Whenever I receive a “Dad Trip” inquiry, a fragment of anxiety seeps into my chest. I never know which Jason will show up. Will it be the one who loves to chatter away about nonsense and cause people to laugh, or the one who drinks beer in the corner and hopes for the time to end, because a peaceful hotel bed awaits. The right company helps me draw away from the corner and into the discussion. On my most recent dad vacation, the ideal group was not only present, but a positive group of people to experience an adventure. Our itinerary was packed full of things to do in Harrisburg, and I was getting a head-start.
Pre-Trip Day in Pennsylvania’s Capital City
I arrived a day early for our trip because of factors I won’t get into (you can read about them here). It allowed me space to explore Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on my own and get an understanding of the city. I have traveled through Harrisburg in southern Dauphin County, about an hour northwest of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and two hours west of Philadelphia on many occasions. But I never stayed long enough to enjoy the central Pennsylvania city.
As I roamed around, I found a place with a burgeoning art culture, one of the most amazing bookstores I’ve encountered, and the Broad Street Market in midtown, where I could buy a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich from one merchant, donuts from another, and locally made bourbon from another. (There were many diverse things to purchase, those were some of the things I sampled.) The Pennsylvania state capitol was off to a pretty great start.
I retired to bed that night, relaxed after talking to the bartender at the Crowne Plaza Harrisburg. I was in the proper mind for the days ahead.
Day 1 — Exploring Midtown Harrisburg Pennsylvania
Bourbon for Breakfast?
Our day started out at Hops, Vines & Spirits Tasting Room. Luckily, it wasn’t breakfast, since the bourbon beckoned. We called it Happy Hour and proceeded to get happy. The venue includes a multi-bar environment serving up different spirits at each bar. I bounced between the beer bar and the cocktail bar. No wine for me. We also snacked off of charcuterie boards and other appetizers. I could have remained at Hops for the day, but we had further plans.
Baseball for the Main Event
After our tastings, we walked across the Market Street Bridge to City Island to watch a Harrisburg Senators game. The Pride of the Susquehanna riverboat was also on this island, but we were there for America’s past-time. The Senators are a Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Since I love Minor League Baseball, this Mets’ fan rooted for the home team.
After grabbing our drinks and food, we reached our seats behind home plate for an excellent view. There is something about the sound of a fast-pitch ball sailing into a catcher’s mitt creating that popping sound that shakes up emotions of childhood nostalgia.
We had two additional great experiences at the game. TravelingDad Kevin Gillooly, a Navy Veteran, tossed out the first pitch. And 4 representatives of our group endured the difficult test of using their bodies to pop balloons between an inning. I’ve never seen men sweat so hard struggling to pop a balloon.
Bring on the Axes!
After the Senators game, we Ubered a ride to Joe K’s Brewhouse for food, beer, and axe throwing. Only one TravelingDad had thrown an axe before, so we needed expert tips from Ethan, a staff member from Joe K’s. His patience was appreciated as he demonstrated the proper technique.
My first throw hit the target and fell to the ground. Surprisingly, my aim and shots were more on-target as the night passed, and not to gloat too profusely, but I’m pretty good at axe throwing. I’d make Paul Bunyan proud. Or the Bounty paper towel guy. (Are they the same?)
The axe-throwing was a favorite for all of us. Not only was it entertaining, it was also an excellent way for us to get to know one another better, and chat in between tosses. After the axe throwing, we headed back to the hotel laughing and boasting about our newfound lumberjack skills.
Day 2 — Exploring Hershey and the Great Outdoors
I thought I would be one of the early ones up for breakfast, but turns out, I was one of the last. The group was assembled and finishing their breakfasts. I scarfed down my eggs and biscuits and gravy and we piled into a van headed for Hershey.
Hershey and Harrisburg go together like chocolate and peanut butter. The two towns complement one another and are close in proximity. You can stay in one and visit the other.
Kayaking Swatara Creek
Our first stop of the day was a morning kayak along the Swatara Creek with Cocoa Kayaks. The Swatara however, at 72 miles long, is more river than a creek. Trees surround the creek and the water is calm. One could fall asleep if it wasn’t for the need to paddle.
As we navigated our way downstream, there were moments I was in my extrovert mode and moved next to someone and chat, and there were occasions I was in an introvert mode where I hung way back and savored the silence and scenery of Swatara.
For an extensive guide to the Harrisburg outdoor fun that was had, you’ve got to read Outdoor Fun in Pennsylvania.
We left our kayaks behind and jumped back in our tour van for lunch at Troegs Brewery in Hershey. The size of the brewery and the enormous lunch that we scarfed down impressed me. They hold many events at the brewery, including live music. Most remarkable was the flight of beer that I sampled.
Troegs Brewery was created by two brothers in the 90s and has grown year by year because of its great taste and an array of flavors. The brewery also offers tours and includes a Troegs inspired art gallery.
Our group rolled out of the brewery, not as in driving, but as in we needed to be rolled out due to the amount of food we ate. Just about every gourmet gastro brewpub food you could imagine was found on their snack menu, and I think we got 1-2 of everything. Brown butter popcorn with rosemary, Oktoberfest pretzels the size of Munich, a grilled cheese sandwich that was half the size of one of our TDAD’s heads, and the sandwiches…Oh, the sandwiches. Braised Brisket on Brioche. If the alliteration doesn’t make your mouth water, then the Smoked Pulled Chicken on Ciabiatta certainly would. It was impossible not to overeat. It. Was. That. Good.
The van was waiting to take us to our next stop, an escape room. We just needed to call a forklift to lift us back into the van first.
Don’t Duck the Donuts
But…. we drove by a Duck Donuts. I’ve heard marvelous tales about Duck Donuts, but hadn’t experienced one. I consider myself a donut connoisseur after having worked in my parent’s bakery from an early age. I’m constantly searching for a great new donut. The only problem: I was full from our lunch at Troegs.
Regardless, I stepped up to the counter at Ducks and ordered a cookies and cream inspired donut. Unlike other bakeries, donuts at Duck Donuts are made to order. So, my donut was hot and delicious. Which happened to be my code name on the trip. I kid, I kid. It wasn’t my code name. I’m positive if I had a code name, it would’ve been “Selfie King” for the collection of selfies I snapped.
Plan Your Escape
After all that food, we waddled into the Hershey Biergarten Escape Room and moved into a speakeasy-inspired room. A record time was positioned outside the room and we were anticipating on breaking the record, but after kayaking, Troegs Brewery, and Duck Donuts, we weren’t in record-breaking shape. We were, however, able to escape within a respectable amount of time. The record was 33 minutes and we finished in the mid-40s.
What I found fascinating about the escape room experience, was our group wasn’t all about axe throwing and beer tasting, but enjoyed the close company and working collectively. Can you imagine if one of us was a jerk? Working together with someone you don’t relate to in an escape room has to be challenging. Axe throwing would be worse. Lucky for us, we’re all amazingly good-natured men.
Time for Chocolate
We were so good at escaping that we had plenty of time to get to our next stop: nearby Chocolate World at Hershey. I had visited Hersheypark with my family a month ago, so the food that rested in my stomach guided me to a bench where I took a little nap while many of the guys bought souvenirs for their kids. (Read our Tips for Visiting Hersheypark.)
More Craft Brews
A little over an hour afterward, we were sitting in Iron Hill Brewery in Hershey for dinner. The plates that appeared at our table looked delicious, but for the first time in my existence, I ordered a salad at a brewery. Turns out you can do that. Who knew? While I didn’t try any, the other TDADs were raving about the Philly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls, and the Korean BBQ Chicken Wings.
We had a great time reminiscing about our long day and the adventures we had. Also, commiserating that we had to get up early in the morning.
Day 3 — Fish and More Beer
Giving New Meaning to “I Got Hooked” in Central PA
If you’re gonna catch fish, you gotta start early. So we woke up early in the morning and stumbled over to City Island. Not for a baseball game this time, but for bass fishing on the Susquehanna River with Koinonia Guide Service.
We split up into pairs; Brian Armstead and I got into one bass-catching boat. The morning started out hot and got hotter. We were baking in the sun. Luckily for me, Troegs brewery sold hats, and I had purchased one the day before.
Not long into the trip, I leaned against a beam that stuck out on the boat. At first, I thought maybe a bug had stung me on my butt. But as I tried to slap it away, I realized I was hooked. And the hook was not merely sticking in my bum, but was hooked into my butt cheek.
Unsure how to address the captain of the boat about my situation, I said:
“Um, this will probably be a first for you, but I’m hooked.”
“You got a bite already?” He responded.
“I got a bite all right,” I said.
As he moved close to me, he understood the problem. He had to take out a pair of pliers and RIP the hook out of my behind. This was minutes into the fishing trip. So, pro tip, don’t lean against anything on a fishing boat.
The fishing was a success for all of us even though I sat on a hook. We both caught a bass, but after baking in the sun, we turned in earlier than the other guys and traveled back to the hotel.
After a quick shower and making certain my butt was OK (It is), we drove to the Appalachian Brewing Company for lunch. The subject of my sitting on a hook was a favorite topic of conversation. Appalachian brews root beer and ginger ale as well as its own alcoholic beer. I had a root beer and ginger ale and can confirm that they are yummy. I saw others loving the Canadian Poutine, a bulgolgi pineapple burger with a mouth-watering Korean BBQ sauce, and at least one dad ordered the Beef on Weck, which stared a lengthy conversation on what the heck is weck. We never came to a conclusion, but the sandwich was said to be delicious. There was also a massive pretzel. In fact, I think that every brewery that had food, had a pretzel.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
For the next part of the day, we split up into two groups; one went biking around Harrisburg, while my group went hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Our guide, Gail, from the Appalachian Trail Club, was the oldest one in our group and, by far, in the best shape. She provided us with great information about hiking and some personal family stories that had us rolling. One involved her elderly mother who enjoys wearing silk pajamas to bed. She and her daughters call them “hooker pajamas.” After that, “hooker pajamas” developed into a popular saying with all of the Traveling Dads.
After arriving at Hawk Rock, with sweat streaming down our faces and our water bottles already close to being empty, we halted for rest and to witness the gorgeous view from the Appalachian Trail. And for a moment, just a moment, I thought, “I could hike this whole thing.” Then I hiked back down the path and my body answered, “Hey, recall that Duck Donut from yesterday?”
Dinner in Town
After a brief well-needed nap and a shower where I scraped off my hiking stank, we strolled to Café 1500, which is a lovely restaurant with a grand view of the city. I challenged the bartender to make me a good Old-Fashioned. She accepted and created one of the finest Old-Fashioned cocktails I’ve ever had.
The cuisine was delicious and laughter circled the table. When hoping for a “Guys’ get-a-way, this is the time you hope for. Outdoors, spoiling, outstanding food and drinks, and laughter is the gold medal you’re hoping to achieve. We got our gold on day 3.
Day 4 — Learning to Grill Like a Man
For our last event of the trip, we took a Grill Masters Class at Bricco Restaurant. I’ve received a few cooking classes on other trips, but this was the first-time cuts of meat were described. We also created our own rubs and seasonings to apply to the meats. While some were tending to the meat, they placed me in charge of cutting vegetables. That might not sound fun, but a sharp knife that glides through vegetables is a lot of fun.
After our class, we devoured our efforts and were once again stuffed. Thankfully, I drove from NYC to Harrisburg, so I took home plenty of leftovers.
The Long Goodbye
After our meal, we sauntered back to the hotel and said our adieux. Goodbyes after a guys’ weekend are always awkward for me. You pack in so much with a group of guys and experience a lot. We toss discussions both fun and serious around and a lot of drinking and eating occurs. New adventures take place and we establish new friends.
It’s hard to say goodbye after a crash course in forming close friends. Well, hard when you move back and forth from introvert to extrovert. A remarkable thing about a guy’s trip is that there is room to be both. You can go all out, or withdraw. Or as in my situation, do both.
This is where I declare if you haven’t traveled on a guy’s trip or mantrip yet, plan one. Traveling Dad has a great guide that can help you plot one.
In case you were trying to maintain track; Here’s our trip by the numbers
Hotels: One, the beautiful Crowne Plaza Harrisburg
Meals: 14 at 10 locations. All breakfasts were held at the Crown Plaza. (Hops, Vines, & Spirits Tasting Room, Senators Game, Joe K’s Brewhouse, Troeg’s Brewery, Iron Hill Brewery, Appalachian Brewing Company, Café 1500, Duck Donuts, and Bricco Restaurant.)
Outdoor adventures: Four. One fishing trip, One hike or bike ride, one kayaking trip
Trips to Chocolate World: One
Rooms escaped: One
Axes thrown: We were having too much fun to keep count
Cooking lessons: One grilling class
Guys having a wonderful time: Nine: Paul Eisenberg, Rick Dunlap, Jason Greene, Kevin Gillooly, Brian Armstead, John Vanda, Joseph Cheung, Tim Jones, Jeff Brownson
Pounds gained: I’m not telling
If You’re Looking for a Different Harrisburg Experience
Our trip was all about the outdoors, brewpubs and guy stuff like grilling and axe throwing. But Harrisburg has many interesting cultural experiences, too, if you happen to be into that sort of thing.
For example, the capital city is well known for being home to the National Civil War Museum; United States Civil War history is rich in this town and nearby Gettysburg (less than an hour drive from Harrisburg). If you love museums, there are many others to explore such as the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum, Susquehanna Art Museum, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Sadly, we couldn’t fit these into our packed agenda, but they are certainly worth a visit, and most can be found near the Capitol Building in downtown Harrisburg.
— Jason Greene