George Washington would be on familiar ground if he visited his still pristine winter encampment site at nearby Valley Forge. Over five square miles of rolling countryside, woods and fields have been preserved to reflect the landscape that Washington occupied during that pivotal winter. Of course, his eyes would likely bulge at the modern trappings that surround his sanctuary – a casino, hotels, the sprawling King of Prussia Mall, even a Wegmans. But the combined effort provides a visitor with outdoor recreation, an immersion into history and a shopping and entertainment experience that rivals any family getaway. It can even be reached by public transportation or bike. Here’s what you’ll find during a day trip or weekend fling. – Jay Lloyd
VALLEY FORGE NATIONAL PARK
Delve into history, ride a bicycle along 20 miles of trails or picnic on a sun drenched hillside overlooking the Schuylkill River. The Visitor Center is a logical starting point to pick up maps, get oriented and browse the Museum Gallery with its Revolutionary War artifacts ranging from flintlocks to uniforms. Afterwards, head out to Washington’s Headquarters, where the General lived and worked. History-savvy guides walk visitors through the meticulously preserved rooms. It’s just a short stroll from here to a cluster of soldiers’ huts. Visitors are free to step inside for glimpse of life behind a musket. Either backtrack to Varnum’s picnic grove for a bit of lunch, or follow your maps to the Washington Memorial Chapel. Then bike or drive on a self-guided tour along the Inner and Outer Line Drives to access redoubts and scenic overlooks. During the spring, Trolley Tours run on weekends. If you want to mix up your history with a dash of exercise, hook up with a park ranger for an informative and entertaining walking tour — they do have a sense of humor! If you happen to be there when the Revolutionary re-enactors are out, take in a soldiers’ drill or battle panorama complete with sword play and musketry. For more info on special events, visit: www.nps.gov/vafo/planyourvisit/upload/VAFO_Events_2013-2.pdf
WHAT IT COSTS
Access to the park, the Visitors Center and Washington’s Headquarters is free.
Trolley Tours are $16 for adults, $13 for students and seniors and $8 for children 11 and under. Check out all available tours at: www.nps.gov/vafo/planyourvisit/guidedtours.htm
WHERE TO EAT
The King of Prussia area is awash in restaurants – everything from fast food to fine dining.
Located just a few minutes from the park at the King of Prussia Mall, the Cheesecake Factory is a hot stop for families with kids. It hits the mark with both traditional and unique temptations for parents while catering to the mac-and-cheese cravings of kids.
I can’t count how many years I’ve been going to Michael’s for lunch. Pickle bowls and chicken soup point the way to pastrami, corned beef and brisket piled on real Jewish rye bread. After all, half the sandwich is the bread, so it should be as good and fresh as the meat.
A dinner favorite in King of Prussia (and again, just minutes from the park), Season’s 52 offers a varying menu of locally sourced food that changes seasonally. They do some calorie counting here, but I’ve never left hungry. Depending on the season, the short ribs or any fish dish will hit the spot. One tip: There’s a piano player nightly in the lounge, and the muted lighting and music make that area a more intimate room for a relaxing dinner.
Familiar favorites near the park also include Legal Sea Foods and a trio of steakhouses: Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s and Sullivan’s.
WHERE TO STAY AND PLAY
Valley Forge Casino Resort
For an adult getaway, the Valley Forge Casino Resort is within sight of the park and offers rooms with eye-filling views (and some of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever vanished into!). A variety of restaurants include a pub and deli along with a fine dining Italian eatery and a first rate fin food and steakhouse. This casino is a cut above the norm. You won’t be out of place if you dress to impress – cocktail dresses for women, silk or linen jackets and blazers for men. Rooms this month start at an amazing $129 a night.
Crowne Plaza Valley Forge
For families with kids, the Crowne Plaza offers a location right on top of the King of Prussia Mall, movie theaters and attractions to lure Lilliputians. The rooms have all the bells and whistles, from flat screen TVs to free internet access and compact fridges to keep the kids from dropping of thirst or snack deprivation. Rooms this month start at $119 a night.
One note: Two SEPTA bus routes link the mall, the casino resort and Valley Forge Park. If you make a weekend of it, you can simply park and ride. On spring weekends, there’s free shuttle service within the national park and bike rentals are available.