Finding a Little Bit of Colorado in Pennsylvania

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 15, 2014

Until about a week ago, I never considered traveling to the Pennsylvania countryside for a vacation.

I had only visited the state once before on an eighth grade class field trip to Philadelphia. It was January and I distinctly remember how in awe I was of Independence Hall — where I incorrectly assumed the movie “1776” was filmed — and how unimpressed I was of the Liberty Bell.

Since, I considered the trip satisfying enough to check off Pennsylvania on my bucket list of places to visit and figured any further curiosity about the area could easily be satisfied by watching an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” In short, I never expected to visit the state again.

Those plans changed about six months ago when a close friend I met while living in Aspen in my early 20s announced her engagement to a Pittsburgh local. The wedding would take place in August in her home state of Pennsylvania, naturally.

While I was happy for my friend’s newfound love, I was less than thrilled about the idea of traveling to Pittsburgh for a wedding. A place known as the Steel City doesn’t exactly ring “destination wedding” in my mind, I thought.

But, the main thing about weddings is that the event is not about you, unless of course you’re the one getting hitched. So I sucked it up, booked my ticket and planned to experience Pennsylvania for the first time since I was 13.

The wedding was held at the Oak Lodge in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, which is about an hour drive southeast of Pittsburgh. The highlands are located in the Allegheny Mountains, which have the highest peaks in Pennsylvania.

To my surprise, the Laurel Highlands have a lot of similar outdoor activities that Coloradoans love. The area is popular for hiking, mountain biking, hunting, trout fishing, wildlife viewing and leaf peeping. There are even a few ski hills in the area — although they resemble Fanny Hill more than Ridge of Bell.

The lodge where the wedding took place is on 800 acres surrounded by farms and agriculture and includes a tavern, 18th century village, log chapel and reception hall.

To get there, party-goers took a 20 minute shuttle through Pennsylvania’s rolling hills. As I looked out the window, I was surprised by how lush and pristine the area was. It reminded me of an article I recently read in the New York Times. The story, titled “Neighbors Say Barn Weddings Raise a Rumpus,” said the number of weddings taking place in rustic areas like barns are on the rise much to the chagrin of neighbors.

The modest log chapel was in the middle of a dense forest. The venue had a warm, comforting vibe as if we were traveling to a chapel where characters in fairytales and Disney movies wed.

The owners also produce bottles of maple syrup on the property — something I didn’t actually witness firsthand during the wedding, but I could believe based on the surroundings.

The day following the wedding, we ate brunch at the nearby Stone Tavern and Restaurant, where a fresh arugula salmon salad cost a mere $12. My friends and I noted, the benefit of having a wedding in the middle of nowhere is how affordable the food and lodging tends to be.

As I learned more about the area and the trails I could be exploring, I realized I should have taken a longer vacation. I had only given myself enough time to go to the wedding and have lunch before I had to get back to the airport. Even so, the experience – lovely, affordable and truly ideal – was enough to make me want me to visit again.

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