Your Guide to Hiking and Exploring Valley Forge National Historical Park
Soak in some history, hike Mount Misery — or Mount Joy! — and be home by happy hour.
Location: Valley Forge, PA
Getting there: 21 miles northwest of Center City — about 35 minutes by car
Personal space: 3,452 acres, 35 miles of trails, and lots of places to picnic
Entrance fee: Free
Let’s be honest: This hasn’t been the greatest year for feeling patriotic. But when you stand under the spacious skies in Valley Forge National Historical Park — where George Washington and his ragtag Continental Army persevered against the odds in the winter of 1777-’78 — it’s hard not to feel moved by the place. Between the historical gravitas (celebrated and explained in a great number of buildings, monuments and markers across the park, including Washington’s original headquarters) and the remarkable beauty of the countryside, Valley Forge is a national treasure that also happens to be Philly’s backyard.
There are loads of ways to explore the past amid the expanse of land and the lush, rolling hills. Valley Forge generally offers both self-guided and expert-guided tours of all types: driving, biking, trolley, even day-long hiking expeditions. (Call ahead to ask what’s available.) It’s also easy to just wing it: The park’s website and visitors’ center offer all sorts of maps and brochures for the choose-your-own-adventure crowd. As one Philly mom of three grade-schoolers puts it: “I love it because you can go easy or you can go all in. It has a site for every attention span.”
Beyond the outdoor museum, the park’s biggest draw is its extensive trail system, which also offers something for everyone — paths that are paved or natural, flat or hilly, easy or tough, long or short and so on. The favorites here are the wide, smooth Joseph Plum Martin loop; Mount Misery, with its steep, challenging terrain; and Mount Joy, beloved for its sweeping views. Some devotees also like the unmarked trails that wind along the hills just north of the Schuylkill River, where the wilds are so dense that the path is impassable in summer … but gorgeous in the fall. Just be sure to pack the DEET.
Published as “Valley Forge” in the “Call of the Wild” guide in the October 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.