Despite Gettysburg, PA being scarcely an hour from my house, I had no idea what to expect. I was obviously familiar with President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and knew the town held a pivotal role during the Civil War, but beyond that, I wasn’t sure. So, when my parents were in town from California for Thanksgiving, I took the opportunity to drag them to Pennsylvania to find out. This, like all of my ideas, was a smashing success, as Gettysburg makes a perfect day trip from the DC-metro.
Day trip itinerary: Gettysburg, PA
Set your alarm because hitting the road early is essential. The drive to Gettysburg is only 75 miles from the Beltway (I495), but there is a lot to see so you’ll need the entire day.
En route to Gettysburg, take a slight detour in Emmitsburg, MD taking Rt. 140 west towards Liberty Mountain Resort for the opportunity to cross Tom’s Creek via Jack’s Mountain Covered Bridge. This charming structure, built in 1890 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the few covered bridges still operational.
Note: A second covered bridge (Sachs Covered Bridge) is located on Waterworks Road west of the town of Gettysburg.
Jacks Mountain (G. Donald McLaughlin Memorial Covered Bridge) outside Fairfield, PA.
Gettysburg is 10 miles past the bridge along Rt. 116. As you enter the town on Middle Street, make a left on Baltimore Street to reach Lincoln Square and find somewhere to park.
Lincoln Square, Gettysburg, PA.
The town of Gettysburg has an attractive walkable center. The streets, lined with pubs, restaurants, boutiques and Civil War souvenir stores, make for pleasant window-shopping. Fortify yourself for the day by stopping in Gettysburg Baking Company on Lincoln Square for coffee and pastries. You can pick up sandwiches for lunch, while you are here. Tucked inside the same building, is Lark Gifts, which is worth a browse for the unique and funky.
Gettysburg Baking Co. and Lark Gifts
Next stop is the Gettysburg National Military Park. Make your way to the modern Visitor Center (195 Baltimore Pike, Rt. 97) and spend at least an hour at the incredibly moving Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War. If you aren’t an expert on the Battle of Gettysburg, this will provide you with the needed context to fully appreciate the monuments and geography of the Military Park.
Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War
Grab a self-driving tour map from the Visitor Center before returning to your vehicle. The self-guided auto tour is free and well sign-posted as it leads through 16 stops which include descriptions of the events as the Battle of Gettysburg unfolded. It takes approximately 3 hours to complete at an unhurried pace. The tour weaves through downtown Gettysburg several times, so it’s possible to stop and restart the tour, if necessary.
The final stop in the self-driving auto tour is the Soldier’s National Cemetery and location of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Note: a placard in front of the memorial informs you that the actual location is 300 yards away.
With the auto-tour complete, head back to Lincoln Square to stretch your legs and grab a snack before heading back to DC.
The cozy atmostphere at Pub & Restaurant at 21 Lincoln Square is a pleasant environment to slurp the french onion soup garnished with half a pretzel and about a pound of melted cheese. Yum!
Wander across Lincoln Square to Gallery 30, located at 26 York Street. You can’t miss it, as dozens of cheerfully hanging gourds welcome you from the sidewalk. Besides meeting any possible gourd-needs you might have, you’ll find high-quality art and other gifts inside. I bought the husband a very reasonably priced (and huge) gourd-cum-butterfly house for the garden.
Gallery 30, Gettysburg, PA
Before departing, it’s only fitting to take a short walk past the Gettysburg Hotel to pay respects to the Gettysburg Train Station located at 35 Carlisle Street. A stunning example of Italianate architecture, President Lincoln departed from here on November 20th 1863 after giving his Gettysburg Address.
Gettysburg Train Station, Gettysburg, PA
Length of Drive: 1.5 hours
Highlights: The profound and moving Gettysburg National Military Park and Museum of Civil War.
When to Go: Although purists may want to visit in July (the Battle of Gettysburg took place July 1-3, 1863), a late fall/winter visit heigtens the experience through a somber landscape and minimal crowds.
For an offbeat Gettysburg experience, visit Civil War Tails at the Homestead Diorama Museum at 785 Baltimore St.
Here, twin sisters Rebecca and Ruth Brown have displayed their extraordinarily detailed and handcrafted Civil War scene dioramas. But upon closer inspection, each of the thousands of clay soldiers, are actually cats. Yep, cats, complete with tiny tails. Wearing uniforms with era-appropriate beards.
During my visit, Rebecca was available to answer questions about the creation of the dioramas as well as provide expertise regarding nearly any aspect of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Next time: Given the time constraints of a day trip, it is impossible to visit all the sites of Gettysburg in a single visit. Next visit, I won’t miss Ronn Palm’s Museum of Civil War Images, located at 229 Baltimore Street. Open weekends and weekdays by appointment.
Also, on the way to Gettysburg, I had discovered the Jack’s Mountain Covered Bridge purely by accident. When writing this article, I realized that the Sachs Covered Bridge, also in the area, is both longer and more picturesque.