We have adopted a new family tradition since having our two children–a yearly visit to Idlewild Park in the beautiful Laurel Highlands region of Pennsylvania.  The park has consistently been voted the “The Best Children’s Park in the World” by Amusement Today and I can definitely see why. Our summer visit there has become a much-anticipated highlight of our year–ranking right up there with Christmas morning and Halloween evening for us!

The park is located about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh and is situated along the historic Rt. 30.  It takes just over an hour to get there from Pittsburgh and is a very easy drive. The entry fee for the park is $36.99 for individuals aged 3+ (2 and under are free and they have a senior discount) with opportunities to buy cheaper passes online or at Giant Eagle locations. Parking is also included in this price.

The park is divided into several themed areas: The Storybook Forest, Jumpin’ Jungle, Olde Idlewild, Hootin’ Holler, Soak Zone, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and Raccoon Lagoon.  I am consistently impressed by the attractions at the park.  They are very well-designed for families with young children.  Let me take you through our trip to Idlewild Park last weekend to demonstrate what I mean:

The Storybook Forest

Aboard The Little Engine That Could in the Storybook Forest
Aboard The Little Engine That Could in the Storybook Forest

The Storybook Forest is the first area that we visited because it opens at 10:30am–an hour prior to the rest of the park.  You enter the forest through a giant storybook with the following epigram emblazoned across it: “Here is the Land of Once Upon a Time, Step through the pages of this big Story Book, and visit the people and places every child knows, and Loves.  Here dreams are real, and so are your Story Book friends.”  As we walked through this giant book, we came face-to-face with a friendly woman dressed as Mother Goose.  My kids really enjoyed chatting with her!

As we continued through the Storybook Forest, we encountered life-sized models of storybook scenes that the kids recognized and could explore.  Some examples: The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Good Ship Lollilop (where your kids get a free lollipop too!), The Little Engine that Could and many, many more.  This area was a really great place to start in the park because it transitioned the kids from the familiar (i.e.the people and places they know from their picture books) to the magical (watching them come alive).

First experience with a ball pit in Jumpin' Jungle
First experience with a ball pit in Jumpin’ Jungle

Jumpin’ Jungle

Next, we visited The Jumpin’ Jungle, which is located next to The Storybook Forest.  This area is a giant interactive playspace with a ball pit, climbing nets, slides, and lots more.  My 1 year old son particularly enjoyed the Jungle Catch, where little ones can play with balls hovering over tubes pumping out forced air.  My 3 year old daughter enjoyed going down Big Foot’s Mudslide with her Daddy.  And both my kids loved the ball pit and climbing nets!  This area is a particularly engaging place for toddlers to burn off some of their morning energy!

Hootin’ Holler

Next to Jumpin’ Jungle is Hootin’ Holler where the majority of the food vendors are located.  This area was definitely in the perfect location for us because we reached it around noon and my kids were starving.  They had a variety of food choices, including some vegetarian choices.  We relaxed, ate, and even watched the Loyalhanna Limited Railroad go by our table!

Soak Zone

Playing in the Little Squirts area in SoakZone
Playing in the Little Squirts area in SoakZone

After lunch we headed to Soak Zone–a waterpark within Idlewild (note: be sure to pack swimsuits and swim diapers because they are required if you want to use the water features).  There were plenty of options for kids of all ages including Little Squirts, a kiddie pool area that was perfect for my toddlers!  There’s also Wowabunga Wave Pool (my kids were petrified), Captain Kidd’s Adventure Galley (with youth-sized waterslides and spray features) and a ton of other big kid-sized waterslides.  We particularly enjoyed taking a ride on the brand-new lazy river called Float Away Bay. The park even provided kid-sized inner tubes and life jackets for this ride. Since we made the bold move of skipping naptime (!) during our visit, we floated down this lazy river and gave our kids some downtime. My son actually fell asleep in the inner tube for a short while!

Riding the Raccoon Racers in Raccoon Lagoon
Riding the Raccoon Racers in Raccoon Lagoon

Raccoon Lagoon

After we relaxed in Soak Zone for a couple of hours, our kids got a second wind.  So we changed out of our swimsuits and headed to Raccoon Lagoon for some late-afternoon rides. This 9-acre Kiddie-Land has a ton of attractions geared toward young children. Both our kids got to ride on mechanized miniature cars, motorcycles, boats, airplanes, and lots more!  I was particularly pleased that my younger son got to partake in these rides (note: as long as they can walk to the ride, they can go on most of them)!

Waiting to ride the Carousel in Olde Idlewild
Waiting to ride the Carousel in Olde Idlewild

Olde Idlewild

Finally, we ended up in Olde Idlewild. Most of the rides in this area were intended for bigger kids, but we did stop in for one last hurrah before we left–a ride on the historic Carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in the 1920’s.  It’s a perennial favorite with most kids and it was a great way to end our magical day at Idlewild!


As you can probably tell, we had a fantastic time during our trip to Idlewild Park this year.  I was reminded (yet again!) that the designers of this amusement park really got it right for families with young children for a lot of reasons.  First off, it’s a very manageable size.  We were able to see almost the entire park (didn’t make it to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make Believe this year unfortunately) going at a very reasonable and relaxed pace.  It’s also perfectly laid out to allow children to maintain some semblance of their normal routine despite all the excitement.  Plus, it does an especially brilliant job of gearing attractions to different age groups. Finally, there are lots of little details throughout the park that make it very family-friendly. Some examples: lots of shade, parking within walking distance, a train for quick transit, kid-sized water fountains and much more.

Anyway, I highly recommend paying a visit to Idlewild this year.  Who knows?  It may even turn into a favorite summer tradition for your family as well!

© Copyright Nadine Champsi, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog
Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

2 Comments on A Favorite Summer Tradition: Our Trip to Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA

  1. Thanks again for helping an exPat remember something cool. My mother took us to Storybook Forest when it was a faily recent addition to the entertainment scene. I have very fond memories of that park an dI am so glad to see that it has remained and improved.

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