Gettysburg National Military Park for History Lovers
Insider tips and recommendations from fellow history lovers as well as current and former employees and volunteers.
Planning your visit
- Gettysburg witnessed the Civil War’s biggest and bloodiest battle, "take a moment at each place and really visualize in your minds eye what went on there." There is no doubt that "Gettysburg is a special place, indeed it is hallowed ground. Just being there is really powerful in a way that defies description." When visiting, "spend at least two days here, four days might be better." There are approximately 1,328 monuments, markers and memorials at Gettysburg National Military Park. "There is so much to see and absorb and it is one of the best managed battlefields."
- Visit their website to plan your trip.
- Please be aware that ticks are common to the Gettysburg area. Reduce your chances of getting a tick-borne disease by using repellents, checking for ticks, and showering after being outdoors. If you have a tick bite followed by a fever or rash, seek medical attention.
- Keep in mind that it can get very hot with no protection from the sun. It is advised to dress comfortably. Apply sunscreen generously and repeatedly throughout the day even if it is overcast.
- I recommend going with someone who shares your passion for history; or, at least, respects it. There is nothing worse than being rushed through or sense others are bored and anxious to leave after 5 minutes. (Laurie Barnes Pelletier)
- View a map ahead of your visit to see where landmarks and locations are so that you get a sense of where they are in relation to each other. (Kristen Stull)
When to visit
- Peak season: March - October.
- School Field Trip Days are usually between April - Second week of June.
- If you are visiting during a peak period: Try to get their very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It is usually most crowded in the middle of the day.
- Go in October. There's something in the way the sun's angle lights up the battlefields in October. There's a golden glow on everything, smaller crowds, and nicer temps, usually. (Andrea O'Neill)
- If you go during the anniversary week (Jul 1-3), you will have the opportunity to see a reenactment event. (Kristen DeFreez Warr) The reenactment can be watched for free. However, if you want a better view, buy the tickets as it puts you in the viewing stands.
To read or watch in advance
- Read the book, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. It is a fantastic rendering of the battle and provides extremely well researched insights, thoughts and motivations into those that were there. (Scott Wittman)
- Watch the movie, Gettysburg, (Jeff Daniels did a surprisingly outstanding job as the Union leader, Chamberlain, which appealed to our children at the time). It is long but gave a better understanding about the history of the battle & placement of many of the battle fields. (Martha Smith)
- Watch the Battle of Gettysburg, there are six parts which are all available in YouTube. (Sarah Ackerson Pica)
Selecting the tour or tours to take
- Entrance to the park, National Cemetery, or park buildings are free. However, there is a fee to enter the Museum and Visitor Center exhibit galleries, film and Cyclorama program.
- Save time by buying your tickets online. This is especially useful when visiting during peak season.
- There are different ways to tour the park, you may opt for a self-guided tour, purchase an audio tour, get a Licensed Battlefield Guide service or join a Licensed Battlefield Guide bus tour.
- If opting for a self-guided tour, you may download the Official Map and Park Guide or ask for a copy in the Visitor Center.
- Audio tours can be purchased and/or rented at many local businesses and may be taken through the park at your leisure. Plan to spend at least two hours on your tour with an audio tape. Approximate costs range from $10 to $25.
- If hiring a Licensed Battlefield Guide for the tour, call ahead and make a reservation in order to get the date and time you want.
- Do the audio driving tour, and break it up into more than one day if time allows. Driving the tour during off-peak hours is also helpful for avoiding crowds. (Kristen Stull)
- Take at least a few of their free ranger programs which are offered year-round. In the summer, they have longer walks and even evening campfire talks, which are great. (Amy Smallwood-Ringenberg)
When you visit
- Start your visit at the Museum and Visitor Center where you will find the National Park Service Information Desk, Visitor Center activities, ticket sales, Museum Bookstore, Refreshment Saloon, and restrooms.
- Watch the film A New Birth of Freedom, a twenty minute film narrated by Morgan Freeman that sets the stage for your visit to the battlefield. Following the film, visitors get to experience the Gettysburg Cyclorama, the monumental 1884 painting that depicts "Pickett's Charge". It's a must for those not well versed in the battle to keep track of the different places and lines on the three different days. (Andrea O'Neill)
- Backpacks and big parcels are not allowed inside the Museum and Visitor Center. Leave them in the trunk of your car.
- Save your tickets so you can enter the museum again later in the day.
- Definitely ride bikes to tour the battlefields! Best way to go! (Dawn Adams) You notice a lot of things you might breeze by in the car and are more likely to stop and see/read things. (Matt Kausch)
- Take a walk in the Soldiers' National Cemetery. You will stand on the same grounds where Lincoln gave his speech a couple years later. (Marlene Andrusia Anderson)
- Visit the David Wills House where Lincoln stayed the night before his famous address.
- Explore the town itself. The Dobbin House is a must-do for dinner. There are great shops, local wine stores, great B&B's. Fun town. (Truly Walters Zimmerman) Or a dinner at the historic Cashtown Inn. (Shirley Fox Rush)
- The Shriver House Museum is one of my favorite places in Gettysburg. You discover what it was like for the townspeople during and after the battle. (Sarah Ackerson Pica)
- Eisenhower National Park is adjacent to Gettysburg. If you have time, it is an interesting visit. (Crystal Freeman Johnson)
Especially for kids
- Ask for the Activity Guide for Junior Ranger Candidates at the information desk in the Visitor Center. Complete at least three of the seven activities in the booklet, return it at the information desk where a park ranger will review your book with you. If successful, you’ll receive a patch and certificate making you a Junior Ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park.
- The park is very big, prepare by bringing snacks and water in a refillable drinking bottle for the kids. Drinking fountains are available at the Museum and Visitor Center and at selected sites on the battlefield.
- Bring along old photographs taken after the battle and do your own "then and now" comparisons. It's fascinating. (Scott Wittman)
- Consider a Licensed Battlefield Guided Tour when visiting with kids. We had kids and the guide let them stop and put them in positions and let them pretend to use a canon. The kids could ask "kid" questions. It was amazing! (Michelle Henderson-Albaugh) It was worth every penny!!! He was great and even made sure our three elementary aged kids were kept engaged. (Saralyn Tapp)
- Kids will love the Devil's Den and Little Round Top.
- Monuments and cannon were placed to honor the sacrifices made by those organizations. They are irreplaceable historic objects protected by Federal law. Please help preserve them by not climbing, standing or hanging on them.
Do you have tips and recommendations to add? What else should a history lover visit when they are in the area? Please add them in the comments below.
Introduction to Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee's second and most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the "High Water Mark of the Rebellion", Gettysburg was the Civil War's bloodiest battle and was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln's immortal "Gettysburg Address".