One hour southeast of Pittsburgh is Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, a luxurious mountain retreat sprawling across 2,000 acres of scenic hills and valleys. This area, known as the Laurel Highlands, is a storied region where Native American and colonial history runs deep and beautiful, mountainous terrain climbs steep. It is home to Pennsylvania’s highest peak, Mount Davis (3213 feet) and America’s first transcontinental route (the Lincoln Highway, or Route 30). The century-older National Road (Route 40) was built in 1806 under Thomas Jefferson as the first federally funded road. This trans- Appalachian thoroughfare has carried revolutionaries, Presidents, industrial moguls, and tourists into southwestern Pennsylvania for nearly three centuries of settlement, war, and tourism.

During the late nineteenth century, the inception of passenger train travel combined with a desire to escape dirty urban centers for places with fresh air, oceans, and mountains gave rise to the modern tourism industry. The building of vacation homes and resort towns in undeveloped locations drew visitors into new environments where they could relax, rejuvenate, and recuperate. In the 1930s, Pittsburgh retail king, Edgar J. Kaufmann set to task the legendary architect, Frank Lloyd Wright designing what would become Kaufmann’s iconic summer home, Fallingwater. This set the precedent for the Laurel Highlands to become an outdoorsy playground for the wealthy.

In the 1940s, not too far away (in fact, only about ten miles from Fallingwater), automotive and aviation/ NASA  baron, Willard Rockwell, bought land to establish a hunting and fishing lodge for his family. Within twenty years, his son turned the property into a posh public inn with pools, tennis courts, and a golf course. This foreshadowed what Nemacolin Woodlands would become when Joe Hardy, founder of 84 Lumber, purchased the old lodge and transformed it into an exclusive getaway for couples, families, and corporate groups.


We began this venture thinking it would be an opportunity to embrace a little romance and relaxation; possibly basking by the pool, casually exploring by bike, and having a spa treatment, but the Chamber of Commerce weather lured us adventurously out of doors. Blue skies, puffy clouds, and mountain climes encouraged a much different and welcomed experience than anticipated. We squeezed in some poolside cocktails and boiled away in the hot tub for a while, but mostly because our active bones required a good soaking. A day originally earmarked for reading a book by the pool and “exerting” ourselves to wander to the spa, turned into a few hours on Nemacolin’s two stunning Pete Dye golf-courses – Mystic Rock and Shepherd’s Rock; taking a Jeep Rubicon off-roading through rugged, watery terrain, and zooming above the trees on a zip line running 3,000 feet along the ski slopes. If the afternoon wasn’t full enough, a day that began with a rigorous run ended with a marathon meal at Nemacolin’s premier restaurant, Lautrec. An unexpected and memorable day, to say the least. I will write more about our beautiful dinner later…

The resort’s motto “expect the unexpected” lingered in my mind as new experiences were around each corner… this felt surprising given that I have been coming to Nemacolin since the early 90s. But, it’s been several years since I’ve visited, so the Lady Luck Casino, Adventure Center, Shepherd’s Rock Golf Course, Holistic Healing Center, and a few restaurants were new to me. I was pleasantly (but not entirely) surprised at how wonderful it all was. The atmosphere is upscale, well-heeled, but also comfortable and family-friendly. The resort has 323 rooms to choose from. The spacious, French-inspired rooms in the Château Lafayette and English country-style rooms with balconies in The Lodge are great for couples or a small family looking for a getaway.

Falling Rock however, is special… the five-star, 42-room hotel overlooking the golf course not only has warm, cozy rooms, an infinity pool and an extraordinary restaurant, but it also includes a “special service” which takes some getting used to (not really!). Each room includes your own 24-hour butler service. Hospitality professionals who do just about everything, including seemingly read your mind. They draw your curtains, draw your bath, press your clothes, and inform you of the exact conditions on the golf course, including the daily speed of the greens — all before 7 am, if you desire. The warmth and hospitality is apparent the moment you enter the building. It’s not inexpensive, but you certainly get what you pay for at Falling Rock.


Art hounds will appreciate the abundance of public art found both indoors and outdoors throughout the 2,000 acre property, as well as the curated tours and art classes offered through the week. While animal lovers can bring their four legged family members to Nemacolin Wooflands, the resort’s upscale boarding and veterinary center.  If you happen to hear the roar of a lion, that’s because it IS is a lion. Nemacolin’s zoo is easily accessible by foot, bike, or car and features mountain goats, lions, tigers, bears, and wolves. The Wildlife Academy allows guests to go behind the scenes in the nursery or on wildlife spotting trail tours.

As someone who seeks out good food and adventure, I appreciate the ability to bundle nice lodging, culinary options and activities into one experience. This is largely what I have come to appreciate about Nemacolin Woodlands… its comprehensive offerings, which allow you to do anything from fly-fishing and horseback riding to skiing or bowling. Want to try something different? Take aim at clay pigeons in the Shooting Academy, free fall 50 feet on the Quick Jump or detox in the infrared sauna at the Holistic Healing Center. Feeling lazy? Lay by any number of pools (including the serene indoor pool), enjoy a spa treatment, or read a book while soaking in the mountain vistas from your balcony. Or do it all!

We came anticipating this being an article about R&R (Romance and Relaxation), but it ended up being a welcomed few days of activities, food and adventure. A week or weekend can be transformed into anything you want it to be at Nemacolin Woodlands.