Valley Forge National Historical Park | COMMISSARY TRAIL

Commissary Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Commissary Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Length: 1 mile (official trail only)
Time: 30 minutes on foot
Difficulty: Easy with a steep hill at either end

Download the Valley Forge Trail Map (PDF)

The Commissary Trail is located north of the Schuylkill River on the west side of Valley Forge National Historical Park. It is accessed from the River Trail via connector trails, though these are unmarked so you must know what to look for. Per the Valley Forge trail map, there is also a connector trail on the west side that appears to originate at its own parking area. However, this is a neighborhood street (Washington Street) with houses lining the road. You can pull over on the gravel curb, but I personally don’t feel comfortable parking in what amounts to somebody’s front yard. I suggest parking at the trailhead for the River Trail on Pawlings Road and walking or biking from there. You can also ride horses on both trails.

There are two things to keep in mind about the Commissary Trail. First off, it’s the only trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park that is not marked with directional signage, and it is very easy to get confused. Second, it is on a ridge above the River Trail, so the two connector trails—one at the west end and one at the east end—are steep uphill climbs from the River Trail.

I set off to bike the River Trail to the end with the intention of catching the Commissary Trail on the way back. Not knowing what to look for in regards to the connector trails, I ended up back at Pawlings Road before I even realized I had passed by both of them. I saw some very narrow and slightly overgrown trails but didn’t give them much thought. Turns out those are the connector trails. So here’s what to look for if traveling east from Pawlings Road on the River Trail.

Proceed down the River Trail and about a quarter mile from the parking lot is a narrow trail on the left. Be on the lookout for a sewer with blue pipes. I’m not sure if the exposed pipes will always be there, but there is a sewer cap. The trail is narrow—about the same width as a bike—with plenty of vegetation growing along side of it, which is tick habitat. It’s a little tricky on a bike because you have to ride up a steep hill while keeping from brushing up against the vegetation, and if you end up coming to a stand still, you’ll be forced to dismount in the brush. This trail leads up to the Commissary Trail, which is actually a fairly wide dirt road. Sections even have tire tracks embedded in them. When you reach it, take a right to head east. You’ll see Washington Street from the turn. Be sure to check yourself for ticks once off the connector trail.

Connector trail between the River and Commissary trails at Valley Forge

Connector trail between the River and Commissary trails at Valley Forge

A sewer on the River Trail marks the west side connector to the Commissary Trail at Valley Forge

A sewer on the River Trail marks the west side connector to the Commissary Trail at Valley Forge

The western half of the Commissary Trail at Valley Forge is a dirt road

The western half of the Commissary Trail at Valley Forge is a dirt road

The only point of interest on the Commissary Trail is the Pawling Farm. Henry Pawling purchased the land in 1719, and it remained in the family until 1826. What most people don’t realize about the Valley Forge Encampment in the winter on 1777-78 is that while the camping area was originally on the south side of the Schuylkill River, by May 1778 the place was so polluted from human and animal waste that George Washington ordered everyone across the river, and that’s where the remaining days were spent before the Continental Army departed on June 19, 1778. Pawling’s claim to fame was that the Continental Army camped on his land.

When you get near the Pawling Farm, the Commissary Trail appears to end at a wide, dirt road (.6 mile from the start at Washington Street). A gate blocks vehicles from entering the Commissary Trail, another sign that the trail is still used as a road for vehicles. Continue on the dirt road and just around the corner you will see a large, stone barn. The gravel road leads right up to it. The barn was built in 1826 by Samuel Wetherill, the man who purchased the Pawling Farm that same year. His son enlarged it in 1845 to what you see today. Visitors are welcome to walk the grounds, but the barn is closed due to being unsafe. It is possible to drive to the Pawling Farm, so you don’t have to hike or bike the Commissary Trail just to see it.

Dirt road to the Pawling Farm at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Dirt road to the Pawling Farm at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Barn built in 1826 by Samuel Wetherill on the former Pawling Farm at Valley Forge

Barn built in 1826 by Samuel Wetherill on the former Pawling Farm at Valley Forge

The Commissary Trail continues at the barn. Look for a bulletin board and a sign that actually identifies the trail (you’ll pass this on the way to the barn). The trail starts off through a field before eventually entering back into the forest. The eastern half of the trail is a traditional hiking trail, not a gravel road like the western half.

Sign for the Commissary Trail at the Pawling Farm, Valley Forge National Historical Park

Sign for the Commissary Trail at the Pawling Farm, Valley Forge National Historical Park

Eastern half of the Commissary Trail begins at the barn on the Pawling Farm at Valley Forge

Eastern half of the Commissary Trail begins at the barn on the Pawling Farm at Valley Forge

The next trick is knowing where to turn in order to get back on the River Trail. The Valley Forge National Historical Park trail map makes it look like the Commissary Trail just naturally comes out at the River Trail, but this is not the case. Some sort of trail actually continues all the way back to near the Betzwood Picnic Area sandwiched between the River Trail and the paved Schuylkill River Trail, though this is not on the map (it is on Google Maps). I just wanted to hike the official trail that is shown on the park map and advertised as one mile long. When I saw power lines and heard the road noise from Highway 422, I realized I had gone way too far. I don’t know what lay ahead, but at this point the trail was very narrow and flanked by short grass and other vegetation. I doubt things change much between here and Betzwood.

Typical terrain on the Commissary Trail east of the Pawling Farm at Valley Forge

Typical terrain on the Commissary Trail east of the Pawling Farm at Valley Forge

The problem is that there are many side trails that head in the direction of the River Trail, and for all I know, every one of them will eventually get you there. However, none are marked with directional signage. I turned around at the power lines and took the very first turn I came to that headed towards the river. It was wider than some of the others, which is about all I can say. It quickly turned into another narrow trail, but lo and behold, it eventually came out on the River Trail. If you are counting from the Pawling Farm, this is .4 mile down the trail. If you make this turn to begin with, the trip on the Commissary Trail is exactly one mile.

The question now is, where do you turn if you want to catch the Commissary Trail on the way back from the east end of the River Trail, which is what I wanted to do in the first place? When you pass a stone marker for Sullivan’s Bridge, continue on the River Trail until crossing a footbridge that spans a small stream that feeds into the Schuylkill River. The connector trail on the right just past the bridge.

Stone monument on the River Trail marks the location of the original Sullivan's Bridge at Valley Forge

Stone monument on the River Trail marks the location of the original Sullivan’s Bridge at Valley Forge

Connector to the Commissary Trail is just west of a footbridge on the River Trail at Valley Forge

Connector to the Commissary Trail is just west of a footbridge on the River Trail at Valley Forge

Follow the connector trail until it ends at a T-intersection with the Commissary Trail, then take a left towards the Pawling Farm. When done exploring, follow the gravel road to the end where the Commissary Trail continues. Take that until coming to the turn that is within eyesight of a road (Washington Street) and neighborhood. Turn left and you’ll head downhill back towards the River Trail. Take a right and the parking lot is a quarter mile away.

Better yet, just forget the Commissary Trail unless you really want to see the stone barn at the Pawling Farm. There’s nothing else worth seeing, and riding or walking down a narrow trail through grass is just asking to pick up a tick (I didn’t get any, but I did have tick repellant on my pants and shoes). As I mentioned, you can drive to the Pawling Farm if the barn is that important to you.

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Last updated on May 30, 2022
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