January 2002: Valley Forge National Park

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

The most famous name in the American Revolution comes to us from a small iron forge built along Valley Creek in the 1740s. After a disastrous campaign in the Fall of 1777 George Washington had left Philadelphia in the hands of the British and retreated to a defensible winter campsite out of harm's way but close enough to keep an eye on the British in their toasty Philadelphia homes. During the winter of 1777-78, as Valley Forge grew to be the third largest city in America, hundreds of soldiers died from sickness and disease. No battles were fought here but Valley Forge, the site where the American army was born, became a symbol for the young nation. After the Revolution, the land reverted to fields and Valley Forge was forgotten. America's interest in Valley Forge was rekindled during a Centennial in 1878 and preservation efforts eventually began with the Potts House, now known as Washington's Headquarters.

There are four marked trails in Valley Forge National Historical Park, plus miles of unmarked hikes. The Multi-Use Trail loops the Colonial defensive lines and Grand Parade Ground and visits George Washington's headquarters. Panoramic field vistas of the historic grounds are found all along the paved trail's six-mile length. The Valley Creek Trail is a flat, linear 1.2 mile walk along Valley Creek, past the original Upper Forge site. Near the Valley Creek, beginning at the Artificer's Shops on Route 23, is the eastern terminus of the 133-mile Horse-Shoe Trail that ends at the Appalachian Trail in Hershey. In the park, the trail climbs steeply through the woods up Mount Misery, the natural southern defensive boundary of the Valley Forge camp. The historic Horse-Shoe Trail, so-named as it was built for rider and walker, quickly incorporates back roads and private property and is not worth following outside the park. Across the Schuylkill River is the 3-mile linear Schuylkill River Trail connecting the Pawling's Parking Area and the Betzwood Picnic Area. This wide, flat dirt trail skirts the river for its entire route and provides ample access into the broad and shallow water of the Schuylkill River for canine aquatics.A National Park Service map provides locations for the trails and does not indicate the variety of side trails available, especially in the Walnut Hill area that connect to the Schuylkill River Trail. Only the Horseshoe Trail is blazed.

Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge (Route 23, Valley Forge). Adjacent to the Valley Forge National Historic Park, although not affiliated with it, nestled in the wooded hills above the Schuylkill River, is a unique, little known living memorial dedicated to the men and women who have sacrificed and, often times, given their life in service to America. The Medal of Honor Grove, conceived in 1942 and located on the grounds of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, is a 52-acre woodland memorial commemorating all those awarded our nation's highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual, the Medal of Honor. Along an attractive serpentine path each of the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are represented by a one-acre plot highlighted by a seven foot-seven inch high fiberglass replica of the Washington Monument obelisk. Attached to the obelisk is a state seal, dedication plaque and a list of Medal of Honor recipients accredited to that state. To date, 25 states have replaced the standard white fiberglass obelisk with a distinctive granite or marble obelisk in their areas, all using stone native to their state. The Medal of Honor Grove can be reached from Valley Forge National Historic Park by continuing west on Route 23.

Schuylkill Canal Park (Route 29, Port Providence). Pennsylvania's first canal system was cobbled together in 1815 by the Schuylkill Navigation Company. The waterway, requiring 120 locks, stretched 108 miles from the coal fields of Schuylkill County to Philadelphia. Today, more than 70 years since the last coal barges floated down the Schuylkill River, the only sections of the canal in existence are at Manayunk in Philadelphia and Lock 60 at the Schuylkill Canal Park. The peaceful towpath along the canal covers 2 1/2 miles from the Lock House, built in 1836, to the eastern end of Port Providence. The trail, which passes tall trees, low-lying wetlands and low brush, loops for the return trip along the river. Upstream from Lock 60 are the Ravine Trail, with three ascents to 100-foot high rock bluffs overlooking the Schuylkill River, and the flat waterside Valley View Trail. To reach the park from Valley Forge, travel west on Route 23 and make a right onto Route 29 North. Enter the park by making a left at the end of the bridge across the Schuylkill River.

The Pinnacle (3 miles NE of Hamburg). The Appalachian Trail reaches its closest point to Philadelphia an hour's ride northwest of Valley Forge. Coincidentally, the trail here leads to the most famous view on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania - the Pinnacle. Although you will get a healthy dose of Pennsylvania's notoriously rocky terrain ("where boots go to die") on the 1030-foot climb to this promontory of boulders, the surface is not too severe for your canine companion. Views from the Pinnacle sweep across neighboring Blue Mountain and down to the farms of the Cumberland Valley. Much of the hike on this 8.7-mile loop is done on old fire roads; use the blue-blazed road along the rohedendron-studded Furnace Creek to close your loop.

The main park entrance is on Route 23 off Route 422. Parking for the Valley Creek Trail is on Route 252. To reach the Schuylkill River Trail, exit from Route 422 onto Trooper Road, make a left and continue back across Route 422 to the Betzwood Picnic Area or cross the Schuylkill River on Pawlings Road from Route 23.