Over the years, Gettysburg PA has become one of my favorite destinations for a weekend trip. Whether it’s a family trip, with the Boy Scouts, or just stopping in on the way through on another trip, it draws me there. The first time I went, I was curious and wanted to see what was there. The trips I’ve made since are because I really just want to go back. There’s a feeling about the place that is hard to explain unless you’ve been there.
First thing’s first, this is a camping website. So can you camp in Gettysburg? Absolutely. My favorite trips to Gettysburg have been camping trips. The men that fought there in 1863 stayed in tents or simply curled up on the ground. So staying outside gives you a very authentic experience for your visit. I have an overview of campgrounds in another article here on the site. My favorite campground in Gettysburg is the Roundtop Campground. That is an RV campground with some decent tent sites. If you want to enjoy some rustic camping, and you are going to be with a Scout Troop or other youth group, you have the option of staying at McMillan Woods. This campground is only for youth groups, but if you have the chance, you can stay right on the battlefield itself, something the kids will remember for a long time. For more information about campgrounds available in Gettysburg, check out our Gettysburg campground accommodations article.
The Gettysburg Battlefield
The obvious draw to Gettysburg is the National Battlefield and the Visitors Center. There are a number of ways to see the battlefield, from bus tours to self-guided car tours. There are also self-guided hikes set up for Scouts, which provide a very up close and personal experience as you walk around the battlefield. It’s called the Heritage Trail. You can purchase a heritage trail booklet in the visitors center, which will guide you on 3 separate hikes. It will also take you through the visitors center, and the Eisenhower farm for an in-depth Gettysburg experience. Bring comfortable shoes, because the total distance of the 3 hikes is around 17 miles. Scouts are big on patches, and a 5 piece patch can be earned for doing all the hikes on the agenda. Whether you’re into scouting and want the patches, or just want to hike the battlefield, I highly recommend the Heritage Trail experience.
One of my favorite spots on the battlefield, especially around dusk, is Little Round Top. The battlefield closes at 10:00 pm, and during the summer that is still well after dark. Little Round Top is a great place to set up a camera on a tripod and get some sunset photos. It overlooks Devils Den, which may be one of the more haunted places on the battlefield. Devils Den is also a cool place to get some sunset photos if you can get them in-between visits from amateur ghost hunters.
If you’re going to tour the battlefield, the best place to start is at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center. This center houses some great displays of the battlefield’s history and is the kickoff location for a number of tours. Check out their web page before you go for information on planning your visit to Gettysburg.
Eisenhower National Historic Site
If you want to see some history from a more modern era, stop over to the Eisenhower farm. This is one of the stops on the Heritage Trail. President Eisenhower owned a farm on the edge of town while he served as President of the United States. Today it’s a historical site with artifacts from his time in office.
Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Gettysburg to study the battle while he was a cadet at the US Military Academy at West Point. Three years later, he was back in Gettysburg as commander of Camp Colt, a US Army Tank Corp training center located in Gettysburg. Upon retiring in 1950 (before his command of NATO), he returned once more and purchased a 189-acre farm adjoining the Gettysburg Battlefield. During his presidency, the Eisenhower’s spent many weekends at their farm, as well as entertaining friends, and dignitaries. You can learn a lot about Eisenhower’s presidency at this historic landmark.
Sachs Covered Bridge
I enjoy photography and am always looking for scenic locations off the beaten path. One of the locals I ran into told me about Sachs Bridge, a covered bridge just down the road from the Eisenhower farm. Depending on who you believe, it may or may not be haunted. I don’t have much to say about that. But it is a really nice bright red covered bridge in a very scenic location. I usually try to stop there when I’m in Gettysburg, getting photos of it in different lighting conditions. I’m still lacking photos of it around sunrise or sunset, so that’s on the agenda for my next trip.
Sachs Bridge was built in 1854 and was used by both armies during the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1980, the Sachs Covered Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was damaged by a flash flood in 1996. After a renovation, it was rededicated in 1997.
OK, why is this a separate section with all the national historic sites to visit? It’s not historic, and it’s not haunted. But it seems that every time we visit Gettysburg, it’s summer and it’s HOT. And Mr. G’s Ice Cream on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg has some of the best homemade ice cream around. We have not missed a visit to Mr. G’s on any of our trips there. Give it a shot, it’s right across the street from the Farnsworth House Inn. You will thank me for this one!
Gettysburg Ghost Tours
Whether or not you believe in ghosts, the ghost tours in Gettysburg can be entertaining. I’m a little skeptical about ghosts, and one of the guides on a battlefield tour that we went on said that “15 years ago there weren’t any ghosts in Gettysburg.” He was referring to the commercialized ghost tours that have sprung up all around town. Many of the ghost tours are mainly actors or presenters in period dress taking you around town, and telling you about the history of the town, along with tales of the more spooky lore surrounding Gettysburg. And the spookiest stories are told in the darkest corners of the town. I’ve gone on a couple of these, and they are interesting. I would even say fun. You can also find ghost-hunting excursions, which involve some of the ghost detecting gear found on the numerous TV shows about ghosts and haunted places.
As I said, I am somewhat skeptical. However, there have been a couple of things that have happened that I can’t explain. First, my dash-mounted GPS (back before phone navigators were a thing) suddenly went dead when we parked at Little Round Top. It would not power on, no matter what we did. I ended up going to Walmart and purchasing a replacement for it. When we got home from our trip a couple of days later, before throwing it out, I plugged it in once more. At that point, it powered on, and never gave me another problem. It could be a coincidence. Who knows.
I also have a couple of photos that I cannot explain that were taken at the Dobbin House on one of the commercial ghost tours. I took several photos, from the same spot. The white area in the window moved from one window to the next, and then back in subsequent photos. I’ll post them here, and you can decide for yourself.
Civil War Ghosts provides walking tours around the town of Gettysburg. The Farnsworth House is host to Sleepy Hollow Ghost Tours, another walking tour around the village. And Gettysburg Ghost Tours provides both a variety of walking tours and actual ghost hunting excursions.
Outlet Shoppes at Gettysburg
Maybe you don’t want to spend all your time touring the battlefield or sitting around your campfire. Well, if that happens to be the case, Gettysburg is home to a fairly large Outlet mall. There are numerous shops that should please just about anyone. If nothing else, you can go to Gertrude Hawk and get some really good chocolate to bring back to the campground for making S’Mores! It’s also home to Jack’s Hard Cider Tap Room for some grown-up refreshments. You can visit the Outlet Shoppes at Gettysburg online to see the complete list of stores, hours of operation, etc.
Landmarks and Museums in Gettysburg
Besides the Gettysburg Museum and Visitors Center, and the Eisenhower Historic Site, there are a number of interesting museums and landmarks in town. These are just a few of the museums you can visit. Check out Trip Advisor or destinationgettysburg.com for a complete list.
Shriver House Museum
This is a living history museum focused on the impact of the battle on the civilians of Gettysburg. Nicely restored, it tells you about the Shriver family, and life before, during, and after the battle. Learn more at ShriverHouse.org.
The Dobbin House was built in 1776, and today is listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places. It is a restaurant and bed and breakfast today where you can enjoy a variety of dining experiences in one of the multiple dining areas. At one point it was a home and schoolhouse, and even a stop on the Underground Railroad hiding slaves escaping to the north in the mid-1800s. DobbinHouse.com
Home to Sleepy Hollow Ghost Tours, Sweney’s Tavern, a Bed and Breakfast, multiple dining rooms and a beer garden, the Farnsworth House is another historic building that was around during the battle at Gettysburg. During the battle, the house was occupied by Confederate sharpshooters. In the aftermath, it served as a hospital. Today you can see numerous pockmarks in the bricks from bullets striking the house as the Federal soldiers returned fire trying to silence the Confederates in the house. FarnsworthHouseInn.com
Jennie Wade House
Jennie Wade was a civilian casualty of the battle of Gettysburg. She was 20 years old at the time of the battle and was killed while in her kitchen baking bread for the Union soldiers. The house is restored to how it would have looked in the 1860s. You can still see the bullet holes in the doors that were pierced by the round that killed Jennie.
Gettysburg Museum of History
As seen on the TV Show American Pickers, the Gettysburg Museum of History has relics on display from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Presidencies, and American Pop Culture. This museum is located right in the middle of town on Baltimore Street. This is a very large private collection and is definitely worth a visit. Learn more at GettysburgMuseumOfHistory.com.
Seminary Ridge Museum
Seminary Ridge was the location of the fighting on day 1 of the battle of Gettysburg. This museum is dedicated to the first day of the battle and shows the work of one of the largest field hospitals in Gettysburg. This museum takes a good look into the people that were involved and impacted by the Civil War. Learn more at SeminaryRidgeMuseum.org.
Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station
The Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station is a stop on the Heritage Trail when you walk through the village of Gettysburg. This museum provides a self-guided tour, which will take about 30 minutes. It features artifacts relating to President Abraham Lincoln, and the role of the railroad in Gettysburg.
Lincoln Train Museum
This museum is Centered around railroads and Abraham Lincoln, but it contains a variety of displays and artifacts from a number of the era’s in US History, up to and including 9/11. Definitely worth a stop.
Dale Gallon Historical Art
On our first visit to Gettysburg, I felt that it was much more significant an experience than other “tourist” spots that we had been to. My wife and I wanted something a little nicer than just a T-shirt to remember our trip. Walking down the street we found the Dale Gallon studio. Dale Gallon is an artist depicting scenes from Gettysburg and the Civil War. This was almost 19 years ago, and unlike many of the souvenirs we have brought home from various trips in those 19 years, we still have Gettysburg print from Dale Gallon on our wall. If you love art, stop into this gallery and look around. You may end up taking some history home with you.
My Favorite Civil War Site
Gettysburg has been carefully preserved. Not just the battlefield, but the town. This is one of the few places where you can immerse yourself in the history of an event. Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War, and it’s residents recognized the importance of the event and the location early on. This place is much more than a few monuments. You can see history. Where Pickett’s men made their ill-fated charge using an outcropping of trees on a ridge as an orientation point, you can stand today in the field they crossed, and see those same trees. You can see the fence lines they had to cross. In town and on the battlefield, you can see bullet holes in buildings that have been there since 1863. Gettysburg is by far my favorite historic site. I hope you find it as interesting on your next visit.