Why you need a guidebook to cycle Gettysburg

A first-time visitor to Gettysburg National Military Park might think that cycling the park is as easy as picking up an official park map and then riding. Afterall, how hard could it be? Why not simply go to the Visitor Center, grab a free park map, and follow the official 16-stop auto tour? Do you really need a guidebook to cycle Gettysburg (paid link) National Military Park?

My first solo ride

On my first solo ride in 2012, I quickly realized that I made a big mistake. I should have planned my tour, and I wrongly assumed that I didn’t really need a guidebook. I had an official park map, and I thought that was enough. Afterall, I had been to Gettysburg many dozens of times over the decades. Surely, I knew my way around, right? No. Bicycling is different.

guidebook to cycle Gettysburg
On the way to Spangler’s Spring via Carman Avenue

Less than one mile into my ride, I stopped to figure out how to avoid town traffic. Where are the bicycle lanes? May I legally ride on sidewalks? How can I ride in wooded areas and avoid tour busses? Clearly, the auto tour route was not for me. And I was spending too much time trying to figure out how to ride in a loop.

The farther I cycled, the more one-way roads confused me. I felt that they pointed me in the opposite direction that I wanted to go. I later learned that the Superintendent’s Compendium permits cyclists to ride against the flow of traffic within the park, but not every cyclist is comfortable “challenging” motorists in that way.

guidebook to cycle Gettysburg
Hancock Avenue is one-way heading north

Cyclists have unique needs

My first bicycling experience in Gettysburg was safe and fun. But without a guidebook to cycle Gettysburg that is designed for bicyclists, I was distracted.

I wanted to learn American Civil War history, not puzzle over a road network.

Although the official park map identifies restrooms and picnic areas, it does not provide information about shade, hills, or blind curves. When your body is tired — or energized — you want to know about these things.

Not surprisingly, the free park map marks only a very small subset of Gettysburg’s 1,300+ monuments and markers. The more self-directed rides I took over the battlefield, the more I wanted a guidebook to cycle Gettysburg (paid link). I wanted a guidebook that was both historical in its focus and practical in its guidance to bicyclists.

guidebook to cycle Gettysburg
The U.S. Regulars Monument on Cemetery Ridge

Solving the logistics puzzle

In 2012, I learned from my first solo ride that I needed a better plan, so I scoured bookstores and online resources for maps or books. I was disappointed not to find a single map that met my needs. And no such book existed. So I decided to create my own maps and guidebook to cycle Gettysburg.

Four years later, I completed a set of fourteen bicycle routes that met the following objectives:

  1. Safe, circular routes of varying length and difficulty
  2. Historically interesting, thematic routes over key areas
  3. Fun routes that showcase the hills and trees of Gettysburg
  4. Opportunities to abandon a route and explore freely

I learned that if I wanted to experience the thrill of freely exploring the battlefield park, I needed maps that are designed for bicyclists who also want to learn as much as they can about the Battle of Gettysburg.

guidebook to cycle Gettysburg
Looking southeast from Devil’s Den under what some people say is a “witness tree”

Gettysburg National Military Park covers more than 6,000 acres and about 30 miles of smoothly paved park roads. With all there is to see and do, there is no time to get lost or to struggle with traffic or one-way roads. If you want to ride at your own pace and in your own way, then you need maps designed for bicyclists.

What are your options for touring Gettysburg on a bike?

If you want a fun, safe, and educational tour without having to struggle with pre-tour logistics and on-tour navigation decisions, your options are limited yet clear.

1 – Hire a tour guide

Your first option is to contact GettysBike Tours and sign-up for a bicycle tour with a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide. Tours begin in the Bus/RV Lot of the Gettsyburg Museum and Visitor Center. GettysBike has a fleet of relatively new bikes that you can rent. Last I checked, you can also rent bicycles without registering for a tour. You can also rent from Gettysburg Bicycle, a full-sevice bicycle shop on 307 York Street. I have had very good experiences with both of these companies and highly recommend them. (Note: Civil War Cycling is not affiliated with these companies).

If you hire a tour guide, then having a paperback guidebook is a nice but non-essential reference. On the other hand, you will learn so much more if you prepare for your tour with some pre-reading. And remember, a book is a reference that you can consult after your tour, too.

2 – Purchase a cycling guidebook or maps

Your second option is to purchase a guidebook to cycle Gettysburg (paid link) or download digital maps that you can print or read on your mobile device. Many people will want a book and companion maps, whether digital or paper. The reason is simply this:

One advantage of a guidebook to cycle Gettysburg is that it can provide much, more more than bicycle maps and cues. It can offer touring tips, contingency planning ideas, historical summaries, micro-histories, photographs, GPS points, a glossary, and more. These are the things that you will find in Bicycling Gettysburg National Military Park: The Cyclist’s Civil War Travel Guide

guidebook to cycle Gettysburg

Civil War Cycling’s guidebook to cycle Gettysburg

For the best possible tour, a bicycling tourist is better off not following the official park auto tour and should start riding only after learning:

  • What roads are safest
  • What roads are one-way
  • Laws and policies apply to bicyclists
  • What roads are off-limit to busses
  • Road names not labeled on many maps
  • Where monuments are located
  • Where to find restrooms or water

Alternatively, you can rely on a guidebook. Let the guidebook provide informed and helpful navigational cues and tips. Trust that!

Of course, digital and printed maps serve a purpose, which is why Civil War Cycling sells digital (printable) PDF companion maps to the guidebook.

Civil War Cycling maps for download and printing

In addition to a guidebook to cycle Gettysburg, Civil War Cycling publishes digital (PDF) bicycle maps for touring the battlefield park. The maps are available for immediate purchase and download by clicking “Shop” at CivilWarCycling.com. These PDF maps offer you several advantages over anything else on the market today. The maps are:

  1. Designed for bicyclists, not motorists
  2. Do not require the guidebook
  3. Can be used with the book while touring
  4. Can be used instead of the book while touring
  5. PDF files that have no license keys or passwords
  6. PDF files with no security restrictions for printing
guidebook to cycle Gettysburg
Off the auto tour, where busses are prohibited!

Digital or paper maps?

I do not recommend real-time GPS navigation while cycling Gettysburg National Military Park. First and foremost, if you are riding the park for more than a couple hours, you will make frequent turns every 0.1 to 0.2 miles. Glancing constantly at a GPS device so often is not only distracting, but unsafe. Second, the near constant interaction with technology is not fun when it means that your focus is trained on the mechanics of making turns. This crushes the spirit of a cyclist who would rather enjoy Gettysburg’s spectacular landscape and to feel the roll of the land in one’s body.

On the other hand, digital maps that you can view on a mobile device during a stop can work really well. (Make sure that you have a plan to either conserve or recharge your device battery, especially if you are using a cell phone, since you will want to keep your cell phone charged for emergencies).

In my opinion, the best digital maps are also easily printable. Many cyclists use paper maps as backups when technology fails. Other cyclists prefer to stuff paper maps in my bicycle jersey or panniers. One advantage of paper maps is that you can put them into plastic sleeves or baggies so that your maps are protected from drizzle. (It’s somehwat harder to protect electronics from drizzle and excessive heat while riding if you are using a gadget to direct your tour).

Bicycling Gettysburg National Military Park: The Cyclist’s Civil War Travel Guide

Editorial Reviews

“The best ways to truly see a battlefield are by walking and biking. And biking a battlefield such as Gettysburg provides a rush like no other. Sue has produced a valuable book about how to ride that most hallowed Civil War ground. A definite keeper.” ~John Banks, journalist, blogger, author

“Three days in July 1863 changed America. Whether you are an experienced cyclist or just starting out, a serious historian or history buff, you will want to visit Gettysburg more than once. Make sure you take this guide along.” ~Ken Rich, Gettysburg history buff

“Quite fascinating, Bicycling Gettysburg is a great, easy to read book for history buffs and rookie history learners alike. It is a pictorial book that also has detailed information about the Battle of Gettysburg. I am excited to use the maps and images on my next visit to Gettysburg.” ~SPC Kevin Kozlowski, U.S. Army veteran, American Studies graduate student

An Excerpt: “Why I Wrote This Book”

Your guidebook to cycle Gettysburg National Military Park. Available on Amazon and other retailers. ISBN 978-1-7326038-0-6.

In 2012, I toured the Gettysburg battlefield on a bicycle for the first time. In Chamberlain’s words, I had “come to this deathless field to ponder and dream,” but little did I know – until I rode the battlefield – what an amazing, liberating experience it is to feel the Gettysburg landscape in my body. While struggling to pedal up Little Round Top or Culp’s Hill, for example, I could better appreciate the physical challenges of the soldiers who fought to claim those hills. While riding along Seminary Ridge, I could see how the land’s rise at the Sherfy Peach Orchard blocked the Confederate view of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. The experience informed my understanding, not only of battlefield events in 1863, but also my personal connection to the meaning of those events. In other words, for me it was all about enjoying the freedom born of physical sacrifice.

After my first bicycle trip to Gettysburg, I was hooked on the value of outdoor, experiential learning. And yet it took a few years to work out the kinks in my self-directed, solo tours. Early on, I was frustrated by the one-way roads, incomplete or inaccurate maps, and not knowing how best to avoid town traffic. Through trial-and-error, I learned what equipment to pack, what clothes to wear, and where to find convenient access to water, portable toilets, and shade for picnics. It was also challenging to know how best to sequence my visitation of which monuments and within what general timeframe.

There are many books published on the Battle of Gettysburg, but there was nothing for history lovers who want a full-body experience of bicycle touring. I wrote this book because I could not find a Gettysburg guidebook that met the needs of a bicycling historian. This is that book.

Sue Thibodeau, Bicycling Gettysburg National Military Park: The Cyclist’s Civil War Travel Guide (paid link) (Victor, New York: Civil War Cycling, 2019), 23.