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Highlights of Valley Forge National Historical Park: A Pennsylvania Family Day Trip!

Updated on November 5, 2014

Site of the Winter Encampment that Forged the American Revolution's Continental Army!

George Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge, a national historical park in Pennsylvania, is a great place for a family to visit.

The park was the site of the 1777-78 winter encampment of the Continental Army fighting against the British in the American Revolution. Located just northwest of Philadelphia, the park is a great place to learn some American history or just simply enjoy the day outdoors. In fact, there seemed to be as many joggers, bikers and people on picnics when we were there as there were people seeing the historical exhibits!

Entrance is free, as is a shuttle that takes visitors around the park. You can also drive yourself, or take a paying tour bus.

We took all the photos in this review.

Valley Forge Visitor Center
Valley Forge Visitor Center

Washington's 12,000-Soldier Winter Camp

Start at the Park's Visitor Center

After the battles of Brandywine and Germantown in September and October, 1777, George Washington and his army of 12,000 retreated to Valley Forge for the winter. The site of the camp is about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia, which had been captured by the British, and was close enough to keep the British from advancing while far enough away to prepare for an attack if need be.

During the winter about 2,000 huts were built to house the soldiers. Even so, disease still killed almost 2,000 men. The men trained and when spring arrived in 1778 the army was more disciplined and better able to handle battle against the British.

This history is well-told in a museum at the park's visitor center, which should be anyone's first stop (if only to pick up a map of the grounds). In addition to a history of the camp, the museum has fossils from the area as well as artifacts of the war such as American flintlock muskets. There's an exact replica musket you can lift up just to feel how heavy it would be to carry around -- I'd guess it weighs maybe 10 pounds but the sign doesn't give any details. The photo here is of the museum's exhibits.

After the museum, you can take a circuit around the park, either by shuttle, car or tour bus. The map recommends stopping at eight main spots, which is pretty much what we did.

Valley Forge Explained for Children

Washington at Valley Forge explains in clear language what happened during the winter encampment in a tale aimed at grades 4-8.

Muhlenburg Brigade Huts Valley Forge
Muhlenburg Brigade Huts Valley Forge

Valley Forge Huts

The Camp's Outer Line of Defense

The first stop after leaving the visitor's center is within walking distance from the parking lot, but I would suggest that if you are driving you might as well take the car because you'll need it after this.

Here you'll find some reconstructed huts representing the quarters of Gen. Peter Muhlenberg's brigade, which manned the outer line of defense. The huts are 14 feet by 16 feet, and slept 12 to a hut. They were also only 6 1/2 feet high, so we are talking very close quarters!

Some of the buildings have displays inside showing what a typical hut's contents would have looked like, and there were guides in period costume to answer questions.

Take a few moments to look across the fields, as the view is quite lovely and peaceful.

Valley Forge Guides in Period Costume

Valley Forge Guides in Period Costume
Valley Forge Guides in Period Costume
National Memorial Arch Valley Forge
National Memorial Arch Valley Forge

National Memorial Arch and the Wayne Statue

Memorials to the Men Who Served

The next stop on the tour was the most impressive -- the National Memorial Arch. This was dedicated on June 19, 1917 and later given some repairs in 1996-1997. The monument sits on a hill, so it looks even taller than it really is.

The original plan was to have two arches, one at each end of the park. But Congress approved $100,000 only for one. The design is based on Triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome. For more on the arch see here.

The inscription below is a great and noble one.

From there you travel to the site of a statue dedicated to Gen. Anthony Wayne, located where his troops were camped. His statue is situated so that he is gazing in the direction of his home in Chester County. For more on Anthony Wayne see here.

Memorial Arch Inscription

Naked and starving as they are

We cannot enough admire

The incomparable patience and fidelity

Of the soldiery.

George Washington at Valley Forge

Feb. 16, 1778

General Anthony Wayne Statue

General Anthony Wayne Statue
General Anthony Wayne Statue

Memorial to the Unknown Soldiers Buried at Valley Forge

Unknown Soldiers Memorial Valley Forge
Unknown Soldiers Memorial Valley Forge

Near the area where Wayne's soldiers camped is a small memorial to the unknown soldiers who died and were buried during that winter. The memorial isn't on the official map, and in fact was donated to the park by the Valley Forge chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

It's a shame that it isn't at least marked on the map as a show of respect. We stumbled upon it and were amazed that it's just tucked away off a path and pretty much ignored.

Should the Park Service Add the Monument to Its Map as a Show of Respect?

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George Washington's Headquarters Valley Forge
George Washington's Headquarters Valley Forge

George Washington Headquarters

Plus the Former Train Station

To get to the next stop you drive along a winding public road that cuts through the park along a lovely brook called Valley Creek. As you go check out the classic covered bridge on your left -- it's from 1865.

The next area you will visit is a cluster of buildings that include the headquarters of George Washington that winter. But first stop in the former train station that used to be the main way visitors arrived at the park. Trains stopped there from 1911 until the 1960s. There's some cool photos of Boy Scouts troops arriving in the 1950s and 1960s for the National Scout Jamborees inside the train station, which has been converted to a small museum.

It's a short walk to the home that served as Washington's headquarters. The building was reopened in 2009 after undergoing a restoration. It is much smaller than the one he used in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1779-1780 (which we wrote about here), and when we mention it to the guide she nods her head. This is considered to be the smallest of all his winter encampments, she says.

The house was so small that the kitchen was built alongside to give it more space. I counted only five rooms in the main house, and the guide tells me 25 people stayed there -- including Martha Washington toward the end of the encampment!

Nearby the headquarters is a bronze statue of George Washington that is a copy of the marble one in the Virginia state capitol. Also, some huts have been reconstructed on the grounds that show how Washington's guards lived. The building is closed now for the winter, except for a few days around Presidents' Day, and will reopen March 2, 2013.

There's also a history of the area that is worth reading. While the only buildings on the site now are the park ones, at the time of the encampment Washington's headquarters was in a small village that had grown along the creek. There was a grist mill and forges (hence the name!), barns and stores. Unfortunately, the British had ransacked the village before Washington's troops had arrived.

George Washington Statue Near His Valley Forge Headquarters

George Washington Statue Near His Valley Forge Headquarters
George Washington Statue Near His Valley Forge Headquarters

Washington: A Life - If You Want to Know More About the First President

Washington: A LIfe was published in 2010 to very strong reviews, with author Ron Chernow praised for not just explaining the actions of the Father of the U.S. but also what about him personally that made him so great.

This would be a fine way for you to learn about George Washington.

Washington Memorial Chapel Valley Forge
Washington Memorial Chapel Valley Forge

Redoubts, Artillery Park and the Memorial Chapel

The Remaining Stops on the Tour

The next few stops along the tour don't take very long. Redoubts 3 and 4 at the next stop are almost completely overgrown, but you can still make out the contours of the hills where the cannon stood. This was the inner defense, and since the British never attacked was never used in battle. See photo below.

The next stop is the artillery park, which is the picnic area of choice for many people. A wide open field near the center of the camp, this is where most of the cannon were amassed and kept ready to be rushed in whatever direction was needed in case of attack. See the photo that accompanies the poll in this review.

After that, we stopped at Baron von Steuben's statue and Varnum's quarters. Von Steuben was credited with turning the men in the encampment into better soldiers through drills, earning him fame as one of the fathers of the Continental army. (For more on Von Steuben see here. )

Unfortunately, Varnum's quarters were closed the day we visited, and I couldn't see in the windows of the early 1770s farmhouse to check out what was inside.

The final stop on the tour was the Washington Memorial Chapel (photo to the right), which is an active Episcopal church on private land within the park. Inside the building is the Justice Bell, a replica of the Liberty Bell that served as a symbol of women's suffrage in the 1910s, as well as an amazing stained-glass memorial to the life and times of George Washington. Around back is a small bookstore and a snack shop where you can grab something to eat after the tour. For more on the chapel here is its website here.

Redoubt in Valley Forge National Historical Park

Redoubt in Valley Forge National Historical Park
Redoubt in Valley Forge National Historical Park

Pews of the Patriots, Washington Memorial Chapel

Pews of the Patriots, Washington Memorial Chapel
Pews of the Patriots, Washington Memorial Chapel

Valley Forge: The Crucible - Discovery Channel Documentary Narrated by James Woods

What About You?

Artillery Park Valley Forge
Artillery Park Valley Forge

Valley Forge is a great place to learn about an important part of American history. It's also just a great park and place to be outdoors.

The photo here is of Artillery Park, a central locale in the encampment where many of the cannons were kept so they could be brought to bear in any direction depending on where the enemy attacked.

Have You Ever Been to Valley Forge?

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Valley Forge's Former Train Station

Valley Forge's Former Train Station
Valley Forge's Former Train Station

The Revolution -- Forging an Army - A History Channel Special That Highlights the Time at Valley Forge

Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment

This is the 18-minute orientation film that the park shows daily to help visitors understand the events that occurred at Valley Forge that winter. It's well worth seeing.

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Valley Forge National Historical Park

A markerValley Forge -
Valley Forge National Historical Park
get directions

Pennsylvania Map to Help You Find Your Way

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I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn!

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    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      Valley Forge was one of the places we visited during a PA vacation.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      It's always fun to read your travel lenses and see places I have never been and may never have a chance to visit. Thank you.

    • trevorjb1406 profile image

      trevorjb1406 3 years ago

      Very good as usual! Nice lens.

    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 3 years ago from Kentucky

      This looks like a great historical site to visit, great lens!

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      You certainly have a lot of work put into this tourist treasure article. Valley Forge looks amazing. We may wind up visiting there one day. My husband really enjoys historic sites.

    • profile image

      ArtbyMAR 4 years ago

      Love historical sites. My dad grew up close to here so I have always wanted to visit.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 4 years ago

      Love the history facts!

    • dakadare profile image

      dakadare 4 years ago

      This is a very interesting lens. Thanks!

    • Arod17 profile image

      Arod17 4 years ago

      This is really cool I would want to visit there.

    • erbeaz profile image

      erbeaz 4 years ago

      Would love to visit there - I don't guess it will happen though.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      Great lens and I would like to visit Valley Forge :)

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 4 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      amazing page! I guess that's why it got Lens of the Day!

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 4 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      We visited Valley Forge many times during my childhood, but I have never been there as an adult. It made a big impression on me as a youngster. Parents should not hesitate to take their children to visit historic sites such as this.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I've never been to Valley Forge, but would love to visit. I am grateful to the soldiers who sacrificed so much there.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 4 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      This was so interesting and a great tour. I hope to get there in person one day but did enjoy this virtual tour. I recently submitted my paper work for the Daughters of the American Revolution so have been studying my family's involvement in this important time of our nation's history.

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 4 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      I would love to visit the Valley Forge Party one day!

    • profile image

      Eurotraveller 4 years ago

      It's only by looking at the past we can learn about the right decisions to make in the future.

    • fbcivcoming profile image

      fbcivcoming 4 years ago

      Lots of History built with the blood of many.

    • air ambulance s profile image

      air ambulance s 4 years ago

      Nice lens! I've never been here before. I shall include this on my bucket list.

    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 4 years ago

      Very interesting lens. Congrats for your LOTD :)

    • profile image

      oldcastle 4 years ago

      Thank you for your wonderful introduction of the national historical park. The several spots are great memorials of the history of that time and worth visiting. Visitors not only get fresh air and physical exercise but they also learn heroic deeds of George Washington.

      ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      promodigg.com

    • RuthieDenise profile image

      RuthieDenise 4 years ago

      What a great lens. I would love to go to this park. So many people fought and died there for us all.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 4 years ago

      My husband is from Philadelphia and we've done this day trip to Valley Forge. It was during the winter and I couldn't get over how cold it must have been for the soldiers. You don't learn that in the history books. Congratulations on LOTD!

    • reells profile image

      reells 4 years ago

      Great lens! I love Valley Forge and want to go back. Washington's Headquarters remains the highlight of the trip for me. I'm glad they were able to preserve it.

    • profile image

      miaponzo 4 years ago

      I've been to Valley Forge, but I was a little kid!!! :) Blessed!

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 4 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! Great lens, wonderful information and presentation

      ~d-artist Squid Angel Blessing~

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 4 years ago from Concord VA

      I have visited Valley Forge...it is amazing. Congratulations on LotD!! ~ SquidAngel blessed ~

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      History is so important. I really like some of the things you have included here... I think the 4-8th grade Valley Forge book would be a good one for me to read! Thanks for all your thoughtfulness. SquidAngel blessings.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thanks for sharing! This is one I'd really like to visit! SquidAngel blessed, as well! ;-)

    • rdcbizz profile image

      rdcbizz 4 years ago

      great lens

    • TommysTips profile image

      TommysTips 4 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD - lots of great information!

    • MrAusAdventure profile image

      Bill 4 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Congrats on LOTD. It looks like an interesting place to visit. I love history and would find it fascinating I think.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Brilliant lens and obviously, very meaningful. Congratulations on getting LotD and the Purple Star!

    • profile image

      webmavern 4 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD!

    • SandraWilson LM profile image

      SandraWilson LM 4 years ago

      Very nice lens. I'm glad you got LOTD today. Congratulations! A couple things that stood out to me was the height of the quarters. One, people were shorter back then. I remember going through the old buildings at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and how they had had to add a handrail about 4- 6 inches above the originals on the stairs. A lower ceiling would hold the heat in and closer to the people. Anyway, congratulations on your LOTD. You really deserved it.

    • profile image

      myspace9 4 years ago

      Congrats on your Lens of the Day.

    • NedD profile image

      NedD 4 years ago

      Loved this. As a teenager I lived less than a mile from the park on Richards Road. Of course when you live there you tend not to appreciate all it has to offer.

    • steveko profile image

      steveko 4 years ago

      Great lens, we love Valley Forge and hope to go back there soon.

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 4 years ago

      Great Lens, Congratulations on LOTD; if more people knew about how hard won our Liberties were they'd treasure the Freedoms and Rights most take for granted. I recommend a book by Edwin G. Burrows "Forgotten Patriots", it's about all the American Patriots that died in the prison boats, sugar houses, mills and churches in NYC during the Revolution.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      Congratulations on receiving the LOTD.

    • poldepc lm profile image

      poldepc lm 4 years ago

      congrats on your LOTD

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 4 years ago from US

      I haven't been there, but I feel like I got a really good glimpse now! Thanks and congrats on lotd ;)

      #blessed

    • Fox Music profile image

      Fox Music 4 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this remarkable lens "Highlights of Valley Forge National Historical Park: A Pennsylvania Family Day Trip!" and Congrads on Lens of the Day !!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Nice lens! Very informative, it was a pleasure to read it.

      Congratulations on LotD!

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 4 years ago

      Very nice lens on our first President and the camp of Valley Forge. Too many folks do not really know or have been actually taught what happened here in that winter. Thanks again and congratulations on LOTD!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Back to say congratulations on your most excellent and very presidential Lens of the Day!

    • profile image

      Hannah Writes 4 years ago

      Congrats at being LotD! Blessed!

    • pauly99 lm profile image

      pauly99 lm 4 years ago

      Thank you for this great lens and making it to LotD. We should all read about how our land became our land on this special day.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 4 years ago

      Sounds like quite an experience - would love to go myself sometime. Congrats on LotD and here are some Angel blessings for you!

    • graphite75 profile image

      Tom 4 years ago

      Looks like a great place to check out. I'd love to visit Valley Forge park. Congrats on LotD!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 4 years ago from USA

      Congratulations, this great lens was selected as LotD today. You can read all about it here: http://hq.squidoo.com/lotd/lens-of-the-day-highlig...

    • SetlikeJelly profile image

      David 4 years ago from Europe

      very well put together. two thumbs up :-)

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 4 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Well done on a great lens of the day!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Congratulations for the LOTD!

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 4 years ago

      Thanks for the great virtual tour of the valley forge park. Congrats on LOTD too!

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 4 years ago

      Congratulations on Lens of the day - well deserved.

    • FB-Explorer profile image

      FB-Explorer 4 years ago

      Thanks for a great lens! It got me to thinking, too. I went exploring on Facebook and found that the park has a birthday celebration today. Plus the park has a great FB page! (and there are lots of other great park pictures, too.)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      I would very much like to visit here.

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image

      Kay 4 years ago

      I SO VERY MUCH want to go. I'm into genealogy and found out that my fifth great grandfather got a severe case of frostbite on his feet crossing the Delaware that famous night! I really would love to visit. Blessed!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 4 years ago from UK

      Very interesting read, am an avid visitor of historical monuments,etc, and this seems to be a great place to visit. thanks for a great read.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      I regret that we didn't visit Valley Forge when our sons were young. We visited many, many historical sites when we lived in Virginia and that really led to the love of history that both of them still have as adults. Thank you for this wonderful tour!

    • jayavi profile image

      jayavi 4 years ago

      nice and educative lens

    • AshleysCorner profile image

      AshleysCorner 4 years ago

      Very interesting and nice lens!

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 4 years ago

      Love all the history, though I don't necessarily trust the way it's been told to us! I've only ever passed through the state of PA, on the way to other places, but I've always said it's one of the most beautiful states!