MONTCO Escape: 20 Must-See Sites and Scenes to Fully Experience Valley Forge National Historical Park

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Valley Forge National Park Entrance

Living in Montgomery County, one of the best gateways we have to the outdoors is Valley Forge National Historical Park. It’s practically in everyone’s backyards, and it’s full of history, monuments, trails, things to see and experience, even shop. Don’t miss these Valley Forge sites!

If you are visiting Valley Forge National Historical Park from afar, welcome! We are so glad you are here and ready to have fun at the Park visiting Valley Forge Sites.

As someone who knows the Park and has been here thousands of times, I can tell you with true authority the best places to see and experience in the park.  

Valley forge tourism visit montco

Come spend a couple of hours or a weekend at these Valley Forge sites, and you’ll learn about one of the most important places in our nation’s history.

Want to get to know Valley Forge? Stop in to see the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board team at the information desk at the Visitor Center, as well as checking out their website for fun and interesting places to go and things to do after you visit Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Visitor Center

Start your Valley Forge National Historical Park journey at the Visitor Center.

The original center, built in 1976, is currently undergoing renovations. There is a temporary center, offering visitor services, the Encampment Store, the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board information desk, public tour information, and the park orientation film.

The Visitor Information Station is accessible from the main Visitor Center Parking Lot, which is staffed by park employees Thursday through Monday, 10 AM to 4 PM, as of Spring 2021.

Valley Forge National Historical Park is open daily, year-round, from 7am to dark.

However, due to some current COVID-19 restrictions, the park is on a phased reopening schedule. Please check out the park’s website for official Park opening information.

If you can’t get to the Visitor Center, check out the Virtual Visitor Center.

Reenactors marching into Valley Forge in 2018. NPS_Dhunjisha
Reenactors marching into Valley Forge Park in 2018. Image via NPS, M. Dhunjisha.

Monuments and Encampments

Do you know what happened at Valley Forge in 1777-1778?

Valley Forge was the winter encampment of General George Washington’s Continental Army, fighting under his leadership while the British occupied Philadelphia.

Valley Forge, being a day’s march from Philadelphia, became an area that Washington deemed suitable for his army to train.

In December of 1777, over 12,000 soldiers, women, and children built a small diverse city, with log cabins and redoubts to fortify the encampment.

They encountered harsh winter storms and scant supplies. It was a test of their endurance and skills, and many people died, not in battle but due to sickness and hunger.  

Valley Forge Site reenactors.
Park reenactors, image via Facebook.

Tour the encampments* and Valley Forge Sites by driving, riding your bike, or walking, and via audio or cell phone guides. There are 9 stops on the tour (all mentioned below).

Muhlenberg Brigade

This historic site of a brigade encampment was led by General Peter Muhlenberg, with nine rebuilt soldiers’ log huts.

Nearby is a reconstructed redoubt, one of five earthen forts that helped anchor the defenses of Valley Forge.

Valley Forge’s living history program is frequently at this site, as rangers and volunteers dress in 18th Century attire and act out glimpses of life at the Muhlenberg Brigade Encampment.

These rangers programs show visitors about the area and the daily routine of the soldiers camping at Valley Forge.

National Memorial Arch

National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge Park
National Memorial Arch.

The Valley Forge Park Commission developed a plan in 1907 to erect an arch commemorating the sacrifices of General George Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge during the American Revolution.

It was designed by Paul Philippe Cret and funds were approved by the House of Representatives in 1911.

Construction began in 1914 and dedication ceremonies were conducted on June 19, 1917. It is a must-see for your visit to the Park, along with other Valley Forge sites.

Anthony Wayne Monument

General Anthony Wayne Statue in Valley Forge National Park
General Anthony Wayne Statue.

This large bronze statue of Anthony Wayne faces towards Wayne’s Chester County home still standing 7 miles away in Paoli. The house is named Waynesborough, now known as the Gen. Anthony Wayne House and is a historic house museum.

The pink granite base features Brigadier General Wayne on horseback, highlighting his role in the military. The opposite side of the pedestal lists the many roles that Wayne served during his 20-year military career.

Washington’s Headquarters

Washington Headquarters in Valley Forge Park
Washington Headquarters.

Washington’s Headquarters is also known as the Isaac Potts House.

It was the structure used by General George Washington and his household during the 1777-1778 encampment of the Continental Army at Valley Forge.

You can tour inside the home of General Washington and his staff during the encampment. This is one of my favorite places in the entire park. This two-story house is recreated and furnished to look just like it did when Washington slept here.

Explore the nearby Train Station museum and exhibits, located adjacent to Washington’s Headquarters.

A family walks toward Valley Forge Train Station in Valley Forge park
A family walks toward Valley Forge Train Station in the Park.

The track outside is still in service and you may see a train come rolling by!

Redoubt 3

Do you know what a Redoubt is? The Valley Forge encampment used them to fortify the area, building these rounded earthen fortifications that look like small hills.

Redoubt 3 is the site of a partially reconstructed earthworks fortification originally constructed by Continental troops during the Valley Forge encampment and designed to help defend the camp from any potential attacks.

Artillery Park

In a central location, Artillery Park was used during the encampment to keep cannons at the ready in case of a British attack—which never happened.

Steuben Statue

Be sure to see the statue of Major General Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand de Steuben, known as Baron von Steuben. Von Steuben taught the Valley Forge encampment soldiers military skills and how to fight as a unified army.

Patriots of African Descent Monument, image by Wally Gobetz via Flickr.

These new skills and procedures in supply systems and fighting tactics, as well as improvements in military hygiene and army organization, became the foundation of the modern United States Army.

Below the statue is a wide expanse of fields, known as the Grand Parade. Much of the training done by General von Steuben, like learning to defensive formations and marching, took place in this open area.

Patriots of African Descent Monument 

Delta Sigma Theta, the largest sorority for African American women in the world, along with the Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter (formed here in 1991) and Martha Russell (a founding member) initiated meetings with the Park to propose a monument to African Americans in the Revolution.

Fundraising began and the historical marker was erected in 1993 commemorating the estimated 9,000 soldiers of African Descent who served during the Revolution, including the encampment at Valley Forge.

Washington Memorial Chapel

Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge Chapel.

Located on Route 23 as visitors drive through the Park, this Gothic Revival Chapel sits on private land apart from the Park and was built between 1903 to 1917 in tribute to General George Washington and soldiers of the Continental Army.

It is stop number 9 on the Encampment Tour, so be sure to spend time in this gorgeous chapel.

The impressive bell tower next to the chapel is home to a Liberty Bell replica, known as the Justice Bell. No crack in this bell, though!

The Justice Bell helped to promote the cause for women’s suffrage in the United States from 1915 through 1920. Suffragist Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger commissioned the Justice Bell in 1915.

The bell went on a 5,000-mile tour in 1915 to raise awareness for the vote for women, visiting all through Pennsylvania on the back of a truck. The bell’s clapper was chained to the bell’s side, symbolizing how women were being suppressed by being unable to vote.

The Bell Tower and the Carillon are living memorials dedicated to the memory of General George Washington and completed in 1953.

The Washington Memorial Chapel offers special concerts, reenactments, and guest speakers throughout the year. 

Atop the Bell Tower are a collection of bells, known as the Washington Memorial National Carillon, with 58 bronze bells. The collection began with 14 bells to represent the thirteen colonies and one for the ‘National Birthday’ with a star and the name of each state in the Union.

Don’t miss the summer concert series, offering live music and summer carillon concert performers each week.

There’s parking next to the chapel, as well as being open to the public and has access to the nearby Valley Forge sites, biking, and hiking trails. It is wheelchair accessible and near the Chapel Cabin Shop and restrooms.

The Chapel Cabin Shop is located in a rustic, historic log cabin, offering unique Revolutionary and Colonial-themed souvenirs, artwork, Byer’s Choice caroler figurines, pewter, and homemade baked goods and candies, as well as special Colonial toys, books, and other fun and memorable items.

Get a hot dog and try the shoo-fly pie. This little cabin is the park’s best-kept secret, and the only place in the park where a visitor can buy food and drink.

Red Shouldered Hawk Valley Forge Park
Red-Shouldered Hawk perching in the Park.
Image via Facebook.

Bird Walks

The Park is home to a great many species of birds, serving as a refuge for many birds.

Bring your binoculars and check out the forests, wetlands, and meadows.

Over 227 species of birds have been observed within the park; find them on the Valley Forge Bird Checklist.

Biking Trails

There are almost 20 miles of authorized biking trails in the park.

On the north side of the park across the Schuylkill River, two miles of the paved Schuylkill River Trail (the SRT) runs through the park, with connections to sites and trails in Montgomery County and Philadelphia.

Biking is allowed on all open park roads as well as some flat, unpaved trails.

Route 23 runs through the park, connecting Chester County to Montgomery County, but I suggest you ride your bike on the trails, not the road, and be aware of other bikers and hikers.

You may see some PA wildlife like deer, and you’ll definitely enjoy gorgeous views.

Many of these trails are walkable as well, ranging from challenging to easy.

Want to rent a bike? See the Visitor Center bike rentals for more information.

Hiking/Walking/Running Trails

A runner jogging the trail in Valley Forge National Park
A runner jogging on one of the 36 miles of trails crisscrossing Valley Forge National Park

Valley Forge Park offers 35 miles of designated and marked hiking trails.

Try the footpaths along the easier and flatter River and Valley Creek trails, and the hilly trails on Mount Joy and Mount Misery.

Check out the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail (also called the Loop to locals, about 5 miles), which connects key historic sites within the park. The trail is great for runners, walkers, and cyclists.

The 140-mile Horseshoe Trail begins near Washington’s Headquarters and runs to the Appalachian Trail north of Harrisburg, perfect for horseback riding or hiking.

Hiking is allowed in most open Valley Forge sites of the park, and if you bring your pets, please keep them leashed.

Bridges

Knox Covered Bridge

On the east side of the park, you’ll find the iconic Knox Covered Bridge on Yellow Springs Road. This historic wooden, covered bridge was built in 1865 and spans Valley Creek.

Sullivan Bridge in Valley Forge Park
Sullivan Bridge in Valley Forge Park.
Image via Facebook.

Sullivan Bridge

This trail bridge is named in honor of General John Sullivan.

He was charged by George Washington to build a bridge over the Schuylkill River during the Valley Forge encampment in 1777.

It connects the Schuylkill River Trail to Valley Forge National Park, replacing an old wooden structure and part of US 422.

Homes Within the Park

Maxwell’s Quarters

The Philander Chase Knox home belonged to Brigadier General William Maxwell, who was the Commander of the New Jersey Brigade. He established his headquarters around here during the Valley Forge encampment in 1777. The property changed hands a few times, finally bought by U.S. Attorney General Philander Chase Knox, who served as Attorney General under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

Serving as a weekend retreat from Washington DC, Knox then retired in 1913 and changed the look of the house from a Queen Ann style to the Colonial Revival you can see today. The house was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and became a part of Valley Forge State Park in 1965.

Varnum’s Quarters

When General James Varnum arrived in Valley Forge in 1777, he brought with him troops from his home state of Rhode Island and also Connecticut. He took up residence in a small stone farmhouse owned by David Stephens. It has been fully restored and furnished to how it looked during Varnum’s time here. The house is open for tours during summer weekends.

Picnic Areas

Bring your own picnic and enjoy a moment in the Park. There are three designated picnic areas that provide picnic tables. Please be mindful of trash and recycling and dispose of your trash in the correct areas at these Valley Forge sites.

Varnum’s Picnic Area

Located off of Route 23, Varnum’s Picnic Area sits between the Visitor Center and Washington’s Headquarters and is in close proximity to the von Steuben Statue and Varnum’s Quarters (which is Tour Stop 8 on The Encampment Tour). Varnum’s Picnic Area is open from March through October.

Wayne’s Woods Picnic Area

Wayne’s Woods picnic spot is located along The Encampment Tour route, and in between the National Memorial Arch and the General Anthony Wayne Statue (tour stops 3 and 4 respectively).

It’s on South Outer Line Drive, which opens up to a large field with the National Memorial Arch in the background. Wayne’s Woods Picnic Area is open year-round. People like to ride their horses or fly kites, even shot mini rockets from this field.

Betzwood Picnic Area

Located on the north side of the Park, the Betzwood Picnic Area is the only picnic area that provides grills. There’s access to the River Trail, Regional Schuylkill River Trail, and the boat launch to the Schuylkill River. The Betzwood Picnic Area is open year-round.

Schuylkill River

Schuylkill is a word meaning hidden river, or slow-moving river, depending which definition you discover. The way you pronounce it is SkoooKILL.

The Schuylkill River runs through the park and is Valley Forge’s major water source. It was the first river in Pennsylvania to be designated as a Pennsylvania Scenic River.

montgomery county tourism

Approximately three miles of the river flow easterly through the center of Valley Forge National Historical Park, along its 130 miles distance.

While there are many places to visit within the park, as well as picnic areas, there are no camping or sleeping areas with the Valley Forge National Historical Park.

If an overnight stay is in your itinerary, check out these local hotels.

There’s also a downloadable app from Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board that shows you other historic destinations and Valley Forge Sites to visit in and around Valley Forge Park.

Resources:

  • Wikipedia
  • National Park System for Valley Forge National Historical Park

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