Land of the Free: 5 Fab Freebies in Berks County, PA
Free Things to do in Berks County By Stacy Lu
Stacy Lu is an award-winning journalist who grew up in Pennsylvania. She says her childhood stamping ground of Berks County is still "friendly, leafy, and historic—a particularly fetching area of the Keystone State. Coming from a thrifty Pennsylvania Dutch household I know there’s much to do here that’s free or nearly so, and is guaranteed to pleasantly clog a child’s mind with fun memories and colonial-era factoids for decades to come."
Hopewell Furnace: In Elverson, this “iron plantation,” founded in 1771, was an important asset in the Revolutionary War and is now a national historic landmark and park. There are 14 original buildings still on the site, including the blacksmith’s shop, company store, and workers' (read slaves) houses. The park holds living history presentations throughout the summer. Kids are always free, and adult admission is free in January and February. Yet even in other months, adult admission is a bargain at $4 each.
Hex Sign Tour: Berk’s County’s gorgeous farmlands make for great driving tours. The county is small enough to see from end-to-end, and many farms still have their original barns and fruitful farm stands. Some barns have original and restored Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs—you know, to keep away the evil eye—and spotting them was a badge of honor as a kid. Call 800/443-6610 to get car route info for your own hex sign driving tour.
Daniel Boone Homestead: Pioneer, great hunter, and founding settler of Kentucky, is one of my ancestors. Thirteenth cousin, to be exact. So give my regards if you go to the Daniel Boone Homestead in Birdsboro, where he grew up among a Quaker family. The site includes the Boone’s house and other contemporary buildings. Only the house tour will cost you; it’s $4 for adults and $2 for kids, and you’ll need to call ahead at 610/582-4900.
Union Canal Trail: This area is also well-known among bicyclists for its great bike and walking paths. Tulpehocken Creek Valley Park’s historic Union Canal trail, settled by Indians and later European immigrants, winds its way among the canal’s old dams, locktender homes, aquaducts and the like.
Cabela’s: The outdoor and hunting gear outfitter has a typically giant store in Hamburg. We took our kids there last summer, and spent a good two hours ogling the absolutely amazing collection of stuffed animals, hundreds of museum-quality full-size and mounted trophy bears, foxes, wolves and deer. When you get tired of ogling dead things, wander over to the fabulous aquarium.