If you are visiting Valley Forge National Historical Park near Philadelphia, you are probably there for a little history. Maybe you’ve combined your trip with a visit to historic Philadelphia or nearby Lancaster or Gettysburg. But if you can add an extra day into your trip, there are some hidden gems that are worth getting off-the-beaten path. Here are some ideas for things to do in Valley Forge Pennsylvania.
Technically within the Philadelphia city limits, Morris Arboretum is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Valley Forge (or about 20 minutes by car with traffic.) Before you roll your eyes at the thought of your kids in an arboretum, let me tell you that this one has so much to offer kids. So much so that I’m going to seek out some arboretums closer to home to see how they stack up.
Morris Arboretum was started by brother and sister duo John and Lydia Morris, whose family made their fortune iron manufacturing. When they saw Philadelphia quickly expanding, the decided to set aside some land to preserve the natural beauty and traveled the world bringing back ideas and plants that they implemented on the land that is today the Arboretum. Today, the Arboretum spans 92 acres, featuring 12,000 plant and trees species.
They have set up many family-friendly programs, including story times, Japanese tea ceremonies during the Cherry Blossom Celebrations in April, Mother’s Day Brunch, Circus Week in July, and special programs on Wednesdays throughout the summer. No matter when you visit, they make exploring fun with specially printed educational cards to bring along on walks and a passport that explorers can stamp at stations throughout the grounds. These feature a wetlands scavenger hunt, bird watching checklist, and ideas for becoming a tree scientist.
One of our favorite parts of the Arboretum was the “Out on a Limb” exhibit featuring a giant birds nest perched 50 feet above the ground. Here kids can truly get a birds eye view, plus have fun on the nets and platforms high up in the air.
Another big hit is the Garden Railway Display, which is open daily from June through September, and then on weekends until October. I’d love to visit this miniature train area when it is all decorated for Christmas as it is absolutely adorable.
I wish we could have visited when the rose garden was in full bloom, but even without the riot of color that you might see in the spring and summer, it is easy to spend half a day exploring the various regions of the Arboretum and making your way along the loop that runs through the property.
We also enjoyed the Patrick Dougherty’s Stickworks sculpture special exhibit, watching the swans by the pond, and warming up with a visit to the Fernery greenhouse.
Morris Arboretum is located at 100 E. Northwestern Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. Visit www.morrisarboretum.org for program schedules, hours, and admission information.
The Wharton Esherick Studio
When you have had your fill of the outdoors, it is time to climb inside the cozy, crooked little studio of gifted woodworker and designer Wharton Esherick. Don’t worry if you have never heard of him. You don’t need an art degree to appreciate his whimsical, yet beautifully crafted designs. From the Winnie the Pooh outside of the visitors center, to the winding, treehouse-like staircase inside the studio, the designs of Esherick will enchant all ages. (But given the open stairs, it is probably best for those eight and up.)
Wharton Esherick (1887-1970) got his start as an artist and later got into woodcuts. He soon discovered a passion and talent for woodworking, which is what has made him famous. Today, his furniture and furnishings can be found in major American museums and private collections, as well as the 200+ works exhibited in the Studio.
He designed the fairy-tale like home that seconded as his studio with thoughtful care. Built over a 40 year period, it features barn-like stone walls that curve out like a tree trunk, with a patchwork floor of wood pieces. Inside you will find his ingeniously-designed lamps, tables, and cabinets, alongside some of his wooden sculptures. He paid close attention to every detail from the latches and hinges to the sinks and steps.
I was certainly surprised by how much we enjoyed this short visit and was glad to have discovered this hidden gem.
The Wharton Esherick Studio and Museum is located at 1520 Horseshoe Trail in Malvern, PA and is open Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 1 to 5 pm, except in January and February and major holidays. Admission is $15.00 per adult and $8.00 per child under 12. Tours are by appointment only.
Elmwood Park Zoo
If you are saying ok, that all sounds good but what about something truly for kids…here you go. Elmwood Park Zoo is small but packs a big punch. Here you will find otters, cheetahs, bald eagles, moose, prairie dogs, and our favorite…red pandas!
If zoos are not your thing, they also offer a small treetop adventure and zipline course.
Elmwood Park Zoo is located at 1661 Harding Blvd in Norristown, PA. The zoo is open Monday-Sunday from 10 am – 5pm except June 9, 2016, September 24, 2016 and major holidays. Tickets are $16.95 per adult and $12.95 for children ages 3-12.
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