North of the thriving metropolis of Pittsburgh, just one hour into the countryside, sits Laurel Highlands -- an area consisting of 10 state parks and forests that bloom with different colors from March to October.

North of the thriving metropolis of Pittsburgh, just one hour into the countryside, sits Laurel Highlands -- an area consisting of 10 state parks and forests that bloom with different colors from March to October.
But a beautiful countryside and bountiful blossoms don't wow kids as much as The Big Mac, a storybook forest, a resort zoo or French and Indian War forts!
So, let's take a look at some notes I took during a recent family trip to the Highlands:

1. Nemacolin
Located in the scenic Laurel Highlands on 2,800 acres, the 335-room resort features an enormous variety of amazing activities. Did you know it has a wildlife academy? Just east of the main entrance, folks can schedule nursery tours or safari tours for a fee, or just a pop-in visit near the habitats of wolves in the wild, dozens of horses or even a panther.
On the resort property, you'll see special wildlife habitats (black bears, zebras, elk, bison and moose have habitats scattered around the golf course). Visitors can take the shuttle around, walk the property (maybe walk off that huge banana split from the soda shop) or drive and park near the featured stops in the woodlands or around the links. Admission required for guided tours. (Farmington, U.S. 40, www.nemacolin.com)

2. Forts
The visitors center is the best place to begin your. After a quick movie introduces you to the story, sight and sound experiences engage the kids to listen closely as they enter exhibit spaces.
Fort Necessity: We got caught in crossfire and later, characters talked at the roadside rest while we pulled up a seat and listened in. Whose story of how the war started do you believe? Outside is a soft play fort and Conestoga wagon with mini slides, photo opportunities and short 1/5- to 1/2-mile trail walks to a small fort with a 3.5-foot wide gate. Kid-sized fun. Admission required. (U.S. 40, Farmington, www.nps.gov/fone).
Fort Ligonier: The visibly sharp wooden pickets can be seen from the road. You'll be able to view gun batteries, the master's store, a home, hospital and the commissary. Because you're free to roam in and out of buildings within the fort, it's ideal for antsy or playful children. Admission required. (U.S. 30, Ligonier, www.fortligonier.org)

3. Big Mac Museum Restaurant
Say "cheese" in front of the world's largest Big Mac replica and have a big bite of fun in the state-of-the-art jungle play place. While you're there, pull up a seat and enjoy a Big Mac with the inventor, sing the world famous tongue twisting recipe jingle, or just look at the classic memorabilia on display. The Big Mac was first prepared at a McDonald's in Fayette County. (North Huntingdon Township, U.S. 30 just off the P.A. turnpike at exit 67)

4. Idlewild Park & Soak Zone
Story Book Forest is timeless. You can meet Goldilocks, Snow White, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, and even get a lollypop from the Goodship captain. This village is like being zapped into a giant storybook. Once the young ones are happy, walk around the rest of the park to visit Mister Roger's Neighborhood, the Jumpin' Jungle, Soak Zone, Hootin' Holler and Olde Idlewild. School-age kids can ride almost every ride in the park and families can bring picnic baskets and grills. If you don't want all that fuss, Hootin' Holler offers reasonable prices and provides entertainment while you eat. Admission required. (U.S. 30, Ligonier, www.idlewild.com)
If you need to get away from your hometown or the big city for some family fun this summer, the Mountain Laurels may be calling you. And they're only a 3.5-hour drive from Columbus (take I-70 east the whole way).

Michele Z, the Family Travel Mom and co-author of the Kids Love Pennsylvania guidebook knows where to take the kids on the cheap. Michele and her family have been to 5,000 places around the country testing destinations for kid-friendliness - on a budget. Take a look at www.kidslovetravel.com or visit your favorite book retailer and let your next family adventure begin!