Valley Forge National Historical Park | GRAND PARADE TRAIL

Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Length: 2.6 miles
Time: 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate with some steep hills

Download the Valley Forge Trail Map (PDF)

The Grand Parade at Valley Forge National Historical Park refers to the area where Continental soldiers drilled, marched, and had inspections when encamped at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78. The parade ground, which is a meadow today, is located in the very center of the park. The Grand Parade Trail circles the area, but visitors must first hike to the loop via a connector trail. The park map shows five different connector trails—like spokes on a wheel with the parade ground being the central hub—but the map is now outdated, and only four of the connectors remain.

The Grand Parade Trail connector near the Muhlenberg Brigade stop on the Valley Forge Encampment Tour no longer exists. The trail was nothing more than a mowed path through the tall grass, but I guess the National Park Service got tired of mowing it. I walked back and forth twice looking for it and never saw a thing. A map on an information panel at Varnum’s Quarters—the best place to start the hike—does not show this trail either. However, keep in mind that the Varnum’s Quarters map and all maps posted along the actual trail are also completely wrong. Following them will lead to nothing but confusion. The only accurate map is the one you can download here on National Park Planner.

There is still a trail identified as the Grand Parade Trail that leads from the Valley Forge Visitor Center to the Muhlenberg Brigade tour stop, but this now only serves as a walking path between the two locations. If you plan to walk or bike the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail from the Visitor Center, taking this short Grand Parade Trail segment is better than starting on the J. P. Martin Trail from the beginning because the Grand Parade Trail passes by the historically reconstructed Redoubt 2 (earthen fort), which you can’t get to from the J. P. Martin Trail.

To reach this segment of the Grand Parade Trail from the Visitor Center parking lot, follow the sidewalk towards the Visitor Center, but instead of walking all the way to the entrance, take the first right and proceed uphill—this is the J. P. Martin Trail. About a hundred yards up on the right is the intersection with the Grand Parade Trail. There is no sign identifying it, but there is a sign with directions to Redoubt 2 & Muhlenberg Brigade Huts via a paved trail (J. P. Martin Trail) or an unpaved trail (Grand Parade Trail). Take the unpaved route. When you get to the cabins, you can reconnect to the J. P. Martin Trail.

Start of the Grand Parade Trail to the Muhlenberg Brigade stop on the Valley Forge Encampment Tour

Start of the Grand Parade Trail to the Muhlenberg Brigade stop on the Valley Forge Encampment Tour

Grand Parade Trail passes Redoubt 2 at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Grand Parade Trail passes Redoubt 2 at Valley Forge National Historical Park

The Grand Parade Trail ends at the Muhlenberg Brigade cabins at Valley Forge

The Grand Parade Trail ends at the Muhlenberg Brigade cabins at Valley Forge

The Valley Forge National Historical Park trail map also shows a connector to the Grand Parade Trail loop that starts at the Visitor Center parking lot. There is a trail here, but it is somewhat overgrown at the start, and since I did not hike it, I can’t say what conditions lie farther ahead. It comes out on the east side of the parade ground loop trail. There is also a connector from the Baptist Trace to the Grand Parade loop, but you must first be hiking on the Baptist Trace to utilize this route.

That leaves the two most viable starting points: the trailhead at Varnum’s Quarters and the Barry Road parking lot at the Maurice Stephens House across the street from the Washington Memorial Chapel. The Grand Parade Trail runs right in front of the Stephens House.

I started the hike at Varnum’s Quarters, which is the best place to begin. On the way back I took the connector to the Baptist Trace and returned to Varnum’s Quarters on it, for no other reason than to avoid seeing the same things twice along the Varnum’s Quarters connector trail.

Varnum’s Quarters is on a ridge above the parade ground. From here you can get a great view of the meadow below. Look for an information panel where the mowed grass meets the natural vegetation of the meadow. This is the trailhead for the Grand Parade Trail, so make your way down the hill towards it.

Overlook of the Grand Parade Grounds from Varnum's Quarters at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Overlook of the Grand Parade Grounds from Varnum’s Quarters at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Start of the Grand Parade Trail from Varnum's Quarters at Valley Forge

Start of the Grand Parade Trail from Varnum’s Quarters at Valley Forge

As mentioned, maps have been posted at intersections along the Grand Parade Trail, but they are completely wrong. It boggles my mind that the map was drawn incorrectly to begin with, but even more so that somebody from the National Park Service had to actually do the hike in order to place the signs, and this person proceeded to do so despite having to know damn well that the map was incorrect. I can just imagine the guy shaking his head and mumbling, “They don’t pay me enough to care.”

Corrected Grand Parade Trail map

Corrected Grand Parade Trail map

The Grand Parade Trail is a mowed path through the meadow. Keep in mind that there is no shade whatsoever, so wear a hat and apply sunscreen if avoiding the sun is important to you. When the sun is out in the summer, it’s miserably hot on the trail.

There is no shade on the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

There is no shade on the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

The surrounding meadow is beautiful, but most likely you’ll have the place to yourself. Most everyone is hiking or biking the paved Joseph Plumb Martin Trail. I hiked every trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park and all had a fraction of the traffic the J. P. Martin Trail gets. Oddly enough, as beautiful a hike as is the Grand Parade Trail, I saw less people here than on any other trail in the park.

Depending on the time of year you visit, there may be a wide variety of flowers. The following are some of the flowers I saw during my mid-August hike, though I have no idea what they are.

Flowers along the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Flowers along the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Flowers along the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Flowers along the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Flowers along the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Flowers along the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

A half mile from the start is the intersection with the trail segment that connects to the Baptist Trace. This is the intersection that is not shown correctly on the maps along the trail. Stay straight to continue on to the Grand Parade loop.

Just beyond the Baptist Trace turnoff is the 4-way intersection where the parade ground loop starts. Either stay straight to hike around in the counterclockwise direction or turn left to head in the clockwise direction. A right turn does not lead to the Baptist Trace like the trail map shows. It leads to a park maintenance facility. You can even see a road from the intersection.

4-way intersection marks the start of the Grand Parade Trail loop at Valley Forge

4-way intersection marks the start of the Grand Parade Trail loop at Valley Forge

I stayed straight and hiked around in the counterclockwise direction. It is on the eastern half of the loop where the terrain gets a little hilly. The climbs are never strenuous, but they are certainly moderate. You’ll have a nice view of the Washington Memorial Chapel and the Stephens House as you walk up the hill.

Hills on the eastern half of the Grand Parade Trail loop at Valley Forge

Hills on the eastern half of the Grand Parade Trail loop at Valley Forge

View of Washington Memorial Chapel and the Maurice Stephens House from the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge

View of Washington Memorial Chapel and the Maurice Stephens House from the Grand Parade Trail

On the way up the hill is a trail that branches off to the left, .9 mile into the hike. Though the wide grass path continues up the hill, I first thought this turn was the way to go to continue around the loop. Not so. This is just a short—very short—detour that dead ends at an information panel that discusses the industrial use of the land before it became a state park in 1893. The land was quarried for limestone and dolostone, and once the quarries were closed there was an asbestos factory that dumped its waste into the abandoned quarry. Why the panel is located down a short spur trail and not on the actual Grand Parade Trail is a mystery to me. The maps along the trail identify this as the Ruins Overlook, but it’s not like you can see the remnants of these industries from here. Unless you want to read the information, just keep walking up the hill.

The next point of interest is just a little farther ahead: an information panel that details how the land was ruined during the Continental Army’s stay at Valley Forge. This is where the trail from the Visitor Center parking lot comes out.

Connector trail from the Valley Forge Visitor Center to the loop portion of the Grand Parade Trail

Connector trail from the Valley Forge Visitor Center to the loop portion of the Grand Parade Trail

At the very top of the hill is the Pines Overlook. Don’t ask me what the name implies, as there are no pines (trees I assume) here. According to an information panel at the stop, this is the place to come to for bird watching, and you do get a nice view from here. In fact, the view is the best in Valley Forge National Historical Park. Just prior to this is another trail that branches off to the right. This is a short trail (150 yards) that connects to the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at the Patriots of African Descent monument.

View of the Grand Parade meadow from the Pines Overlook on the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge

View of the Grand Parade meadow from the Pines Overlook on the Grand Parade Trail at Valley Forge

Patriots of African Descent Monument at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Patriots of African Descent Monument at Valley Forge National Historical Park

The final site of interest on the Grand Parade Trail is the Maurice Stephens House, which is just 150 yards from the Pines Overlook (1.25 miles from the start of the Grand Parade Trail). As mentioned earlier, you can park right at the house and begin the hike from here. The Stephens House was built around 1816, so it played no part in the history of the Valley Forge encampment. However, the Stephens Family did own all of the land that was used as the Continental Army’s parade grounds. There was also a log house on or near this spot during the war that may have been used as the quarters of General Jedediah Huntington.

Maurice Stephens House at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Maurice Stephens House at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Spring house on the Maurice Stephens farm at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Spring house on the Maurice Stephens farm at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Though the Stephens House is not open to the public, visitors can take a look inside through the windows.

Inside the Maurice Stephens House at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Inside the Maurice Stephens House at Valley Forge National Historical Park

From the Stephens House, follow the wide Grand Parade Trail back to the start of the loop. You’ll continue to have nice views on the way down the hill.

West side of the Grand Parade Trail loop near the Maurice Stephens House

West side of the Grand Parade Trail loop near the Maurice Stephens House

The meadow of the Grand Parade Grounds at Valley Forge National Historical Park

The meadow of the Grand Parade Grounds at Valley Forge National Historical Park

When you get back to the start of the loop, turn right at the 4-way intersection. When the trail forks just 50 yards ahead, take a left if you want to hike to the Baptist Trace instead of returning the same way you came. Unless you are in a hurry to get back, I don’t see any downside to hiking the Baptist Trace, as you’ll see new territory and cover a good part of a new trail.

Wood shelter on the connector between the Baptist Trace and the loop portion of the Grand Parade Trail

Wood shelter on the connector between the Baptist Trace and the loop portion of the Grand Parade Trail

The Grand Parade Trail dead ends at the Baptist Trace. Take a right to get back to Varnum’s Quarters (.4 mile away). The Baptist Trace is nothing more than an old dirt road, so it is wide and easy to hike. It passes a couple of reconstructed soldier cabins. The tail end does head uphill, which is to be expected since Varnum’s Quarters is on a hill overlooking the parade ground.

Baptist Trace at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Baptist Trace at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Soldier cabins along the Baptist Trace at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Soldier cabins along the Baptist Trace at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Baptist Trace ends at the J. P. Martin Trail within eyesight of the Varnum’s Quarters parking lot. Total distance of the route I took is 2.6 miles. It’s a great hike, fairly easy with only the moderate uphill climb on the east side. Just be sure you have the corrected trail map.

Intersection of the Baptist Trace and Joseph Plumb Martin Trail near Varnum's Quarters

Intersection of the Baptist Trace and Joseph Plumb Martin Trail near Varnum’s Quarters

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Last updated on August 3, 2022
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