Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has been a family favorite in my household. With so many options in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, we keep coming back to the area. This was the first time I visited Lancaster County in the fall.
Our first stop was to the quaint and charming town of Lititz, voted “America’s Coolest Small Town” by Budget Travel. Having previously been here to experience the art of pretzel twisting at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, we wanted to embrace pre-Halloween goodies at Wilbur Chocolate Co.
You can smell the chocolate across the street in the parking lot. Wilbur Chocolate Co. is known as the Candy Americana Museum. It’s more of a store that includes old candy molds, antique containers, a video about chocolate, and everything for the chocolate connoisseur. My 7 year old loved seeing the staff making chocolate covered graham crackers behind a Plexiglas window and the larger than life sized Sven and Olaf figures made of rice krispie treats, chocolate, and candy clay. Complimentary milk and dark chocolate buds are located in a crock at the back of the store. I prefer the taste of Hershey’s chocolate myself, but did walk out with chocolate hand lotion and a cuddly souvenir bear. You know it is worth stopping at the shop if President Obama visited here. Wilbur Chocolate Co. is open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and is free to enter. We arrived shortly after opening time along with a tour bus so give yourself up to an hour.
Adjacent to Wilbur’s is the Lititz welcome center and Lititz Springs Park filled with a duck pond and old railroad caboose.
Down the street from Wilbur Chocolate Co. is Café Chocolate of Lititz. Kids will love seeing the chocolate fountain where fresh strawberries are dipped. All items on the menu items are healthy, locally sourced, natural, and organic. The excellent kids menu features a peanut butter, banana and chocolate infused panini, and flatbread pizza. The organic, all beef hot dog is served on a whole wheat bun with veggie crisps. While the menu is pricey, it is worth it. There is a changing station, along with high chairs and seating both inside and in the back. I enjoyed the hot organic cinnamon apple cider and only wished I could have spent more time in the up and coming area of Lititz.
The Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania
“Extinct is forever.” The striking statement reflects the mission of the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania – to save the wolf population. The sanctuary is not a breeding facility; almost all the males are neutered. The sanctuary’s mission is to rescue and house wolves that would otherwise be euthanized. The wolves come from across the U.S. and Canada and spend the remainder of their lives at the sanctuary. The non-profit organization is run by The Darlington family who also operate a Bed and Breakfast on site.
I was surprised to learn that wolves do not harm people. Humans rank higher on the food chain and quite frankly, they don’t like our odor. Wolves are not pets, so don’t expect the experience to be a petting zoo. However, you will come within a few feet of these gorgeous animals. Safely between two fences, it is mating season, so don’t be frightened if you hear aggressive males scoffing at each other. The smallest pack consist of two wolves with the largest pack containing 11 wolves.
Photography is allowed, but videography is prohibited. The sanctuary is run by donations, ticket sales, and all-volunteer staff who clearly have a passion for these beautiful creatures.
Tours occur on the weekends at a specific time. Due to the heavy amount of tourists, arrive 30 minutes ahead of the tour time. If you arrive 10 minutes after the start of a tour, the entrance gate will close to the public. Guests are asked to sign a parking waiver and line up to pay for the 1 ½ hour self-guided tour. Reservations are required for Tuesday and Thursday tours which cost $15 per adult and $13 for children under 12. No reservations are needed for the Saturday and Sunday tour which cost $12 and $10. Ask about a military discount. The sanctuary is open year round. Depending on the time of year, tours begin at either 10 am or noon.
If you decide to come in the fall, in early October, the sanctuary celebrates Wolf Awareness Day. Along with wolf tours, there is also music, food, and entertainment.
Volunteer guides are stationed at each pack to educate the public and answer questions. While the wolf packs are positioned in close radius, there is one difficult hill if you choose to see this particular pack. The ground requires jogging strollers to maneuver safely. Appropriate walking shoes are a necessity.
Complimentary hot tea and chocolate are available before you head out on the tour. The only bathrooms are portable toilets. The small gift shop wasn’t opened when we were there, but there were nice trinkets for children highlighting the very wolves that call the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania home. I recommend the sanctuary for ages 8 and up.
This is a one-of-a-kind experience and was my family’s favorite part of the trip.
Fall means apple picking and Cherry Hill Orchards in Lancaster is one part outlet store and the other part orchard. The outlet store has an amazing selection of produce, baked goodies, jams, pumpkins, pre-picked apples, pumpkins, Indian corn, firewood, and even birdhouses. Apple treats include sauce, chips, pie, cake, dumplings, fritters, and cider. They have the best apple cider donuts I have ever eaten. There is a complimentary cider station in which my daughter thought it was a free-for-all helping herself to three cups. What’s even funnier is she never liked cider before!
So of course we had to buy a jug of cider, harvest candy mix, and Pennsylvania brand savories: Zerbe’s kettle chips and Hammonds pretzels. There are baskets brimming with gorgeous pre-picked apples. With nearly a dozen options like Jonamac, McIntosh, and Cortland, prices reflect the bushel, but you can also buy them per pound.
Then it’s off to another entrance; just a quick trip down the road to the orchard. We skipped the $3 a person Saturday hayride to the patch, although the pumpkins priced at .30 cents a pound were a steal. After signing a liability waiver and getting our choice or bags or boxes we proceeded to our apple trees of choice, which were Fuji. When we visited, they were picking Stayman Winesap, Jonagold, Fuji, York, Rome, and Cameo.
I was disheartened at first because all the fruit was picked from the mature trees. We followed the crowd to the back of the rows, but only found immature fruit. Alas, we went over a few more rows finding young trees with few leaves bearing the best fruit. We filled a few bags with Fuji apples, got back in the car, and checked out. Weighing $1.25 a pound, I would have gone back for more. Normally when I’ve eaten Fuji apples, I have found them to be too hard. The texture of Cherry Hill Orchards Fujis were on par with my favorite, Gala.
If you come during other seasons, other pick-your-own options include cherries, nectarines, peaches, and blackberries. Just as at the market, we also received a coupon at the orchard to return again. The orchard is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm and Saturday from 9am to 4pm.
Another place of interest is Dutch Wonderland. While we didn’t hit up our usual mainstay, the amusement park is open select weekends in October for their Happy Hauntings event.
Cherry Crest Adventure Farm is the best bang for your buck and a necessity if you make Lancaster County a fall destination. The huge working farm has over 50 activities for the whole family.
Cherry Crest Adventure Farm was established in 1774 and is open May until November. During the fall, they are open Thursdays from 10am to 5pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 10pm. Note: some activities close at 7pm on the weekends. Price plans vary depending on the time of year. Fall weekdays are $15 and $18 on weekends. Credit cards are accepted. The price may sound alarming, but I believe it to be a great value. We spent three hours here and only tipped the surface. You need at least 4 hours to an entire day to enjoy everything the farm has to offer.
The farm is divided in sections: The Amazing Maize Maze, The Courtyard, and The Barnyard. I recommend you start your adventure by taking the Farm Wagon Tour. Famer Bob, full of knowledge, gave us a 20 minute tour of the farm depicting agriculture and entertainment, including the patch filled with colossal pumpkins. You will see antique machinery, learn facts about cows, and even see some of them. The Strasburg Railroad passes the farm which is an added bonus.
The animal lovers in us targeted the Farm Experience Center. Inside the Discovery Barn we stood in line to hold fluffy, baby chicks. The barn is full of education displaying different kinds of bird eggs, a train table, farm dress up, and even Santa’s sleigh! Outside are all kinds of barn animals: chickens, ducks, bunnies, sheep, pigs, goats, and llamas.
My child said the Wagon Express wagon ride through the cornfield was “awesome!” Similar to a cow barrel train, but much nicer, the wagons are large enough for parent and child to sit in it together.
The Lil’ Farmers Playland is adorable. There is a sand box, water painting area, playground, tractor, coloring coop, log house, and gazebo for parents to watch their little ones. Nearby are two jumping pillows, singing chicken show, and air chairs. There is a triple straw bale racer that is not for the faint of heart along with a hay chute slide.
Family game time is in the form of tetherball, shuffleboard, life-sized checkers, post pounders, a giant game of volleyball, baseball toss, soccer kick, basketball throw, and football toss. There is an extra fee for sand art and $5 to buy a bag of gems to go mining.
Every kind of food imaginable can be found at the farm. Seriously! Carnivores can nosh on pulled pork sammies, burgers, wraps, corn dogs, and steak sliders. Watch kettle corn freshly popped, local roasted corn being made, and imbibe in old fashioned root beer. For the sweet tooth, salivate with fudge, frozen yogurt, apple cider donuts, cotton candy, and funnel cakes. You can also bring your own food in where there is plenty of open and tented seating areas.
Regular bathrooms and portable toilets were located throughout and cleaned throughout the day. There is also a designated diaper station and area for nursing moms.
While we didn’t get to everything, people raved about the maze and mystery show on stage, the pedal kart track looked fascinating, and I wanted to be a big kid and play with giant Lincoln Logs.
Unfortunately, our plans wouldn’t allow us to stay overnight, which meant having to cut our day trip short. I found fall to be busier than summertime in Lancaster. Plan accordingly when making travel arrangements and expect delays for dining and traffic. While most places in the area are closed on Sundays, Café Chocolate, the Wolf Sanctuary, and Dutch Wonderland are open daily.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.