Horseback riding vacation on the Gettysburg battlefield
Most people visiting Gettysburg see the battlefield from their car or tour bus. But riding through Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a dramatic encounter with American History and a unique horseback riding vacation.
Trails through history
About five miles of trails lace through the 6,000 acres of the National Park Service battlefield. They wind through rolling pastures and heavy woods, behind stone walls, and around the monuments and statues. If you don’t care about the history, it’s the place for some excellent, scenic trail riding. But if you want to ride into history, arrange for an escorted ride with a licensed guide. They’ll take you back in time to experience what the cavalrymen and foot soldiers saw and experienced. Depending on your interest, time, and budget, they last from 2-4 hours.
Historic horseback riding vacation
The guides are excellent at setting up the atmosphere and history to help you understand what was happening in the muggy July of 1863. For me, it was very personal. My mother’s side of the family lived in Frederick, about 30 miles from Gettysburg, and undoubtedly saw the troop movements and heard the battle. I kept wondering what they’d gone through.
Our guide told us that snipers hid behind the rocks in the woods we were riding through and that the cavalrymen knew that they might be shot at any moment. Suddenly, the beautiful autumn landscape wasn’t so enjoyable as we felt the ghostly eyes of snipers watching us. Later, we stopped at the place where Confederate soldiers readied themselves for Pickett’s Charge and shared the view they had before beginning their doomed run.
Our guide, Jim, was as much a showman as a knowledgeable historian. A big man with a full beard sitting astride a sturdy black mare, he looked like he’d just ridden in from patrolling troop lines. We were on Little Round Top where Joshua Chamberlain ordered the bayonet charge that was made famous in the movie “Gettysburg.” Jim recounted the story with great drama, then waved his arm and said, “As far as we can tell, this is where he gave the order. One of you is sitting on the spot where he stood.”
Horses for Your Horseback Riding Vacation
Artillery Ridge Campground is the horse headquarters for Gettysburg. The campground is adjacent to the battlefield, with one of the trails just across the road. It has well-built, well-maintained box stalls. Shavings are provided, but you are expected to muck out. If you don’t, they charge a $20 cleaning fee. They also have about a dozen spacious open paddocks. Overnight prices are between $15-25, depending on whether you want a stall or paddock and if you are staying at the campground. You’ll need to show proof of negative results for a Coggins test.
The campground also has a stable of well-trained trail horses they use for rides in the battlefield. There’s a one-hour scenic trail ride with no historical elements for $40 or a two-hour historic tour for $75. Groups of six or more can arrange for a two-hour ride with a licensed guide for $150 or a four-hour ride for $300. They campground needs 3-4 weeks to set that up.
The trails are maintained by volunteers of the Gettysburg Equestrian Historical Society (GEHS), which works closely with the NPS. If not for them, the trails would close, since the NPS can’t afford the upkeep. Several times a year, they hold a guided, 4-hour, fund-raising ride. There’s a discount if you stay at the campground that weekend.
The trails are very rocky, so unless your horse has very well-conditioned hoofs, they need to be shod or have protective boots. The trails are wide and the trail maps are quite good. You will have to cross public roads several times, but the traffic moves slowly through the park and stops for horses. Riders are not allowed to go faster than a walk, and going off the trails is completely forbidden. Don’t even think about trying to gallop across the battlefield.
About Your Gettysburg Horseback Riding Vacation
The campground has everything for campers: tent sites, hook-ups for all sized trailers, even RVs and motor homes for rent. There are cabins which sleep up to 6, but have no facilities; you’ll need to use the bathhouse. If camping is not your thing, the town of Gettysburg is a 5-minute drive away. It has hotels, motels, and B&Bs; restaurants (including one specializing in Indian food, which was definitely not there in 1863!); and lots of souvenir shops, museums, and galleries. You’ll spend several hours at the Battlefield Visitor Center. The extra cost for the Cyclorama is well worth it. And check into arranging for a “Monuments Tour.” It’s a driving tour of the battlefield with the guide explaining the stories behind the hundreds of monuments placed by the veterans.
If You Go:
Artillery Ridge Campground: 610 Taneytown Rd., Gettysburg, PA. 717-334-1288
Gettysburg Equestrian Historical Society Trail rides for 2012 are planned for May 19 and Sept. 8.
Gettysburg Foundation (reserve guides) 877-874-2478
National Park Service, Gettysburg National Military Park
Fran Severn is a freelance travel writer at Striped Pot. Follow Fran on Twitter and follow Nancy D. Brown on Twitter at Ridinghorseback. Photos courtesy of Artillery Ridge Campground and Gettysburg Equestrian Historical Society.