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Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney: Travel tips, tricks to celebrate the holiday if you’re traveling from Cleveland

5 min read
Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney: Travel tips, tricks to celebrate the holiday if you’re traveling from Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Each February, the eyes of millions of people turn to one rodent in a small western Pennsylvania town that, according to legend, predicts the weather.

“Every little town has their claim to fame. I think if you go to any town, you’re going to find something that adds a certain amount of charm for one day throughout the entire year,” said Darren Sherry, former executive director of the Punxsutawney Historical and Genealogical Society. “Ours happens to be a groundhog named Phil.”

Thousands of people flock to Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day in anticipation of meeting Phil, partying in frigid temperatures all night and seeing whether the furry forecaster will see his shadow and proclaim six more weeks of winter or an early spring.

Darren and Susan Sherry both grew up in Punxsutawney. They now live in Aurora but have a great sense of pride for their hometown, which is decorated for Groundhog Day year-round with statues of Phil and restaurants in theme for the holiday, which is always on Feb. 2.

Lady Liberty groundhog

Statues of groundhogs are displayed throughout Punxsutawney year-round in honor of Phil and Groundhog Day.Darren Sherry

If you want to experience the holiday, Sherry suggested starting your travel plans now for 2025. But if you are hoping to make the trek this year from the Cleveland area, here is what you need to know, according to two hometown experts.

Groundhog Day history

The celebration is rooted in Christianity, when people in Europe would take their candles to the church to have them blessed for the winter during a holiday called Candlemas. The tradition evolved when an English folk song suggested the day would predict the weather: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again.”

When Germany was introduced to the lore, followers there believed if a hedgehog saw its shadow on Candlemas Day, there would be a second winter. When Germans immigrated to the United States, and with the absence of hedgehogs in the ecosystem, another hibernating rodent was chosen. In 1886, Groundhog Day made its first appearance in the local Punxsutawney newspaper.

Trek to Gobbler’s Knob

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney is an all-night party with gates to Gobbler’s Knob, the visitor center where Phil’s prognostication is announced, opening at 3 a.m. Sherry said attendees should prepare for frigid temperatures during the celebration, which includes performers, fireworks and more. The actual shadow-searching ceremony occurs at approximately 7:20 a.m. The event is standing-room only.

There are three ways to get to the Knob; purchase a parking pass and drive up to the grounds with your permit after 3 a.m.; buy a bus pass and shuttle to the grounds from a number of locations in the city; or park in town and walk the approximately 2-mile trek to the Knob via Woodland Avenue. A limited number of parking passes for Gobbler’s Knob are sold ahead of time on the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s website: groundhog.org.

Places to stay

Punxsutawney is about three hours east of Cleveland, and could be a day trip from Northeast Ohio. Sherry says the town is small and quaint, with everyone knowing each other. Travelers who have seen the “Groundhog Day” movie starring Bill Murray might be surprised by the rustic, down-to-earth atmosphere the city gives off. The movie was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, and is screened in Punxsutawney’s City Hall repeatedly during the holiday weekend.

Since celebrations start on Groundhog Day Eve, with a number of events including a gala, talent show and other activities, Sherry suggests making reservations months, even years, in advance. Start planning for Groundhog Day 2025 now if you want to connect with other “Phil Phans” from around the world. It will be hard to find a place to stay in Punxsutawney for the 2024 holiday.

The Shadow Hotel, previously known as the Pantall Hotel, is expected to open in January 2025 after undergoing renovations since 2023. The hotel is located in downtown Punxsutawney, overlooking Barclay Square and the city’s library, where a year-round exhibit on Phil is located. If The Shadow is booked, there are a number of hotels and AirBnbs just outside of town. The Plantation Bed and Breakfast is located about two miles south of downtown Punxsutawney, making it easy to travel to the city and Gobbler’s Knob.

Phil's Burrow

Punxsutawney Phil lives in his burrow, which is located inside the city’s library adjacent to Barclay Square.Provided by Darren Sherry

Groundhog Day grub

Punxsutawney offers a number of local, family-owned eateries for visitors to enjoy. Sherry suggests tourists stop at Punxy Phil’s Family Restaurant, a diner located downtown and decorated in honor of the city’s favorite weatherman. He said the walls are decorated with murals of groundhogs cooking up the restaurant’s famous pancakes.

“People don’t really come to Punxy for fine dining, but the food is good and the people are kind and hard-working,” Sherry said.

He said one of his favorite spots in his hometown is the Sarah L. Defelice Pizza House, a family-owned, cash-only pizza shop serving simple slices that he describes as “a delicacy.” He also suggests The Burrow, which serves up bar food, salads, wraps and more downtown.

Touring the town

Punxsutawney is known as the “weather capital of the world” thanks to Phil, which is why visitors should check out the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center to learn about thunderstorms, tornadoes and forecasting with hands-on exhibits. Sherry, a retired teacher who taught at Punxsutawney Elementary School, said it is a staple field trip for families in the area as well as visitors.

It shouldn’t be hard to find Phil in Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day weekend, but his burrow is located inside the library across the street from Barclay Square, which will have live entertainment, food trucks, artists, vendors and more during the holiday weekend.

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