Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the location of one of the most important battles in the American Civil War. The town of Gettysburg is a beautiful location and the home of an excellent National Military Park that preserves the battlefield.
The park and the town of Gettysburg include a lot of open fields, farms and barns, monuments, cannon, and beautiful scenery. Living just a short drive from Gettysburg I typically make one or two visits each year to photograph the area. In this article we’ll take a detailed look at some of the best places for photos, as well as discussing the best times to visit and how to get around.
Gettysburg farm, photo by Marc Andre
The battle of Gettysburg began with a chance encounter between the Union and Confederate soldiers, and the fighting took place in and around the town. Much of the area that is best for photography is part of the park, but the town itself and many of the farms are beautiful as well. There is no cost to enter the park, which mostly surrounds the small town.
There is a visitor’s center located on Baltimore Pike that offers some educational experiences, and it also serves as the starting point a self-guided auto tour that is set up with signs leading you to the major points of interest. You can buy a CD at the visitor’s center that will give you an audio guide in your car while you are driving around the battlefield, if you are interested in learning more about the history of Gettysburg. You can also benefit from the auto tour by simply following the signs on the road without needing the CD. The signs will guide you around the majority of the points of interest and you can stop and get out at places that you would like to photograph. One of the reasons you may want to follow the auto tour is because many roads in the park are one way, and the tour is set up to lead you to the right places.
Key Locations for Photos in Gettysburg
Here we’ll take a look at some of the best locations and monuments for photographing. You can also get this map from the National Parks Service. The locations mentioned below are listed in the order that you will encounter them if you are following the auto tour starting at the visitor’s center. The map below shows each location mentioned.
1. Eternal Light Peace Memorial
One of the first major monuments that you’ll come across on the auto tour is the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, which has an always-burning gas flame at the top.
Eternal Light Peace Memorial, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
2. Observation Tower at Oak Ridge
Following the auto tour path just a little ways past the Federal Light Peace Memorial is the Observation Tower at Oak Ridge. If you walk up a few flights of stairs there is a large deck with a pretty good view of the area. (There are also other observation towers along Confederate Avenue and Culp’s Hill).
View of a farm taken from the observation tower, photo by Marc Andre
Confederate Avenue runs from the north to the south along the west edge of the battlefield area. This is the area where the Confederate soldiers were located at Pickett’s Charge when they ran across the open fields toward the Union soldiers.
Cannon Along Confederate Avenue, photo by Marc Andre
There are several areas along Confederate Avenue that are great photographic opportunities. It is a beautiful tree-lined street with a lot of cannons along the road, and in most places you can pull of to the side of the road if you want to stop and get out of the car. Confederate Avenue is beautiful in the fall with autumn colors.
Cannon Along Confederate Avenue, photo by Marc Andre
Here are a few specific spots of interest along Confederate Avenue
3. North Carolina Memorial
The North Carolina Memorial features a sculpture of several soldiers, with one of them holding a flag. It is located at the spot where the North Carolina troops began their participation in Pickett’s Charge.
North Carolina Monument, photo by Ron Cogswell
4. Virginia Memorial
One of the larger monuments, the Virginia Memorial features General Lee on horseback. It is located just down the street from the North Carolina Monument. There is a small parking lot and also parking spaces along the side of the road.
Virginia Memorial at sunrise, photo by Marc Andre
From the small parking lot at the Virginia Memorial there is a path that leads through the field along a line of trees. The photo below was taken near the parking lot.
Path near the Virginia Memorial, photo by Marc Andre
5. Path to the Spangler House
Just past the Virginia Memorial you will go down a hill and there is a small bridge at the bottom. And just beyond the bridge is a path with a sign that says “Spangler House”. The path will be on your left and it can also be a good spot for a photo.
Sunrise at the path entrance, photo by Marc Andre
Foggy day on the path, photo by Marc Andre
6. Louisiana Memorial
Also located along Confederate Avenue, the Louisiana Memorial is one of the more interesting and unique monuments in the battlefield.
Louisiana Memorial on a foggy morning, photo by Marc Andre
7. Little Round Top
At the south end of Confederate Avenue the road will turn and you’ll start heading back north. You’ll go by Big Round Top and then up Little Round Top. Little Round Top was one of the most significant locations in the battle, and it also provides the best view of the battlefield. The road leads up to the top of Little Round Top and then down the other side (you can also hike up if you’d like). At the top there is a parking lot, but it often fills up during the summer and on weekends. There are a few monuments at the top and a rocky area where you can walk around and find a nice view for a photograph. There are also some areas where you can hike down a little ways to get a different view.
Statue of General Warren, photo by Marc Andre
The statue of General Warren shown above is located at Little Round Top overlooking the valley below. If you are overlooking the valley, to the right of the Warren statue is a small path that leads down a little ways. Follow that path and you’ll come to the Monument to the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry from the vantage point shown in the photo below.
Monument to the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry, photo by Marc Andre
8. Devils’ Den
Devil’s Den is a rocky area that got it’s name because so many soldiers died in this area. It’s located near Little Round Top and Big Round Top, and you have a good view of Devil’s Den from above when you are on Little Round Top.
Devil’s Den is a very popular area for visitors, especially kids who love to climb and explore the rock formations. This means that it tends to get crowded and the small parking area fills up pretty quickly. To get to Devil’s Den you actually have to go off the path of the auto tour by turning left at Crawford Avenue. After Devil’s Den follow the winding road and you’ll meet up with the auto tour again in just a few minutes.
9. Pennsylvania Memorial
The Pennsylvania Memorial is one of the larger monuments in Gettysburg. There are stairs that will lead you to the top where you can catch a nice view of the battlefield. There is parking at the monument but this area tends to be very congested in peak season. There will typically be a lot of people at the monument. The shot below with no one visible was taken very early in the morning, shortly after sunrise.
Pennsylvania Monument, photo by Marc Andre
10. National Cemetery
The last stop on the auto tour is the cemetery. The National Cemetery was the location of the famous Gettysburg Address, given by Abraham Lincoln at the cemetery’s dedication in 1863.
National Cemetery, photo by Marc Andre
The cemetery includes several monuments and cannons. There is a paved path that loops around the cemetery and there is a parking lot across the street (it is located just down the road from the visitor’s center).
Different events and ceremonies are held in the cemetery at certain times of the year. I’ve never attended any of these events, but I have seen beautiful photos to show that these events can be great opportunities for photos, as shown below.
Flags in the cemetery, photo by Beau Considine
Best Location for Sunrise Photographs: Confederate Avenue
My favorite sunrise location in Gettysburg is along Confederate Avenue. The road runs from the north to the south. The west side of the road is heavily wooded in most areas, with open fields to the east. You can also park just about anywhere along Confederate Avenue so it’s nice and convenient to find a good spot.
Sunrise near the Virginia Memorial on Confederate Avenue, photo by Marc Andre
Best Location for Sunset Photographs: Little Round Top
Little Round Top has a nice view to the west, which makes it an ideal location for sunset shots.
Sunset at Little Round Top, photo by Nicolas Raymond
Sunset from Little Round Top, photo by Marc Andre
The Best Times to Visit Gettysburg
Summer is by far the busiest season for tourism in Gettysburg. With kids being out of school the number of families in town is much higher during the summer. Combine that with the fact that the battle was fought in early July, and many re-enactments and events take place during the summer, particularly around the 4th of July. Personally, I try to avoid Gettysburg in the summer for this reason. The roads are very crowded at peak times and all of the popular spots will be filled with a lot of people. The one reason to target the summer is if you want to photograph the re-enacters.
Both spring and fall are great times of the year to visit Gettysburg, with crowds that are substantially smaller than in the summer. Spring presents opportunities to photographing the blossoming trees, and fall is a beautiful time in Gettysburg with the tree-lined streets and in the cemetery. There are still some tourists in town during spring and fall, but if you are out early in the morning you will mostly be by yourself. I try to make it out for a sunrise session at least once in the fall (mid October is usually the best time for fall colors) and typically there will be no one around before 8:00 AM, aside from a few joggers. From 8:00 – 10:00 there will usually be a few visitors out and about, but until mid morning the battlefield is very quiet this time of year.
Winter is also a great time to photograph Gettysburg, especially after a snowfall. Depending on the amount of snow and ice some of the roads, especially at Little Round Top and Big Round Top, may be difficult or even closed, but this is pretty rare.
Castle on Little Round Top in the winter, photo by Nicolas Raymond
Getting Around Gettysburg
Cannon along Confederate Avenue, photo by Marc Andre
Photographing Gettysburg doesn’t require much hiking. Yes, there are some places where you can hike if you’d like to, but most of the area can be photographed with only minimal walking from the road. The best way to get around the battlefield and the town is by car. The roads can get crowded during peak times, but at most times there are plenty of places to pull off and stop along the side of the road to get out and take photographs. Some of the monuments and other areas of interest also have their own parking lots, but these can also fill up in the summer and on weekends.
There are plenty of bus tours that are available to take you around the battlefield, but of course these tours are more focused on history than photography, so you’re better off driving on your own and deciding where you want to spend your time.
I recommend having a GPS or local map with you because many of the roads in and around the battlefield are one way, so if you want to back track it can be a little confusing to find your way back without some guidance.
The park hours are 6:00 AM – 10:00 PM April through October, and 6:00 AM – 7:00 PM November through March. The National Cemetery is open sunrise to sunset.