I’ve been hiking and riding a bike in Valley Forge since I began my trip from potato to potential years ago. This includes my recent hikes and walks, and I’ve been overdue to give an overview.
There are several Valley Forge parks, in a way. There’s Mount Misery, on the edge of the park, which is its own contained loop. There is the River Trail, which is flat and follows the northern side of the Schuylkill River. Mount Joy faces Mount Misery and has trails as well, although the horse use deters me from using them. The Schuylkill River Trail passes through the park on its way to Philadelphia and Phoenixville. And there’s the main multi-use path in the park, the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail, which is where I usually hike when I visit the park and don’t feel like climbing Mount Misery.
The park has a curious history aside from Washington’s encampment. It became the first Pennsylvania State Park in 1872. In 1976 it was sold to the National Park Service for one dollar. The park service got an assortment of historic buildings, some replicas, monuments, and a chapel for its buck. The Joseph Plumb Martin trail, which I’ll call the Martin Trail for short, connects most of them.
We’ll start our tour at the Visitor’s Center, easily accessible off of PA Route 422, Route 23, and the Schuylkill River Trail. The Visitor’s Center is nice, but today we are just going to walk the five miles or so of trail. The “or so” is because of the potential shortcuts we might take. The Martin Trail is paved and aside from some rolling its not too difficult, so we wore our walking shoes and left the hiking poles in the car. We brought a water bottle, which we filled at the fountain next to the restrooms. As we start our walk we note the large number of cyclists using the trail, and keep alert to anyone coming by us on two wheels.
Starting from the Visitor’s Center and going counter clockwise, the Martin Trail climbs up a hill and then levels out, following Pennsylvania Route 23. It passes the Washington Memorial Chapel, which is worth crossing the road to tour. The building was designed as a miniature version of Westminster Cathedral, and it and the cemetery behind are worth a few minutes to explore.
Continuing on, the trail branches at the Von Steuben statue. The general looks on at the area where the troops would assemble for drills, and the trail continues through there. Behind the general the trail crosses Route 23 and runs another mile to the old train station and Washington’s headquarters. We will leave that for another hike. Oh, and we note that the parking lots at both the chapel and Von Steuben statue are also great places to start a hike from.
The trail leaves Route 23 and now follows park roads, and the traffic noise drops away. We pass through some wooded areas and by replica cabins and cannons. There is another parking area and a restroom on this part of the loop. There are a couple of shortcuts on the loop, but all of these branches reunite near the Washington Memorial Arch. This massive structure, like the spires of the chapel a couple of miles away, dominate the view of the park.
From the Arch we continue past cabins and memorials along a level ridge to the Visitor’s Center, and back to our vehicle.
I don’t do this full loop often, but segments of it frequently. Its accessible, historic, and always provides a great view. I like this park, and I hope when you visit you will too.