Few places in America are more important to the founding of our country than the Valley Forge National Historical Park. This park is the most famous of all the U.S. Revolutionary War sites. The hills and fields of this vast park set the stage for the birth of the country and illuminated the temperament of the American spirit.
Today, the Valley Forge National Park is a vast expanse of greenery in Montgomery County and one of the best outdoor spots in the region. Visitors come from all over the world to learn the history of America’s founding as well as utilize the park’s 3,500 acres for recreation.
History of Valley Forge
In the fall of 1777, General George Washington built a temporary fortification in what is now known as Fort Washington State Park. The high hills offered commanding views, but little in terms of protection from the harsh winters and minimal access to water. A better camp was needed.
Fort Washington was abandoned, and the entire Continental Army was moved to the Valley Forge encampment for the winter. From December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778, this encampment would become the fourth largest city in America. Over 12,000 soldiers would spend the winter here, along with many non-military support personnel and some soldier’s families.
The winter of 1777 was particularly harsh and camp conditions made the situation worse. Disease was rampant in the camp and sanitation was poor. Over 2,000 people perished, primarily from disease, but also from exposure to the elements.
Over the course of the winter, the Continental Army put in place a complex system of procedures to supply and protect the troops, better training for soldiers, and better intelligence and planning. The army that emerged from the winter in these rolling hills was vastly better trained and prepared than the one that arrived here six months earlier.
Touring the Park
The first stop on any visit is the Valley Forge Park Visitors Center. This small but excellent educational center is the main parking lot for the historical park. Inside, visitors should watch the 18-minute film “Valley Forge: A Winter Encampment” because it provides an orientation to the site and the history.
Nearly all visitors will take The Encampment Tour. This self-paced driving tour goes throughout the park in a clockwise loop hitting all of the major highlights:
- Log Huts of General Muhlenberg’s Brigade
- National Memorial Arch
- General Anthony Wayne Statue
- Washington’s Headquarters
- Artillery Park
- Steuben Statue
- Varnum’s Quarters
- Washington Memorial Chapel, including the Justice Bell
It’s worth noting, a sidewalk parallels the roadway and many people do The Encampment Tour while walking, running, bicycling, rollerblading, and even on horseback. I’ve spent many a weekend running along the five-mile loop while training for marathons.
Most people doing the driving tour will spend about two hours in the national park. If you’re a real history buff and want to stop more frequently at the numerous statues, monuments and sites, so you might spend a little longer.
The NPS offers a very inventive cell phone tour which takes visitors on a magical journey of the winter of 1777. The stories come alive and the cell phone tour is a great way explore Valley Forge for kids. To use it, dial 484-396-1018. The service is free, except for using your cell phone service minutes.
There are special Valley Forge tours offered by private guides and organizations based on interests like horticulture or history.
What to Know
Location: The National Historical Park is located 24 miles northwest of Philadelphia in suburban Montgomery County at the intersection of the PA Turnpike, I-76, US-202 and US-422. The main Visitors Center is on North Gulph Road at PA Route 23.
Hours: The park is open all year from sunrise to sunset. The visitors center is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm and closed on major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Cost: The park is free to all visitors.
Concessions: There aren’t any restaurants or concessions within the historical park. There are a nearly unlimited number of restaurants in the vast King of Prussia complex less than a mile away. During the summer, it is possible to rent bicycles to ride within the park.
Tips for Visiting: If you visit Valley Forge, be sure to bring a water bottle with you. While there are several places to use drinking fountains, it is a good idea to have water with you. Also, while there are trees in the park, many of the major sites are in the open without shade. Sunscreen is a smart idea, particularly in summer.
Additional Information: Visit the park’s website.
Where to Stay
There are a large number of hotel options in the King of Prussia area that are within a mile or two the historical sites. The closest hotel to the park is the Sheraton, which features suites, indoor pool, and close proximity to the restaurants in the King of Prussia Town Centre. The Hyatt House Philadelphia is a newer hotel that offers sleek, modern accommodations close to the mall restaurants and local attractions.