By Karen Bumbaugh Summer 2019
The Lehigh Valley region is nestled among the hills of eastern Pennsylvania and aligns almost perfectly with New York City, which is a two-hour drive east. Easily accessible from other parts of Pennsylvania via Interstates 78 and 476, the Lehigh Valley and its three historic cities sit amongst a mixture of rolling hills and small towns.
Home to Easton and Allentown, the Lehigh Valley has its trifecta of cities rounded out by the official “Christmas City” of Bethlehem. However, the region isn’t only popular during the holiday season. The Lehigh Valley also has unique and fun outdoor attractions that make it the perfect destination for families during the dog days of summer. Check out these amazing places to take the family in the warm-weather months:
Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom features more than 100 rides and attractions spread throughout two parks: a traditional amusement park and a waterpark. One admission price provides access to both, and since they are connected, it makes for an easy transition from dry rides to water slides. Dorney Park’s Planet Snoopy kiddie area and family-friendly rides like the train and antique carousel will please the tiny tots in the family. Nicely balancing out the tamer attractions are the thrill rides, including a classic wooden coaster, Thunderhawk, and modern steel coasters like the world-famous Steel Force.
Wildwater Kingdom provides a much-needed break from the summer heat with more than a dozen water slides, a lazy river, and a giant wave pool. For the kiddos, there’s a zero-depth entry pool with plenty of water geysers to add to the fun. Complete your day at the park with some sweet treats, including the classic amusement park staples of funnel cakes topped with hot fudge and strawberries, old-fashioned root beer floats, hand-dipped ice cream, and many meal choices from the Chef’s Grille.
Experience the nostalgia of movies on the big screen without leaving your car. The Lehigh Valley boasts not just one but two historic drive-in movie theaters. Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre is located in Orefield, northwest of Allentown, and has been continuously operating since 1934. This gives it the distinction of being America’s oldest drive-in. Double features are the norm, and purchasing one ticket will cover both movies. Shankweiler’s is open weekends in April, May, and September and each evening in June, July, and August through Labor Day.
Becky’s Drive-In Theatre is located north of Allentown in the small borough of Walnutport. On Friday and Saturday nights during the summer, a family-oriented movie lineup is accompanied by pony rides for the kids before the main movie event begins. Bring a blanket and enjoy a night under the stars or stay in your car for the authentic drive-in movie experience.
One tip for visiting these classic pieces of Americana is to arrive early on busy Saturday evenings. Cars are known to start pulling into parking spots up to three hours early to pursue perfect viewing angles in prime locations. Use the extra time before the movie to grab some popcorn or some more “exotic” movie foods such as the turkey barbecue or chili dogs that Shankweiler’s offers at its full snack bar.
Known for its world-class scuba diving in a 50-acre spring-fed lake, Dutch Springs is also the home of an Aqua Park, which includes a Wibit course. Wibit is an inflatable obstacle course floating on top of the lake’s surface; think bounce house on water, except much slipperier! This sometimes intense, challenging Wibit course experience makes Dutch Springs a fun destination for families with older children. Life jackets are required for those who want to take on the challenge of climbing, jumping, and crawling their way through the obstacles. At the end, the reward is the 10-foot jump into the lake from the Wibit ActionTower. Other unique lake activities include an in-the-water trampoline and a launch experience called “The Blob,” which propels brave swimmers a dozen feet in the air before landing them in the cool lake.
When guests take a break from the action-packed fun in the water, Dutch Spring’s atmosphere encourages them to stay for the day, as most visitors bring blankets and tents to set up on the grassy hill overlooking the lake. More adventure awaits, as there’s also a high ropes course and a two-story rock climbing wall. Those needing a break from the many engaging activities can find refreshments at Splash’s Snack Shack, which serves pizza, subs, salads, and much more.
Located just north of Allentown is the Lehigh Valley Zoo, which features 300-plus animals representing more than 100 species from around the globe. The zoo sits on 29 acres inside the even larger Trexler Nature Preserve. It has a wide variety of animal-viewing opportunities, including paddle boats around Lemur Island, a wagon ride to see the animals, and opportunities to simply walk around the winding pathways that encircle the zoo. Interactive experiences are scheduled throughout the day and include giraffe and penguin feeding, a kangaroo walkabout, and more.
Several of the zoo’s animals are considered endangered or threatened, which is in keeping with the mission of the Trexler Nature Preserve, whose founding dates back to an original mission to save North American bison from extinction by providing a place where bison and elk could roam free. The zoo offers a safe and interactive wildlife experience for visitors of every age, who can get up close and personal with animals from around the world.
Whether it’s through a day trip, a weekend getaway, or a weeklong vacation, there are plenty of opportunities to discover the many outdoor attractions that the Lehigh Valley has to offer.