Although state roads still pass through Centralia's hot zones and it is not illegal to enter them, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection actively discourages it.

From a distance you can still get a good look at the mine fire on Hammie's Hill, which is best viewed early in the morning or on a cool day.

GETTING THERE: Centralia is about 180 miles from D.C. Take I-95 north, go west on I-695, north on I-83 and north on I-81 until Exit 119. Take a left onto Gordon Mountain Road. Follow for two miles and turn right at the T intersection, then a quick left onto McKnight Street, which becomes state Route 61. Follow 61 into Ashland and then into Centralia.

STAYING (NEAR) THERE: There's no lodging in Centralia, but in nearby Ashland the Stained Glass Turret bed-and-breakfast (425 Centre St., 570-875-4844, www.victorianturret.com) is a quaint, comfortable place to rest for $105 a night. Bonus: the innkeeper's homemade breakfast scones. The Pine Burr Inn (570-339-3870, www.pineburrinn.com),on Route 61 west of Mount Carmel, is simple, cheap (starting at $78) and only about four miles from Centralia.

EATING THERE: It's coal country, so don't expect haute cuisine. Two bucks will buy you a cheeseburger at Danny's Drive-in in Ashland. For the best food in the region, according to one innkeeper, try Mattucci's on Willow Street in Mount Carmel. Be warned, it's closed on Sundays and Mondays.

THINGS TO DO: You can journey 1,800 feet into the side of a mountain for a guided tour of a real coal mine at Ashland's Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine & Steam Train. Take a sweater. Details: $7.50 for a half-hour tour; 570-875- 3850, www.pioneertunnel.com, opens in April.

To place the Centralia mine fire in historical context, visit the Museum of Anthracite Mining (570-875-4708, opens in June) in Ashland.

INFO: For Ashland, Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau, 800-765-7282, www.schuylkill.org, or Columbia- Montour Visitors Bureau, 800-847-4810, www.cmtpa.org.