Every year, on the second day of February, the eyes of the nation turn to the tiny hamlet of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and to one groundhog, on whom everyone's hopes for an end to winter ride. As Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his lair, a crowd of onlookers watches to see whether or not he sees his shadow. If he does, Phil will retreat to his burrow and country is doomed to six more weeks of winter. If it's overcast, and he doesn't see a shadow, everyone will be treated to an early spring.
This seemingly strange holiday comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch, the German immigrants who brought their folklore and traditions with them to the Keystone State. It dates back to at least the mid-19th century, and it's caught on across the continent ever since, with many cities across North America keeping tabs on their own groundhogs' shadows. Punxsutawney Phil is the most famous, though, and the annual event where he emerges from his spot at the town's Gobbler's Knob is incredibly popular. Whether you're lucky enough to be in town on Groundhog Day, or you're passing through randomly, here's our guide to Phil's hometown!
First things first: As you enter town, stop and pose for a picture with this giant groundhog sign. He's wearing a tophat and tails, and holding an umbrella (probably in case it's cloudy on Groundhog Day).
Gobblers Knob is where Phil makes his annual prediction. It's a lovely green park that you can visit year-round. There's a nice trail and some good info on the Groundhog Day traditions that take place each year.
Of course, visiting on February 2nd is quite the event. On Groundhog Day, the doors to Gobblers Knob open at 3am, and crowds enter to await Phil's reading, which happens at approximately 7:25am. It gets pretty crowded, but it's free! The ceremony is followed by a picnic and celebration that lasts all afternoon and into the evening. The whole ceremony is hosted by the Inner Circle, a group of Punxsutawney residents. They're the ones who wear top hats and suits at the Groundhog Day event.
For a bite to eat, pop into Punxy Phil's Family Restaurant. It features all-American diner staples, a warm and welcoming atmosphere, loads of groundhog decor, and a little shop of souvenirs you can pick up to commemorate your trip. It's a nice little microcosm of the town itself: quirky and kitschy, but friendly and reliably solid. You can't go wrong with a burger, grilled cheese or breakfast! Enjoy it with a hot cup of coffee.
When Phil isn't predicting the weather, he lives in his burrow, which is attached to the library in Punxsutawney. You can say hi to him year-round, and peer through the window into his habitat. The Inner Circle claims they give Phil a magical elixir that makes him immortal, and that he's been alive, predicting the coming of spring, for more than 100 years... even though the average lifespan of a groundhog is about 6 years. Whatever you choose to believe, you can peek into Phil's lair... and see if you can see his shadow!
At the end of the day, Punxsutawney Phil can only provide a guess as to whether or not spring weather will come early or not... you can get a real picture of climate and how to predict it at the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center. Located within a gorgeous historic Post Office/Federal Building, it's got loads of hands-on and interactive kid-friendly displays all about weather, from tornados to thunderstorms. They also have some nice information on the history of Groundhog Day, if you want to know more about the origins of the holiday.
There aren't many hotels right in Punxsutawney, but the nearby Plantation Getaway Bed and Breakfast is a pleasant little hideaway where you can relax and enjoy the quaint PA countryside. Surrounded by rollings hills and lush gardens to explore, the setting is perfect, and the hosts provide an impressive breakfast feast each morning that will make you feel like royalty. Enjoy a quiet moment on the porch swing in the evening before drifting off to sleep, tucked away in your cozy bed.
Obviously, February 2nd is the best time to visit Punxsutawney, but you definitely want to plan your Groundhog Day adventure well in advance, since hotels book up quickly. Even if you don't get to see Phil predict the seasons, the town is still very reverent of its groundhog legacy, and it's still worth stopping by any time to see Phil, hike Gobblers Knob, and appreciate the totally adorable kitschiness that Punxsutawney brings to the country.