Updated: Oct 10, 2019
The Revolution road trip takes you on a tour of sites related to the American Revolution and the Civil War. States include Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. This region is known for its monuments and rich American history, with destinations like Independence Hall, the National Mall, Mt. Vernon, and Gettysburg. Spring or fall are opportune times to visit, but summer will also work if you can brave the occasional heat wave. This is also a great trip for homeschooling families. Every day is packed with educational activities, so take advantage of a vacation that also counts as school!
Route-trip distance: 850 miles
Suggested trip length: 2-3 weeks
After arriving in Philadelphia, spend a full day visiting Independence Hall, which houses the Liberty Bell and the Museum of the American Revolution. You can also tour the Betsy Ross House, the home of the designer of the American flag. Don’t forget to enjoy an authentic Philly Cheesesteak! The best place to get a cheesesteak is up for debate, but we really enjoyed ours from Jim's Steaks, which is only a couple blocks from Independence Hall. The walk from Independence Hall to Jim's Steaks takes you past classic Colonial architecture and Old St. Mary's Catholic Church, the location where a Solemn High Mass was celebrated in 1779 to commemorate the nation's independence. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and many other Founding Fathers along with French and Spanish dignitaries, were in attendance. If you find yourself near Philly on a Sunday, a short 20 minute drive east into New Jersey will take you to Mater Ecclesiae Roman Catholic Church, a diocesan parish and beautiful church founded in 2000 which celebrates the TLM exclusively.
On day two, make a quick drive to the northwest to visit Valley Forge National Historic Site, the site where George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River during the American Revolution. Then make your way south along Interstate 476 and Interstate 95 towards Baltimore. Passing through Wilmington, Delaware, take a quick detour to drive across the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New Jersey before continuing on your way towards Baltimore, Maryland.
In Baltimore, tour Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Site, a key fort during the War of 1812 and the inspiration behind the U.S. national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”. You can also visit the National Aquarium and Historic Ships in Baltimore, a maritime museum with a vast collection of historical ships.
The next day, continue onwards to Washington, D.C, your destination for the next week. There are limitless things in the nation’s capital, so I don’t suggest spending less than a week here unless you’re really pressed for time. Many of the museums are taxpayer funded and therefore offer free admission. Additionally, most sites are within walking distance of each other, but there is also an extensive subway system called the Metro that can take you almost anywhere you want to go within the city.
On Day 1, walk through the National Mall, visiting the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Walk around the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial (in the spring, you can enjoy the cherry blossoms) before making your way to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to tour the only place where authentic U.S. currency is printed. Next, walk next door to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a somber and heart-wrenching remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust during World War II under Nazi Germany.
On Day 2, visit Smithsonian Castle and the Smithsonian museums, including the Air and Space Museum, Museum of the American Indian, Museum of American History, and Museum of Natural History. You can probably spend a full day in each museum, so don’t be afraid to split these visits between multiple days.
On Day 3, tour the U.S. Capitol Building. Tours can be scheduled ahead of time by contacting the offices of your local Congressional Representatives. Directly to the east of the Capitol Building are the U.S. Supreme Court and Library of Congress, both of which offer tours as well.
On Day 4, visit the visit the National Archives, which houses the original Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Just to the north is Ford’s Theatre, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The theater still offers live theatrical performances, so take in a show while you're at it. Then make the short walk to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to visit the home of the U.S. President, the White House.
On Day 5, take the Blue Metro line out to Arlington National Cemetery. On the grounds, visit the former Robert E. Lee mansion and witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From here you can view the Pentagon, home of the U.S. Department of Defense, and take a short walk to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial depicting the iconic scene of U.S. Marines raising the U.S. flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
On Day 6, take the Red Metro line out to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. After a morning looking at the animals, you can either ride the Red Metro line or make the 3-mile walk to visit the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Both routes take about an hour. Use Day 7 as a free day, visiting any sites that you weren’t able to get to during the previous six days.
Departing Washington, D.C., drive south into Virginia. Visit George Washington’s Mt. Vernon home on your way to Richmond, Virginia, which is only a two hour drive south of D.C. In Richmond, explore the American Civil War Museum and the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Visit the Virginia State Capitol Building and tour the White House of the Confederacy. Then make the drive west to tour Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, before continuing another half an hour west to the southern end of Shenandoah National Park near Waynesboro, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park encompasses the northern section of the Blue Ridge Mountains with scenic views, hiking trails, and campgrounds. The park is approximately 100 miles from north to south, but you’ll want to take your time driving north along the Skyline Drive park road. Scenic views abound, and you’ll want to stop and hike along the many trails, including many segments of the famed Appalachian Trail. There are several campgrounds to choose from, so feel free to spread the drive over a couple days.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
After your time in Shenandoah, drive north to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park located at the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers in West Virginia. Continue north to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where you can visit the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. From there it’s a short drive to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of a key Civil War battle and location of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. Spend time exploring Gettysburg National Military Park and take a guided tour if possible.
New York City
The final destination on this road trip is New York City. Like Washington, D.C., New York City has a vast subway system, so spend the night outside of the city and take advantage of the many Park and Ride locations to avoid driving your car into Manhattan (However, you will miss out on driving across the Brooklyn Bridge if you choose to do this, but you will also avoid paying the many bridge tolls). Visit the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the Empire State Building during the day, take in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in the evening, and take in a Broadway show and check out Times Square at night. If you want to spend more time in New Jersey (not likely, but it could happen!), take the Morris & Essex Line out to the Orange station to visit the nearby Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey, home of the famous American inventor. After hitting all the sights in the Big Apple, complete the road trip loop by making the two-hour drive south to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Are there any egregious omissions from the Revolution road trip? Comment below, subscribe for future road trip ideas, and check out more road trip itineraries. And before starting out on your road trip, check out How to Road Trip across the U.S. without a GPS to brush up on your interstate driving expertise and etiquette.