Road Trip Guide: Mount Gretna

Visitors often gather at Lake Conewago in Mount Gretna.
Visitors often gather at Lake Conewago in Mount Gretna. Photo provided

Nestled in wooded mountains, Mount Gretna, a historic resort community in Lebanon County, offers an outdoor escape — with culture, art and history just a short walk away.

“Mount Gretna is a very special community,” said Larry Bowman, Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce president and a year-round resident of Mount Gretna, founded in the 1890s by the Pennsylvania Chautauqua Society and meant to be a haven for artistic and educational pursuits.

“History is part of the attraction,” he said. You will find many people from spring to fall coming out to walk around the neighborhoods. The architecture is really unique. There are no two cottages that are alike; each was built individually. The comment I heard from someone visiting for the first time is that it reminded him of European villages.”

Visitors and residents gather around the village’s manmade Conewago Lake to relax, swim or canoe. The Lebanon Valley Rail Trail runs right through town, too, so hikers, cyclists and even horse-back riders have room to explore. The town also has its own Gretna Theatre with musicals and Broadway shows, and the Mount Gretna Playhouse with seating for more than 700 people to enjoy live music.

“There are programs, literally, every day of the week in the summer,” Bowman said. “We have authors coming in to do programs and historical programs.”

Another local favorite is the century-old Jigger Shop, known for its tradition of cool summer treats.

“They are a destination,” Bowman said. “People from many counties around drive to Mount Gretna to have ice cream and lunch and dinner.”

At Gretna Theatre, a live professional theater operating since 1927, organizers are busy prepping for summer shows, such as tributes to the Four Seasons and Patsy Cline and a retake on the musical “Camelot,” said Larry Frenock, producing artistic director.

“We draw from as far away as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Reading,” he said. “We get a wide range of people coming to the theater. The draw is the unique setting. It’s in a rustic setting with Victorian cottages all around it.

“The town itself is a very small village with a lake and beach, plus a wonderful ice cream parlor, gift shops, restaurants, art galleries. It is really quite lovely, a setting that feels like a national park. It is really very sweet. We are a two-mile drive through nothing but woods. Those are the decompression miles. Heave your cares to the wind and enjoy the day at Mount Gretna.”

While you’re there ...

•  Mount Gretna Lake and Beach: mtgretnalake.com.

•  Boutique-style shopping and events for the season. See the unofficial Mount Gretna website for links to local attractions, mtgretna.com.

•  Concerts at Gretna Music, with seating for more than 700 and special rates for kids, gretnamusic.org.

•  The Jigger Shop Ice Cream Parlor with soda fountain treats and old-fashioned charm, jiggershop.com.

•  Shows or a musical at Gretna Theatre, which also offers programming for kids on Saturday mornings, gretnatheatre.com.

•  The Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show on the third weekend in August, when the town swells from about 1,500 residents to 15,000 or 20,000 artists and visitors, mtgretnaarts.com.

•  The 30th Annual Mount Gretna Tour of Homes & Gardens the first weekend in August for an inside look at historic architecture, gretnamusic.org/title/tour-of-homes.