13 Wheelchair Accessible Reasons to Visit Altoona, PA – Featured Post from Wonders Within Reach
“Small destination – big adventures.” That’s their tagline and I couldn’t have put it better myself. Wheelchair accessible Altoona kept us busy with non-stop adventure.
I’ve lived in Pennsylvania the bulk of my life, and Altoona never crossed my radar.
When we visited the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in our favorite train town, a train connoisseur told us it was the second-best in all the nation. Naturally, I asked where the best was! Altoona! Who knew?
Here are our top 13 reasons to visit Altoona (along with all the wheelchair accessibility tips).
This was what drew us to the location, after all.
1. The Railroaders Memorial Museum
The Railroaders Memorial Museum is the only museum in the world that focuses on the people of the railroad. The exhibits are interactive and engaging, even for the younger crowd. The museum has all the usuals (lots of trains and interesting history), but it takes us deeper through the people behind it all. The museum and roundhouse are wheelchair accessible. The only thing we couldn’t access was the inside of the caboose. There’s also a large green space for running off steam if your kids have spent too much time in museums.
My kids especially enjoyed the roundhouse – since it’s just like Thomas and Friends!
2. Horseshoe Curve
Known as one of the eight engineering wonders of the world, Horseshoe Curve shows the power of man vs. mountain through a 220-degree arc, decreasing the slope of the mountain, and making train travel possible. Now a National Historic Landmark, the site also has a small museum with rotating exhibits. It was here that we learned of the Nazi plight to destroy this very curve in their efforts to take the war. In Pennsylvania! I’m telling you, this small town was full of big surprises.
The best views are from the top of the hill… or 194 steps. Typically, there’s a wheelchair-accessible funicular to bring you to the top, but it was under construction on the day of our visit. I suggest you call before you go!
(Everett Railroad also offers scenic drives through the Altoona area, but the trains are not wheelchair accessible)
The Horseshoe Curve isn’t the only National Historic Site in town. It turns out this area was pivotal in more than one war, in addition to the history of the railroad.
3. Allegheny Portage Railroad
The Allegheny Portage Railroad is a good way to transition from trains into the history of the area (and it’s another National Historic Site). There are no trains here, but you can check out tracks, a tunnel, a bridge, and an engine house. The bulk of this is wheelchair accessible (minus the upstairs of the Lemon House), including the trails, visitor’s center, and restrooms.
4. Fort Roberdeau
Altoona was a key location for lead mining and smelting during the American Revolution. How do you protect sites like this from enemy attack? A fort, of course! Fort Roberdeau is a replica, complete with officer quarters, a supply cabin, soldier’s barracks, a blacksmith shop, and a lead miner cabin. While the fort is built on a meadow, with no smooth walkways, they have a cart for accessible transportation throughout. If you’re visiting for a night skies event, there is also handicap parking out by the observatory.
They are in the process of improving accessibility with added ramps and parking, but the restrooms and visitor’s center are already accessible.
The fort hosts a variety of events throughout the year. These are a great way to experience a working fort.
The observatory hosts public events on the last Fridays of most months.
Everyone recognizes this is the year to be outdoors. I’ve quickly caught on that it’s also the year to head to the lesser-known outdoor attractions. The masses are filling up the National Parks, but Altoona offers less crowded, and still impressive, outdoor spaces.
5. Canoe Creek State Park
In addition to typical trails, water sports, cabins, wildlife, and outdoor activities, I was really pleased with the accessibility of Canoe Creek State Park. The beach had a wheelchair ramp all the way into the water (not one of those half-hearted mats that ditches you in the sand 20 yards from the shore). The guide/map is clearly marked with the ADA wheelchair symbol, making it easy to identify your options – which are most activities! The long trail to the historic limestone kilns is made of gravel, but there’s also handicap parking right by the kilns for those who can’t make that long trek. The path to the kilns from parking is mostly smooth pavement and easily accessible – as are the kilns themselves. The cabins and picnic areas all have accessible options.
Historic kilns are an excellent spot for hide and seek, if you didn’t know…
6. September 11th National Memorial Trail
Did you know there’s a trail connecting all of the 9/11 sites? I didn’t either! Even better – it’s wheelchair accessible. This 1,300 mile system of roads, trails, and greenways is more than 50% off-road and links the three national 9/11 memorials to other sites and experiences that connect us to American History (National Memorial Trail).
The local trailhead is on the Lower Trail in Hollidaysburg – you can map to the parking lot at 128 E 1st St, Williamsburg, PA. There’s an ice cream shop and an accessible porta-potty right by the trailhead. The trail is paved for four miles to the right, which makes that the easiest direction to take.
Ok, obviously all of those other things are fun, too, but it just keeps getting better!
7. Kids Kingdom
Kids Kingdom and the Discovery Garden in Hollidaysburg are a great place for all-ability play. The playground is mulch (our evil nemesis), but the play structure itself is accessible, so we mostly just avoided the mulch. The garden is paved throughout and has a butterfly house, bridge, and other fun corners to explore. We’re always looking for a good playground when we travel, and this checked all the boxes. There’s even a snowcone shop that runs limited hours.
8. DelGrosso’s Park and Laguna Splash
DelGrosso’s Amusement Park has a fairly typical accessibility program. Check-in at guest services before you enter the park and they can get you a wristband that allows the rider and three friends to skip the line and enter through the exit. Don’t forget to have the kids measured here, too, so you know which rides everyone is eligible for. If you’re sticking with the amusement park, you also have the option of using tickets, instead of a pass, if you don’t think you’re going to get a full day in.
What goes far beyond typical is the water park. Laguna Splash is the first place I’ve ever seen where you can take a wheelchair right into the pool. You can swap out your wheelchair at the first aid station for their manual PVC pipe chair. The chair is meant for adults, so it was a little hard for Jaden to maneuver on his own, but it would be fine for anyone just a little bit bigger than my five-year-old! We took the chair through the splash park, and even right into the lazy river (someone needs to return the chair after you’ve loaded into the tubes).
We’ve never been to a water park that was so inclusive. We were able to experience all of the fun!
Handicap parking is available on both sides of the park.
Whatever you decide to do in the park, make sure you leave plenty of time to eat. This is not the park for packing a lunch and eating outside the park – there’s too much good food to miss! In case you couldn’t tell, this place is run by Italians, so manga, manga! I highly recommend Pasta Fresca, where they make your pasta to order with a variety of sauces and add-ins (water park side)… or the cheesesteaks, or pizza, or cannoli chips, or whatever – it all looks amazing! Of course, they also have the amusement park standards like ice cream, funnel cakes, and cotton candy.
Wednesdays are spaghetti night on the park side. Actually, even if you’re not in the park that day, it’d be worth it to swing by for dinner. So. Much. Yum. September 13th is their Annual Italian Food and Heritage Festival in 2021, so I’m thinking that will be a good time for a revisit…
Speaking of food, the amusement park isn’t the only place with food worth the drive.
9. U.S. Hotel Tavern
The U.S. Hotel Tavern is the only historic building in the region that has been converted for commercial use. It’s beautiful and has an incredible menu. This was mom’s favorite in town.
The wheelchair-accessible entrance is to the far right of the front door, but parking is around back.
10. Meadow’s Original Frozen Custard
Am I the only one who has to find the best ice cream joint in town? In this case, it was custard. Meadows is everything you would hope for in a homemade custard joint. ‘Nuff said? They actually have several locations, so I’m excited to snag some next time we’re in Harrisburg.
The Hollidaysburg location is fully wheelchair accessible and also has outdoor seating.
11. Eat’n Park
Eat’n Park is literally called “the place for kids,” so it’s an obvious stop. This diner-style local chain is from western PA, so it’s a must while you’re in the area. They’re famous for their smiley cookies, so why not share a smile with the kids?
The restaurant and restrooms are wheelchair-friendly.
12. Gardner’s Candy
I wasn’t really sure if Gardner’s should be under “food” or “history”. It’s a lot of both. The ice cream shop and candy store are worth the stop for eats, but there’s also a museum in between the two! While there are eight locations, Tyrone is the town of the factory and original shop location, so that’s where you’ll find the museum.
Operating since 1897, the original nut roaster is even on display! Gardner is also attributed with the invention of the heart-shaped candy box, so those are part of the display along with a variety of antique tools or the trade.
The shop, museum, and ice cream parlor are all wheelchair accessible.
What?!? Why in the world would you put a gas station on a food list??
This isn’t just any gas station. It’s the mother of all gas stations. Actually, I shouldn’t even call it that. This Super Sheetz is an actual restaurant that also has a full convenience store and gas station… and every other facility you can think of that a Sheetz might have. The location at 1915 Pleasant Valley Boulevard is the flagship store – right where it all began, in Altoona.
Altoona and Blair County are fairly spread out. You can’t plan to do it all in a day – not only because there’s too much, but also because things aren’t right next to each other.
While there is public transportation available in town, you’re going to want your own vehicle to get around to everything.
Don’t forget your handicap placard gets you an additional hour on metered spaces in Pennsylvania. Meters still must be paid.
We stayed in the Fairfield Inn and Suites Altoona. In addition to being a central location, the rooms were spacious, new, and clean. Breakfast is still grab-and-go, but they include hot items like eggs and breakfast meat. The dining room has re-opened, but food is handled by employees, instead of a buffet style line. They also have a beautiful patio if you want to bring your breakfast outside (or hang out by the fire in the evening). The staff were all the helpful and friendly type that are such a relief to find when you’re traveling with kids. We weren’t even reprimanded for setting off the elevator alarm (insert embarrassed face)!