Everything You Need to Know About the Laurel Highlands

Last Updated on February 7, 2021 by Jeremy

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When it comes to day trips from Pittsburgh, we are fortunate to have a number of great options to consider. If you head east out of the city you come to one of our favorite parts of the state, the Laurel Highlands. 

From New Kensington to the north and Ohiopyle to the South, the region known as the Laurel Highlands covers three counties in southwest Pennsylvania and truly has a lot to see.

In this guide, we break down just about everything you need to know when exploring this gorgeous part of Pennsylvania!

History of the Laurel Highlands and Map

Fort Necessity in the Laurel Highlands

While it would be pretty impossible to cover all history of the Laurel Highlands in a single guide, we're going to try and hit some of the biggest points all the same. 

In the 1700s, the Laurel Highlands became home to numerous battle sites when the British were closing in on what is now downtown Pittsburgh as part of their effort to regain control of the region from France. As they approached from the east, many battles took place within the area we now know as the Laurel Highlands. These included the Battle of Fort Necessity in 1754, the Battle of Fort Ligonier in 1758, and the Battle of Bushy Run in 1763- all of which can be learned about at their respective museums in the area (read our reviews at the previous links).

The Battle of Fort Necessity was part of General Braddock's campaign to take over Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh. This one failed when troops led by a young George Washington fired on the French, killing an ambassador, and is often attributed as a starting conflict that led to the French and Indian War (some would argue this eventually led to the Revolutionary War too).

Fort Ligonier in the Laurel Highlands

A subsequent campaign to take Fort Duquesne, led by General Forbes, included the construction and subsequent Battle of Fort Ligonier which resulted in a British victory. This allowed for the onward march to finally take Fort Duquesne in 1758 (which the French ultimately destroyed and abandoned before the British arrived).

The Battle of Bushy Run is also known as Pontiac's Rebellion and was a brief but intense battle led by the Ottawa chief after the collapse of New France. Pontiac was retaliating against the British and capturing forts throughout the region, but ultimately lost this battle in the hills of the Laurel Highlands.

In modern history, the Laurel Highlands has often been considered Pittsburgh's backyard in part because of its many state parks and forests that can be enjoyed year-round. These are especially abundant in Fayette and Somerset Counties to the south. Beyond parks, you can also find several beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright properties throughout the area as well.

Westmoreland County to the north is famous for producing the likes of Mr. Rogers and Arnold Palmer (both from Latrobe), being the birthplace of the banana split, hosting Steelers Training Camp at Saint Vincent's College, and is home to the popular children's theme park Idlewild to name a few.

Depending on your interests in exploring, your mind may drift to a particular city or region in the Laurel Highlands as a base reference point. But this region is quite large and runs all the way from New Kensington on the Allegheny River to the north, Mt. Davis to the southeast, the Monongahela River to the west, and a whole lot of gorgeous Pennsylvania in-between.

This guide will feature spots throughout this entire region.

Attractions and Museums in the Laurel Highlands

Fallingwater in the Fall

From Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic Fallingwater to the Flight 93 Memorial and even a museum dedicated to the Big Mac, the Laurel Highlands truly has a number of great museums and attractions you may want to consider when exploring the region!

  • Fallingwater – Mill Run – Perhaps the most iconic house in southwest PA, designed by acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • Kentuck Knob – Dunbar – Another stunning Wright house in the Laurel Highland with a great hilltop view.
  • Polymath Park – Acme – A collection of houses from Wright and a student also available as overnight rentals. Don't miss a meal at Treetops restaurant too!
  • Fort Necessity – Farmington – One of the first forts in the region and home to some unfortunate history involving George Washington starting a war or two.
  • Fort Ligonier – Ligonier – A re-created fort from the Forbes Campaign to take what is now Pittsburgh from the French.
  • Bushy Run Battlefield – Jeannette – A small museum and battle site commemorating Pontiac's Rebellion.
  • Flight 93 Memorial – Somerset – Memorial at the crash site of Flight 93 from 9/11.
  • Friendship Hill – Farmington – The former home of Albert Gallatin who was the Secretary of the Treasury under Jefferson and Madison.
  • Nemacolin Castle – Brownsville – Trading post turned Mansion in Brownsville.
  • West Overton Village – Scottdale – Origin of Old Overholt Whiskey and home to historic buildings.
  • Large Scale Systems Museum – New Kensington – An interesting museum featuring historic computers.
  • Westmoreland Museum of American Art – Greensburg – A free art museum in Greensburg that is a must see.
  • The Big Mac Museum – Irwin – A small museum exhibit dedicated to the Big Mac which was created in the area.
  • Hanna's Town – Greensburg – A seasonal historic village in Greensburg.
  • The Lincoln Highway Experience – Latrobe – A museum all about the first coast-to-coast highway.
  • The Fred Rogers Center – Latrobe – A small exhibit in the center is dedicated to everyone's favorite neighbor, Mr. Rogers.
  • McCarl Coverlet Gallery – Latrobe – A museum all about coverlets on St. Vincent's campus in Latrobe.
  • Latrobe Heritage Museum – Latrobe – Historical society museum with some exhibits on Mr. Rogers and Arnold Palmer.
  • Idlewild and Soak Zone – Ligonier – A children-friendly theme park with a large water park. 
  • Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art – Ligonier – A modest art museum in the heart of Ligonier.
  • Ligonier Valley Railroad Museum – Ligonier – Former railroad station converted into a modest museum.
  • Compass Inn Museum – Laughlintown –  A former stagecoach stop with over 200 years of history just outside of Ligonier.
  • Antiochian Village – Bolivar – A spiritual museum focusing on the Antiochs.
  • Quecreek Mine Rescue – Somerset – Site of a mine rescue in the early 2000s.
  • Somerset Historical Center – Somerset – A seasonal historical museum about Somerset.

Laurel Highlands Parks and Nature Areas

Waterfall at Laurel Hill State Park

While it would be unfair to label the Laurel Highlands a place to visit for just one category in this guide if we were to do that it would most certainly be because of its parks. The natural beauty of the Laurel Highlands is unparalleled in southwest Pennsylvania and is truly one of the biggest reasons why it is so popular for day and weekend trips from Pittsburgh.

Some of the biggest parks and nature areas you can see in the Laurel Highlands include the following:

  • Ohiopyle State Park – Ohiopyle – 19,052 acre park and a great spot for white water rafting near Ohiopyle town.
  • Laurel Hill State Park – Somerset – 3,935 acre park featuring forested hiking trails, a man-made waterfall, and a lake. Our favorite in the Laurel Highlands!
  • Laurel Summit State Park – Somerset – 6 acre park that is the trailhead access point for Forbes State Forest and Spruce Flats Bog- a rare natural formation accessible via a short walk from the parking area.
  • Mount Davis – Somerset County – The highest point in Pennsylvania with a lookout tower.
  • Laurel Mountain State Park –  Ligonier/Jenner – 493 acre park that is primarily known for a ski resort of the same name.
  • Linn Run State Park – Rector – 612 acre park along an idyllic stream. Absolutely stunning with fall colors.
  • Laurel Ridge State Park – Rockwood – 13,625 acre park featuring the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail.
  • Keystone State Park – Derry – 1,200 acre park featuring a 78 acre lake of the same name.
  • Laurel Caverns – Farmington – A massive cave in the Laurel Highlands with many exploration opportunities. 
  • The Great Allegheny Passage – Throughout – A rail-trail that runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD, and passes through the Laurel Highlands.

These are just the biggest parks and nature spaces too, as the Laurel Highlands is also home to many other gorgeous green spaces beyond those featured above (like the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve on Saint Vincent's campus in Latrobe). As such, if you want to get out and go hiking, you'll likely never run out of trails to explore here. Just be sure to get to Laurel Hill State Park sooner rather than later- it is one of our favorites! 

Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries in the Laurel Highlands

If libations are of interest to you, the Laurel Highlands does not disappoint as the region is home to several dozen breweries, distilleries, wineries, and more. In fact, in 2019 they even came out with a Pour Tour passport to promote the libations scene in the region and it has become quite popular (so don't forget to pick one up!).

Breweries in the Laurel Highlands

Four Season Brewing

For reviews of the breweries in the Laurel Highlands we've been to so far (plus in the rest of southwest PA), click the previous link to check out our guide!

Distilleries in the Laurel Highlands

Ridge Runner Distillery

Cider Houses, Meaderies, and Wineries in the Laurel Highlands

Greendance Winery

For reviews of individual wineries in the Laurel Highlands we've visited to date (plus more around southwest PA), click the previous link for our wine guide!

Ski Resorts to Enjoy

Seven Springs Ski Slopes at Night

The Laurel Highlands brands itself as being home to four seasons of fun, and after visiting many times throughout the years we can see why that is. When you look at many of the park maps from the previous sections, odds are good you'll see references to cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and even snowmobiling paths to enjoy in the winter months.

But for us, when we think of the Laurel Highlands in the winter, we think of skiing- and there are three great resorts to check out each a bit tailored to unique skill levels. (For more on each, check out our guide to skiing in the Laurel Highlands.)

  • Hidden Valley – A beginner-friendly resort with 26 slopes.
  • Seven Springs – An intermediate-level resort with 33 slopes (slopes range from beginner-friendly to advanced). The most popular resort in the Laurel Highlands.
  • Laurel Mountain – An expert level resort with 20 slopes- including the steepest slope in the region reaching a peak 72% grade.

Helen's at Seven Springs

For those who like on-site accommodations, Seven Springs has the biggest mountain resort with many amenities including a wonderful lodge, a full spa, several restaurants (don't miss Helen's as it is a favorite of ours for a nice meal- just be sure to get an advanced reservation), and more. Hidden Valley is a bit more low-key but still provides a resort-like experience for those wanting something a bit more toned back. Finally, Laurel Mountain is an interesting one as it is an inverted hill with a small, rustic lodge on the top of the mountain (and very, very few amenities)!

It is also worth noting that both Hidden Valley and Seven Springs have many ski-on, ski-off rentals available to rent directly from the resort and as Airbnbs as well. Laurel Mountain is located within a state park and does not have any properties on-site, but a few Airbnbs exist just a short drive away.

Where to Stay in the Laurel Highlands

Seven Springs Mountain Resort from Above

When it comes to accommodations in the Laurel Highlands, the options available may depend on the specific area you are thinking of. 

In the north, in Westmoreland County, numerous chain hotels exist especially in and around cities like Greensburg and Latrobe. Here, there may be some alternative accommodations like Airbnb, but they are few and far between. We've personally stayed at the SpringHill Suites in Latrobe and enjoyed its many decorations around all things Arnold Palmer. 

In the south, in Fayette and Somerset Counties, the opposite effect can be seen. Proper hotels are hard to come by outside of turnpike exits and Somerset Township, but Airbnbs, traditional bed and breakfasts, and boutique hotels (like Thistledown at Seger House in Ligonier) are much more abundant. The one caveat here would be that there are some rather large resort properties in these Laurel Highlands counties as well, such as Seven Springs and Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, that can be attractions as much as they are accommodations- but as much as we like them we have to admit they come at a price to match.

So for accommodation options in the Laurel Highlands, we have to ask a simple question- what is your purpose in visiting? By answering this, you will give yourself a better direction on what accommodation type is best for you based on your interests and intended destinations. When in doubt, remember that the Laurel Highlands covers a huge region and has limited highways- so picking a good location can save you a ton of time when exploring here.

Read More from the Laurel Highlands

Check out our most recent posts published from the Laurel Highlands below:

As with all our guides, we will be expanding it as we discover new things to do in the Laurel Highlands- so check back soon for more from this beautiful destination.

What is your favorite spot in the Laurel Highlands? Comment below to share!

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