Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Valley Forge National Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

We took the Roadtrek to Pennsylvania to the dealer for service and after the service visit we went to Valley Forge National Historic Park just north of Philadelphia and right off the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Valley Forge exit. We have been to Valley Forge many times before but this was our first time there with the Roadtrek.

When you arrive at the park you drive past the Visitors Center building and enter the parking lot. There is an RV parking area and while the Roadtrek is small compared to most RVs that would park in these spaces, we parked there as the car spaces were tight.

We were there in the middle of the week in early August and the park was not crowded. This parking lot is just for the Visitors Center. When you tour Valley Forge you do it along the park road from stop to stop. There is a map that is free at the desk inside the Visitors Center. There is no park fee to visit Valley Forge. In the Visitors Center you will find a small museum, a film, information about Ranger tours, and a gift shop.

Valley Forge was the first winter encampment of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.  Fighting was difficult in winter in the 18th Century for both sides and armies would go into winter camps for the winter. This was not a time of truce and each side was always on guard. Valley Forge has a reputation in history as being a bitter cold, freezing winter but this is more myth than fact. It actually was a mild winter and while there certainly were hardships and a great deal of boredom, it was not as history books like to portray. The hardest winter for the Continental Army was spent at Morristown, New Jersey where two winter encampments were held in years after Valley Forge. At Morristown, all of the horror that is attributed to Valley Force actually did take place. You can visit the historic sites in Morristown of those encampments.

The musuem at Valley Forge should be better than it is. There are few exhibits. There had been plans to locate a full musuem of the American Revolution here where this museum and Visitors Center stands  but Federal funding was never allocated to do so. That museum will be built with private and government funding in Philadelphia and planning is underway now. Much of what had once been in the museum at Valley Forge has gone to be placed in that museum. What is left are just brief glimpses of what remains of camp life at the Valley Forge encampment.

Cooking utensils found from the encampment

Musket cartridges found from the encampment. The musket ball is tied at the top of the paper cartridge filled with blackpowder
See the museum and then go up the staircase and outside to a separate building that houses a film about the encampment at Valley Forge. Seeing the film will give you a better appreciation for what you will see when you tour the park. After the film, go back into the Visitors Center and stop in the gift shop which has a very good selection of books. Then head back to the parking lot with your visitors map to your Roadtrek as you are about to see where and how the American soldiers lived during this winter encampment.

You drive out of the parking lot the way that you came in and at the Visitors Center building make a right turn onto the park road. These roads are not only used by visitors to the park but also by local traffic. Most are one way. There will be parking lots or side of the road parking spaces as you get to each of the sites shown on the map. The first stop you come to has the most detailed presentation of a typical unit camp.

Soldiers slept in huts which they built themselves. Each unit had common areas that included cabins for the soldiers, a common fire pit for cooking, and a bake oven. At this stop you can walk inside a cabin and look inside of others.

Six men sleep in this cabin. There are another three pallets on the opposite wall. One man to a pallet. One man to a pallet. This is actually pretty good for the Army at this time, as six men also slept in one small private's tent. Each cabin has its own fireplace. While smaller, this cabin is not much different from a poor man's home in Colonial America.  One room and a dirt floor were common.

Cooking is done in a common fire pit. Each man is given his own rations. Many pool those to create a larger meal.
A common bake oven is used to bake bread. Each man is given a supply of flour per day.

You leave this stop and drive through the rest of the park following the map. There is a lot to see and if you stop at each site you will spend most of a day. There are a few memorials to see including an arch. There is a church/shrine with a very good museum (private) within the church. This museum is better than the one in the Visitors Center. You can also visit the house that George Washington stayed in with his officers and his wife, Martha, during the encampment. Martha Washington came to be with her husband several times during the war and each time became a part of the camp and helped care for the soldiers and the wounded.

The map will lead you to the house that Washington stayed in. It is important that you follow the map as at this point the park road goes out onto a main route with a lot of traffic - especailly at rush hour. Make sure that you make a right turn and not a left (as we did). The right turn will take you to the parking lot for the house which is a little distance away from the house location. We turned right because in the long past there was a smaller parking lot and a direct road to the house just to the right of the intersection. Remembering that old way to go, and not that they completely closed that road to all traffic we went the wrong way and this took us in rush hour traffic onto a busy two lane route that climbed hills with no place to turn a vehicle as large as the Roadtrek around. At this point there we were reaching closing time for the park exhibition areas and we decided not to try to get back. Eventually we relied on the GPS to route us back to a main road that would take us back toward the turnpike without having to make a U-turn. We have been to Washington's house before. It is worth seeing. At some point in the future when we have more time, we will go back to Valley Forge. It is really worth a trip if you have any interest in history.

Most who come to this area in a motorhome and want to stay in a campground stay in the KOA West Chester/Philadelphia. This campground is southwest of Philadelphia and a distance from Valley Forge. There is a campground north of this area in Quakertown. There is also a campground in Kutztown, Pa - Pine Hill Campground. All of the campgrounds will involve a drive to get Valley Forge. While George Washington and his army could camp there - you cannot. I have not stayed in any of these campgrounds other than Pine Hill and I cannot recommend any but Pine Hill which is perhaps the most distance away - the length of the PA Turnpike Notheast Extension from I78 south to the main turnpike.There is a review of Pine Hill on this site.

The Valley Forge National Historic Park has a website. This will take you to it.  Since our visit, the Visitors Center front is under renovation.


  1. Valley Forge is a special place for me as a ggggg....grandfather on my maternal grandfather's side, Bodo Otto, was a physician with Washington's army and served at Valley Forge and some other hospitals in that area. A few weeks ago while exploring the Brandywine Valley area, my wife and I stayed one night at the KOA West Chester/Philadelphia area and found it to be quite satisfactory with very friendly staff and fine rest rooms. Our site was on the hill opposite the hill with the larger loop for the larger rigs. It is reasonably close to Winterthur and even closer to Longwood Gardens. The road leading to the campsite is narrow and curvy and must be a challenge for the big rigs.

    Jonathan Clement

    1. Thanks for the information about the KOA in West Chester! It is good to know that the campground was satisfactory. This is the place to stay for visiting Philadelphia, Winterthur and Longwood Gardens. Winterthur is on our list of places to go with the Roadtrek.