Most every Sunday evening, especially in the warmer months, we take a “mini vacation.” We’ll load up the kids in our old VW van, drive to one of our favorite parks, eat a picnic dinner and play. We may choose a spot with a creek, especially on those blistering summer days. Or we might visit a playground where the kids can swing, slide and climb to their hearts’ content. Wherever we end up, there’s lots of greenery, (relative) quiet, and space. These “family dates” refresh our spirits.
Looking for a reset yourself? Check out one of the following options below. I’ve included six of our favorite outdoor locations, each with distinct features that highlight the variety of activities Lancaster County has to offer. This is only a starting place: our area is FULL of gorgeous settings in which to bike, hike, and climb (or…relax). So get going. There are plenty of activities to enjoy off the beaten path, even here in an area that boasts bustling tourist attractions.
For the Younger Set – Amos Herr Park
While this park features basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, baseball and soccer fields, and pavilions for picnicking, our favorite part is the play area for kids. Perfect for kids 12 and under, it boasts a zipline in addition to all of the typical playground accoutrements (like swings and slides). Our little ones love the play structures, which give a nod to Lancaster County farm life and include a barn, schoolhouse, silo and tractor. Trees surround the park, and if you happen to find that golden moment when your kids are playing contentedly, there are an array of benches where parents can sit, all within eyesight of the little ones.
Or Check Out: Daniel’s Den Playground in Lancaster; Jaycee Park or King Swings in Strasburg (just down the road if you’re staying at The Carriage House and need a spot to let the kids run off some steam)
Creek Stompin’ – Wolf’s Hollow County Park
This park is located in Chester County, but it’s not even 20 minutes from The Carriage House at Strasburg, so it’s a great option for our guests. The Octoraro Creek winds through the nearly 600 acres of wooded forest and open meadows. Enjoy 10 miles of hiking trails (from moderate to challenging) lined with Pennsylvania mountain laurel, or sit at one of the picnic tables and have a snack. The shallow creek is just the right size for small explorers (dogs or kids!) to get wet.
Or Check Out: Silver Mine Park in Conestoga; Paradise Community Park in Paradise
Take a Hike – Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve
The Tucquan Glen Loop Trail is a moderately challenging, 2.6 mile hike featuring forested terrain, creeks and even a waterfall. You’ll find an occasional clearing just right for a picnic and catch a glimpse of the Susquehanna River from parts of the trail. It offers a real taste of Pennsylvania beauty, from the native plants below to the hawks flying high above (punctuated by the sound of the creek flowing in the background). But take note, you won’t find a restroom here and parking is limited so your hike may include some extra mileage depending on where you leave your vehicle!
Or Check Out: Turkey Hill Overlook Trail in Conestoga; Mill Creek Falls in York
Ticket to Ride – Northwest Lancaster County River Trail
This 14-mile trail follows the route of the historic Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, connecting Columbia, Marietta, Bainbridge and Falmouth. Though the condition of the trail varies, we appreciate the easily traveled segment near the trailhead at Columbia River Park. The paved path is free from inclines, so the kids can ride easily (and my husband can haul a few little ones in our bike trailer with relative ease). Additionally, various historical remains dot the trail, from old canal locks to the quarry at Billmeyer. Many of these sites include educational plaques, so you can learn about the past while riding, jogging, or walking in the present. Additionally, Marietta is home to several riverside pubs and restaurants, easily accessible from the trail (we recommend the Railroad House Inn or McCleary’s Public House).
Or Check Out: Conewago Recreation Trail; Enola Low Grade Trail
Check out the View – Pinnacle Scenic Overlook
If you’re looking for a spectacular view of the Susquehanna River, this is the spot. Though captivating in any season, we think it’s the perfect place to visit in the fall when the brilliant autumn foliage is on display. The Pinnacle Overlook sits high above the western side of the river, and it’s just a short walk from the parking lot. Though you won’t get much exercise walking to the overlook, there are ample hiking opportunities nearby, including the Mason-Dixon Trail and Mill Creek Falls.
Or Check Out: Chickies Rock Overlook Trail
For the Wildlife Enthusiast – Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area
If you time it right, you can experience the amazing site of an estimated 100,000 snow geese on the lake at Middle Creek, along with tundra swans and other waterfowl. The birds typically migrate late February to early April in the spring and October to early November in the fall. However, it’s best to check the Pennsylvania Game Commission website for information on annual migrating trends (they post frequent updates with approximate numbers of various species during peak season). The walk to the lake isn’t strenuous, and the visitor’s center is top notch so it’s an enjoyable and informative venture for all ages. Make sure to hit up nearby Fox Meadows Creamery on your way home for some of the best homemade ice cream in the area.
Or Check Out: The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania in Lititz
Don’t forget your bug spray, sunscreen and drinking water! Beyond that, we’ve found the following to be helpful:
Bring an extra bag for stashing muddy clothes or removing trash
Pack Food, utensils and a picnic blanket (a necessity, if you have a bunch of kids like us)
Throw in towels and/or a change of clothes (especially if you’re planning to get wet)
Do a quick google search of the closest emergency center and keep your phone charged, just in case
Always do a tick-check after spending time outdoors
We hope you enjoy your outdoor adventures this season. Comment below with your favorite parks, trails, and preserves in Lancaster County. We’d love to find some new favorites!
Blogging in this season of my life is decidedly a chore. I need to find a quiet moment (which usually means getting a sitter since we have 5 amazing children at home). We’re not tech people, so the computer is never charged and hopelessly out of date. And then I have to quiet my mind enough to write when, really, there are so many more pressing things to do at home and work. However, though I’ve grown up in a generation that chooses what to eat, wear and do depending on whether or not it “sparks joy,” chores are a necessary part of life. Posting monthly-ish on this site is my meager goal, and for now, one that I’ll keep. And while it would have been easier to take a mental pass and simply post about the best things to do or eat or buy in Lancaster, today I felt the Lord asking me to share from my heart.
Hospitality. A word that, quite honestly, stirs up a sense of inadequacy inside of me. The dictionary defines it as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors and strangers.” And while I can set a pretty table, prepare a simple spread of food and provide a tidy space for guests to kick up their feet, I often feel tired by the time it comes to the “entertainment” part. Maybe it’s my season of life, my personality, or just the nature of true hospitality, but it’s not always easy to simultaneously connect with and serve people. I want to have good conversation and then, whoops, the chicken is burning and the 2-year-old just knocked over the water pitcher and the baby is crying and…what were we talking about again? I sigh because this wasn’t how I wanted things to look.
Here’s what I’m learning, though. Hospitality doesn’t have to be a one man show, and it’s always more about the heart and less about appearances. If I stop trying to do it all myself, stop trying to make it “look” a certain way, the joy of hospitality is restored. Enter the good old-fashioned potluck where everyone brings something, and suddenly, there’s time and energy left over for the “entertainment” part. If I add in something store bought, skip the fancy tablescape, and loosen up on my expectations, inviting others in to our home becomes a blessing (though I love fancy tablescapes). I can’t control the spilled water or the crying, but I can enjoy the company. And as my mom says, “food that you didn’t make yourself always tastes better.”
When the Lord called my family into the hospitality industry, I was overwhelmed. Purchasing The Carriage House meant we wouldn’t be providing hospitality to just one couple or family, but many! I looked around and saw tasks and projects at every turn and wondered how we would complete them while learning to run a new business and care for our guests. This all felt like too much. But guess what we’ve learned? The potluck concept applies here, too.
Instead of bringing food, we have a team that brings their gifts together to provide a place for our guests to call “home” in Lancaster County. One has a mind for numbers and finances, another has an eye for design. One brings the large scale vision, another focuses on the details. One quietly weeds and prays over the property, another welcomes guests with enthusiasm and warmth. It’s not a one man show, it’s a group effort, and each contribution is necessary and important. And while we still have plenty of visual improvements to make around the property, our guests are greeted with a genuine “friendly and generous reception” when they walk in the door. Here, too, hospitality is more about the heart and less about appearances.
How have you grown in the area of hospitality? What challenges do you experience as you open your home (or business) to serve others? Have you experienced the beauty of a group effort? What hospitality tips do you have to share below?
As a follow-up to my last post, which highlighted places to eat in Strasburg, local cafes, and where to get your fill of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, here are our top picks for ethnic cuisine and fine dining restaurants in the area. We’ll conclude this series in a few weeks with the pubs and breweries we recommend, plus our go-to spots to satisfy your sweet tooth. While we enjoy a meal out, we certainly haven’t explored all of the options available in Lancaster County, so please comment below with YOUR favorites! Of note, each of the restaurants listed in this post are located in nearby Lancaster City.
Sprout offers authentic Vietnamese cuisine for a casual lunch or dinner. Fresh and tasty!
A chic and intimate little French BYOB restaurant located in the heart of Downtown Lancaster City. Their dishes are classically prepared yet modern with global influences from Asia and Africa.
The Himalayan Curry and Grill
Offers deliciously authentic Nepalase and Indian Cuisine. Call ahead…the restaurant is SMALL, but well worth making a reservation!
Luca Italian Kitchen
Luca showcases a wood-burning hearth and handmade Neapolitan oven where pizzas, simple roast meats and seafoods are prepared, along with handmade pastas, antipasto and Italian beverages. Call ahead for a reservation here as it’s become a local hotspot!
With a blend of French, Asian, and American cuisines, the seasonal menu at Checkers showcases dishes that are both deliciously surprising and elegant. The restaurant is well-known for it’s support of local food purveyors and farmers.
John J. Jeffries
The menu at John J. Jeffries changes throughout the season in harmony with the harvest. You’ll always find some variation of grassfed beef, responsibly sourced seafood and organic veggies. An enjoyable experience for both the steak lover and vegetarian alike!
An intimate, farm-driven restaurant where everything is homemade with intention. Think local pork, perfectly prepared vegetables and comforting cassoulets and gnocchi. The menu changes weekly to include the finest, freshest foods our county has to offer.
Let us know your favorite ethnic and fine dining restaurants below!
With five little ones at home, Jeremy and I relish the opportunity to get out for a date night. There’s nothing like catching up over a leisurely meal of well-crafted, local food! We’re self-proclaimed foodies, and we rarely eat at the same place twice. Lancaster County boasts an abundance of delicious options for all tastes, stemming from its rich farming background and cultural diversity. Listed below are a few of our favorite spots to eat in Strasburg, the top restaurants to visit for traditional Pennsylvania Dutch foods, and a few local cafes and brunch options we recommend. There’s a lot of good food in our area, so this is by no means a comprehensive list! Stay tuned for our next dining post where we’ll highlight our top choices for ethnic cuisine and fine dining in the area.
Dining in Strasburg
Speckled Hen Coffee Shop & Kitchen
Speckled Hen features craft coffee, espresso, tea and a delicious array of breakfast, lunch and dinner options. They specialize in artisan foods that are fresh and simple. Try: the desserts (the lemon cheesecake is a rich treat!), the fair-trade coffee, and handcrafted lattes with house-made syrups
With over 140 rotating flavors made in house (and homemade waffle cones!!!), you won’t want to miss this local gem. Check out the adjoined gift and candy shoppe for unique souvenirs. Try: The rotating seasonal icecream flavors
Enjoy cozy, tavern style dining with all the traditional pub favorites. Try: the burgers or crabcakes
Also located in Strasburg (most within walking distance of The Carriage House) – Strasburg Winery, Pizza City, Smokestack BBQ, Isaac’s Deli
Traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking
To be honest, homestyle Pennsylvania Dutch cooking is not our thing. However, If you love a hearty family-style dinner topped off with homemade pie, check out nearby Millers Smorgasbord, Dienner’s Country Restaurant, or Good ‘N Plenty Restaurant. Perhaps the most “famous” of these family-style eateries is Shady Maple Smorgasbord. If you’re not from the area and you want to try scrapple, ham loaf, apple butter, or shoo-fly pie (and a host of other traditional Dutch foods), it’s a must-visit! With an all-you-can-eat buffet that’s over 200 feet long, you won’t leave hungry.
Cafes and Brunch Spots
Prince Street Cafe (Lancaster, PA)
Open 7 days a week, 6:30 am to 11 pm, Prince Street Cafe is one of the few cafes in Lancaster County with early morning and late night hours. And you’re in luck—their coffee is wonderful (from Passenger Coffee Roasters, which is located just around the corner) and their handcrafted soups, sandwiches and salads are delicious. Try: a scratch-made latte, nutella sandwich cookie, or cali egg wrap
Square One Cafe (Lancaster, PA)
Square One is an award-winning micro-roaster of specialty coffee based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You won’t find much to eat here, but if you’re a coffee connoisseur, you’re in for a treat!
Goldie’s Bakery (Lancaster, PA)
Goldie’s serves Square One Coffee alongside their amazing, house-made baked goods and breakfast and lunch items. Buy something to go from their bakery on your way out! Try: The “bird nests” (shredded potato nests served with a variety of savory breakfast toppings).
Tomato Pie Cafe (Lititz, PA)
This urban style eatery in the “best small town in America” offers a fresh menu with both sweet and savory options. The owners take pride in seasonal specials and are committed to “flavor excellence”. A great stop for breakfast, dessert, or a sandwich with flair. Try: the tomato pie—just trust us
Slate Cafe (Lititz, PA)
Started by twin sisters with a passion for coffee and community, Slate is the perfect spot for a simple, healthy breakfast. Try: the seasonal scramble and a pastry
Other favorites include Zig’s Bakery & Cafe (Lititz–everything is made from scratch with the finest local ingredients), Cafe One Eight (Lancaster City–try the espresso milkshake!), On Orange (Lancaster City — a breakfast favorite), and the nearby Lampeter Cafe (Lampeter–homemade comfort foods at a great price point).
Let us know your favorite restaurant in Strasburg, a PA Dutch treat you can’t do without, or a local cafe you enjoy below!
My name is Jenna, and I’ll be posting here occasionally, letting you in on bits of our story, updates, and renovations to our property, and tips for traveling while in Strasburg and Lancaster, PA. My husband Jeremy and I purchased The Carriage House a little over a year ago, along with my parents, Kevin and Sharon Adams. In case you’re wondering, none of us ever dreamed of owning a motel, hotel, inn or anything of the sort. So how did we end up here?
For those who love a good backstory…
In June of 2017, Jeremy was browsing local properties and said, “Jenna, I found our dream property.” And while the subsequent photos didn’t look like a dream to me (picture year-round colored Christmas lights glowing across the property and plenty of deferred maintenance), I nodded my head when he said that he and my step-father, Kevin, were going to check it out the next day. When you marry a visionary, many of these ideas just sort of play themselves out. Honestly, I was hoping for that this time around. It didn’t seem like good timing to me—Jeremy was running several businesses, we were homeschooling our small children, and I enjoyed picking up hours as a nurse at a local birthing center. However, the idea of purchasing The Carriage House just took root more deeply by the day. Ultimately, through a process of prayer and surrender, together with my parents, we felt the Lord leading us to step forward into a BIG adventure. We settled on the property August 17, 2017, and welcomed guests that evening.
Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t “shut down” the motel to begin renovations. We closed 4 rooms at a time and scrambled like mad to have them refreshed in 2 weeks. This meant new flooring, paint, furniture, décor, linens and a top-to-bottom cleaning of each room. All while putting out figurative fires, like fixing the leaking roof, taking care of mold and pest issues, and overhauling the old phone, computer and wifi systems. We constantly apologized to our guests for the eyesores and headaches we inherited with the property. It was EXHAUSTING, but as guests began to applaud the changes and our occupancy rates climbed, we were filled with excitement. Shortly after finishing up the rooms, we began renovating the exterior of the motel and the interior of the historic cabin that we purchased with the property, which sits along East Main Street.
In April of 2018 my brother-in-law, Jon Krause, left a 12-year career in banking to join the team at The Carriage House. He and my sister Heather moved to the property and Jon became our on-site manager. Our team was complete. Up until this point Jeremy and my mom, Sharon kept things afloat (along with a few wonderful part-time staff). But, as Jeremy will tell you, he and mom create chaos. This is a good and necessary part of the growing process, unearthing potential and opening up space for creativity and connection. Jeremy brings the big-picture vision and energy, mom brings the heart and hospitality. They are both excellent at interacting with and caring for guests. However, their thoughts bounce from one thing to the next like ping-pong balls, and order, focus, and strategy aren’t strong points for either of them. When Jon entered the scene with his calm presence, mind for numbers, and vision for quality guest service, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Things clicked and we began to hit our stride. With Jon’s guidance, daily operations were running smoothly at The Carriage House. Now, Jeremy was free to be the visionary, mom could share her heart and hospitality with our guests and staff, I could bring beauty and order to our spaces while taking baby steps towards curating “our brand”, and Kevin could focus on the accounting and finances.
So where are we at today?
We’ve enjoyed a thriving summer and fall season, totally revamped our website (yay!!), and made connections in the Strasburg community. In the next few years, we plan to completely renovate the bathrooms and office, expand our amenities, and continue upgrades to the rooms and façades of our outbuildings. There’s so much we still want to do, and some days all we can see is where we want to be, not where we are. Images of staged perfection on Instagram and Pinterest can be so distracting, and we wonder if we measure up. But then we re-center: we’re doing this to create a place for travelers to call “home” for a few days. A welcoming spot with a bit of beauty to foster reconnection and fresh perspective. We want people to feel cared about, to sense the peace that we pray over our property. To leave refreshed, inspired, and encouraged. And I believe we’re succeeding at that!
Shortly after we purchased the Carriage House, Jeremy read the following scripture and it resounded with us:
Job 31:32 “…but no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler—“
And while we’ve put up the “no vacancy” sign a lot lately, that is our heartbeat. To open our doors to travelers, provide them with a simple, comfortable place to spend the night, and send them on their way with a blessing and a smile.