Unless you are a huge Civil War history buff and want to visit every historical site in town, a day trip to Gettysburg, PA is plenty of time to see the important highlights. However, you will want to reserve the full day. A few hours will not do it justice.
The town centers around the Gettysburg National Military Park. With over 6,000 acres, the park is huge. Mostly it’s fields where battles took place, so don’t worry about conquering it all.
You’ll still spend most of your day trip touring the military park. However, we’ve included helpful tips to make the most of your day trip, including a few other spots to see.
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Start at the Visitor Center
Start your day trip at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. Here you’ll find a cafe, bookstore, an information desk, and several historical artifacts. Don’t miss the bullet-riddled tree.
Visiting the Gettysburg National Military Park is free; however, there is a fee for the museum at the visitor center. Tickets include admission to the Cyclorama, a massive fully restored painting from 1884, and a 22-minute film called, “the New Birth of Freedom.” You’ll need to reserve around 2 hours of your day to do the museum and the movie.
You can also book paid battleground tours at the visitor center. Options include hiring a private guide, or joining a bus or bicycle tour. However, you can do a free self-driving tour, like we did. Just grab a free park map before leaving the visitor center.
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Another tour you can buy at the Visitor Center is for the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Tickets include a shuttle bus from the Visitor Center to the site. Normally, you cannot drive up to the property.
The Eisenhower’s loved this area of Pennsylvania. Before Dwight D. Eisenhower became president in 1952, they bought the 189-acre farm for retirement. However, since retirement had to wait until after his presidency, the farm made a nice quiet weekend retreat. It was even used to entertain foreign dignitaries.
Today, the park service manages four distinct farms on the site, containing 690 acres.
Covid Impacts on Visiting Eisenhower’s House
As there is very little parking on site, normally, you cannot visit the house without using the shuttle service.
However, to compensate for Covid closures and reduced hours, the National Park Service opened a small parking area on site. You can park on the farm if tours are not running that day.
Though you can’t go in the house without a tour, you can do a self-guided tour of the grounds. Plus, there are videos of the inside on the National Park Service website.
Touring the Gettysburg National Military Park
Knowing where to start can be a little confusing since there are literally historical sites all over the place. However, the map from the Visitor Center is now your best friend for your self-driving tour.
Though we are going to add in a few more stops, the map routes out 16 numbered tour stops. It also includes the Barlow Knoll loop and 2 stops in the historical downtown.
We recommend starting at McPherson Ridge and following the numbered red tour path to each site. Though this may seem like a lot, it’s the easiest route for a day trip of Gettysburg.
Free Tour Guide for your Gettysburg Day Trip
The Gettysburg battlefield map only gives very brief descriptions of each main stop. In addition to the paid tours, there are many phone apps you can download and buy.
However, the Gettysburg National Military Park has an amazing free tour right on their website. A collation of short informational videos, led by one of their passionate park rangers, gives an overview of the events at each stop.
Watching all the videos takes 1:30 hours, so have your phone charged. We’ve listed the videos and their timing below to help with your planning.
We only had a few slow spots for mobile data signal. For the most part it worked fantastically and gave us a brilliant experience.
If you are worried about phone signal and have a CD player, Amazon sells a book which includes a self-driving tour on CD: The Gettysburg Story: Battlefield Auto Tour.
Video Duration (mins:secs)
McPherson Ridge Continued
Eternal Light Peace Memorial
North Carolina Memorial
The Virginia Memorial
Little Round Top
The Peach Orchard
East Cemetery Hill
High Water Mark
1 hr 28 mins
Get a View from the Observation Towers
Not afraid of heights? There are three observation towers worth stopping at for great views. The first one is already on your route, but the other two require separate stops.
- 1st – Next to Stop 3 – Oak Ridge
- 2nd – Just after Stop 6 – Pitzer Woods
- 3rd – At Culps Hill, after Stop 13 – Spanglers Spring.
All towers are marked on the park’s map; they are just not numbered stops.
Add a Stop at Devil's Den
Little Round Top is one of the most popular, and often crowded stops along the battlefield. From the high ridge, you’ll see a pile of boulders in the distance. That’s Devil’s Den.
To get there, follow Crawford Ave, a one-way road. After the site, it loops back around to the red route just before Stop 9 – The Wheatfield.
Not only is Devil’s Den an interesting geology formation to walk around, but it was also very important to the Confederate Army. The Union Army held the higher ground. However, they couldn’t entrench due to the solid rocky ground on Little Round Top.
The Confederate Army moved along the cleared valleys and lowlands in an effort to drive the Union Army off the higher ridges. Natural formations, like Devil’s Den supplied cover and strategic defense for the Confederates.
Downtown Gettysburg makes a great place to stop for lunch on your day trip. You’ll find plenty of choice within a short walk from the roundabout in the center of town. If you like gourmet food, pizzas, sandwiches, house cut truffle parmesan fries, give Food101 a try.
Marked as the blue trail on the Gettysburg tour map are two historical buildings in downtown.
The Gettysburg Train Station Museum served as a supply depot during the Civil War. It’s also where Abraham Lincoln arrived from Washington to give his famous speech at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery.
The David Will’s House, on the corner of the roundabout in the center of town, is where Lincoln finished writing his Gettysburg address.
In front of the house is the Return Visit Statue by J. Seward Johnson. The statue commemorates Lincoln’s visit by depicting him with “the common man.” It’s intended to illustrate the relevance of the Gettysburg address to present day. We found the clothes on the statue to be unbelievably realistic. At first, we thought it was a street performer!
Where to Stay in Gettysburg
If you plan on making the most of your day trip to Gettysburg by staying close by, here are a few hotels to check out.
- The Federal Pointe Inn Gettysburg – Gorgeous old-world charm with luxurious modern amenities. Located near downtown with free parking, we felt this hotel offered good value.
- Lightner Farmhouse B&B – If you want to stay in an historical building but prefer a B&B feel, the Lightner is perfect. Located only a few miles from the battlefield, this 1862 building served as a hospital following the 1863 battle.