Pennsylvania : Safety by City
- Kennett Square
Welcome to Altoona, Pennsylvania, a city with a fascinating story etched in steel and a spirit fueled by innovation!
Nestled in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains, Altoona boasts a rich history intertwined with the iron horse.
Founded in 1849 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, Altoona wasn’t just any town; it was the beating heart of American transportation.
The iconic Horseshoe Curve, a marvel of engineering, helped conquer the steep Allegheny slopes, solidifying Altoona’s role as a crucial railroad hub.
At its peak, the city’s workshops employed over 16,500 people, building and maintaining locomotives that kept the nation moving.
This industrial legacy is still visible today in the city’s architecture and museums.
While the golden age of steam may have passed, Altoona’s spirit endures.
With a current population of around 44,000, the city has reinvented itself as a center for education, healthcare, and the arts.
Penn State Altoona and the Blair County Arts Foundation add vibrancy to the community, while the Juniata Locomotive Shop stands as a testament to the city’s past, housing a fascinating railroad museum.
Altoona is surprisingly close to Pittsburgh, just a scenic 70-mile drive away.
The city, like many industrial towns in the northeast, is trying to reinvent itself in the 2020s.
With one in five people living in poverty, thousands of condemned buildings, and a population that is shrinking, the city created a new comprehensive plan to bring residents and tourists back.
However, Altoona is a great spot in the Allegheny Mountains, with plenty of small towns nearby that expand the footprint of things to do.
Warnings & Dangers in Altoona
OVERALL RISK: LOW
The overall risk here is low, but that is to say, it's average. Despite many people saying this is a "boring" town, there's actually a lot to do, especially if you like railroads and history.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
AMTRAN is the public transportation system here, and the Amtrak trains also come through Altoona. Taxis, rideshares, and rental cars are easy to find. All risks are low.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
With just 2-3 pickpockets or purse snatchings a year, the risk is low. You don't want to let your guard down, but you can rest easy knowing there isn't a rash of thefts happening.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
Altoona has a low risk, but don't let that stop you from checking the weather. It can flood here, and tornadoes are possible with severe storms. Winter weather can bring ice, snow, or dangerously cold winds. However, the seasons can also be calm and mild. It's the unpredictability that makes it worth keeping an eye on.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
This is a low risk with a robbery rate of about half the national average. I still want to stress that you shouldn't walk around at night or wear valuables.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
Another low risk here, with cities like Pittsburg or Philadelphia much larger and more likely to be a target. However, gun crimes and domestic terrorism can happen anywhere. The best thing you can do is report suspicious activity.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Check out the signs of scams through the FTC website. Most of the scams reported here are run-of-the-mill and target local people.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
Women should have no greater risk than anyone else but keep basic safety practices in place. If you're going on a trip throughout the county or to a wilderness area, always let someone know where you're going and when you plan to return.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2022 Water Quality Report shows 3,000 tests were done over the year, and no violations occurred. That's a low risk. You should ask at your hotel if you'll need to leave a facet dripping when temperatures are below freezing.
Safest Places to Visit in Altoona
“Explore Altoona” is the name of the tourism website.
You can get a travel guide, but you’ll have to give personal information for it to be sent to you.
Look at the “Itineraries” to find specific lists of activities based on your interests.
Dive into the fascinating world of trains and railroading history at the Railroaders Memorial Museum, exploring exhibits on locomotives, workers’ lives, and the impact of this industry on Altoona.
There’s another railroad museum nearby, at the Portage Station Museum.
While I don’t want to ruin the tour for you, the Gallitzin Tunnels in Altoona hold a special place in railroad history and are considered a “must-see” attraction.
A Quaint Corner Children’s Museum & Discovery Center will spark your little ones’ imagination with interactive exhibits, play areas, and engaging activities covering science, art, and more.
The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art is where you can embrace American artistic heritage through centuries, showcasing paintings, sculptures, and other mediums from the 18th to the 21st century.
Thrill yourself at the Lakemont Park classic amusement park, featuring coasters, family-friendly rides, arcade games, and live entertainment.
To cool off in the summer, just north of Altoona is DelGrosso’s Park & Laguna Splash Water Park.
Immerse yourself in Revolutionary War history at Fort Roberdeau!
Built-in 1778, this reconstructed frontier fort guarded a vital lead mine during the fight for independence.
Explore the stockade, officers’ quarters, and blacksmith shop, imagining musket fire and candlelit nights.
Hike scenic trails within 230 picturesque acres.
The Blair County Historical Society offers seasonal tours of Bakers Mansion, where a prominent family lived and almost went broke trying to get this mega-house built.
You can also do a virtual tour online to see if you want to visit in person.
If you like caves, two locations are close enough to Altoona for a day trip.
Check out Lincoln Caverns & Whisper Rock and Penns Cave & Wildlife Park.
Some other parks and nature areas nearby include:
- Allegheny Ridge Heritage Area
- Blue Knob All Season Resort
- Canoe Rocks State Park
- Chimney Rocks Park
Altoona is also 57 miles from the 9/11 Memorial in Shanksville, where Flight 93 went down on that ill-fated day.
You can take a bike ride there or drive.
If you want to bike, visit the 911trail.org website.
While I don’t mention food very often in these travel safety stories, I’ll bring it up when it warrants consideration.
Altoona has its own version of pizza.
It might be referred to as Altoona Hotel Pizza or Altoona Sicilian Pizza.
This pizza is on a thick dough, layered with toppings and then topped off with slices of American cheese.
The pizza is served in squares, not slices.
Places to Avoid in Altoona
The hardest part about this question is that Altoona can have several blocks of pleasant neighborhoods and then several blocks of blight.
No place in town is better or worse.
As is standard with many “average crime” cities, the higher crimes are in the busiest areas – meaning around the downtown.
You won’t need to go out of your way to avoid any location here, but it will help to use a mapping system for your destination so you don’t plan to stop for gas in a blighted area at night.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Altoona
- Altoona has its own police department. You can get in touch with them through Facebook @AltoonaPD, phone (814) 949-2490, or email email@example.com. Of course, use 911 for emergencies.
- The department posts annual reports online, which is a great way to review the challenges and successes of the previous year. It also gives a closer look at certain crimes, like drug offenses, that don’t make the standard crime statistic report.
- Check the emergency management section of Altoona’s city website. You can review the different emergency notification options or alert programs to stay informed about disasters, public safety threats, missing children, etc.
- Late winter and spring can cause potholes to appear on many roads. It would be awesome if you could help city crews get these fixed by calling 814-949-2447 to report it. I live in a place where a storm just caused dozens of new potholes, and the emergency crews are working so fast to fix them.
- Operation Our Town is a community initiative to stop drug crimes and reduce crime throughout Altoona. It’s easy to miss this resource if you aren’t looking for it. They do have a drug hotline set up where you can report suspected drug activity to 814-693-3020.
- 511 PA is the website and app you can use to check road conditions in and around Altoona. This is especially helpful if you’re driving to or from Pittsburg. Do not text and drive or use a mobile app while driving. It’s against the law here.
- The Pennsylvania Boat & Fish Commission issues fishing licenses, and you are required to carry the license with you at all times during an outing.
- During winter weather, the snow plow crews have certain roads that take priority. The public works department is transparent with where those roads are located, and you can find them on the city website. Bottom line – main streets take top priority all the way down to alleys, at the lowest priority. If you are staying at a hotel, they are responsible for clearing parking lots.
- If your car is snow-covered, take the time to remove all the snow – roof, trunk, side mirrors, etc. – not just the windshield. Those chunks of snow can blow off when you start driving and blind other drivers behind you.
- Speaking of drivers, Altoona has been ranked as having some of the worst in the state. Plus, the city isn’t designed well for pedestrians or bicyclists. That’s part of the comprehensive plan to fix it, but just use extra caution when crossing the street.
So... How Safe Is Altoona Really?
Altoona falls into an “average” safety category.
In fact, 2023 has a lower violent crime rate than any year going back to 2000.
The violent crime rate is also 3% lower than the state average and 31% lower than the national average.
Thefts are 15% lower than the national average, with 20% of those being car break-ins or accessory thefts.
An average of 1–2 cars are stolen each week.
Limit that risk by locking your car and using anti-theft devices.
The biggest challenge Altoona has for a visitor is blight.
While a recent survey of citizens says the city is rebounding, they commonly noted the blighted and condemned buildings.
“We would estimate that somewhere over 4,000 structures in the city showed visible signs from the exterior that there is some level of deferred maintenance and disinvestment,” Peter Lombardi, director of revitalization planning, said.
As the new comprehensive plan is put into place, you might see new businesses and entertainment districts.
It’s worth keeping an eye on Altoona, for sure.
How Does Altoona Compare?
|Belize City (Belize)
|La Paz (Bolivia)
US citizens don't require visas for domestic travel. International visitors should check visa requirements on the State Department website. You'll also need a passport that isn't within six months of expiring.
US dollars (USD) are the primary currency. Consider using ATMs or reputable currency exchange services, but your home bank will have the lowest fees. Credit cards are widely accepted.
You get the standard cold winter and warm summers here, with humidity in the summer. You'll want bug spray from spring through fall. Winters can vary from little snowfall to several major snowstorms.
The Altoona Blair County Airport has commercial flights through Contour Airlines, and Philadelphia is the only destination. The Pittsburgh International Airport is two hours west.
Comprehensive travel insurance just makes sense, considering how much it covers during accidents, emergencies, delays, and severe weather.
Altoona Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Pennsylvania - Safety by City