Winter is an incredible time to visit the Laurel Highlands, and two popular winter festivals will bring the heat this month with the Fire & Ice Festival in Somerset and Ice Fest in Ligonier.

The ice slide in Trinity Park is always a popular attraction at the Fire & Ice Festival in Somerset.

Fire & Ice

Jan. 12-14, 2024, Somerset

Pennsylvania’s Roof Garden is ready to go Under the Sea.

Somerset County earned the Roof Garden nickname because it's home to the state's highest elevations and due to its agricultural prominence, but Somerset is planning an aquarium on ice for the 29th annual Fire & Ice festival. The event will include 50 under-the-sea-themed ice sculptures, making for a weekend full of flippers and frosty fun.

Warm up beside a bonfire at the Fire & Ice Festival in Somerset.

Oceans of excitement

"I hope when people walk down the streets of Somerset, they feel like they’re in an aquarium made of ice," said Regina Coughenour, executive director of Somerset, Inc. "We are specific. We don’t have a clip-art octopus, we have a blue-ringed octopus. We don’t have a generic jellyfish, we have a Portuguese man o' war. We really challenged our sculptors to be very creative."

The best place to kick off your visit to Uptown Somerset is at the Fire & Ice Headquarters, located at 109 E. Main St., where you can find pins and souvenirs as well as festival info and how to vote in the window- and interior-decorating contests.

A fireworks display by Little Big Shots will light up the night sky at 6:30 p.m. Friday on the Diamond. The show is choreographed to music, and Coughenour said it's one of the most popular events of the weekend.

"This is a whole show," she said. "It’s short, but you don’t want to miss it."

A crowd gathers for the fireworks display at the 2023 Fire & Ice Festival in Somerset.

The Somerset Kiwanis Club’s All-You-Can-Eat Pancake Breakfast runs from 7 a.m.-noon Saturday. You can burn off the calories from those delicious pancakes by participating in the 26th annual Fire & Ice 5K Walk/Run at 10 a.m. Afterward, relax and enjoy live music at venues around town. When your appetite returns, check out the Hot Stuff Chili and Sensational Soup Cook-Off from 3-5 p.m. at the Somerset American Legion.

Glades Court, at 101 W. Main St., is the spot to be for lovers of marine life. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History will showcase its Fur, Feathers, & Scales Mini Museum from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday while the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium and International Conservation Center’s Sea and Land Turtle Exhibit will be open to the public at the same times.

Last year's mini museum drew large crowds, and the Fire & Ice staff is working to make it more easily accessible this year. 

"It was wildly popular," Coughenour said. "We had thousands of people through that one exhibit throughout the weekend."

Visitors can check out the Indoor Marketplace at 109 E. Main St., with more than 30 artisans and vendors represented from 3-8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.

Make tracks to the Laurel Highlands Model Railroad Club Train Display at 216 W. Main St., which is open from noon-6 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.

Uptown Somerset is the place to be during the Fire & Ice Festival.

Sunday’s schedule is highlighted by a roast beef or ham dinner courtesy of the Somerset Vol. Fire Dept.’s Ladies Auxiliary from 11 a.m-2 p.m. at 340 W. Union St.

Dining options abound at Fire & Ice, with this year's event featuring more food trucks than ever before serving up tasty treats from 3-7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. They include Pappy D’s, Mountain Kettle Korn, Missy LaLa’s Biscotti, Stairs In Town Restaurant, Rollie Pollie Egg Roll, Rosalinda’s, and Due Chef Pazzi, which offers alligator on its menu.

A Whale of a Time

The sea-themed ice sculptures, which are crafted by Mastro Ice Company, will line the streets all weekend – and possibly much longer if Mother Nature cooperates. That means dozens of Instagram-worthy opportunities throughout Uptown. While you’re at it, take part in the Fire & Ice Photo Scavenger Hunt, which runs all weekend, with a list available at Essentials for Health, 109 W Main St. Find all the pictures for a chance to win an Uptown Businesses Gift Basket.A Mastro Ice Company employee carves a sculpture in Somerset during the 2023 Fire & Ice Festival

The free ice slide in Trinity Park, which is open from dawn to dusk all weekend, is always a hit with children, while adults often gravitate toward the Fireside Lounge. The lounge features bottles and cocktail sales from Trailhead Brewing Co., Rusty Musket Distilling Co., and Ponfeigh Distillery. It will be open at 122 N. Center Ave. from 4-8 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.

Little ones will love the Story Stroll, which starts at Mary S. Biesecker Library and allows families to read “Underwater Treasure Hunt” as they travel around town reading shop windows. The Barbera Law Children’s Center: Under the Sea is open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at First Christian Church, 139 E. Main St.

Where to stay

Coughenour said the Fire & Ice Festival draws visitors from across Pennsylvania, its border states, and even as far away as Michigan. 

With that in mind, it's best to plan ahead and make lodging reservations in advance to enjoy all that the festival has to offer. The Hampton Inn Somerset is a preferred partner for the festival and is conveniently located off Pennsylvania Turnpike Exit 110. 

The Ligonier Ice Fest brings smiles to the faces of children – and adults – of all ages.

Ligonier Ice Fest

Jan. 19-21, 2024, Ligonier

Live ice-carving demonstrations will return to the Ligonier Ice Fest in 2024.

The festival runs from noon to 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 19 and all day Saturday. It is highlighted by more than 50 sculptures located throughout Ligonier, which has been named one of the top “Hallmark Christmas” towns in the United States.

A live-carving demonstration will be held around noon on Friday with another demonstration on Saturday.

Also new for 2024 is the addition of fire spinners Flow N’at, which will perform at 6 p.m. Friday and again at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The Ligonier Ice Fest will feature live ice-carving demonstrations.

The annual Ice Fest encourages guests to take a leisurely stroll around Ligonier, renowned for its charming, small-town feel, while checking out ice sculptures from DiMartino Ice. It’s also a great time to visit the dozens of boutique shops, galleries, and restaurants located around town.

Amy Beitel, executive director of the Ligonier Chamber of Commerce, said the event is popular with local merchants as well as attendees.

“It’s often a slow time for businesses and restaurants. It does put a nice surge back into our Ligonier economy,” she said. “They’ve lost that Christmas surge. And, in the middle of January, people are looking for a reason to get out of the house. If they get cold, they can pop in and out of our shops. A lot of our merchants say they have customers come in during the summer and say ‘We were here during Ice Fest and were all bundled up. It’s a great place, and we wanted to come back and see it in the summer.’ It carries over throughout the year.”

Adding to the fun is an Icy Hot Rock Hunt. Participants can search for a hidden rock and, when they find one, take it to the shop listed on the back for a prize.

Attendees can also head to Town Hall, where Candle in the Wind, which performs a mix of top-40 and oldies music, will take the stage at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The Ligonier Ice Fest brings smiles to the faces of children – and adults – of all ages.

Fun on Ice

Beitel said that Cindy Purnell, who chairs the event, has lined up an exciting array of ice sculptures, which outnumber the amount at the 2023 event.

“The majority are around the Diamond,” Beitel said. “We have several along the east side of Town Hall. We put some in front of businesses. We like to keep them somewhat close so that people can even drive by and see them.”

Walking is still the most popular way to check out the sculptures and is sure to build up an appetite that can be satisfied at the Firemen’s Spaghetti Dinner, beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Town Hall Community Room.Carriage rides are a popular option at the Ligonier Ice Fest.

Hanson’s Kettle Korn will be available throughout the festival in front of the Ligonier Library.

Horse-drawn carriage rides by Misty Haven – which are available for $5 per person in front of Town Hall, weather permitting – add to the ambiance.

Where to stay

There are plenty of great lodging options within walking distance of Ice Fest, including Ramada Ligonier, The Colonial House on Main, Thistledown at Seger House, Alice’s Spring Cottage, Be My Guest on Washington Street, and VIP Properties.