Why Autumn is the Best Time to Visit Gettysburg, PA

by Stephanie Withers
Gettysburg National Military Park

It was late October of 2017 and I was standing on a curb in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, my eyes glued to the deserted bend in the road a few yards away. My phone was poised and ready to capture the important picture. I had been waiting patiently for just the right time to capture this photo. Not of the stunning oranges, browns, and yellows around me or the way the sun made these colors shine like gold, no. I was waiting for something much more important!

Autumn drives through the Northeastern states are on most people’s bucket lists – and for good reason.

Growing up in the Northeastern U.S., autumn is a time where we all come alive. It’s not only “Pumpkin Spice” season, it’s corn mazes and pumpkin picking, apple picking and pie baking, a break from the summer heat and humidity, and the most beautiful time of the year for a hike!

But I wasn’t in Gettysburg for the views this time. I was here for something much more important!

Competing in the Gettysburg Blue-Gray Marathon

This weekend my 50-year-old mother was running her first half marathon!

The more I say it, the prouder I am of her!

My mom has always been a hard worker. With four kids by the age of 27, she didn’t really have much time for play. Being 32 with no kids myself, I still CAN NOT fathom how she managed (you moms out there are heroes)!

My parents moved to Florida after their nest emptied and my mom took up paddle boarding. It was something that was really hard for her at first, but she kept with it and used it to get herself in better shape.

Then she and my dad started lifting at the gym and working out every day. When my sister asked Mom to join her in a half marathon, she agreed without hesitation.

Saying no to challenges really isn’t in Mom’s vocabulary.

Gettysburg National Military Park in Autumn

But first, we has to do some sightseeing!

At my sister’s recommendation, my family decided to purchase The Gettysburg Story : Battlefield Auto Tour ($29.95 for the CDs and a free code to play through your phone) from the Visitor’s Center.

Especially with a couple of people chipping in on the cost, this is an amazing way to tour the battlefields.

We piled into the car and drove along the self-guided tour stops. Each stop is clearly marked and there is usually plenty of parking space.

The changing autumn leaves paint the battlefield in stunning golds and reds and the weather was mild, perfect for getting out of the car and exploring.

Small crowds were tolerable and not too big. The only problem we ran into was a Boy Scouts troop bicycling along the route, taking up the road.

The app we listened through would actually track our GPS and play stories from each significant stop as we approached it. It was amazing. The story teller and sound effects really brought history to life!

I found myself completely engaged. By the end, I walked away with a new understanding of the Gettysburg battle and, honestly, real sadness for the thousands of lives lost there.

While this is an awesome educational tool for kids (my 9-year-old cousin really enjoyed it), keep in mind that some of the battle scenes do get kind of graphic.

While in Gettysburg, stay in an Airbnb.

This was actually my first experience with Airbnb and it made the entire Gettysburg trip so much better. After walking around the town and the battlefields for hours, coming home to the farmhouse we stayed in at the end of the day was so comforting.

The farmhouse was dubbed The Happy Hen and it had a huge yard with a fire pit with lawn chairs where we roasted marshmallows and watched the Orionid meteor shower later that night. Bring a jacket – once the sun goes down, it’s freezing in PA!

I’ve honestly always been a little wary about staying in someone else’s home, but this was amazing. It was beautifully decorated and filled with any amenity we could have needed.

They even left a bunch of supplies for my mom’s dogs.

Staying at the house allowed us to bring all of our food with us and cook most of our meals ‘at home’. That saves so much money as opposed to eating out for every meal.

Check out the charming dining spots in Gettysburg, PA

My Aunt, cousin, and I went to lunch at the Dobbin House Tavern.

The dimly lit, tight staircase down to the stone cellar was an excellent preview of what was to come.

Passing strangers in very close quarters brought up a few awkward chuckles.

The staircase opened to an intimate, candlelit tavern with thick wood tables and chairs. The stone, windowless cellar walls left a chill in the air and each table had a lit candle in an iron holder.

The food was delicious and I definitely recommend it for the realistic ambiance.

The Gettysburg Blue-Gray Half Marathon begins!

Race day was a mix of nerves and excitement.

Mom swore, by her calculations, that she wasn’t going to finish in the allotted 3.5 hours. She was second guessing her hard work in training.

We kept telling her that it wasn’t about coming in first – it was about the sense of accomplishment she would feel after finishing!

At Mile 5, Mom texted us that she hurt her leg.

Dad and I thought this might make her quit, but she didn’t want to. She wanted to keep going, but she had to walk it with what felt like a constant leg cramp.

We waited nervously at the finish line, studying every face to see if it was Mom or Amanda. Picture me, waiting excitedly on that curb in Gettysburg, PA and staring down at the bend in the road.

My sister rounded the corner and burst across the finish line, beating the 3-hour mark that she was aiming for, at 2:43.

The woman beside her had been there for the last few miles, encouraging her and pushing her.

When we didn’t see Mom for a while, my dad and I decided to walk backward along the course to look for her.

We finally spotted her, walking as quickly as she could with a limp. We hooted and hollered proudly.

My dad and I walked beside her, reminding her of how awesome she was!

She crossed the line, to her dismay, at 3:32 in a sort of hobbled run.

We got dinner and some growlers at Appalachian Brewing Company and bought them back to our Airbnb for a late-night fire.

Why Autumn is the BEST time to visit Gettysburg

  • There is so much to do in Gettysburg. It’s an old, historic town and, in October (some all year round), they run really fun ghost tours through the town and battlegrounds.
  • When you’re touring the battlegrounds, the autumn views are awe-inspiring.
  • The weather is perfect (bring a jacket to use after sundown)
  • The crowds aren’t bad at all that time of year!

And did I mention….the views?

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Autumn in the Northeastern U.S. can't be beat. Here's why it's the best time to visit the historic town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Autumn in the Northeastern U.S. can't be beat. Here's why it's the best time to visit the historic town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

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