The obvious answer to this question is by bike through GettysBike Tours. Not only are they our sponsor, but we founded the business in 2005, though we are not the current owners. It was designed because no one was successfully doing it at the time, though some had tried. Those that tried failed because, we believed, they didn't design the tours (or the business itself) with the tourist in mind. They applied a "one-size-fits-all" approach to bicycle tours in Gettysburg because, well, they weren't from Gettysburg. Until we started the business, we weren't from Gettysburg either, but we toured it almost religiously, so, by the time we became locals, we never lost our memories of being a tourist.
GettysBike Tours was designed to be an experience and it was born out of a very simple desire we had: to come somewhat close to the hardships soldiers had to face. You won't get even a whiff of that from an automobile. Certainly not from the sky. The best way to experience what a Civil War soldier experienced is to eat very little and walk miles a day, either sit around in camp for days or weeks or months on end or be thrown into a horrific battle only to retire to camp that night with half the friends you woke up with that morning. But who has time for that? So, the great compromise is a bike tour. Only then can you get an appreciation for "the high ground" (grunted like Sam Elliott in Gettysburg). Or how the elements affect your progress. Then, top that off with one of several Licensed Battlefield Guides telling you what happened along the way. The best part, to me, is feeling the wind in your face as you ride around (hint: it helps cool you better than AC. I swear)
Ok, cycling is not for everyone. The Gettysburg Tour Center is basically an institution here in Gettysburg. They provide tours by bus and with Licensed Battlefield Guides. Before I moved to Gettysburg to open GettysBike, it was tradition for my father and I (and whoever else was along with us) to open the weekend with a double-decker bus tour. You can certainly ride below in the AC and not all of their buses are double-decker, but, in my book, nothing can replace the feeling of having the wind blowing in your hair (or across your barren scalp, if you're bald like me) as you tour the fields. It's like being blasted in the face with history. Are you starting to detect a theme here?
If I'm being honest, my dream was to open another horse tour company here in Gettysburg , but I really only had experience riding horses, which I love, and not caring for them. Plus, who had the money to open that when a very successful one was already in existence? Now, for this recommendation, I'm going to urge you to Google which one to try because it's been many years since I've done a horse tour, so my recommendation would be outdated.
Here's the deal: horseback is a fantastic and closer-to-authentic way to see the fields. Unlike a bike or automobile tour, horses are limited to horse trails that offer a unique view of the battlefield seldom seen by the average tourist. The only down side is you're limited to these trails which limits the sites your can see. Did I mention you're out in the open AND they utilize Licened Battlefield Guides for their tours?
The best part?
The animal does all the work for you.
Speaking of horses, you can also take horse-drawn carriage rides and tours. Again, more than one company, soooooo...
GettysBike almost was the company to bring segways to Gettysburg, but, of course, that was ruined by lawyers during contract negotiations and that idea fell by the wayside. That is, until SegTours opened up. Segways are a fun alternative to bikes because the machine does the work for you, allowing you to just enjoy the information, sights and wind on your face.
But, that's not all. SegTours teams you up with a Licensed Guide or an audio recording when one is not available.
A Licensed Battlefield Guide In Your car
So, of course I'm biased for a few reasons as I pointed out at the start of the artcile. I'm also just right, regardless of bias ;-).
Look, I get it. You're too old or out of shape or lazy to ride a bike. Maybe it's been too long since you last rode. I know. I've been there and now that I'm back to riding I could kick myself for every stopping. Pizza is delicious, but nothing beats the taste of using your body to move your from one place to another. But, whatever. You can't/won't ride a bike and nothing I say will make you try. Fine...
Then do yourself a favor and see the battlefield in the comfort of your own car: hire a Licensed Battlefield Guide to take you around. Through the visitor center reservation desk or personal recommendations from us, here, at Addressing Gettysburg (firstname.lastname@example.org), or directly through their association
"It's easier to get into the CIA than become a Licensed Battlefield Guide and that's why I intend to, er-ah, break the CIA into a million little pieces," President John F. Kennedy famously never said and he was right (had he said it). It is VERY difficult to become a LBG. These men and women really know their stuff and you will too when you hire them to take you on a tour.
Regardless of my bias towards modes of transportation, one thing is indisputable, in my book: a Licensed Battlefield Guide is a MUST on any and every tour you take of Gettysburg. Period. Now, you can make an argument that I'm biased here too because I have quite a few friends and acquaintences who are guides, but only a fool would make that argument.
And, hey, open your windows so you can feel the wind in your face.
Matt Callery is producer and host of Addressing Gettysburg. He once saved his friend's younger brother from fall down a cliff as if in a movie. There are witnesses.
The number one rule when visiting Gettysburg is: DON'T PANIC.
Ok, you followed the directions and parked in Lot #1 but you can't, for the life of you, find the visitor center even though all indications beforehand lead you to this spot. The last thing you should do at this moment is leave in search of signs of life. Life is just around the corner. Believe me. Breathe deep and repeat the number one rule.
Now that we've calmed you down, let's turn on our ability to think and problem solve and get you into that Visitor Center! Huzzah!
What can we do to start? How about look around us for signs of a building in the middle of the woods that is massive, looks like a round barn and is painted red. You probably don't see it directly. DON'T PANIC.
What do you see? Do you see other people? I'll bet you do. Which way are they walking? Are they walking towards the road that you just pulled off of (remeber that road curves around lot 1, so they can be walking in different directions but still be walking towards the road)? Are they walking towards the tree that are opposite the road? Yes?!? Great! Let's follow them. Don't worry. They won't bite. Gather your things (no backpacks) and forward, march!
Alright, we're making our way towards the sidewalks.
Ah! A Clue! Why, they wouldn't put sidewalks somewhere we don't need to walk. I must be heading in the right direction, you think to yourself.
Very good. You're learning. Keep walking and look for two tall flag poles. See them? Guess what they're placed at the confluence of? Two separate paths that lead to--where?-- that's right, the Visitor Center.
By now you should be confident that you're, quite literally, "on the right path".
Now, as we've acknowledged in a previous blogpost, this isn't entirely your fault. The design of the complex is a bit confusing and the dense forestation makes it so that getting a visual on such a massive building is difficult. So don't beat yourself up over this, for the love of all things Holy. But just in case you're still not getting it (come on, who is that dense?), here are some things to look for once you've passed the two flagpoles. When you spot these things you SHOULD be able to spot the visitor center somewhere directly behind them.
Your obedient servant,
A Visitor's Guide To Gettysburg, Tip #1: How to find the visitor center
By Matt Callery
Matt Callery is host and producer of Addresing Gettysburg Podcast among other things. To be notified about the progress of production and the release of the podcast, join our mailing list here.
This may come off as a bit snarky. Believe me, it is not intended to be. It's intended to be helpful to many people who seem to have an issue finding the visitor center...while at the visitor center. I am still not being snarky.
The visitor center is an enormous building, but it's hidden. This, I do believe, is by design. Not to hide it from you, the visitor, but so that it blends in with the landscape and doesn't distract from the views on the battlefield. But I've encountered a surprising number of visitors who are so close, yet so far (as far as they know), to the visitor center they seek to find.
So let me walk you through this and, just one last time, I'm not being snarky here. I'm genuinely trying to help.
Let's assume that you have punched the address, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysurg, Pa, into your GPS. Now let's assume that it has taken you to the Baltimore Pike entrance (there are two entrances as the VC is sandwiched between two roads, but this blogpost only deals with the Baltimore Pike entrance. Below is map of the location to aid you in visualizing what I am talking about as we move forward. Below that is a photo of the Baltimore Pike entrance, facing roughly South.)
Once you've made the turn the first thing you should see is a digital sign. Normally it shows the direction that cars should go to park vs. where buses and RVs should go to park.
Today, this sign said cars should go to Lot 3. Cars are always welcomed in Lot 3 (which is immediately off of the Taneytown Road entrance, which we're not covering in this article) without being told to by the digital sign. But it was busy today and Lot 1 was full. So this is the way to let you know to not even bother with Lot 1.
Soon after seeing this sign, you will come to a four-way intersection (pictured below). If you are not a bus dropping off a large group of people at the visitor center, don't even acknowledge that it's possible to make a right turn. That's not for you.
If you're in an RV or a bus that wants to park and not drop people off, you must make a left. There, you will find the bus and RV lot as indicated in the sign two pictures above. There are even bathrooms there. Past the bathrooms is a little path that goes into the woods. That will take you and yours on a short walk up to the visitor center. The building in the RV/bus lot is not, in fact, the visitor center.
Let's take a second to read the sign at the intersection:
Note how cars and vans (SUVs too) go straight, while buses, RVs and Trailers park to the left. Hey, Tesla owners, if you go left you can even charge up. To the right, handicap and bus drop-off are allowed. By the way, that white sign in the background is pointing to our sponsor, GettysBike Tours' location which is in the Bus and RV lot.
Ok, great, let's get beyond the intersection.
Notice how the weeds, wildflowers and underbrush are growing wild. I also believe this is by design and has some environmental reasoning. Whatever the reasoning is, I kinda like it. It makes one feel detached from the chaos of modern life and makes it a little easier to transport ourselves back to 1863.
But that's not why I bring it up. I bring it up because, while it is nice on the one hand, I think it's the main reason why people have such a hard time finding the actual visitor center. Poor visibility, an unintended consequence of the design. Plus the font size on the signage is too small to be seen and processed while driving.
As you come around the bend, you will probably blow past a sign. This sign...
Let's take a moment and analyze this sign here in this blogpost so you don't need to stop in the middle of the lane of traffic to read it.
Should you miss Lot 1 all together, there will be a very small window of opportunity for you to actually see the visitor center itself as you drive around the bend just outside of Lot 1. The picture below shows you what it might look like
Can ya see it? Here is a zoomed in shot of it.
Again, though this is done with some humor, I don't mean to come off as smarmy, nor do I intend to embarrass anyone, be it the visitor or the Visitor Center powers-that-be and staff. I love Gettysburg and love that people come to visit it still. I want to get more people visiting here. I just know from firsthand experience that may visitors have difficulty navigating their way to the Visitor Center itself while being right in front of it and I want to help our followers who haven't visited before, come armed with an idea of what to expect. Plus, I want them to be able to actually get to the Visitor Center so they can see the great exhibits and presentations it has to offer.
Also, the Foundation does a fantastic job at breathing new life into how we see our history through the Visitor Center, which is great because, as we believe here at Addressing Gettysburg, "History is how you see it." Have fun on your visit. Read a book or two!
Oh, one more thing. You may be asking yourself, "why hasn't he mentioned Lot 2?" Good question. The short answer is: because it's not for you. And that's the long answer too. Just move on with your life. :-)