Valley Forge National Historical Park | MOUNT JOY TRAIL

Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Length: 4.25 miles out and back hike
Time: 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate with some strenuous hikes up steep hills

Download the Valley Forge Trail Map (PDF)

The Mount Joy Trail is located on the west side of Valley Forge National Historical Park. There are trailheads near Washington’s Headquarters in the north and Knox’s Quarters in the south. It is a lollypop-shaped trail, meaning that you hike out on the stick portion before coming to the loop. In the case of the Mount Joy Trail, the loop is on the northern end. There is also a section of trail in the south that branches off to the right and climbs to the summit of Mount Joy before ending at South Inner Line Drive.

I hiked the Mount Joy Trail in August, and there were A LOT of gnats. Luckily I had a mosquito net for my head. They got worse as the day progressed, so I’m damn glad I had it with me. If you have one, be sure to bring it. If the bugs are out, you’ll be the envy of everyone else on the trail.

The best place to begin the hike on the south end of the park is at the Knox’s Quarters Parking Lot on Valley Creek Road. This is where I started, and this trail report is written from that perspective. From the parking lot, follow a short section of the paved Knox Trail out to the road and cross to the other side. The pavement continues, but the trail is now called the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail. Take this for a third of a mile to the trailhead of the Mount Joy Trail. The J. P. Martin Trail takes you through a nice meadow and past two reconstructed cabins similar to the ones built by the soldiers of the Continental Army during their encampment at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78.

Paved Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Paved Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

The official Mount Joy Trail has a sign at the trailhead. However, you’ll first come to another trail that is not identified. This also takes you to the Mount Joy Trail, so either turn here or continue to the official starting point a little farther ahead.

Since you’ll be hiking up Mount Joy, it should come as no surprise that the trail heads uphill. The trail surface has its share of rock and roots, but it’s not too bad. Just be sure to watch your step so you don’t twist an ankle.

Typical terrain on the Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge

Typical terrain on the Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge

The climb is moderate with grades (measurement of slope) that peak at around 10%, and most of the time they hover around 7-8%. Slopes with a grade of 5% or less are considered wheelchair accessible, and most hikers agree that strenuous starts around 15%.

There are a number of trails that branch off from the Mount Joy Trail, but most are unmarked and not on the trail map. They also look nothing like the Mount Joy Trail, so if you ever get confused, pick the trail that looks most like the one you’ve been walking on for a while.

At .7 mile from the start of the Mount Joy Trail is a side trail that appears to have once been paved with asphalt. An old-timey sign that is broken off and unreadable is next to it. Using my GPS, I was able to determine that this is the side trail that leads to the summit of Mount Joy and down to South Inner Line Drive. Since a hike on the Mount Joy Trail is out-and-back, I decided to take the side trail when I returned. By the way, this is one of only a few official trails that I came across in the entire Valley Forge National Historical Park that was not identified with signage.

Trail to the summit of Mount Joy at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Trail to the summit of Mount Joy at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Broken sign on the Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge

Broken sign on the Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge

Just past the asphalt side trail, the Mount Joy Trail becomes a wide, gravel path and begins a descent that lasts for about .2 mile before leveling out. It is on this level segment that there is another unmarked intersection with an official trail. This one branches off to the right towards a road and a footbridge. If you have the Valley Forge National Historical Park trail map, it is the unnamed orange trail that connects to Artillery Park, one of the stops on the Valley Forge Encampment Tour. I did not hike this, but instead continued north on the Mount Joy Trail.

Wide section of the Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Wide section of the Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Trail that connects the Mount Joy Trail to Artillery Park at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Trail that connects the Mount Joy Trail to Artillery Park at Valley Forge National Historical Park

The Mount Joy Trail now heads back uphill for another .2 mile. At the top is where the loop portion of the trail begins, one mile from the southern trailhead. Being a loop, you can go either way, but I took a left and hiked around in the clockwise direction.

The west side of the loop starts out on a ridge—steep downhill on one side and a steep uphill on the other. This is more like a hiking trail than the stick portion of the Mount Joy Trail (which is often nothing more than a gravel road) and the only place I came across at Valley Forge National Historical Park where you could actually fall down a hill and get injured. However, the ridge portion of the hike doesn’t last long, and you’ll soon be back on a wider trail.

Valley Forge's Mount Joy Trail follows a ridge for a short time on the loop portion of the hike

Valley Forge’s Mount Joy Trail follows a ridge for a short time on the loop portion of the hike

In .4 mile from where the loop started, the trail dead ends at a T-intersection. Take a right to continue around the east side of the loop and a left if you want to hike to Washington’s Headquarters. I turned left just to see what the trail was like. It heads downhill rather steeply—the steepest section of the trail with an average grade of 13%—and it’s full of loose rocks, which makes it like walking on marbles that can slip out from under your feet.

Segment of the Mount Joy Trail that leads to Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge

Segment of the Mount Joy Trail that leads to Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge

Fortunately, it only takes a couple minutes to get to the bottom where the Mount Joy Trail ends at Valley Forge Park Road. It comes out across the street from the David Potts House, which is also known as the Bake House because the army did a lot of baking here during the Valley Forge encampment. At this point you will have walked 1.6 miles on the Mount Joy Trail (1.9 miles from the Knox’s Quarters Parking Lot).

Northern section of the Mount Joy Trail near Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge

Northern section of the Mount Joy Trail near Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge

David Potts House at Valley Forge National Historical Park

David Potts House at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Washington’s Headquarters is located behind the David Potts House. To get there, walk across the street and stay to the left of the house. You’ll see the buildings of the Washington’s Headquarters area, so just head towards them. The property was owned by Isaac Potts, David’s brother.

Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Washington’s Headquarters at Valley Forge National Historical Park

If you made the detour to Washington’s Headquarters, of course you must now hike back up the steep hill. When you get to the T-intersection, just keep straight to hike the east side of the Mount Joy Trail loop.

Keep straight when coming from Washington Headquarters to hike around the east side of the loop on the Mount Joy Trail

Keep straight when coming from Washington Headquarters to hike around the east side of the loop on the Mount Joy Trail

The east side of the loop is more like the stick portion of the Mount Joy Trail: wide like a gravel road and with its share of rocks. It is also extremely steep, for it is essentially just an extension of the steep trail that led down to Washington’s Headquarters. Fortunately it doesn’t last long before it levels out and starts descending. There is one more up and down hill before you get back to the start of the loop. You’ll end up at another T-intersection, so take a left to start heading back south to the parking lot.

East side of the loop on the Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

East side of the loop on the Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge National Historical Park

As mentioned earlier, it is on the return trip that I took the side trail to the summit of Mount Joy (the one with the asphalt surface). Keep in mind that it is now an out-and-back trail. South Inner Line Drive is a winding road that makes a large S-curve. The trail used to cross it twice, ending at Redoubt 3, another stop on the Valley Forge Encampment Tour. From there you just had to follow the road around the corner for a tenth of a mile to get back to the Mount Joy Trail’s southern trailhead where the hike began. However, the trail now ends at the first crossing of South Inner Line Drive, 200 feet from the bottom of Mount Joy. The trail is closed at this point due to damage to historic and natural resources. Thus, you must either return to the main trail or follow South Inner Line Drive for a mile to get to the bottom. The Valley Forge National Historical Park trail map still shows this closed segment, but I have corrected it on the map that you can download here on National Park Planner.

The Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge now ends at the first crossing of South Inner Line Drive

The Mount Joy Trail at Valley Forge now ends at the first crossing of South Inner Line Drive

My suggestion is to skip the side trail unless summiting Mount Joy is on your bucket list of mountain peaks to conquer. If you decide to take the detour, which is only a quarter mile one way, turn right on the trail with the old asphalt surface. I looked up a topographical map to find where the summit of Mount Joy was located since no sign identifies it, and the map actually showed this trail as once being a road to the summit. Oddly enough, the asphalt ends rather quickly and abruptly, and the trail becomes a narrow dirt path. Where in the world did the asphalt go? And why was one short section left? When you see it narrow into the dirt path, it’s really hard to believe that this was once a road.

Side trail to the summit of Mount Joy at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Side trail to the summit of Mount Joy at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Typical surface of the trail to the summit of Mount Joy beyond the asphalt section

Typical surface of the trail to the summit of Mount Joy beyond the asphalt section

The trail immediately heads uphill to the summit, and it is very steep: an average grade of 11.5% with the first 200 feet averaging 23%. Fortunately it’s only a tenth of a mile to the top, and then it’s downhill at the same rate for another tenth of a mile to where the trail ends at South Inner Line Drive. The summit of Mount Joy is 426 feet in elevation, but I’m not sure if the Mount Joy Trail actually hits the peak or if the peak is off in the woods somewhere. There is no sign along the trail that marks the peak like there is at the top of Mount Misery.

In addition to summiting Mount Joy, where the trail ends at South Inner Line Drive is the remnants of a defensive trench dug during the Continental Army’s encampment at Valley Forge. However, before you get too excited, realize that there is nothing left of the trenches other than miniscule gullies. If not pointed out, you would never notice them. In fact, here you won’t notice them even when they are pointed out. This is the end of the trail, so either turn around and hike back to the main trail or turn right on the road and take that back to the starting point. The distance is the same either way, it’s just that via the road you don’t have to hike back over the top of Mount Joy and see the same things twice (though the road isn’t very interesting either).

Mount Joy Trail crosses the upper section of South Inner Line Drive at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Mount Joy Trail crosses the upper section of South Inner Line Drive at Valley Forge

Remnants of the inner line of defensive trenches on Mount Joy, Valley Forge National Historical Park

Remnants of the inner line of defensive trenches on Mount Joy, Valley Forge National Historical Park

Ultimately, the Mount Joy Trail is nothing more than a walk in the woods. If you want a better hike, do the Mount Misery Trail, making a loop out of it with the Valley Creek Trail and the Horse-Shoe Trail. This loop hike has river scenery, passes by the ruins of the Colonial Spring Company bottling plant, and leads to the actual summit of Mount Misery.

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Last updated on May 29, 2022
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