Valley Forge National Historical Park near Philadelphia is a tribute to General George Washington and the Continental Army, which spent the winter of 1777-78 here, overcoming adversity of many kinds and emerging as a stronger, more capable fighting force that ultimately defeated the British forces in the Revolutionary War.
The park is spread out over 3,500 acres of meadows and woodlands, crisscrossed by miles of roads and hiking trails.
Scattered throughout the park you’ll find 52 monuments, markers, and statues, along with numerous structures, fortifications, and artillery pieces (some originals, some reproductions).
Informational signage located throughout the park, near the various monuments and historic locations, help you to imagine what life might have been like here in 1777-78.
Why is Valley Forge Important?
Many historians regard Valley Forge as the “birthplace of the American army.”
When Washington and his 12,000 soldiers marched into Valley Forge in December of 1777, they were essentially a battle-weary, poorly-equipped collection of colonial militias.
When they emerged from Valley Forge in June of 1778, it was as a rejuvenated, unified, professional fighting force, due in large part to the tutelage of former Prussian military officer Baron von Steuben.
The system of discipline, drills, maneuvers, and tactics introduced by von Steuben helped instill a sense of confidence and professionalism in the Continental Army, and many historians consider the Valley Forge encampment to be a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Exploring Valley Forge National Historic Park
With so much to see, spread out over such a large area, exploring Valley Forge can be a bit overwhelming.
And trying to describe EVERYTHING there is to see there is a task better suited for a book than a blog post.
So what I’m going to share with you here are what I consider 10 must-see attractions at Valley Forge National Historical Park.
All 10 of these attractions can be experienced in a single afternoon; I know because I took all of these photos on a single summer afternoon.
I’ve selected these 10 attractions to give you an overview of what went on during the Valley Forge encampment, as well as an appreciation for what went on here before and after the famous encampment.
Top 10 Attractions at Valley Forge
1. The Valley Forge Visitor Center
The Valley Forge Visitor Center is the best place to start your visit to the park, as it gives you a comprehensive overview of what day-to-day life was like for the 12,000 soldiers and 400 women and children who called this encampment home for six months.
Here you’ll learn (among other things) why Washington chose Valley Forge as the location for his winter encampment in 1777, while the British forces occupied Philadelphia.
Numerous dioramas depict camp life, which was a constant struggle against the elements, disease, and lack of supplies.
This excellent collection of murals, interactive exhibits, and artifacts is generally open daily from 9-5; check the park’s OFFICAL WEBSITE for seasonal hours and holiday or weather-related closures.
2. Redoubt #2 at Valley Forge
Redoubt #2, just a short walk from the Visitor Center, is a reproduction of one of five different earthen fortifications built by soldiers during the Valley Forge encampment in order to defend the position from a possible British attack.
Valley Forge was only a one day march from Philadelphia, so the Continental Army had to be ever vigilant to the possibility of a British attack.
Had the British attempted such an attack (they never did), the view afforded from the redoubts would have given the Continental Army time to prepare, as well as the tactical advantage of being able to fire from the high ground.
3. The Soldiers Huts at Valley Forge
During the encampment at Valley Forge, more than 1,200 log huts were built as shelter by the 12,000 soldiers in the Continental Army.
In addition to the wooden huts, the army built miles of trenches around the camp, and miles of stone roads through the camp – Valley Forge became the fourth largest city in America during this winter encampment.
The windowless, dirt-floor huts were dark, cold, and smoky, and virtually all of them were dismantled by local farmers looking to reclaim their fields after the army broke camp in June 1778.
4. The National Memorial Arch
The National Memorial Arch, erected to commemorate the arrival of General George Washington and the Continental Army into Valley Forge, is based on the Arch of Titus in Rome.
Dedicated on June 19, 1917 (129 years to the day after the Continental Army broke camp), the arch is the largest monument in the park; it measures 61′ to the top of and is 49′ wide at the base.
5. General Washington’s Headquarters
Washington’s Headquarters, also known as the Isaac Potts House, is the structure used by General George Washington and his household during the Valley Forge encampment.
If you’re looking for an honest-to-goodness “George Washington Slept Here” spot in Pennsylvania, this one is the real deal!
6. George Washington Statue
This statue of George Washington, located near Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge, is a cast bronze copy of a marble statue commissioned by the state of Virginia in 1784, which to this day sits in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capital building in Richmond.
A nearby informational sign details the symbolism in the statue, described by his family as “the most realistic depiction ever made of him.”
7. The Iron Making Exhibit at Valley Forge
Valley Forge gets its name from an iron forge on Valley Creek that was part of an small industrial village (including a grist mill and a saw mill) that existed here prior to the Revolutionary War.
Housed in a stable next to Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge, this exhibit traces the history of the iron forges that existed on Valley Creek, until they were burned to the ground by a British raiding party in September of 1777, three months before the Continental Army set up winter quarters nearby.
Charred remnants of the forge were discovered during excavation work at the park in the early 1930s – those remnants are now on display in this stable-turned-museum.
8. Valley Forge Train Station
The historic Valley Forge Train Station, opened in 1911, was the original visitor center at Valley Forge State Park in a time before automobile travel was a common occurrence.
The station was designed to blend well with nearby Washington’s Headquarters, which became a popular tourist attraction almost as soon as the park opened in 1893.
Today, the National Park Service uses the train station as an exhibit space, while the railroad tracks continue to be operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad as a freight line.
9. Knox Covered Bridge
Located on the western side of Valley Forge National Historical Park, Knox Covered Bridge was originally built in 1851 (73 years after the Valley Forge encampment) and spans Valley Creek near the location of the original iron forge from which “Valley Forge” derives its name.
10. Washington Chapel
The Washington Memorial Chapel, completed in 1917 (same year as the National Memorial Arch), was built as a tribute to General George Washington and the Continental Army.
While not formally affiliated with the Valley Forge National Historical Park (and receiving no funding from the National Park Service), this chapel has been described as one of the foremost examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States, and is a must-see when visiting the park.
Valley Forge National Historical Park is a lasting tribute to the shared sacrifice and determined resolve of the Continental Army to overcome tremendous adversity in the quest to create a new and independent nation.
The winter encampment at Valley Forge is one of the most famous episodes of the American Revolution, and the near-mythical nature of how this chapter in American history is remembered is a testament to to the desire of all people in all ages to live lives free from tyranny.
If you’ve never been to Valley Forge, you owe it to yourself to visit and learn more about what happened here.
And if you visited in the past, but not since the renovated Visitor Center reopened in February 2022, you’ll be newly impressed!
The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia uses historic artifacts, dioramas, short films, paintings, and other exhibits to tell the story of the Revolutionary War in America.
The museum opened to the public on April 19, 2017, the 242nd anniversary of the first battles of the Revolutionary War (at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts) on April 19, 1775.
Independence Hall in Philadelphia is the birthplace of the United States!
In 1776, the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence here; eleven years later, in the same room, delegates to the Constitutional Convention created and signed the United States Constitution.
The Betsy Ross House is one of Philadelphia’s most popular tourist attractions, said to be the site where Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag in late May, 1776.
Christ Church in Philadelphia is famous for its ties to the American Revolution, with many of the Founding Fathers including George Washington, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin attending services there.
Exploring the Best National Park Sites in Pennsylvania is your guide to even more Keystone State attractions managed by or affiliated with the National Park Service.
Did you enjoy this article?
If so, be sure to like and follow PA Bucket List on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Pinterest to learn more about the best things to see and do in Pennsylvania!
Click on any of the icons below to get connected to PA Bucket List on social media.