Explore the battlefield like you’ve never seen it before
By Ken Knox | Photography by Casey Martin
Capturing and relating a “sense of place” unique to Gettysburg
has long been the commitment of Gettysburg National Military Park. From its mission to protect and interpret the landscapes of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg came the training and employment of several licensed battlefield tour guides. Their job, says Destination Gettysburg’s Director of Communications Carl Whitehill? “To bring history to life by talking with visitors from around the world and connecting those travelers in special ways to the epic battle that happened here 155 years ago.”
Today’s visitors can choose a number of interactive, nontraditional ways to explore these hallowed grounds, some led by licensed battlefield guides and others by local history buffs. From riding horseback or sitting in horse-drawn carriages, to zipping across terrain on a Segway or a self-guided tour of 19th-century history using 21st-century technology, there’s a tour option to appeal to even the most discerning tourist. These seven options offer unique and dynamic experiences of the site of the turning point in the Civil War.
National Riding Stables
Tour Type: Horseback
Tour Options: Scenic one- to two-hour tours across the battlefield
Price Range: $50-$90
The National Riding Stables has been around for nearly 30 years, changing hands in that time, but the focus has always been on horseback rides across the battlefield. Most recently, the business became a nonprofit attraction dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of horses in distress or bound for slaughter—
a distinction that can create a unique feeling for the rider. “Many of our customers are repeat visitors who felt a connection and understanding with their horse and wanted to come back again and again,” says spokesperson Megan Davis.
Davis says horseback is the most authentic way to see and explore all the battlefield has to offer. “This type of tour enhances [riders’] understanding of what officers and other soldiers experienced during the battle,” she says. “Since we focus on both history and horses, we have received wonderful feedback from customers [who’ve realized] the importance of how the horse was critical in the war and what the contribution to the rider might have been.”
Hickory Hollow Horse Tours
Tour Type: Horseback
Tour Options: Various battlefield tours and trail rides with or without licensed battlefield guides
Price Range: $40-$90
After the private, family-owned horse farm began receiving calls from tourists inquiring about battlefield tours, the family decided to start up their own business in 2015. “My dad loved Gettysburg and what it stands for in our history,” says Co-owner Pam Grimes, who took over the farm with her husband Al after her father passed away. “So, we decided to start a business with our own horses that was mainly just for fun, but has kept us busier each year.”
“The interesting element of our horseback tour is to be on this famous battlefield where soldiers fought so many years ago,” Grimes says. “Going along at a very slow pace, understanding the terrain, and having the history come alive from a licensed tour guide is just amazing. There are many ways to tour this famous place, but horseback is definitely the most unique and historically accurate.”
Victorian Carriage Company
Tour Types: Horse-drawn carriage, walking, horseback
Tour Options: One- to two-hour guided carriage rides through the battlefield and the town of Gettysburg, a town walking tour, guided battlefield tours on horseback*
Price Range: $16.50-$49.50
Victorian Carriage Company revised its business model after business owner Doug Stevens was injured while deployed. While the company had always offered tours on horseback, carriages were brought into the mix, with the entire Stevens family taking part in the business. “The family had grown up horseback riding together and wanted to find a solution to allow the family to continue to share their love of horses together and provide an option for those visitors who might not want to ride on a horse,” says spokesperson Darah Gardner.
Carriage-drawn tours offer a relaxing and authentically vintage means to see the town and the battlefield, so it’s no surprise they’ve become popular with both visitors and locals. “We wanted to bring new tours to the battlefield for guests [who]had already done the basic battlefield tours,” Gardner says. “We were looking to give guests a reason to continue to come back throughout the season, and it worked: Our special topic tours are filled with repeat guests.”
Tour Type: Van
Tour Options: Van tour focusing on all three days of the Battle of Gettysburg, with stops at both the Virginia Monument and Little Round Top
Price Range: $39.99-$44.99
A successful educator and former teacher, Tim Daniel launched History Nerds to educate tourists in a unique and entertaining way—to make history “cool.” “I wanted to implement what was successful for me in the classroom and adapt it to a battlefield tour,” he says. “I created a curriculum with an education twist [where]the guests are having fun and being entertained without them even realizing they are being educated. They get to soak up the information in a way that doesn’t intimidate them.”
While some tours can be hands-off, Daniel says History Nerds van rides offer more of a personal touch that’s certainly memorable. “Instead of going out and talking to guests, we go out and talk with them,” he says. “We include our guests and make them No. 1. And we have fun. There are times for impersonal, stuffy lectures, but that’s just not going to happen in our vans.”
Tour Type: Scooter, scoot coupe, electric bicycle
Tour Options: 2.5-hour guided tours and shorter twilight rides, with longer options available
Price Range: $25-$75; hourly rentals also available
A family-owned business, GettyPeds opened in 2011 after a visit by the Henderson family. “[Gettysburg] was a vacation stop for us every year, and we fell in love with it and wanted to provide a unique experience to anyone visiting the town as we used to do,” says Co-owner Josh Henson**. “We have been blessed by this town, its people, and our guests.”
The tours offer a visceral experience of the battlefield, says Henson. “Our guests experience the battlefield from an open-air scooter or scoote coupe,” he points out. “You smell the grass and trees, you hear the birds singing, you feel the breeze on your face. This is what provides our guests with a connection to the town and its history. And they have some fun while doing it.”
Tour Type: Self-guided
Tour Options: Augmented reality tour using a pre-loaded iPad or purchase of an “Experience Gettsyburg” guidebook with app download. Both options include GPS-enabled videos and audio that automatically play while driving through corresponding sites on the battlefield.
Price Range: $44.99+
Having studied geographic information systems at Gettysburg College, InSite Gettysburg’s Nicholas Wiley realized that similar applications could be used to tell the story of the Battle of Gettysburg. “Gettysburg has some amazingly conserved battlefields and is a beautiful place to visit,” Wiley says. “Touring the battlefield can be a very personal experience, which is why we chose to enhance the typical self-guided tour using the applications.”
While there are many types of self-guided tours to be found, Wiley says InSite’s is the only one to use GPS to deliver content. “Augmented reality is pretty cool!” Wiley says. “Our app can tell you when you are driving past a particular house and automatically plays a track that tells you whether the house has visible bullet holes and where to find them. We created a lot of our content with the intent of telling the story of the battle as if it is happening around you. The GPS-enabled videos and audio help you recreate the events of the battle as you drive around.”
Tour Type: Segway
Tour Options: Western battlefield tour (Lutheran Cemetery, Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, Little Round Top, and Pickett’s Charge) and an eastern battlefield tour of Culp’s Hill, Spangler’s Spring, and East Cemetery Hill, with specialty tours also offered
Price Range: $50-$70
SegTours Owner Bob Velke says he and his wife fell in love with Segways after riding them during a vacation. They realized they could be employed for a unique kind of tour across the battlefield. “At more than 500 acres, the Gettysburg battlefield is huge,” he says. “It quickly became apparent that the Segway was a convenient way to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time without getting sweaty. And, without the pane of glass separating the rider from the battlefield, you are exposed to the sights and sounds of nature.”
Second to a horse, Segway tours offer the closest experience to what soldiers went through during the battle. “It’s a unique perspective of the battlefield that one doesn’t experience when sitting in a car or riding in a bus,” Velke says. “You see almost exactly what the soldier could see. You learn to appreciate ‘line of sight’ and how it affected the soldier. On a Segway, you notice every uphill and downhill and rolling hill. That gives you a much better understanding of the many ways in which the terrain of the battlefield affected the commander’s decision and the flow of the events during the battle.”
* The print version of this story failed to mention that Victorian Carriage Company still offers tours via horseback. We apologize for this oversight.
** The print version of this story incorrectly lists Josh Henson’s last name as Henderson. We apologize for this mistake.