Hey Historical Adventurers,
After teaching a photography workshop in Delaware, I had a morning to do some exploring. Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania was nearby and I was excited to visit this famous site from the U.S. Revolutionary War.
It was a cold winter day. The falling snow of January made my tour more humbling, knowing the troops weathered the snow as they continued the fight for America's freedom.
I made my way along the Encampment Tour to capture photos of the landscapes and found it to be super family friendly. Did I mention it's free?
The best place to start is in the Visitor Center. I read what life was like for the continental army in the winter of 1777-1778. They even had a musket I could lift to feel just how heavy it was.
The Visitor Center is a great place to learn about the encampment, lodging, food, clothing, supplies and the people who were determined to persevere for America. There is a short video that runs every 30 minutes, but I wasn't able to watch it because of my limited time.
There is a bike rental place near the parking lot of the Visitor Center. The rental shop was closed – probably because it was winter time – but I think it would be a great family activity to bike along the J.P. Martin Trail around Valley Forge.
The Encampment Tour
The Encampment Tour is the driving or bicycling route visitors to Valley Forge can take to see the important sites from the encampment of George Washington's Army during the Revolutionary War. It took me about three hours to drive, including stops, but I would have enjoyed a few hours more.
My first stop was the reconstructed army huts of General Muhlenberg's brigade. Each hut offered a glimpse into the lives of the soldiers. One had two beds with dining table, writing desk and fireplace. Another cabin was dedicated to sleeping.
I was able to lay down on one of the bunk beds and imagine my kids would've enjoyed doing the same.
I checked out two cannons and other features near the huts. Then I drove along the North Outer Line Drive to the National Memorial Arch and recommend stopping to explore the arch close up to read the inscriptions and take some photos.
Along the route toward Washington's Headquarters, there are multiple monuments. The Pennsylvania Columns, Wayne's Woods and Wayne Statue offer some added history to the tour.
I saw a picturesque covered bridge off to the left side of the road shortly after Knox's Quarters. I didn't drive across it, but you can turn onto Yellow Springs Road and make a U-turn further down the road to return back to the encampment tour.
Washington's Headquarters had a lot to offer. The parking lot is a little bit of a walk to the sites, but I enjoyed getting out of the car once again. There is a train station with historic Valley Forge displays inside, but I was interested in checking out Washington's Headquarters.
The downside… the building isn't open on weekdays in December through February, so I was only able to explore the exterior. I found some nice photo ops, but I would've enjoyed seeing the inside and walking where General Washington walked.
The tour continued over the river and through the woods. There were a few monuments off the side of the road, but I didn't have time to check them out. I noted some redoubts – which are a type of defensive earthwork used to secure the camps from the red coats – along the way as well.
Artillery Park, which is tour stop #7, is something I am sure my kids would've loved to check out. There were a lot of cannons you can check out, and what kid doesn't love cannons?
Wrapping Up the Tour
The Encampment Tour had three major remaining stops. I passed by the Steuben Statue and Varnum's Quarters because of my limited time. I made a stop at the Washington Memorial Chapel.
Inside the chapel is the Justice Bell, a memorial wall honoring soldiers and some beautiful stained glass windows. The chapel is an active Episcopal parish.
I noticed signs for a gift shop behind the chapel. I later learned it was a great place to each lunch, but I had to head to my next destination before catching my flight back to Utah.
Good to Know
Where: The park is conveniently located off of U.S. Route 422. The main entrance to the park is at the intersection of State Route 23 and North Gulph Road. It's accessible from Exit 326 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. On Interstate I-76, take Route 422 West to Route 23 West/Valley Forge. Or, from State Route 252, take State Route 23 East.
When: The park is open year-round from 7 a.m. to 30 minutes after sunset. The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but extends to 6 p.m. mid-June through mid-August. The Park Theater plays every 30 minutes with the first showing at 9:30 am and the last showing at 4:30 pm. Washington's Headquarters is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Park buildings are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
How much: Entrance to the park is free.
How long: I made it through the park in about three hours. I could've spent upwards of five hours exploring everything the park had to offer. If I make it back there with the family, we would likely dedicate a full day and explore it via bikes.
Amenities: Visitor Center, multiple gift shops, rest stops and picnic areas. The area surrounding the park has multiple options for food and fuel.