Eastern Pennsylvania

After some stormy, gray days near the Atlantic coast, we headed north and farther inland.  We got a healthy dose of sunshine on our journey and were excited to change it up for once, taking a longer lunch break to see Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just over the Virginia border.

A Lunch Stop in Gettysburg

Gettysburg is known for the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most significant battles during the American Civil War, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which was given to commemorate and acknowledge the sacrifice of fallen soldiers and to dedicate the Soldier’s National Cemetery.  The National Park Service preserves the 6000+ acres of battlefield grounds and American Civil War artifacts.  We parked and walked over to the battlefield, where we saw countless plaques, statues, and other memorials to the commanding generals and their military units who fought in this battle.  

Reading about the brutal battle and everyone involved, including those charged with medical care under ghastly circumstances, you cannot help but feel the eeriness and haunting nature of this place.  Our tour culminated at the Pennsylvania State Memorial, which commemorates the nearly 35,000 Pennsylvania soldiers who fought during the Battle of Gettysburg.  After climbing the steps, there is a spiral staircase access in the southwestern column that leads to an upper level.  From here, the views of the surrounding valleys and the battlefield are incredible.

If you are a history buff or want to honor and remember those fallen in battle, this is a peaceful place to accomplish both.  For us, it was the perfect place to stop for lunch, walk it off, and learn more about one of our country’s most visceral moments in history.  There isn’t more than a few hours worth of activities here, so I recommend visiting if you are already planning to pass through this area or perhaps a picnic spot for lunch.

A Day in Philadelphia

We couldn’t visit eastern Pennsylvania and not go to the city of brotherly love.  Fun fact: The reason why it is called the city of brotherly love is because the founder, William Penn, aspired to create a city of religious tolerance and without religious persecution.  Philadelphia comes from the Greek words Phileo (love) and aldelphos (brother).  It was hot the day we went, and we experienced powerful contrasts in sights, sounds and smells while walking around.

We spent most of our time in the city center, parking near the Philadelphia Museum of Art and walking toward Independence Hall.  In addition to seeing some of the historic sites, we were focused on getting some lunch in our bellies.  Philly is known for its cheesesteak, and although it’s not something I would typically eat, we decided to go for it since we may not get a chance to come back here again.

The first place we wanted to go was Sonny’s Famous Steaks, but discovered they were closed temporarily when we arrived.  Instead, we went down the block to Campo’s.  Even though it was already close to 2pm, this place was packed…likely due to Sonny’s closure driving more business their way.  We ordered inside and I grabbed a table on the sidewalk while waiting for our food.  Matt waited inside for our order, which took over 30 minutes.  Was it worth the wait?  Not really, but we dug into our cheesesteaks anyway since we were ravenous at this point.  Though it satisfied my hunger, I don’t think I’ll be having another cheesesteak anytime soon.

One of the places we wanted to see during our time here was Independence Hall.  The National Park Service has instituted a reservation system to limit the number of people entering the hall at any given time to 45 people or less per time slot, so you will have to go online to reserve your spot.  It only costs $1 per person, but they do not have tickets to purchase at the hall, so you have to take care of this in advance.  

After lunch, we walked back to Liberty Hall to see the Liberty Bell while we waited for our reservation time at Independence Hall next door.  The Liberty Bell originally symbolized American independence from the British monarchy.  It has since been adopted as a symbol of freedom by many groups, including abolitionists during the Civil War to end slavery, suffragists fighting for women’s right to vote, and several others who have visited the bell because it represented their fight for political, religious and personal freedom from persecution.

Next, we walked over to Independence Hall to see where both the United States Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were agreed upon and signed by our nation’s founding fathers.  It was originally built as Pennsylvania’s State House where all legislative, executive and judicial branches of government met.  The person leading our tour mentioned that they are still learning more about historic accuracy of events.  For example, they used to think three judges presided over the court for judicial hearings, but more recently discovered that there were four judges.  We were only allowed to go into the two rooms that comprise the downstairs of the hall for 10-15 minutes, so the tour was brief.  Our tour guide had a very confusing delivery and it felt like he was just rambling off the cuff, so how great of an experience you have may depend on who leads your group.

Next up, we decided to walk down to the Delaware River along the waterfront and take a moment to relax at Liberty Point.  This restaurant has outdoor seating on two different levels, and we opted for a high top downstairs away from the music to enjoy a refreshing drink and some people watching.  After wandering along more of the riverfront, we chose to get an early dinner.  Our friend Tali had recommendations since she and her family used to live in Pennsylvania and visit Philly.

Along the way to dinner we walked through one of the city’s several historic districts and saw some of the many landmarks in the area, including President James Madison’s residence and A Man Full of Trouble Tavern, the only remaining tavern from Colonial Philadelphia.  During all of our walking around the city, we noticed that it is incredibly pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly with a lot of public parks.  Runners, bikers, strollers, and park goers were all taking advantage of the gorgeous weather that day. 

Before heading back, we had dinner at Fat Salmon Sushi, which was perfect after a hot day.  The restaurant had a relaxing ambiance, a large selection of items on the menu, and everything we picked was tasty and satisfying.  We swung by Trader Joe’s on our way back to pick up some of our favorite snacks and left the city tired but fulfilled.  It was an action-packed day and provided us a glimpse into what everyone talks about when they say Philly is a great city.

French Creek State Park

Eastern Pennsylvania was another area where we had trouble finding a decent campground or RV park.  So many of the reviews were absolutely terrible, primarily due to difficulties getting to the campground (narrow, winding roads, low hanging branches, or low clearance overpasses) or extremely muddy and uneven site conditions.  In the end, we decided to stay at French Creek State Park, about an hour and a half northwest of Philadelphia and a little over an hour southwest of the Allentown/Bethlehem area.  And, we ran into all of these issues anyway. 😂

The routing to get there was really wacky, taking us up and down all sorts of narrow, winding roads, and at times having to navigate some dicey right turns.  If you do decide to come here, the best way to enter is from the north, taking highway 724 to either highway 345 or Shed Road.  Once you arrive, there are four loops in the main campground and some more remote group camping sites elsewhere in the park.  We were in Loop B, and unfortunately picked one of the “not so great” sites which was muddy and sloped.  You can run the risk of damaging your RV’s slide(s) and/or refrigerator if you try to operate them while your RV is not level, and we maxed out our available blocking trying to get our rig level.

We did a walk through the other loops and here is what we found:  

  • Loop A is mostly shaded and has some sites that appear to have been repaved more recently and are more level (sites A1 through A20), but a lot of the inner sites on the backside of Loop A have varying degrees of sloping issues.  
  • The rest of Loop B is fairly shaded as well, and sloping issues are hit or miss.  
  • The sites closest to the entrance of Loop C get the most sunshine and are fairly level, and the rest are shaded with varying degrees of sloping issues.  
  • Loop D is currently closed while they do maintenance, including tree removal.  

Basically, unless you can scout sites out before you choose them, it’s a total crap shoot. 🙄

The bathrooms are run down, and the showers are a push button operation, so you cannot control the water temperature.  I had to hit the button three times before I got any warm water, and then the water got too hot with no way for me to cool it down unless I just stood there and waited for 10-20 minutes. 😠 This was not ideal or efficient, so I didn’t use them again.  But, the bathrooms do have an outside sink for washing dishes, which is nice.

For trail access from the campground, you have to walk 1/2 mile to the campground entrance for the nearest trailhead.  I found one trail entrance from loop A, but you would have to walk through someone’s campsite to get to it, so it’s not always accessible.  Because we were there in the springtime, most of the trails were really muddy and insect repellent was essential.  There are also two bodies of water nearby: Scotts Run Lake and Hopewell Lake, both which offer boat launches and docks for fishing, boating, etc.  

Caterpillars were everywhere during our stay, trying to cocoon on anything and everything we had outside.  In the end, I don’t think I would return to this campground.  It was remote, buggy, muddy, run down, and most of the trails lacked any views and/or needed maintenance.  Unless you are coming here for water sports, I would camp elsewhere.

Trexler Nature Preserve

One of the last activities we did was visit Trexler Nature Preserve, just outside of Allentown.  We combined hiking with seeing some of the many historic covered bridges nearby.  Thankfully, the park’s web site gave us a heads up on a covered bridge closure, so we could plan our hike and parking accordingly.  We drove to the South Range trail head parking lot along Jordan Rd, 1/2 mile south of the Geiger covered bridge.  Since the bridge is out through June, only local traffic is coming through, so it’s pretty safe to walk along the road to the trail.

We saw so many gorgeous spring blooms and birds as we walked along the Covered Bridge Trail.  The trail ends at the Jordan Creek water crossing, where we saw several school buses coming from the zoo nearby.  The road goes through the creek instead of above it, so we heard the kids squealing as the buses made big splashes driving across the water.  From there, we continued on the Elk Ridge Trail and across a pedestrian bridge to view the Schlicher’s Covered Bridge.

Jordan Creek vehicle crossing makes a splash

Matt was feeling ambitious, so we took the steep Elk Ridge Trail up along the game preserve.  We saw a brief glimpse of the elk as we huffed and puffed our way up to the ridge.  There are several access points to the preserve fence line where you can try to spot the elk herd.  At one point we had nearly a 360 degree view, and this is where we saw ominous clouds west of us.

The radar showed a nasty storm headed our way, so we didn’t dawdle.  Back down the ridge to the Jordan Creek we went, and back across another pedestrian bridge.  The rain began about 1/4 mile from Jordan Rd, so we tried to pick up the pace.  We made it back to the truck just in the nick of time.  As we shed our muddy hiking shoes and wet jackets and got inside the cab, the skies opened up and dumped buckets of rain.  Despite the weather cutting our hike short, we really enjoyed our adventure here and highly recommend checking it out.

There is so much you can do in eastern Pennsylvania, from touring the big city of Philadelphia, to traveling the country roads and seeing countless historic structures among the verdant rolling hills.  I would like to come back to bask in the beautiful natural spaces this area has to offer, perhaps later in summer after the mud subsides and the caterpillars are done cocooning.  Our time here was so brief, but as we continue northeast it has been interesting to see the unique attractions each state has to offer.  Goodbye Pennsylvania and hello Connecticut!

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