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Valley Forge National Historical Park

Overview

The winter of 1777-78 was actually mild by Pennsylvania standards, but for 12,000 poorly-clothed rebels it was hard enough.  Following a retreat from Philadelphia, General George Washington’s army arrived at Valley Forge on December 19 to keep British soldiers from scouring the countryside for winter provisions.  Soldiers quickly set about building log cabins and cutting firewood, establishing the fourth-largest city in the colonies. 

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed cabins, National Memorial Arch, Washington’s headquarters

Must-Do Activity

The Encampment Tour is a 10-mile driving route that takes you to reconstructed cabins, earthwork redoubts, and General George Washington’s headquarters which contains 80% original artifacts.  Primarily due to a lack of food and hygiene, approximately 2,500 soldiers died at Valley Forge, many from typhus, influenza, and pneumonia.  This represented about 7% of the army’s total fatalities during the Revolutionary War.  Those that survived the hardships became an elite fighting force; however, many of them would spend the remaining years of the war waiting for orders that never came to attack British-held New York City. 

Best Trail

A paved trail follows much of the driving tour route and is popular with joggers and bikers.  The Schuylkill River Trail goes all the way from Valley Forge to Philadelphia.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The National Memorial Arch was dedicated in 1917, one more reason this beautiful park is frequented by local joggers.

Peak Season

Summer.  Although it would be more authentic, you may not want to visit this park during the cold and snowy winter months.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/vafo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but freeway traffic in this Philadelphia suburb can be congested during rush hour.

Camping

French Creek State Park (next to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site) offers a campground 25 miles northwest of Valley Forge National Historical Park.

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Independence National Historical Park

Overview

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is home to Independence National Historical Park, one of the most popular units in the National Park Service (NPS) System with approximately 5-million visitors annually.  The “City of Brotherly Love” was the site of many important moments before, during, and after the American Revolution.  Independence Hall is a World Heritage Site where the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776 and the U.S. Constitution was created in 1787. 

Highlights

Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, City Tavern, Carpenters’ Hall, Ben Franklin’s grave

Must-Do Activity

We do not recommend watching the two films at the NPS visitor center, but plan to arrive early as the free timed tickets to tour Independence Hall are all claimed first thing each morning.  It is free to enter the Liberty Bell Center to see the famous cracked bell.  While waiting in the security screening line, you will be on the grounds of the house used by the country’s first two presidents, Washington and Adams.  Less busy is Carpenters’ Hall, where the First Continental Congress met in 1774.  Nearby non-NPS sites include the National Constitution Center, Benjamin Franklin Museum, and new Museum of the American Revolution, all of which charge an admission fee. 

Best Trail

Walk the streets of Philadelphia past Ben Franklin’s grave, Betsy Ross’ house, the reconstructed City Tavern (where you can grab a bite to eat), and the Todd House (the home of Dolley Madison and her first husband).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Less iconic than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, Washington Square is a small park that contains to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except for parking (there is an underground parking garage at the NPS visitor center) and visiting some museums and historic buildings (like Betsy Ross’ house).

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but street parking is limited.

Camping

None in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but there are options in its suburbs.

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Minute Man National Historical Park

Overview

The events that occurred at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 were immortalized by Ralph Waldo Emerson as “the shot heard round the world.”  First of all, a “Minute Man” was a colonial militiaman who was always ready to fight at a minute’s notice.  Secondly, when the colonial militia fired upon British troops at North Bridge, it was considered an act of treason against the Crown and truly started the Revolutionary War at a time when the majority of colonists did not want independence. 

Highlights

Films, Hartwell Tavern, North Bridge, the Wayside, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Must-Do Activity

If your memory on what exactly happened here is a bit foggy, start with the multimedia presentation at either of two National Park Service (NPS) visitor centers, located in the suburbs west of Boston.  At Lexington, you will learn the true story of how Paul Revere’s ride ended early when he was captured by British soldiers and that he did not mention redcoats, instead yelling “the Regulars are coming out!”  At Concord, you will learn about “the shot heard round the world.” 

Best Trail

Battle Road Trail stretches 5 miles between Fiske Hill in Lexington to Meriam’s Corner in Concord, and is open to bicycles.  It passes many historic sites, including Hartwell Tavern.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We recommend a walk up Author’s Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  The graves of famous local writers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, are located here.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

Hours for the many historic buildings vary and most are not open every day of the week.

https://www.nps.gov/mima/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except at some historic buildings (like the Wayside) which require guided tours.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Harold Parker State Forest (28 miles northeast) has campsites with running water. There is no camping at Walden Pond State Reservation.

Explore More – Which famous authors once resided at the Wayside in Concord, Massachusetts?

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Overview

This site in Deer Lodge, Montana commemorates the late-1800s lifestyle of cattle barons and cowboys.  In 1866, Conrad Kohrs bought this ranch from Johnny Grant and went on to amass a huge cattle herd that grazed across 10-million acres of public land from Colorado to Canada.  Today this remains a working ranch with the sounds and smells of horses, cattle, and poultry.

Highlights

Working cattle ranch, living history demonstrations

Must-Do Activity

There is no admission fee and a free guided tour is offered inside the large ranch house originally built by Johnny Grant in 1862, with a brick addition doubling its size in 1890.  After the tour, you can practice your roping skills on cattle dummies.  Be sure to stop by the blacksmith shop to ask the volunteer there about all the different types of horseshoes on display.  Inside the Buggy Shed you can see the elaborate harnesses once used on the huge Belgian draft horses that still work here at the ranch.

Best Trail

You step back into the 1800s when you walk the quarter-mile trail from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center to the Grant-Kohrs Ranch.  A self-guided walking tour enters 15 buildings with displays on the history of cowboys, barbwire, branding irons, and so much more.  There are a total of 7 miles of walking paths on the property, including a nature trail along Cottonwood Creek.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you explore, keep your eye out for livestock and cowboys on horseback.  It was calving season for the Herefords when we visited in mid-May.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/grko/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Entrance road is paved

Camping

There are private campgrounds in Deer Lodge, Montana, and Lost Creek state Park offers a primitive campground 25 miles away.

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Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

Overview

Rather than blast a canal through the mountains, this unique railroad carried sectioned canal boats 36 miles up and over the Alleghenies on a series of 10 inclined planes run by stationary steam engines.  It only ran between 1834 and 1854 before becoming obsolete when the Pennsylvania Railroad provided continuous service to the Ohio River Valley.

Highlights

Museum, film, Engine House 6, Lemon House, Skew Arch Bridge

Must-Do Activity

After watching the film in the visitor center, follow the boardwalk through a stone quarry to Engine House 6 Exhibit Building to see a life-sized model of a stationary steam engine and its cable system.  Continue on to Lemon House on Cresson Summit, built around 1832 to serve as a home and tavern. 

Best Trail

From the Engine House 6 Exhibit Building, you can walk a trail through the forest or the mowed incline less than half a mile down to Skew Arch Bridge, or you can drive there.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Skew Arch Bridge was the only road bridge purposely built along the portage.  The “skew” comes in because in 1833 the bridge design was changed to accommodate a bend in the Huntington, Cambria, and Indiana Turnpike Road.  The arch is 22 feet tall and demonstrates the excellence of stone masonry at the time as it was built without mortar.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/alpo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Prince Gallitzin State Park offers a campground with showers 20 miles northwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

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