Valley Forge National Historical Park | JOSEPH PLUMB MARTIN TRAIL

Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Length: 5-mile main loop with additional side trails
Time: 2 hours on foot, 1 hour on bike (not counting stops at historical sites, which add a significant amount of time)
Difficulty: Easy with two short but steep hills

The Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park takes its name from a Continental soldier who wrote a detailed account of his time at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78. It is a paved path that consists of a 5-mile main loop that circles the encampment area and a side trail to Washington’s Headquarters (.6 mile one way). It is the most fun, interesting, and accessible trail at Valley Forge, and as a result, it is also the most popular. Many locals use it for walking, jogging, and biking. E-bikes are allowed to assist in peddling only; you cannot ride around on one like a motorcycle. Skating is not allowed.

The J. P. Martin Trail is always slightly hilly, but rarely anything but easy. If you are on a bike, the trail is like a rollercoaster. Your momentum going down a hill will take you halfway up the next one. The steepest hill has a grade of 10%, so considering that a grade of up to 5% is wheelchair accessible and 15% is where strenuous starts, you can see that most people who can walk or bike without difficultly should have no problem making it around. The J. P. Martin Trail is almost entirely out in the open, so wear a hat and apply sunscreen if avoiding the sun is important to you.

Typical terrain on the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Typical terrain on the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

If you are a tourist to Valley Forge National Historical Park, you’ll most likely want to see the park’s historical points of interest, which are covered in the 9-stop Valley Forge Encampment Tour. Most people do the tour in their vehicle, but if you want exercise, the J. P. Martin Trail is the way to go. It passes all stops on the tour directly except for Stop 4 (Wayne Statue), Stop 5 (Washington’s Headquarters), and Stop 6 (Redoubt 3). Fortunately there are short detours you can take if you want to see everything.

The J. P. Martin Trail follows the park tour road for most of its length, thus you can access it from many of the parking lots and roadside parking spaces along the road. I began at the Valley Forge National Historical Park Visitor Center, and I’ll describe my journey from there. If you want to hit the tour stops in the correct order, travel clockwise around the loop. The Visitor Center, by the way, is the first stop on the tour.

The second stop on the Valley Forge Encampment Tour is the Muhlenberg Brigade. To get there from the Visitor Center parking lot, head towards Valley Forge Park Road on the paved hiker / biker path that starts at the entrance to the parking lot. This path dead ends into the J. P. Martin Trail. Take a right to travel around in the clockwise direction. There is a slight uphill slope all the way to the Muhlenberg Brigade stop, but it is barely noticeable. The stop is .75 mile from the parking lot.

The Muhlenberg Brigade stop marks the campsite of Continental soldiers under the command of General Peter Muhlenberg. This is one of the more interesting stops on the tour, as there are a number of historically accurate reproduction cabins on display, some of which you can even go inside. These were built sometime after Valley Forge became a state park in 1893 (they have certainly been renovated over the years as well).

Joseph Plumb Martin Trails passes in front of the Muhlenberg Brigade tour stop at Valley Forge

Joseph Plumb Martin Trails passes in front of the Muhlenberg Brigade tour stop at Valley Forge

On the way to the next tour stop, the National Memorial Arch, you will pass a number of monuments that mark the locations of where particular troops camped (e. g. Muhlenberg’s Brigade). Unless you are obsessed with the history of Valley Forge, these monuments become a bore after reading a couple of them.

Typical troop campsite marker at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Typical troop campsite marker at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Not as common are state memorials of varying sizes and ornateness. On this section of the J. P. Martin Trail is the Maine Memorial, a rather small and plain state memorial. Cabins are also placed sporadically along the trail to give the park atmosphere.

Maine state memorial at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Maine state memorial at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Historical reproduction of typical soldier cabin at Valley Forge

Historical reproduction of typical soldier cabin at Valley Forge

The National Memorial Arch lies another .6 mile down the path. You can walk or bike right up to and through the arch, though the trail itself circles around it as it follows the park road. If you head up to the arch, just pass underneath and follow the path down the other side towards the parking lot to reconnect with the J. P. Martin Trail.

National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge National Historical Park

National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge National Historical Park

The next point of interest is the Wayne’s Woods Picnic Area, and as the name implies, there is a forest here. This is where the J. P. Martin Trail diverges from the road, and as a result, bypasses the fourth stop on the Valley Forge Encampment Tour, the General Anthony Wayne Statue. The trail runs around the backside of the forest while the road runs in front of it. The Wayne Statue is not that interesting—it’s just a statue of General Anthony Wayne–but if you want to see it, simply hop off the trail and onto the tour road at the picnic area. The statue is a quarter mile away. When done, instead of backtracking, continue down the road another half mile to the next intersection where you can get back onto the J. P. Martin Trail. This section of the road through Valley Forge is exclusively a park road, not a public road, so vehicles tend to travel at slow speeds, making road biking relatively safe.

Whether you stick to the trail or take the road, in a little over a half mile past Wayne’s Woods, the J. P. Martin Trail makes a sharp right turn and continues up a steep hill, and yes, this is a damn steep hill, one of only two difficult sections of the trail (this is the hill with the 10% grade). If you are on foot, it’s not bad, but on bike you’ll have to stand up and peddle to put a little more oomph into it. If you don’t make the turn up the hill and instead keep straight, you’ll still be a spur of the J. P. Martin Trail that takes you over to the Mount Joy trails and the Yellow Springs area.

Configuration of the J. P. Martin Trail just west of the Waynes Woods Picnic Area

Configuration of the J. P. Martin Trail just west of the Waynes Woods Picnic Area

As mentioned earlier, the J. P. Martin Trail does not go to Stop 5, Washington’s Headquarters, or Stop 6, Redoubt 3. You can get to Washington’s Headquarters on a side trail farther ahead on the route, but if you want to see Redoubt 3—and yes, you’ll have to do this out of order—don’t take the J. P. Martin Trail up the hill, take the road next to it. At the top is the intersection with South Inner Line Drive. Take a left to get to Redoubt 3—you can see the parking lot from the intersection. If you stick to the trail, there is a sloping bank and a fence between it and the road, so you won’t be able to get off the J. P. Martin Trail and onto the road. You won’t be able to get back on it either, so when done at Redoubt 3, just head back the way you came and take the road to Stop 7: Artillery Park. The J. P. Martin Trail runs right in front of it. The distance up the steep hill is a tenth of mile; the distance to Redoubt 3 is another tenth of a mile; and it’s .2 mile from Redoubt 3 to Artillery Park.

Joseph Plumb Martin Trail heads up a steep hill, Valley Forge National Historical Park

Joseph Plumb Martin Trail heads up a steep hill, Valley Forge National Historical Park

If you stick to the J. P. Martin Trail and forgo a trip to Redoubt 3, just so you know, at the top of the steep hill is a gravel trail that forks off to the right: the Baptist Trace. Just a little farther ahead is Artillery Park, the place where the Continental Army stored its cannon during the Valley Forge encampment. There is a restroom and picnic area here as well. At this point you will have traveled three miles along the trail from the Valley Forge Visitor Center.

Cannon on display at Artillery Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park

Cannon on display at Artillery Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park

Just beyond Artillery Park is the Marquee Monument that marks the spot where George Washington first set up camp when he arrived at Valley Forge on December 19, 1777 (how anyone remembered this or thought to mark it down on a map is beyond me). A marquee is a type of canopy tent, but in Washington’s case, it had sides as well. This is where he stayed until he moved into the Potts House, now known as Washington’s Headquarters, a few days later on December 24th.

Site of the Marquee monument at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Site of the Marquee monument at Valley Forge National Historical Park

The next stop of interest is Varnum’s Quarters, .8 mile from Artillery Park. This is where you will find the side trail to Washington’s Headquarters, .6 mile away. The J. P. Martin Trail comes to a T-intersection between the parking lot and the General von Steuben statue. To get to Washington’s Headquarters, take a left, pass the parking lot, and then cross Valley Forge Park Road—the trail is on the other side. You can take this all the way to the end, where you’ll be on the backside of the Potts property, or turn right on River Road to get to the vehicle parking lot for Washington’s Headquarters. Plan to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour at this stop, depending on if the Potts House and the Valley Forge Railroad Station Museum are open. (Note that I did not make the side trip to Washington’s Headquarters.)

If you don’t care to visit Washington’s Headquarters, take a right at Varnum’s Quarters to start heading back to the Visitor Center. At this point the J. P. Martin Trail follows right along Valley Forge Park Road, which is open to city traffic. A half mile ahead is the last point interest, the Washington Memorial Chapel.

Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge

Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge

It’s about a mile from the church back to the Visitor Center parking lot, and much of the trail heads downhill. The only party pooper is one last steep hill just before the Visitor Center, another 10% grade, but it’s only 150 yards long. If on bike, you won’t benefit from picking up speed on the downhill segment of the hill because the steep uphill segment starts on the other side of County Line Road (which is at the bottom of the hill), so you must stop to make sure no cars are coming before crossing.

Counting the trip to and from the parking lot, the total distance of my journey on the J. P. Martin Trail is 5.5 miles (I did not take any side trails). The trail itself is 5 miles long, not counting the detour to Washington’s Headquarters. However, the National Park Service trail map states that the J. P. Martin Trail is 8.7 miles long. I have no idea where that figure comes from. Add the Washington’s Headquarters spur trail and it’s only at 5.6 miles. The map shows the trails to Yellow Springs as colored purple, the same as the J. P. Martin Trail, but at the same time it labels them Knox Trail and Yellow Springs Trail, and sign posts on those trails also identify them as such. There’s a side trail near the Visitor Center that leads to the Betzwood Picnic Area, but that can’t account for two more miles of missing trails. All I can figure is that the National Park Service considers the Yellow Springs area trails to be the J. P. Martin Trail despite these trails being identified by signage to the contrary.

Valley Forge National Historical Park Trail Map (click to enlarge)

Valley Forge National Historical Park Trail Map (click to enlarge)

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Last updated on August 5, 2022
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