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What Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA is REALLY like

Have you ever watched the movie Groundhog Day and wondered what it would really be like to go and experience the festivities yourself?n (If you’ve never seen this movie, I just dont understand your life choices.)

I went and did it all and here is the real deal- fair warning- better put your booties on ‘cause its cold out there-what is this Miami Beach? Not Hardly!

Getting to Punxsutawney, or Punxy, as the locals call it, takes a bit of effort.  It is easiest to fly to Pittsburgh and rent a car and drive.  Philly  is also an option.  From Pittsburgh, its almost a two hour drive, some interstate and some country highways to Punxy.  Be sure to rent a car with 4 wheel drive, as this is February and there is sure to be snow and ice on the ground.

The drive is actually really pretty, the Pennsylvania countryside is gorgeous, with frozen lakes and snow capped hillsides.  It is also home to Amish country and you are sure to see horse drawn carriages on the roads (so watch your speed).

We managed to get a reservation at the Cobblestone Inn and Suites, which had to be made over a year in advance.  Some of the rooms at the bed and breakfasts on Barclay Square book up years in advance. This is not an event that you can plan last minute if you want to stay anywhere around Punxy.  Also, beware, rooms are VERY expensive, more so than the Super Bowl.  For Real.  The Cobblestone is probably the nicest place in town, and best of all it has a bar. ?  However, the Four Seasons it is not.  Think more on the scale of a Best Western, but would still recommend it.

The town of Punxsutawney is tiny.  You can walk around the entire town in 30 minutes.  FYI, the movie Groundhog Day was not filmed here.  It was actually filmed somewhere in Illinois.  Every resident will tell you this repeatedly.  When walking you can see highlights like Barclay Square, Phil’s Burrow, and several gift shops for assorted groundhog paraphernalia.  Yes, I came home with some Pilsner glasses, a t shirt, and a furry groundhog hat (don’t ask).

The night before the big day, we got tickets to the Groundhog Banquet.  (Note: You must be a member of the club to purchase these, and membership costs $15)  The banquet took place in the high school gym and was a spaghetti buffet.   It was long and booze free.  Skip it and get some sleep for in the morning.  We did get to meet John Ratzenburger (Cliff Claven from Cheers) though.  Every weather channel and semi-famous weather reporter will be at the dinner and in town for the event.

The actual Groundhog Day prognostication (do not call it a prediction here) is held at Gobblers’ Knob.  It’s really difficult to drive your own car to Gobblers’ Knob, and there is virtually no parking.  There are a series of shuttles out to the field where the events are held, starting at 3am.  Everyone told us we needed to be on the first shuttle out to the field at 3am.  DO NOT DO THIS.

We got up at 2am, got ready, stood in line for the shuttle by the Wal-Mart.  It was about 15 degrees, snowing off and on with biting wind.  After an approximately 15 minute ride, we arrived at Gobblers Knob.  It was pitch dark and freezing cold. Gobbler’s Knob is a large field with a stage, a bonfire off to the side, a few restrooms, and a hut selling coffee and donuts.  There is some live music playing on the stage, but there is absolutely no where to sit.  If you have problems standing for long periods then this is probably not the event for you.  If you want a coffee, you have to wait in the line first to buy a token, then wait in line to buy the coffee.  It was utterly freezing, with a hundred people huddling around the fire for hours.  It was pretty miserable.  Punxsutawney has been holding this event for a long time, it seems like they would have perfected it by now. There is a lot room for improvement.

Take the later bus!  Nothing happens until around 6:30am when there is a fireworks show, then about 7:15am the lead up and the prognostications take place.  The people who get there at 3am have the best chance to get the first rows.  I would only suggest the early bus for the people who think their life will not be complete without being in the first 3 rows.

There are literally thousands of people.  I think they said 7,000 people came our year.  People bring signs, they sing with the band, and start cheers for spring.  The actual prognostication is actually kind of funny.  They first introduce all the senior Groundhog Club members who show up in their top hat and tails and talk about the history of Groundhog Day and what it means.  When they actually go to get Phil the Groundhog, he’s asleep and didn’t want to get out because it was so cold.  Tough to blame him.   His handler had to put on a thick chain metal glove on to pull him out because apparently ol’ Phil is a biter.

The prognostication event took about 20-30 minutes in total.  As soon as the actual proclamation is read, there is a mad dash for the buses that return to town.  Prepare accordingly

We channeled our inner football players and muscled our way on to the first shuttle back, and were back in our rooms by 830am.  After a couple hour power nap, we had the whole rest of the day- what to do? Go to Hershey, Pennsylvania and tour the chocolate factory of course!!

The Hershey Factory was about 2.5 hours away, and during February the theme park is closed but the chocolate factory is still open and best of all its free!!!  We did pay $15 to make our own custom (huge!) chocolate bar in their lab.  This was fun, highly recommend!  The chocolate tour was a ride that included free samples (?), there is a huge shop with lots of unusual things you can only find there and an amazing food court and bakery.  This was totally the highlight of the trip.

Takeways and tips:

– I think I had some unrealistic expectations, but know that it will not be like the movie at all.

– It will be so f’ing cold.

– The field is muddy, so wear boots.

– Do not take the first shuttle at 3am unless it is your life’s mission stand in the front row.

– Go to the Hershey Factory!

– Drive the country roads and enjoy the beauty.


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