It was named after the nation of Wales, (which in Latin is known as “Cambria”), as many Welsh immigrants found their way to this part of Pennsylvania to work in the steel mills, coal mines, and on the railroads.
From beautiful waterfalls to museums to bike trails to national memorials, here are 17 of the best things to see and do in Cambria County, Pennsylvania!
1. The Johnstown Flood Museum
The Johnstown Flood Museum, located in downtown Johnstown, tells the story of the tragic May 31, 1889 flood that killed over 2,200 people and captured the attention of the entire world, arguably the most famous event to ever occur in Cambria County.
Through a mixture of interpretive exhibits, surviving artifacts, photographs, and an award-winning film, visitors to the Johnstown Flood Museum can get a sense not only of the causes of the flood and the devastation in wreaked, but of the recovery and rebuilding efforts as well.
2. Johnstown Flood Memorial
The Johnstown Flood National Memorial was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1964, preserving the remains of the South Fork Dam, the former Lake Conemaugh lakebed, the farm of Elias Unger, and the clubhouse and cottages of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, owners of the lake and dam which burst in 1889, causing the flood.
If you’d like to visit this impressive National Memorial, and stand right where the historic flood started, you can find the Johnstown Flood National Memorial Visitor Center near South Fork, Cambria County.
3. Hinckston Run Falls
Hinckston Run Falls is a man-made waterfall formed by the outflow of the Hinckston Run Reservoir near Johnstown.
There’s no hiking involved to see this waterfall – Hinckston Run Falls is TRULY a roadside attraction!
4. The Abandoned Cresson State Prison
Fans of all things old, abandoned, and slightly creepy will find the abandoned Cresson State Prison in Cambria County a joy to explore!
Also known as the Haunted Cresson Sanatorium, this former tuberculosis sanatorium turned state hospital turned state prison is now operated as a tourist attraction for explorers with an appetite for the unusual.
Unfortunately, as of the summer of 2023, a legal battle is playing out in the courts between Big House Produce, the hydroponic farmers who also operate the tours of the grounds, and the landlord of the property.
Which means at least for now, all tours of the former Cresson Sanatorium are on hold (I’ll remove these paragraphs if the legal matters are sorted out and tours resume).
5. The Allegheny Portage Railroad
The Allegheny Portage Railroad was the first railroad built across the Allegheny Mountains, allowing for canals on the eastern and western sides of the state to be connected, cutting the travel time between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia from weeks to just days.
The Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site in eastern Cambria County (and stretching into neighboring Blair County) is maintained by the National Park Service, allowing visitors to learn about and explore first-hand the “glory days” of the Allegheny Portage Railroad.
6. The Staple Bend Tunnel
The Staple Bend Tunnel in Cambria County has the distinction of being the first railroad tunnel built in the United States!
Constructed as part of the Allegheny Portage Railroad (between the top of Incline 1 and the bottom of Incline 2 near Johnstown), the Staple Bend Tunnel is now operated as part of a rail trail by the National Park Service.
7. The Gallitzin Tunnels
The Gallitzin Tunnels are a trio of historic railroad tunnels through the Allegheny Mountains in Cambria County, very popular with railfans and “trainspotters”.
Located right next to the western portal of the Gallitzin and Allegheny tunnels, Tunnels Park is a convenient place to park and safely watch trains pass through, as they have for more than 150 years.
8. Prince Gallitzin’s Crypt
Prince Gallitzin’s crypt in Cambria County contains the remains of a former Russian prince turned trailblazing Catholic priest, Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin.
For 41 years, Prince Gallitzin traveled the Allegheny Mountains, living in poverty, performing his duties as a Catholic priest, and building up the Catholic community in the area.
9. The Admiral Perry Monument
The Admiral Peary Monument in Cambria County honors U.S. Naval officer Robert Peary, a Cresson native credited with being the first explorer to reach the North Pole.
10. George’s Song Shop
George’s Song Shop in downtown Johnstown is America’s oldest record store!
George’s Song Shop is billed as having over one million records and CDs in stock, and I can assure you that is no idle boast.
11. The Cresson Railroad Observation Platform
The Cresson Railroad Observation Platform offers one of the best eye-level railroad overlooks near Altoona.
Located right next to the railroad tracks, you can see and literally feel the passing trains from this elevated deck.
12. The Cassandra Railroad Overlook
The Cassandra Railroad Overlook is a pedestrian-only bridge spanning the train tracks in Cassandra, Cambria County.
Until 1936 this single-lane bridge allowed cars to pass over the train tracks; now it serves as a prime vantage point for railfans from around the world.
13. The Sunken Gardens at Mount Assisi
The Sunken Gardens at Mount Assisi are part of the beautifully manicured grounds of the Saint Francis Friary in Cambria County.
Open to the public from dawn until dusk and free of charge, the Sunken Gardens at Mount Assisi are comprised of 3.5 acres of fountains, statues, and gorgeous landscaping, some of which dates back more than 100 years!
14. The Spider-Man Mural in Johnstown
The Spider-Man mural in Johnstown is a tribute to Johnstown native, legendary comic-book artist, and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.
15. Prince Gallitzin State Park
Prince Gallitzin State Park is a 6,249-acre recreational area in Cambria County.
At the heart of the park you’ll find 1,635-acre Glendale Lake, with 26 miles of shoreline.
16. The Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center
The Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center is a museum that tells the story of the region’s iron, steel, and coal industries through the eyes of the everyday people who were the backbone of those enterprises in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
17. The High Street Emporium
The High Street Emporium in Ebensburg features 2 floors and nearly 50 vendors, selling every sort of antique and collectible imaginable!
So there you have it – 17 of the best things to see and do in Cambria County, PA!
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