Etched into national memory as the winter quarters for George Washington’s troops, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is a vibrant historical site. Nearly 250 years after the winter that tested the mettle of the Continental Army, Valley Forge is an ideal group-tour destination offering diverse immersive activities.
“Group travelers are looking for more interactive experiences,” said Marc Kaminetsky, CTIS, director of sports, tourism and convention sales for the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board. “Travelers want to be immersed in opportunities that bring the site to life and personalize the visit.”
Nestled just 18 miles from Center City Philadelphia, Valley Forge is home to a 3,500-acre National Historical Park, King of Prussia Mall — the nation’s largest shopping mall — and a trail of artisan vintners and brewers. Outdoor attractions and a picturesque cultural district allow operators to tailor group visits and craft a memorable tour that actively engages travelers.
Valley Forge National Historical Park
Washington led his 12,000-man army into winter quarters at Valley Forge in December 1777. Lack of supplies and the harsh weather presented challenges. Nevertheless, it was there that Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian drill master recently arrived from Europe, improved the army’s battle techniques — boosting morale and the army’s skill.
“Walking through the physical space of Washington’s encampment adds a new dynamic to understanding that historic winter,” Kaminetsky said.
The story of the lives of colonial regulars and the colorful biographies of leaders are interpreted at the park. Local guides customize visits by boarding the motorcoach to narrate or ride alongside travelers on guided bicycle trips through the site.
“Guides can tailor the tour to focus on a theme like women in the encampment or the leadership style of George Washington,” Kaminetsky said.
Thirty craft breweries, wineries and distilleries make up the MontCo Makers trail. MontCo is short for Montgomery County.
“Visitors enjoy being able to go on tour with a brewer and learn about the steps in the art of beer making before sampling a flight,” Kaminetsky said. “Whether it be the owner or the brewer, their passion for the craft comes out.”
At the Workhorse Brewing Company in King of Prussia, an experiential tasting room is on tap for visitors to enjoy. Before the first pour, tour the brewing operation and learn how hops and the fermentation process create a palette of tastes.
The John James Audubon Center at Mills Grove
Pairing education and an experience in the field, the Audubon Center places visitors right in the shoes of John James Audubon himself.
A new education museum and center will teach visitors about birds and their behavior.
“Interactive experiences are taking flight at the Audubon Center,” Kaminetsky said.
Visitors can put their new-found knowledge to the test as they stroll 5 miles of trails to view blue jays, owls and several other species.
The 1.9-square-mile borough of Bryn Athyn is the picturesque setting for four historic buildings.
At the heart of the enclave is the Bryn Athyn Cathedral, a soaring Gothic structure that reflects England’s Gloucester Cathedral. The cathedral is renowned for its stunning collection of stained glass. Inspired by the design and techniques of medieval craftsmen, the hand-blown glass illustrates Scripture in vivid color. Visitors are welcome to attend services or arrange for a personalized tour to learn more about the cathedral’s history and artistic influences.
Cairnwood Estate, Glencairn and Cairncrest are all castle-like buildings originally designed as private residences for the Pitcairn family.
Glencairn features more than 90 rooms on 10 floors and an iconic nine-story tower. Visitors take in the elaborate metal and mosaic work as they explore a collection of 8,000 pieces of religious art from cultures ancient and new.
Christmas at Glencairn features the castle bedecked in holiday decor. During Meet the Artist weekends, encounter artists in Glencairn’s Great Hall and learn about their techniques.
To contact the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board call 800-441-3549, ext. 7981, or visit valleyforge.org.
Article by Michael C. McLaughlin