Exploring the Oil Region National Heritage Area: History, Adventure, and Natural Wonders


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Petroleum Centre © Adam Rupp

A museum you can hike, bike, float and fish

As the birthplace of the modern petroleum industry, the Oil Region National Heritage Area (ORNHA) in northwest Pennsylvania revolutionized the world. It’s home to fascinating stories of fortunes won and lost, innovation, and perseverance.

Much of the impressive late 1800s architecture and oilfield relics remain alongside charming small towns brimming with arts, culture, and special events.

Nature reclaimed “the Valley that Changed the World,” creating an outdoor recreation paradise with Oil Creek State Park and the Allegheny River at its heart. With more than 112 kilometres of paved bike trails plus hundreds more for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, and boating, the ORNHA offers adventure for everyone.

The ORNHA has the most continuous miles of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (EPT), a 434-kilometre rail trail being developed for bicycling. The EPT contains two tunnels, the Rockland Tunnel at 874 metres and the Kennerdell Tunnel, which at 1,020 metres is one of the longest rail-trail tunnels in the U.S. and among the longest bike/ped tunnels in the world.

The North Country National Scenic Trail passes just south of the Oil Region on its route between Vermont and North Dakota.

Also south of the Oil Region is the oldest golf course in continuous use in the U.S., the Foxburg Golf Course & Country Club, and the American Golf Hall of Fame. The Oil Region has many affordable golf courses, including the 27 holes at Cross Creek Resort, allowing you to spend the night off the links.

Photo © Courtesy of Oil Region Tourism

Drake Well Museum & Park interprets the oil industry’s history and impact on the environment and daily life. The original well still exists inside a replica derrick, which is sometimes operated by re-enactors. The grounds offer additional exhibits to explore. A partner site, Historic Pithole City, is a former oil boomtown about a 20-minute drive from Drake Well. Here, a town of more than 15,000 people sprang up, then dwindled within two years. Now all that remains is a visitor centre containing a diorama depicting this once bustling community’s streets, shops, hotels, theatres, and empty land left behind.

Much like the Wild West and gold rush boomtowns, oil boomtowns were often lawless collections of roughnecks and swindlers with barbarous reputations. Petroleum Centre, inside what is now Oil Creek State Park, was known as “the wickedest town East of the Mississippi.”

The Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad takes riders through the valley and back in time on the only train in the U.S. with an operating Post Office car.

Photo © Courtesy of Oil Region Tourism

DeBence Antique Music World, Venango Museum, the Tiffany Windows at St. John’s Episcopal Church, the artists of the National Transit Art Studios, and Barrow-Civic Theatre’s live performances contribute to the area’s vibrancy.

Self-guided walking tours in the towns of Titusville, Oil City, Franklin, and Emlenton, plus dozens of educational displays throughout the region, bring history to life.

The ORNHA is a worthwhile destination for adventure-seekers, history buffs, and the whole family.

And it is in the path of totality for April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse, making it the perfect place to visit for this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Request an Oil Region Guide to plan your visit at oilregion.org/tourism and see why the Oil Region National Heritage Area is a museum you can hike, bike, float, and fish!

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Museums, lively local arts, brew pubs, shops, and a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities mean the Oil Region has something for everyone in every season.


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