Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

Gettysburg National Military Park

Overview

The turning point of the Civil War undoubtedly occurred on July 3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, especially when considered in combination with the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  After the Confederate invasion of the North was repulsed at Antietam, the next year General Robert E. Lee led 75,000 troops into Pennsylvania to face 88,289 Union soldiers.  After three days of fighting, there were 51,000 men killed, wounded, or missing; the most of any battle on American soil.  It can take more than one full day to visit Gettysburg National Military Park, especially if you add on a bus tour to neighboring Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Highlights

Museum, film, Cyclorama painting, driving tour, David Wills House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

It is free to take the 24-mile long driving tour, but an admission fee is charged for the museum (opened in 2008) that covers the entire Civil War, including Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  You should also consider watching the excellent 45-minute film A New Birth of Freedom (narrated by Morgan Freeman) and viewing the audio-visual program for the Cyclorama (a 377×42-foot original oil painting on a round canvas that depicts Pickett’s Charge of July 3, 1863).  Commercial bus tours are available and you can also hire a licensed guide to ride in your car and provide a personal two-hour tour past the 1,300 monuments and memorials where so many men gave “the last full measure.”

Best Trail

If you have read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, you will want to get out of your car and walk around Little Round Top, which overlooks the infamous Devil’s Den, Peach Orchard, and Wheatfield.  The High Water Mark Trail and Soldiers’ National Cemetery Trail are each about one mile in length.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This site is perhaps best known for President Lincoln’s 272-word Gettysburg Address, which he gave in two minutes following a two-hour speech by Edward Everett.  Newspaper reviews from the next day were not favorable for the President.

Peak Season

Summer, though it was very busy even on a weekday in October 2016.

Hours

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

Fees

Free driving tour, $15 per adult for films and museum (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There a numerous private campgrounds around Gettysburg, and the National Park Service’s Catoctin Mountain Park is only 20 miles away, as are Caledonia and Corodus State Parks.

Related Sites

Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

Eisenhower National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

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Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Overview

In Hopewell, Pennsylvania, the proximity of iron ore, limestone, and charcoal led to this iron furnace’s success from 1771 to 1883.  It also needed water from French Creek to run the air blast machinery allowing the furnace to reach smelting temperature.  During the American Revolution, it produced cannon, shot, and shells for the Continental Navy.  The 848-acre National Historic Site was authorized in 1938, making it one of the oldest in the nation.

Highlights

Anthracite furnace, film, cast house, tenant houses, ironmaster’s mansion, Bethesda Church

Must-Do Activity

Start with the short film at the visitor center, then take the self-guided walk through the “iron plantation.”  Though the cold-blast charcoal process became outdated by 1883, the original furnace is still used each summer to produce aluminum products.  Other costumed interpreters depict village life from late June to Labor Day.  In September and October, visitors can pick 30 varieties of apples in the orchards for a small fee, similar to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

Best Trail

The site’s 12 miles of forested trails also connect into the neighboring French Creek State Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the cast house, moulders cast molten iron into stove plates, cannonballs, and other products.

Peak Season

Summer and apple picking season

Hours

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

Fees

None, but “you pick” apples cost $1 per pound

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved

Camping

French Creek State Park has more than 200 campsites with access to running water and showers.

Related Sites

Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

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Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River

Overview

Authorized in 1978, this 73-mile stretch of the Upper Delaware River is the longest free-flowing river in the northeast United States.  Forming the Pennsylvania-New York borderline, only 30 of its 55,575 acres are federally owned.  Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River is one of 43 designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers, 10 of which are managed by the National Park Service (NPS).

Highlights

Zane Grey Museum, Roebling Aqueduct, fishing

Must-Do Activity

The Upper Delaware River is famous for year-round bald eagle viewing, Class I and II whitewater rafting, and fishing for smallmouth bass and walleye.  The NPS runs the Zane Grey Museum, which celebrates the “Father of the Western Novel” who lived in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania from 1905 to 1918 and loved fishing here (and throughout his worldwide travels).  It was in this house that the former dentist (Zane Grey) wrote many articles about his outdoor adventures, as well as his novels, including Riders of the Purple Sage (published in 1912).

Best Trail

There are six trails you are required to complete in order to earn your Upper Delaware Hikes patch from the NPS, ranging in length from the quarter-mile Minisink Battleground (Revolutionary War) to the three-mile Tusten Mountain Trail, which provides an excellent view of the river valley.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Within eyeshot of the Zane Grey Museum, the Roebling Aqueduct operated between 1848 and 1898 to allowed coal-laden canal boats to cross over the Upper Delaware River.  Its architect is better known for the Brooklyn Bridge, but this aqueduct was converted to a one-lane car bridge before being purchased by the NPS in 1980.

Peak Season

Spring through fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major roads paved, with Highway 97 in New York following the river for most of its length.

Camping

There are no NPS campgrounds, but many private ones along the Upper Delaware River.

Related Sites

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania-New Jersey)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

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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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