Independence National Historical Park: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell – free
Pennsylvania can be bitterly cold during the fall. The reward for bravery is the absence of crowds. Our first stop was in Philly to see Independence Hall. Tickets can be reserved on-line (for a $1.50 reservation fee) before heading there to avoid lines and ensure your desired time slot (9 am in our case) tour. Make sure you are there by 8:30 am or risk your tickets being released to the general public. Independence Hall is an awesome sight to see. The National Park Service has done a great job recreating the scene as it would have been 230 years ago. The guide took you through the rooms explaining the importance of various objects and the revolutionary ideas that floated around the rooms as the delegates of the Continental Congress created our Nation.
As part of the tour, you are able to enter two other buildings. One of these houses the original drafts of the Declaration of Independence which was a welcome surprise. Apparently, these pages are older than the handwritten superstars. They also had the inkwell, that housed the famous ink, on display. The second building is where the House and Senate meet while Philly was our capital. A very enthusiast ranger guided us through the early history of our legislative branch. Any novice historian would enjoy this free experience.
Gettysburg National Military Park & Eisenhower National Historic Site: Driving Tour, hiking, museums – 1-3 days
Trying to avoid frostbite, we hopped in the car for a 2-hour drive to Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site. Stop at the Gettysburg Visitor Center to pay the admission of $7.50/person for the Eisenhower NHS (confused? yes, it’s the same visitor center for both sites). The shuttle ride is free! We opted out of the $12.50/person museum and Cyclorama experience in order to spend more time in the field, but if you have a few hours to spare, we’ve been told it’s well worth it.
Eisenhower NHS was magnificent. We recommend everyone go there. Get ‘er done! You will receive a warm welcome from a Ranger at the shuttle stop. Your guide will walk you around to explain the layout of the site and share historical tidbits. You’ll be dropped off at the house proper and handed over to yet another guide that introduces you to the day to day life of Mamie and Ike. Make sure you spend some time admiring the multitude of beautiful the Eisenhowers received from foreign dignitaries.
The house is well preserved and the Rangers are very knowledgeable about the most minute details. Ask lots of questions! The Rangers cut us loose to roam the grounds among the Black Angus Herd. By agreement with the NPS, a farmer still works the fields raising the same cows and crops that Ike once tended.
Being on the estate really gives one a feel for how life was for our former president. The Rangers are so well versed in the subject that we left the grounds with a real sense of self enrichment, which is rare to accomplish without a beer in hand.
That being said, if you too need a drink after your tour, head to The Pub and Restaurant (make no mistake, that is what this joint is called) and grab some local brews. This establishment was rebuilt after a fire razed it a few years ago. Everything including the decor was done by friends of the owners and local artists. Our favorites: the stained glass light fixtures and themed tabletops.
In order to avoid the crowds, get an early start on the 16 stop, 24 mile auto tour of the battlefield! As the sun broke the horizon, we began our drive and we had the grounds to ourselves for a good 3 hours. No one else (with the exception of some local runners and dog walkers) wanted to brave the blistering breeze. We spent 5 hours touring but certainly felt there was so much more to do and see. We did not get to do any of the hiking, something we would have loved. There are trails that follow Pickett’s Charge as well as other troop marches. You could easily spend two or three days exploring the elaborate memorials and getting down with your bad Civil War buff self. Walking will give you a more intimate historical experience.
Towards the end of the drive you will stop at Gettysburg National Cemetery. Here you will find a monument commemorating perhaps the most important event of the Civil War; the site of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. NOT! The signage is misleading and the actual location is hotly debated. We’ll leave it to you to figure out.
With Gettysburg and the Eisenhower under our belts it was time to head south toward warmer weather and more history.
For more national park adventure, visit our National Park Service Guide.