Best Driving Vacations 2024: Take a Battlefield Tour of Pennsylvania and Maryland

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Today we continue on our journey highlighting four of the best driving destinations from central Ohio.

With a focus on the creme de la creme — vital, accessible and unforgettable voyages that every central Ohio resident should put on his or her bucket list — we offer suggestions that will appeal to most everyone.

From a circle tour of “our Great Lake” to the architectural wonders of a modernist sister city three hours away, these four extraordinary adventures are wonderful ways to widen your horizons in 2024.

More:Best Driving Vacations 2024: Explore the Northern Shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Today’s installment is Part 2 of 4 destination packages from Columbus Monthly’s annual travel guide. We hope you enjoy.

Traveling to Gettysburg and Antietam

Not every traveler is a history buff. But a visit to Gettysburg, site of one of the most iconic and bloody battles of the Civil War, should probably be on every American’s bucket list. 

From Columbus, the drive takes a bit more than six hours. And a two- or three-day visit to the Pennsylvania landmark can easily include several other noteworthy sites along the way, including another important Civil War battlefield, the fort where George Washington suffered his most humiliating defeat and the memorial where the first Americans to fight back during 9/11 are commemorated. 

In addition to being a major historic site, Gettysburg is also a lovely small town adept at catering to the nearly 1 million visitors who arrive each year. Even visitors who never set foot in the Gettysburg National Military Park would find plenty to do. Town streets are packed with shopping, dining, breweries and wineries, hotels and inns, galleries and museums. But the battlefield should definitely be on the to-do list. 

Lines of gravestones at Antietam National Battlefield cemetery

More than 165,000 Union and Confederate soldiers clashed from July 1-3, 1863. The largest battle ever fought on this continent resulted in more than 51,000 casualties — and turned the tide of the war in favor of the Union. The battlefield Museum and Visitors Center includes 12 separate galleries, many interactive exhibits and thousands of artifacts on display. Visitors can also experience the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a painting in-the-round created in the 1880s that tells the story of the battle and is, itself, a magnificent piece of history. 

Plenty can also be discovered on a self-guided auto tour. The 6,000-acre battlefield is crossed by several small roads with plenty of places to pull off and explore the many monuments and markers that were erected in the decades after the battle. 

Bus tours are available from the visitor center. But the best way to tour the battlefield may be with a licensed guide in your own vehicle. Guides are happy to customize tours based on visitors’ interests and knowledge. 

Engraving on a monument at Antietam National Battlefield

Although the three-day Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, Antietam, near the village of Sharpsburg, Maryland, was the site of the war’s bloodiest single day — and the bloodiest day in American history, with some 23,000 casualties. Antietam National Battlefield is just an hour’s drive from Gettysburg, making it a logical stop for history-lovers passing through, or an easy daytrip for travelers extending their stay in the Pennsylvania town. 

Like Gettysburg, Antietam is dotted with monuments honoring the military units and men who served there. One of the most curious is a Brobdingnagian marker commemorating the service of a young commissary sergeant who went on to become President William McKinley. The monument celebrates McKinley’s efforts at bringing coffee and hot food to Union troops on the front lines. 

No, really. 

But if I were on the front, tired and hungry, I would certainly have welcomed and appreciated Sgt. Billy’s offerings. (Come to think of it, this might actually be the most noble act a future president has ever performed.) 

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Southwestern Pennsylvania also hosts two other important historic sites along the route from central Ohio. Fort Necessity National Battlefield near Farmington, Pennsylvania, is a small historic site featuring a museum and the recreated fort where George Washington, as a very young lieutenant colonel, led a unit of British colonial troops to a humiliating defeat at the hands of the French in 1754. Though discouraged, Washington, of course, persevered, having much better luck decades later in the American Revolution. 

The Tower of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Few Americans who remember Sept. 11, 2001, can visit the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and not get a bit emotional. The memorial tells the story of the terrorist attacks on the United States that day and of the passengers on United Flight 93 who gave their lives fighting back against their hijackers, preventing their plane from being used as a weapon against another prominent target, possibly the U.S. Capitol. 

The memorial marks the site where the plane hit the ground, killing all aboard. In addition to a museum, the site features several trails, including the Trail of Remembrance along the final flight path. Also at the memorial is the Tower of Voices, a 93-foot-tall structure containing 40 large wind chimes, each tuned to a separate and distinct tone of its own — a haunting and fitting way to remember the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93 and a bit of history many of us lived through ourselves. 

Where to Stay When Visiting Gettysburg

Gettysburg offers a wide variety of lodging options. The Gettysburg Hotel (est. 1797) is a historic property at the heart of downtown with rates from $118 per night. For a cozier stay, consider the Brafferton Inn, with rooms beginning around $110 per night, or Battlefield Bed and Breakfast in a restored 1810 farmhouse, with rooms beginning around $210 per night.