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How to Visit Gettsyburg National Military Park

Updated on August 30, 2017
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Scott Bateman is a professional journalist who specializes in writing about travel, health, and business.

The Pennysylvania Memorial is the largest monument at Gettysburg.
The Pennysylvania Memorial is the largest monument at Gettysburg. | Source

Gettysburg National Military Park in southern Pennsylvania is a massive memorial devoted to the bloodiest battle of the U.S. Civil War.

The 6,000-acre park, created in 1895, remembers the three-day conflict in July 1865 when the Confederate army led by Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania and met the Army of the Potomac led by George Meade. More than 160,000 troops fought during the battle that left more than 50,000 casualties.

Gettysburg park is the largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world with 1,328 monuments and memorials honoring both sides of the conflict, according to the Gettysburg Foundation. The park includes 26 miles of road.

The massive size of the park and the huge visitors’ center require some planning in advance by visitors who want to use time wisely. The best way to visit Gettysburg National Military Park includes one of three options:

  1. Take expert-guided tour buses for people who can visit at least a half day to a full day.
  2. Take a self-guided auto tour for people with two to four hours of time.
  3. Go to the visitor center and a few of the best memorials for people with less than two hours available.

The visitor center, park grounds, Soldiers’ National Cemetery and Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station are free. Tour buses, visitor center programs, David Wills House and Eisenhower National Historic Site require a fee.

The self-guided auto tour allows visitors to stop at key points around the battlefield.
The self-guided auto tour allows visitors to stop at key points around the battlefield. | Source

Starting Point: The Visitor Center

The starting point for any option is the 139,000 square foot Museum and Visitor Center that opened in 2008. It sits on a carefully chosen spot that saw no major action during the battle.

The center has exhibits, maps, information kiosks, souvenir shop, restrooms and a large restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. The restaurant has reasonable prices and some already prepared takeout food for anyone in a hurry.

Plan to spend at least 15-30 minutes walking to the center from the parking lots and getting information such as maps or tickets.

The 4-8 Hour Visit

The most educational way to visit Gettysburg is the half day to full day visit. It also is the most expensive way to visit for tourists who spend money on extra fee-based options.

Although the visitor center is free, the center has a film (narrated by Morgan Freeman), museum and cyclorama painting in a package that costs $15 for adults with discounts for seniors, children and veterans. The film and cyclorama painting take about 45 minutes plus museum time.

The second potential cost is a bus tour of the battlefield with a licensed guide. It costs $35 for teens and adults and $21 for children ages 6 to 12. The tour takes about two and a half hours. Discounts are sometimes available at GettysburgFoundation.org.

The visit can last a full day if it also includes the Eisenhower historic site, historic train station and David Wills House where Abraham Lincoln put the final touches on his Gettysburg Address.

Soldiers' National Cemetery.
Soldiers' National Cemetery. | Source

The 2-4 Hour Visit

A quicker, less expensive and less educational option is a stop at the visitor center and a self-guided auto tour.

Maps from the visitor center have 16 stopping points of important memorials and locations on the battlefield. Each stop has exhibits and tablets with information about the importance of the location. The full tour takes about three hours to complete.

The tour can go faster or slower depending on the stop because some are more interesting than others. History buffs may spend more time on important locations during the battle while others may spend more time with the larger monuments, especially photographers.

A quicker, less expensive and less educational option is a stop at the visitor center and a self-guided auto tour.

The 1-2 Hour Visit

Visitors with more limited time can choose select points on the self-guided tour after a quick visit to the visitor center to get the map.

Two of the largest and most striking monuments are the Pennsylvania Memorial and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The Pennsylvania is the largest monument in the park and has a viewing platform. The Virginia Memorial is another striking monument.

Quick visitors who also want to see historic sites on the battlefield can go to Little Round Top, The Wheatfield and The Peach Orchard. They are near the Pennsylvania Memorial, which saves more time.

The 1,328 monuments and memorials honor both sides of the conflict.
The 1,328 monuments and memorials honor both sides of the conflict. | Source

The Hiking Option

Despite the size of the park, some people can hike at least parts of it. The Cemetery Ridge Trail is 1.5 miles long, begins at the visitor center and goes through Union defenses during Pickett’s Charge.

The National Cemetery Trail begins at the cemetery parking lots. It extends over the grounds where Union soldiers are buried and Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.

Other options are the three-mile Johnny Reb Trail and the 9.5-mile Billy Yank Trail. Ask for more details at the visitor center information desk.

Eisenhower National Historic Site

The home and farm of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower sits next to the battlefield. “The farm served the President as a weekend retreat and a meeting place for world leaders,” the National Park System says.

Tickets for adults are $9 and tickets for children six to 12 are $5. They are available at the visitor center. Ticket buyers board a shuttle bus at the center to reach the Eisenhower site. It is the only way to access the property.

Hours, Parking, Location

The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. April through October and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from November through March.

We visited the park on a Thursday morning in August and found that the site had three nearly full parking lots. The front two lots were entirely full and even had cars waiting for an opening. In that case, keep driving to the back of the visitor center for the third lot.

Gettysburg is about 90 minutes from Washington D.C. and Baltimore, which makes it a side trip for anyone visiting both cities. It is less than two miles from the Baltimore Pike exit off State Route 15.

show route and directions
A markerGettysburg National Military Park -
Gettysburg National Military Park, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA 17325, USA
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B markerWashington DC -
Washington, DC, USA
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C markerBaltimore MD -
Baltimore, MD, USA
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    • promisem profile image
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      Scott Bateman 2 weeks ago

      Thanks, Jo. Honestly, we stopped there during a trip to another destination mainly because it was right off the highway we were taking. It turned out to be much more impressive than I remembered from a visit many years ago.

      Civil War buffs will go there just because of the history. Families and school groups will find it very educational. I think casual travelers like us will find it worth a visit.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 3 weeks ago from Tennessee

      I visited Gettysburg a number of years ago but battle sites have never been top of my lists for places to see. Military history, in general, has just never been something that interests me greatly. But you have done a great job here of supplying would-be visitors with a guide to the site.

    • promisem profile image
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      Scott Bateman 3 weeks ago

      I didn't realize it either, MizBejabbers. I went there with my family many years ago as a kid. I think they have added many monuments since then, and they definitely added the massive visitor center.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 weeks ago

      I would love to add Gettysburg to the list of Civil War battlefields that I've visited. I guess the largest one so far was Vicksburg. This is a very informative article, and a little education doesn't hurt anyone before they visit. I didn't realize the park was that huge.

    • promisem profile image
      Author

      Scott Bateman 3 weeks ago

      Thanks, TW. I was surprised at the size of the park and the massive number of monuments everywhere.

    • Travel-Wise profile image

      Travel-Wise 3 weeks ago

      Lots of great information here Scott! Seems like a must-see. Thanks for sharing so many great tips :)