsite restaurant, Cartoon Kitchen, serves breakfast and dinner, including build-your-own burgers, salads, and fish tacos. The kids menu wows with choices like Hot Dog Monster and Total Drama Pizza. For dessert, sample a flight of six ice creams. Adults, there’s even boozy milk and cookies on the menu. Look out for roaming characters, like Jake the Dog from Adventure Time.
For many, Dutch Wonderland is a first stop. Open fall weekends through October and then again on select weekends in November and December, this 48-acre amusement park has been enchanting guests since 1963. Rides, coasters, shows, and games keep little ones on their toes all day. Situated next to the Cartoon Network Hotel, it’s a cinch to pop back over for a midafternoon nap.
Big and small kids — even parents and grandparents — will want to make the Lancaster Science Factory the next stop in Lancaster County, especially since the July opening of a new outdoor courtyard to teach children about environmental sustainability. Visitors can recycle stormwater, water a rain garden, and spin the Solar Power Flower to power sounds and flashing lights.
“We wanted to create a highly interactive experience that teaches children in a fun way about native plants, our watershed, stormwater, solar power, pollinators, and trees,” says Emily Landis, executive director of the Lancaster Science Factory.
“We hope they will be inspired to take action to protect water and soil in their own backyards and beyond,” adds Landis. The new 4,000-square-foot courtyard follows a January 2019 expansion of the museum that doubled the size of the hands-on science center.
With more than 1,700 dairy farms in Lancaster County, it’s practically mandatory to visit a dairy farm while in the area. One to love is Kreider Farms in Manheim. Six days a week, visitors can board a trolley for a 90-minute farm tour to see the farm in action, including the Moo-ternity Barn, which is home to new and expecting mama cows.
You may even see a calf being born. Five to seven newborn calves come into the world in this barn every single day.
The milking merry-go-round is another highlight of the tour, milking 2,000 black-and-white Holstein cows three times each day. Refuel with a jug of chocolate milk before climbing 172 steps to the top of the 100-foot-tall silo observation tower to see views for miles.
Of course, there’s plenty to see if you also want to incorporate a dive into Amish culture into your weekend itinerary, like the Amish Village in Ronks. However, there’s no question that Lancaster County is made for families.
October is a fantastic time to experience foliage in Lancaster. Here are a few fun ways to savor the colors of the season.
kayakLanCo, Lancaster: Rent a kayak to take out on Speedwell Forge Lake or the Conejohela Flats for an easygoing water adventure that even toddlers can partake in.
Strasburg Scooter Tours, Strasburg: Through November, book a 2.5- to 3-hour guided covered bridge tour on a three-wheeled scooter. Enjoy foliage-filled views across the countryside.
Chiques Rock Outfitters, Columbia: Rent a bike to pedal on the 14-mile Northwest River Trail that runs along the Susquehanna River from Columbia to Falmouth.
Lancaster County is a dream destination for train lovers. It’s home to the oldest operating railroad, the Strasburg Rail Road, which has been running trains continuously since 1832. Here’s where to go in Strasburg.
Strasburg Rail Road: Board an authentic steam train for a 45-minute ride across the bucolic countryside. Train cars range from first-class to open-air. 301 Gap Rd.
Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania: More than 100 locomotives and train cars are on display at this historic museum that sits across from the Strasburg Rail Road. 300 Gap Rd.
Choo Choo Barn: Model-train enthusiasts file in to see nearly two dozen model trains and scenes that depict Lancaster County. 226 Gap Rd.
Skip the chain restaurants and try a kid-tested favorite in Lancaster.
Cartoon Kitchen: The kids menu boasts all kinds of cartoon-themed faves, even drinks, like Darwin’s Fish Bowl, a blue drink with floating gummy fish.
Isaac’s Restaurant: One look at the kids menu and you’ll know you’ve made the right decision, if only for the Rainbow Club, a classic club sandwich on toasted rainbow bread.
DJ’s Taste of the 50’s Diner: Stop in this retro-style diner for breakfast or lunch. Kids meals come to the table in a classic car food box.
Lancaster County has more than a few factory tours that are tops with families. Here are a few to check out:
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, Lititz: Take a 20-minute tour of the original pretzel bakery that includes a hands-on lesson in pretzel twisting.
Turkey Hill Experience, Columbia: This self-guided interactive attraction allows visitors to milk mechanical cows, create television commercials, and concoct their own flavors in the Taste Lab.
Strasburg Rail Road, Strasburg: On weekends, visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look as steam trains are built and refurbished in the railroad’s mechanical shop.