Monocacy National Battlefield: 2 hours, free, few short trails
Monocacy National Battlefield (free of charge) is a small battlefield in northern Maryland. We had wanted to go to Antietam National Battlefield but thought the site was too large to cover in a single day. Monocacy provides you with a short, 5 stop tour that you can complete in 2 hours. There are a few short hiking trails if you are looking to do more. Road signs to the site are nonexistent and the signs for the tour stops are hard to spot but we were able to figure it all out using our keen sense of direction. The sights are set in a picturesque location but we had trouble visualizing the battle. We felt as though this park was neglected in favor of its big bother Antietam. However, archeologists are active in the area so hopefully more excitement is forthcoming. The museum is perhaps the park’s most interesting aspect as it houses artifacts and uniforms from before and after the war.
Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park: Exploring the town and enjoying the views, $10/car
With little to do in Monocacy, we were able to get to Harper’s Ferry National Historic Site ($10/car or Interagency Pass) for some exploration. The town itself is small but much of the surrounding area remains in the hands of the NPS. Many shops are furnished as re-creations of how they once were and other buildings house museums about the culture of the town and John Brown’s Rebellion. John Brown’s Fort is still accessible and you should certainly take advantage of the educational opportunity.
You can walk up the hill to St. Peter’s Church which survived the destruction of the Civil War by remaining neutral throughout. A smart idea since the town changed hands 8 times during the war. Then you can saunter up to the rock where Thomas Jefferson once stood to comment on the beauty of this place. The Shenandoah River, Potomac River, and Appalachian National Scenic Trail intersect to create beautiful photo opportunities.
Manassas National Battlefield: $3/person, 5 hours to 3 days, many trails
The final stop on our Civil War tour was Manassas National Battlefield ($3/person or Interagency Pass). This park is huge and you could easily spent 3 days wondering the grounds. Google directions take you to headquarters so run the tour backwards and end at the visitor’s center for better efficiency. This is probably ill-advised if you do not have an annual pass and need to pay admission, either way you will need to check in at the visitor’s center.
The Battles of Manassas, also know as Bull Run, were both blowing defeats to the Union and led to the first invasion of the North by General Lee. The interpretive signs, lighted dioramas at the visitor centers, and the super cool NPS Rangers help to demonstrate the progression of the 1861 and 1862 battles as well as the effect on local townspeople. History lessons often forget about the civilian casualties of war but they are large and tragic. Union and Confederates alike often pillaged the homes and businesses of townsfolk, sometimes even their sympathizers.
A little burnt out on US history, we headed for Shenandoah National Park, unfortunately the road can close with little to no warning due to severe weather so never made it through the Skyline Drive Entrance. You should call beforehand for current conditions.
For more national park adventure, visit our National Park Service Guide.