How to Find Gettysburg Witness Trees on a Bicycle

A “witness tree” is a tree that was alive in 1863 to “witness” the Battle of Gettysburg. Today’s post is about how to find Gettysburg witness trees on a bicycle. It’s an introduction to the topic and a pointer to a detailed guide. What does a bicyclist need in order to find these trees? Simply this: a map, some photos, and a little route planning. You’ve come to the right spot!

how to find Gettysburg witness trees on a bicycle
Devil’s Den Oak Tree

For detailed instructions on how to find Gettysburg witness trees on a bicycle, including GPS coordinates and labeled photos, please see Civil War Cycling’s “What is a Gettysburg Witness Tree? And Where to Look.”  Some witness trees are named after soldiers who were killed or wounded at a particular location, so the article weaves historical tidbits into the trees’ descriptions.

How to Find Gettysburg Witness Trees on a Bicycle

how to find Gettysburg witness trees on a bicycle
Map of Gettysburg Witness Trees

It’s fun to turn a bicycle tour into a scavenger hunt. My camera is the tool for “shooting” my find. My “trophy” is a photo and GPS coordinates that I add to my collection. And the perfect circular bicycle route that passes by each tree is the solution to a puzzle. All in all, it’s fun playtime outdoors.

Gettysburg witness trees are particularly challenging to find, and of course, that’s part of the fun. As best I remember, there are no park signs that help with tree identification. And although the National Park Service has tagged many trees, almost as many green (oxidized) metal identification tags have disappeared. What tags exist can be difficult to spot on overcast days, or when trees are casting a lot of shade.

Accessibility to bicyclists is another issue. For example, the Honey Locust Witness Tree [11] is inaccessible to bicyclists, since it stands in Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where bicycles are not allowed.

To find witness trees you need three things: a map, labeled photographs, and a bicycle route. Please read on …

1 – Look at a map.

The map provided in this post identifies seventeen witness trees. The numbering scheme is mine (because NPS tags are missing on most of the trees). I numbered the trees according to the order that I would visit them on a bicycle route. The numbers also match-up to the labeled photos provided in the article, “What is a Gettysburg Witness Tree? And Where to Look.”

2 – Study labeled photos.

how to find Gettysburg witness trees on a bicycle
Honey Locust in National Cemetery

There are twenty six labeled photos in Civil War Cycling’s detailed guide on how to find Gettysburg witness trees on a bicycle. You’re going to want to bring these photos with you on your ride (or access them through a cell phone connection to the web).

Unless you are a master at locating objects with GPS coordinates (which I also provide), labeled photos are the best tool for finding Gettysburg witness trees. Although these photos are an indispensable help to finding the trees, you will still feel like you are working on a puzzle. That’s because trees look different through the seasons, and weather and age will also change their appearance. You may pedal past a tree and need to circle back — which, of course, is part of the fun of exploring the park on a bicycle.

Sadly, there is no guarantee that a tree will live forever, and that’s an obvious complication for bicyclists who are “hunting” for witness trees. For example, the Honey Locust [11] that stands near the iron fence that separates Soldiers’ National Cemetery from Evergreen Cemetery was struck by lightening in recent years and was severely damaged. As of this writing, it is alive. You can see the damage in the photo provided in this post.

If you have a map and some photos that correspond to locations on the map, you have the tools that you need. The article, “What is a Gettysburg Witness Tree? And Where to Look,” helps by describing each tree’s location, listing GPS coordinates, providing labeled photos, and summarizing distinguishing features, like the presence of “lightning cable scars” or the type of tree (although most are oak trees).

3 – Plan your route.

If your only goal for bicycling is to find witness trees, you will need a plan. That’s because it’s highly unlikely that you can accidentally find these trees. In fact, I did not accidentally find them either! In 2008, the Gettysburg Daily website posted a series of articles on Gettysburg Witness Trees, and those articles pointed me in the right direction.

On the other hand, if your primary goal is to hunt for monuments or to simply enjoy the Gettysburg landscape and read historic waysides, then it’s probably enough to identify a few trees and try to incorporate finding them along your existing route.

Enjoy Your Ride

One reason why I love bicycling Gettysburg so much is that I am free to ride however I want. I get to decide what I want to learn, and how, and when. I am free to enjoy the entire experience. And for me, planning and executing my own “scavenger hunt” is a fun addition to an invigorating ride.

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