When it comes to traveling in Pennsylvania, there are many amazing places to visit. From Philly to the Pennsylvania Wilds, and Pittsburgh to Gettysburg, there’s a bit of something for everyone. However, many of the smaller counties around the state get overlooked by visitors.
Take Venango County, Pennsylvania, for example. Situated in the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania, the county occupies an area of the state that’s often ignored by visitors to the nearby cities of Pittsburgh and Erie. However, the county’s natural beauty, wonderful small towns, and fascinating history make this a fantastic place to visit.
During my time in the county, I was surprised to uncover how many genuinely awesome places there were to visit. Here are 11 great things to do in Venango County, Pennsylvania:
Drake Well Museum
This might sound surprising, but outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the site of the Drake Well in northern Venango County might be the most historically influential site in Pennsylvania. That’s because it was here that the world’s first commercial oil well was dug.
Visiting today, it’s hard to fully comprehend the enormous impact this discovery has had on the world. The site is home to a large museum that talks about the history of oil production, as well as recreations of Drake’s well and equipment.
This is definitely a place you should visit at some point during your travels in Pennsylvania. Click the link to find out more and see my full review about visiting the Drake Well Museum.
DeBence Antique Music World
Home to dozens of fully-restored, antique self-play instruments, DeBence Antique Music World in Franklin began as a private collection, but is now open for visitors to the region to enjoy. Take a tour through the history of self-playing instruments and enjoy listening to some of the strangest and rarest musical contraptions of the 19th and 20th centuries.
For more information, check out our article on DeBence Antique Music World in Franklin.
Pithole is a ghost town that was home to as many as 20,000 residents during its short existence. The town sprang up as an oil boomtown, and collapsed nearly as quickly as it began.
Today, little evidence remains of the town, but a visitor center has been built on the site with a museum, video, and diorama showcasing the history of the community. The old town’s streets are also maintained as walking paths so that visitors can walk through the field that now occupies the town’s location.
For more information about visiting Pithole, head over to the website for the Drake Well Museum.
Oil Creek State Park
Located in northern Venango County, Oil Creek State Park is one of the most historically important parks in all of Pennsylvania. It was in this valley, along Oil Creek, that the modern age of oil drilling began.
This led to several boom towns like Petroleum Centre. Located near where the Oil Creek State Park Visitor Center is located, this town went bust nearly as quickly as it went boom.
A walking tour with more signs than ruins explains the history of this town once described as the “Sodom and Gomorrah” of the Oil Region. While there isn’t much to see, the history of the town is very fascinating and definitely worth taking half an hour to learn about if you’re visiting the park.
In addition to the history, the park is full of some wonderful hiking trails and a handful of waterfalls. The easiest of these to reach is Miller Falls along the Gerard Hiking Trail. However, even when walking to this natural site, you can’t escape the park’s history, as old oil equipment dots the landscape along the trail.
Walking Tour of Oil City
Driving into downtown Oil City, I was instantly impressed. The town’s close association with the region’s oil boom has left an indelible mark on the city’s grandiose architecture. Old Victorian homes line the streets of Oil City’s Historic South Side.
Walking or driving tour maps are available at several places around town and take you past many of the most beautiful homes in town. The brochure does a nice job explaining the history of the homes, with an emphasis on their architecture.
Even if you don’t have an interest in 19th-century architecture, driving through the town is a must for anyone in the area. It’s interesting to see how the city has revitalized many parts of downtown in what could have been a dying part of the state.
Freedom Falls and Rockland Furnace
Freedom Falls might be one of the most unique and beautiful waterfalls in all of Pennsylvania. Located in a rural area north of Emlenton, this waterfall is roughly twice as wide as it is tall and is located a short hike from the roadway.
Just a few hundred feet downstream from the waterfall is the beautifully preserved Rockland Furnace, which was once part of the area’s industry. Today, it sits abandoned and in remarkably good shape, save for some unfortunate graffiti.
For more information on visiting the area, check out my article about how to get to Freedom Falls.
The Venango Museum of Art, Science, and Industry in Oil City, Pennsylvania, tells the story of the oil industry and its effect on both the region and the world. The museum focuses on the time after the discovery of oil and walks visitors through what life was like in the region and how the oil industry changed throughout the decades.
For more information, check out my article on the Venango Museum.
Pennsylvania has hundreds of great overlooks scattered around the state, but I’ve seen few that are better than the view from the Kennerdell Overlook near Kennerdell, Pennsylvania.
The Kennerdell Overlook provides excellent views of the serpentine Allegheny River below, as well as the Kennerdell Tract of Clear Creek State Forest on the river’s far bank. The small area has a couple of benches, as well as two signs telling you a bit about the area’s history. There is also a great view from a large rock next to the overlook, but use caution if you head over to the rock, as there are no railings.
Kennerdell Overlook is located far above the Allegheny River Trail, but` it is possible to drive right up to it. The parking area can be found at the following GPS coordinates: 41.280041, -79.825326.
The World’s Oldest Oil Wells
Venango County isn’t just home to the the beginnings of the oil industry, but it’s also still home to a small bit of the oil industry. Located just north of downtown Oil City, McClintock #1 has been producing oil since it was first dug in 1861. Today, it doesn’t pump every day, but it still works enough to maintain its status as the world’s oldest, continually operating oil well.
Just outside of Emlenton is another historic oil well. Crawford #3 in Mineral Springs Park is claimed by some to be the oldest continually operating oil well, but it was dug in 1867. However, it was one of the first oil wells dug by the company that would eventually become known as Quaker State, giving it another interesting place in world history.
St John’s Church in Franklin
St. John’s Church in Franklin might be one of the most amazing churches in all of Pennsylvania, but few know of its claim to fame. What makes this church so special is that it is one of only seven churches in the world with a full set of Tiffany stained glass windows.
Seeing these windows is a sight to behold, and it’s amazing to learn about the masterful techniques that went into creating the windows in this church. Self-guided tours are allowed, but getting a guide offers great insight into the meaning and significance of these works of art.
More information about visiting can be found on the church’s website.
The Allegheny River Trail
The Allegheny River Trail is a biking and walking rail trail that runs 32 miles from Franklin to Emlenton following the path of the Allegheny River. Along the way, it passes over bridges and through tunnels that once carried oil to the world. This trail will hopefully become part of the 270-mile Erie to Pittsburgh rail trail that is currently being completed in segments.
Rail Trail enthusiasts can also enjoy biking through Oil Creek State Park on their 9.7 miles of trails, as well as the Samuel Justus Recreation Trail, which connects seamlessly to the Allegheny River Trail.
For more information on the Allegheny River Trail, visit this website.
What are your favorite things to do in Venango County, Pennsylvania? Let me know in the comments below.