Where: Gardners, Pa.
Why: Sensational ice cream in a retro setting, plus a moving firefighters memorial and a peculiar pachyderm museum.
How Far: About 85 miles from Hyattstown, or close to two hours.
The spiraling ice cream cone on the sign at Twirly Top, a remote roadside burger and ice cream stand just outside Pennsylvania's Michaux State Forest, probably stands 20 feet tall. It should be 200. That's how large Twirly Top looms in the psychic landscape of the road-tripping summer gourmands who have discovered it. This is where perfection trumps cholesterol: dreamy soft-serve, homemade hand-dipped scoops and juicy cheeseburgers swaddled in lettuce and tomato. The walk-up windows have been dishing out some of the same food baskets and swirly cones since the 1950s. Take a bite out of longtime favorites, such as the Italian cheesesteak (with onions and tomato sauce) or cowboy burger (with barbecue sauce, bacon, cheese and onion rings) before licking through newfangled ice cream flavors of thin mint, black-raspberry cheesecake or coconut.
For guilt-free indulgence, try burning a few calories en route. In Frederick, roam the Monocacy National Battlefield to learn details of a small but pivotal skirmish that defended Washington during the Civil War. When you hit Emmitsburg, a short jaunt to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial reveals monuments and plaques (and soon a park -- the place is expanding) that pay tribute to thousands of first-responders.
For something a little lighter, stop in Orrtanna, Pa., and poke around Mister Ed's, a quirky shrine to elephants of every shape, size and texture, amassed over 20 years. While there, you can pick up your own elephant souvenir, or save your pocket change and join the stampede to nearby flea markets that sprout along Route 30 on weekends. Finally, for a real workout, trek into the woods of massive Michaux State Forest, with miles of fishing streams and hiking routes, including a 39-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Tip: Do any serious walking before stopping at Twirly. Afterward, you won't be able to move.
Steve Hendrix and Karen-Lee Ryan
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