Inside the Gettysburg Battlefield Resort and the growing camper community connecting the North and South.
ALL ROADS SPLIT SOMEWHERE
or reach their end. Driving into Pennsylvania from the Blue Ridge Mountains, the landscape ignites with autumn color. You can imagine the highway going on forever. Life can take on a momentum that seems unstoppable, and unalterable. Everything moves in one direction until you reach a fork in the road.
Historically, leaves are not the only things to fall in Pennsylvania. In July 1863, the road split here for an entire nation. Two years into a brutal civil war, two massive armies of Americans collided at a town called Gettysburg. Here, the fortunes of war fell. And men by their thousands. Musket and cannon balls littered the field. The combat lasted three days and became the single largest battle the Americas had ever seen—an enormous price for a house divided.
A dead end for a national injustice. Everyone knows Gettysburg. We've read Lincoln's address in history class. We might have picked up Michael Shaara's Killer Angels or thumbed through Bruce Catton's Glory Road. We've seen stuff in the movies, too. (And scrolled Wikipedia afterward.) But every camper knows that's not all there is. Place, after all, has the unique power to bring history into the living present. And that's the stuff we go for. Pulling onto the Gettysburg Battlefield Resort, the wheels of history still turn. Little Round Top is not a footnote here. It's a rugged hill to climb—where thousands of stories once converged and are still converging. With new eyes, we see the past and steer into the future.
Joining a More Perfect Union
The roads to Gettysburg branch out from major highways—each about a half hour away. Taking exit 16 off I-81 near Chambersburg, the town is just a lazy drive to east along US-30. Or, approaching from I-70 in Frederick, you'll swing north at exit 52B onto US-15 following the path the Union armies once took. There's a tranquility on the road. The busyness of the interstates vanishes. Small homes, open fields, and friendly trees seem to smile as you pass. On clear days, the autumn sun gives the route a warm golden glow, and the air feels crisp like the apple orchards to the west. This is gorgeous country. You can taste it. Stemming north onto Emmitsburg Road, three more miles will put the Gettysburg Battlefield Resort on your right. White fencing and open ground appear on your passenger side. As you pull past the stonework sign, a line of American flags from 1863 salute your entrance.
A little cabin there serves as the host station, where you'll be directed inside to the barn lodge with the general store and the front desk. Inside the lodge, Travel Resorts of America members and their guests settle in at their own pace. A large fireplace is kept burning. Comfy couches and large TVs await road-weary travelers. There are beautiful bathrooms. Hershey ice cream is available steps away, which you can take with you as you head to the sunroom with the kids. The general store is right on hand with an attentive staff present, the manager Jaron among them. Once you enter, you'll likely meet him. Jaron Starner is a Pennsylvania native. He was born and raised in the RV industry, and he has a passion for the way his team takes care of TRA guests.
Private membership camping clubs like TRA were once a dying breed, but they're seeing a bold resurgence. TRA's own footprint keeps expanding across the country. It's not hard for Jaron to see why—it's all about relationships and expectations. Members at Travel Resorts of America belong to a more perfect union. “From the moment a guest pulls into our resort, we want to make sure we take care of them,” Jaron says. “Our members are incredible people.” They're a loyal, candid, high-energy bunch—who make relationships with other members and become part of a thriving community. Jaron laughs, “It cracks me up how well our members know our resort.” His members know the resort because they roll their RVs in. Often.
You leave the resort; you take a righthand turn; and you are on the Gettysburg Battlefield
Jaron says it's easy to understand why. Not all campgrounds are made equal. Every RVer knows this. And Jaron sees that's one big advantage members have with TRA, “You have a park to go to that's going to meet your expectations and fit your rig.” Members have that assurance—whether they're staying in New York, Florida, or Minnesota. At the Gettysburg Battlefield Resort itself, members get the full hookup, solid internet, and access to a 165,000-gallon swimming pool with 2-foot shallows for children and 9-footdeep end for the divers among us.
The resort is also very up to date with the electrical demand—80 percent of it being 50 amp. Even so, Jaron is convinced the staff is the resort's No. 1 amenity. Campsites are reserved by members calling or booking online. Even if the desk is busy, member services will answer questions. The resort even has a concierge service to help members get the most from their visit, from local treasures to great food. To see the battlefield itself, Jaron says they don't have to go far: “You leave the resort; you take a right-hand turn; and you are on the Gettysburg Battlefield.
The history of Gettysburg is big. Even today, the sight of the 6,000-acre field of battle is grand. But the town itself is still relatively small, preserved to maintain its 1863 condition. Just five miles up the road from the Gettysburg Battlefield Resort is the National Military Park Museum, where most visitors start. Learning just a few facts here clues you into the magnitude of the
history involved. Over 175,000 combatants faced each other, brother against brother. Over three days of fighting, 51,112 became casualties, and 7,058 never left the field. Today, 1,328 monuments cast shadows in remembrance. Setting out onto the battlefield itself, you can start the tour from your vehicle. But ultimately, you need to walk this hallowed ground. You need to
feel the same earth beneath your feet and imagine what those moments were like.
Visualize the desperate scramble of Joshua Chamberlain's 20th Maine to seize the high ground at Little Round Top—the harrowing danger as they fired against attack after attack from the 15th Alabama—the moment they realized that all that was left was the bayonet. Drive just over a mile north and make your stand at Cemetery Ridge. Imagine yourself there as Union soldier Frank Haskel gazing across the open field to see, “an overwhelming resistless tide of an ocean of armed men, sweeping upon us!”
Then imagine being a soldier in the 11th Mississippi making that Confederate charge—weathering a storm of lead across an open field—the mass of your formation disappearing like smoke— then realizing only fourteen men from your regiment made it across the road. where this happened. No film, no book can compare. At Gettysburg, you feel the weight of the wheels of history. Of men caught amid the blunders and ambitions of generals. Of extraordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice that still move us. The whole tour leaves one awestruck. And, truth be told, probably a little hungry.
An Unforgettable Retreat
Back at the resort, Jaron might give you his recommendations before the concierge service can. There are great local Italian places like La Bella Italia and Tommy's Pizza. Even more, the
town of Gettysburg is full of little pubs, taverns, and bars that also serve great food. (Just check the sidebar.) Any of which are the perfect place to sit together and share what impressed you most. It's also not a bad place to pivot toward what's next. Because there's more to Gettysburg than the battlefield alone.
In early October, Adam's County hosts the National Apple Harvest Festival. Walking in the open air with your kids or significant other, it's the perfect change of pace—moving from the gravity of the battlefield to the levity of nature's bounty. Picture all the fresh apples, candied apples, apple bobbing, cider tasting, and hayrides. It's good wholesome fun, and if you haven't had enough of that, there's also Chocolatetown in Hershey Park just an hour away—easily a full-day adventure of its own. At night, take some local advice (we got this from Jaron):
Hit up the Lincoln Speedway just a half hour northeast in Abbottstown to inject a little adrenaline into your trip—as engines roar and wheels tear across the dirt track. Whichever road you choose, they all wind back to the Gettysburg Battlefield Resort. After each day's advance, the way back becomes a comfort. Like a great Civil War tactician, you've kept a safe line of retreat. And, like a bold strategist, you can even execute a master maneuver—traversing TRA resorts like a network of bases for adventures up and down the country. You see, ultimately, all roads split somewhere. So why not choose the path that continues state to state—the path where North and South are equally home to any member?