Today I am wrapping up my review of Philadelphia-area historical sites with Valley Forge, the site of the Continental Army’s winter camp.
Located only 45 minutes northwest of Philadelphia, Valley Forge is an easy side trip from the city. During the fall, it is worth the trip to Valley Forge just to see the beautiful leaves and trees! After seeing the important American Revolution sites in Philadelphia, including Independence Hall, you must see Valley Forge, where Washington’s army endured bitter cold, lack of provisions, and devastating illness. It is amazing that any army was able to win a war after these hardships.
Your first stop at Valley Forge should be the National Park Service’s Visitor Center. There is plenty of parking in the adjacent lot.
**Disclaimer: After my visit in fall 2018, the original Visitor Center closed and reopened in a temporary space. A new, larger visitor center will open in spring 2020. For more information about the construction, check the NPS web site**
Upon entering the Visitor Center, you will see several exhibits of interest. It is a small visitor center, with few hands-on activities, so your kids will move through the exhibits quickly. My youngest especially liked the photo boards where he could pretend he was General Washington!
There are displays about the hardships of the camp at Valley Forge, the long and terrible winter that the army suffered through, and how they survived. Your kids will be fascinated to learn how the soldiers built their own shelters and about the food, or lack thereof, that the soldiers experienced.
Before you exit, be sure to visit The Encampment Store for books, souvenirs, and snacks.
As you leave the visitor center, follow the signs to the theater to view the 20 minute movie, “Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment.” The movie is older and not too exciting although it does give an overview of what the army’s time at Valley Forge was like. Younger kids will likely be bored so if you have children ages 10 and under, I suggest skipping this or just previewing it here. I am glad to see that it is being updated along with the Visitor Center in 2020.
The best part about Valley Forge is the many and varied ways to see the actual encampment site. The 10-mile long Encampment Tour car route takes you through the countryside to see the various shelters and places of interest. You can tour the extensive fields and exhibits at the site by car, with parking available at each stop. The loop is one-way and will take about an hour to see, including stops.
You can also bike or hike the entire loop, which is a fun way for kids to experience a historical site. Bicycles can be rented at The Encampment Store at the visitor center. There are over 30 miles of trails for use so be sure to consult the NPS map before your trip.
The National Park Service also provides a guided 90 minute trolley tour of the park in a red trolley car. Tickets for the trolley tour are also sold at The Encampment Store. These tours can sell out so call the store to reserve your date and time. What a neat way to tour a historical site!
The stops on the loop are numbered 1-9, with 1 beginning at the Visitor Center. Leave the parking lot and continue the tour by heading to stop 2 where you can see the log cabin huts that the soldiers built for shelter. Your kids will love running from hut to hut, comparing them and seeing the rough conditions that the soldiers endured.
Continue on the drive to the national memorial arch (stop #3) – beautiful but not worth getting little ones out of the car unless you want a photo! Continue on the drive and after stop 4, it will look like you are leaving the park and getting back on a major road. Don’t worry, you are going the right way! Follow the road back to Route 23, which will lead you to stop 5, Washington’s headquarters. This is the most important stop on the loop so be sure to park here.
There is a small visitor center in the Valley Forge Station so begin there. It contains some small exhibits and information about Washington’s time at Valley Forge. Did you know that Martha Washington also spent the winter here? Leave the station and head down to the stone home that served as Washington’s headquarters and home. The rooms are furnished as they would have been during Washington’s stay. It won’t take long to tour the 2 floors in the house and to make your way back outside.
The grounds are beautiful, with a small creek winding through it. This is a great place to let your kids run around and get some energy out.
To prolong your visit, follow the road to stops #6 and 7. If you’re short on time (or if the kids are starting to melt down!), keep heading straight to see the last stop, the Washington Memorial Chapel. This beautiful chapel was built in the early 1900s and is an active church. The chapel is open daily but not available for tours during Sunday services.
The chapel is the last stop on the 10-mile loop and you can head back towards the visitor center to leave the property.
**Two photos provided by the National Park Service. Check out its Flickr page for more photos of Valley Forge.
- Cost: Free
- Recommended: to understand and appreciate the site, ages 10 and up; the site is accessible for all ages
- Plan to spend 1-1.5 hours at the park
- Gift shop onsite with snack selection. There are several picnic facilities in the park and nearby.
- Public Transportation: SEPTA bus #125
- Parking: Ample parking at visitor center and each stop.
- Dining options nearby: None within walking distance. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy or drive 10 minutes to King of Prussia Town Center for many options.
- Hotels nearby: Many hotel options near King of Prussia Town Center. A family-friendly option is the SpringHill Suites.
- Nearby attractions include: Philadelphia sites, Brandywine Battlefield, Washington Crossing Historic Park (1 hour away), Elmwood Park Zoo, and King of Prussia mall (the largest mall in the country!)
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- Remember Valley Forge: Patriots, Tories, and Redcoats Tell Their Stories
- Winter at Valley Forge
- Dear America: The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777
- Dear America: Cannons at Dawn
- George Washington and the Winter at Valley Forge (Graphic Heroes of the American Revolution)
- George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War
- 6 and up:
Have you visited Valley Forge in the winter for an authentic visit? What’s your favorite stop on the loop tour? Comment below!
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