Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Family Vacation Ideas Include Valley Forge Historical Park, General George Washington, and Shopping. Every 10-year-old makes the connection between Valley Forge and George Washington so visiting Valley Forge is a bonus for families because there is no need to explain why the place is important. Kids love to feel the power of knowing and sharing important stuff.
What is less well known is that the area surrounding this patriotic place offers many vacation activities for families. From living history vignettes or live theatre to milking a cow or petting a goat, days can be filled with easy paced fun, long lines and traffic jams not included.
Located only about 18 miles from Philadelphia, Valley Forge offers a small town atmosphere surrounded by rolling hills and pastoral landscapes. While a day excursion to the big city (Philadelphia) is an option it is not essential to make your vacation complete. The most likely starting point is Valley Forge National Historical Park.
Where did George sleep? As every 10-year-old knows General George Washington and his Continental Army spent the (terrible) winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge. Their struggles against severe cold, hunger, disease, fatigue and depression have been described in history books and retold in American history classes. Today the 3,600-acre Valley Forge National Historical Park welcomes visitors amid a backdrop of rolling hillsides and tree lined meadows. Pathways and roadways divide the park grounds and lead to significant statues and monuments. Visit Washington's original fieldstone headquarters; see reconstructed log huts once used by soldiers. The starting point is the Visitors Center which contains related exhibits, artifacts, and offers an 18-minute introductory film which will serve as a history refresher course. Bonus points: Each day park rangers lead "Following in their footsteps" created to explain the life of everyday soldiers at Valley Forge in 1777. Free to all, the walk route is about one quarter mile and strollers are welcome. Need to know: Bus tours are available on weekends in September and October as well as during Thanksgiving weekend and during the days following Christmas. To check costs, times or to reserve a spot on a bus tour call (610) 783-7503. (Valley Forge National Historic Park Visitors Center is at the junction of Route 23 and N. Gulph Road. (610) 783-1077 or www.nps.gov/vafo)
Talk to the birds. The Mill Grove Mansion House was built in 1762, and became the home of John James Audubon artist, author and naturalist. It was at this site that he gained his first impressions of American birds and wildlife during his free time. Today visitors to Mill Grove, located within the 175-acre Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, can walk the various trails and observe a variety of birds and other wildlife in natural settings. Bonus points: While families are welcome anytime, various events are held to maximize the natural beauty of the property. In addition to bird talks and walks they also conduct flower hunts and night walks. Need to know: Mill Grove is designated a National Historic Landmark. (John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove 1201 Pawlings Road, Audubon, PA. (610) 666-5593)
Visit a manor house. Once a sizable plantation, today the original Pottsgrove Manor house is open to the public showcasing the lifestyle of English gentry during the mid-18th century in America. Built in 1752 for John Potts, ironmaster and founder of Pottstown, the elegance of the era remains today. Bonus points: While traipsing through old houses may not work for ever family, there are educational demonstrations in the "Hands–on-Room", a comfortable space where touching and talking is encouraged. (Pottsgrove Manor , 100 West King Street, Pottstown, PA. (610) 326-4014.)
Visit a castle. The Mercer Museum, a remarkable American castle constructed in 1916, has oodles of to share with young children. See an original Conestoga wagon and a whaling boat. Inspect 19th carriages and be amazed at the antique fire engine suspended mid air. With more than 40,000 tools from American crafts and trades on display "Antique Tool Discover Day" the hands-on activities are a blast for all ages. Throughout the year interesting activities are provided to enhance each visit. From scavenger hunts and Victorian tea parties to story telling and theater, no two visits will ever be the same. Bonus points: Create your own plates, platters and cups out of clay during in one of artist Khara Flint’s lessons at the Mercer Museum. (The Mercer Museum, 84 South Pine Street Doylestown, PA. (215) 345-0210 or www.Mercermuseum.org)
Shop, shop, shop! Imagine one location with eight major department stores, and more than 400 shops and restaurants. King of Prussia Mall, the nation’s largest shopping mall, makes it possible to create your own shopping marathon in one location. Shopping choices include: Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, Macy's, Sears, Strawbridge's, and JCPenney and all of the popular specialty names as well. Bonus points: There is no sales tax on clothing and shoes. Three Customer Service Centers at the mall provide complimentary services, such as wheelchair usage, coat and baggage check, and stroller rentals. Need to know: Print the Tourist Voucher form from the website and redeem it at one of the locations to receive King of Prussia Travel Rewards Guide. (King of Prussia Mall, 160 North Gulph Road King of Prussia, PA. (610) 265-5727 or www.KingofPrussiaMall.com)
Enjoy the park. Green Lane Park is where the action is all year long. In addition to being the home of the Montgomery County Environmental Education Center, the park hosts countless family friendly free events. The park itself spans more than 3400 acres and includes three bodies of water adding even more acreage. Camp over night, play tennis, practice volleyball, rent a boat, or try fishing. This is the location of the annual Scottish Irish Festival & Highland Games. Bonus points: Miles of nature trails weave throughout the park and provide hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians countless options everyday of the year. During the snowy months visitors may enjoy ice skating, cross-country skiing, sledding or ice fishing. Need to know: Pets are welcome in many areas of the park but check with the park office about specifics. (Green Lane Park Routes 29 & 6. (215) 234-4528 or www.montcopa.org/parks)
Find a place of work and hope. Introducing children to different ways of thinking has obvious benefits and the Mennonite Heritage Center does just that. In 1683, the first Mennonite couple helped to settle the village of Germantown near Philadelphia, the oldest continuing Mennonite community in the New World. The story told with an interpretive video presented in a room which resembles an early meetinghouse. A permanent exhibit “Work and Hope” tells the story of the local Mennonites' first arrival in Penn's Woods and continues through three centuries of their work and hope. Bonus points: Most remarkable is the extensive display of the 18th century folk art form known as Fraktur. These colorful illuminated drawings are found in the Fraktur Room along with a depiction of a one-room schoolhouse. (Mennonite Heritage Center 565 Yoder Road, Harleysville, PA. (215) 256-3020 or www.mhep.org/heritage.html)
Ride a pony and pet a goat. For more than two decades the folks at Sandy Hill Farm, a 10-acre spot not far from Valley Forge, have been offering families with children ages two to 10 close encounters of the friendly kind. Youngsters are encouraged to brush a pony, ride a pony and give the pony a treat. A visit to the farm also provides the chance to see rabbits, Nubian goats, pot belly pigs, sheep, bantam hens with chicks and ducks and ducklings. Need to know: As visitors quickly learn, a pony is not a baby horse it is a breed of horse. (Sandy Hill Farm, Plymouth Meeting, PA. (610) 275-7551 or www.sandyhillfarm.org)
Pick your own fruit. At Linvilla Farm and Orchards, not far from Valley Forge, doing and tasting is all part of the fun. This is the place to show your children that apples and peaches grow on trees. Pick strawberries in the summer season and pumpkins in the fall. Taste just off the vine tomatoes or husk your very own sweet corn. See horses, chickens and pigs; meet costumed characters like Dora, Elmo and Shrek. During September and October each year Pumpkinland remains a popular fall tradition for families with young children. Bonus points: The Farm Market in the octagonal barn is not-t-be-missed for jams, jellies, pies and ice cream sundaes. Need to know: Throughout the year special events are created to celebrate the season. Celebrate National Pie Day, join the annual fishing derby, cheer a tractor pull, commemorate Johnny Appleseed, cut-your-own Christmas tree or visit Bunnyland in the spring. (Linvilla Farm and Orchards, 137 W. Knowlton Rd. Media, PA. (610) 876-7116 or www.linvilla.com)
Remember the scouts. Anyone with a young scout in the family will feel a special connection to World of Scouting Museum. The large rustic log cabin on the campus of the Washington Memorial Chapel, within the boundary of the Valley Forge National Historical Park, has one-of-a-kind items scouting items which chronicle the growth of both Boy Scout & Girl Scout movements worldwide. You will see things like a bugle belonging to Daniel Carter Beard, one of the founders of the American Boy Scouts and several of the first Girl Scout cookie containers. (World of Scouting Museum. 2 Mark Bird Lane Elverson, PA. (610) 783-5311 or www.worldofscoutingmuseum.org)
Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau. 600 West Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462. To see the bigger picture, make plans for a family getaway and to take advantage of website (only) discounts look at www.ValleyForge.com
Make it happen. Valley forge CVB 600 West Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462.
Books for the Trip
When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots. By Lynne Cheney, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing (October 12, 2004) (Ages 4-8)
America: A Patriotic Primer. By Lynne Cheney, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser,
Simon & Schuster Books. Young an alphabet book intended for elementary school children and their families. (Ages 7)
The Winter of the Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart. By Christina Gregory, Scholastic Parade, 1996. (Ages 9-12)
Valley Forge (Places in American History). By Libby Hughes, Dillon Press, 1993. (Ages 9-12)
Paul Revere, Valley Forge, Molly Pitcher, Nathanial Hale (Living Adventures from American History). Volume II Audio Cassette, Independent Publishers Marketing, 1995. (Ages 9-12)
Valley Forge (Cornerstones of Freedom). By Richard Conrad Stein, Children’s Press, 1997. (Ages 9-12)
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Content researched and written by Amanda Nelson-Duac for FTF. Images provided by Valley Forge CVB. Copyright 2012.