The Yorktown victory turned the tide of the Revolutionary War and led to American independence. You can experience that historic moment at Yorktown Battlefield.
Yorktown Battlefield Background
It’s been a long time since the early days of the revolution. The ‘shot heard around the world’ was way back in 1775. Now, its October 1781, six long years later, and Washington has positioned troops around Yorktown VA. Using tactics like fake camps to disguise their move, the Americans marched hundreds of miles from New York and are joined by French General Rochambeau and his soldiers.
After a series of challenging battles across the South, British General Charles Cornwallis has set up base in Yorktown VA, a formerly thriving port on the York River. Cornwallis sets up a series of earthworks defenses and then waits for reinforcements. Just in case he needs it, he has a second camp set up across the river in Gloucester.
The French and British fleet meet in battle in the Chesapeake Bay. With the French taking the advantage, the British reinforcements return to New York.
Generals Washington and Rochambeau set up a siege line around Yorktown and began firing on the British. At night, troops quietly dug a new set of earthworks closer to the British. Two remaining British strongholds are quietly attacked, using only bayonets on unloaded guns. The Americans swiftly capture one redoubt while the French capture the other. Now the American and French forces can launch a full siege on Yorktown. Cornwallis attempts to evacuate to Gloucester but bad weather prevents an escape across the river. Several days later, Cornwallis surrenders.
While the war continues another two years until the Treaty of Paris is signed in 1783, the victory at Yorktown turned the tide of the war and led to American independence.
Yorktown Battlefield Visitors Center
There is a small visitors center to welcome you to Yorktown Battlefield. After getting your tickets, you can start with a 15 minute orientation video and do a brief review of the exhibits.
The ship replica is two levels. On the lower level, you can see canons and hammocks. The upper level has a display of dioramas depicting the Battle for Yorktown.
George Washington’s tent is on display.
The “Lafayette Canon” is also on display. This was a British canon that was dented when struck by an allied canon ball. The damage was distinct enough that on a later visit to the U.S., General Lafayette was able to recognize the canon.
While the few exhibits are interesting, you’ll learn even more by attending a Ranger Talk. Like at all National Parks, park rangers provide a variety of interesting talks. Several are offered at Yorktown Battlefield including the Siege Line Walking Tour. Be sure to ask for times when you check in.
Another great National Park offering is the Yorktown Battlefield Junior Ranger Program. Children up to age 12 get an activity book that helps them learn about and engage with the park. If they complete the activities, they can get a certificate and badge.
Yorktown Battlefield is open almost every day of the year from 9:00-5:00. It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. All park grounds close at sunset. To confirm the hours for the day you plan to visit, check out their hours.
Yorktown Battlefield Driving Tour
There are two driving tour loops. Each could take 1-3 hours depending on how long you stop at each place. To plan your trip, I recommend reviewing the downloadable map provided by the park service.
Along the tour, you’ll have the chance to check out several stops where you can view the earthworks, artillery, and battlefield. Note that to view some portions, you’ll have to walk up a short but somewhat steep hill.
While Yorktown Battlefield is primarily a Revolutionary War site, battles were also fought during the Civil War. The Peninsula Campaign was waged throughout the Virginia Peninsula, including at the same locations as Yorktown Battlefield and Newport News Park. Yorktown National Cemetery is the final resting place for over 2,000 people, mostly Union Army soldiers along with some Confederate soldiers.
Visiting Yorktown Battlefield is an important way to experience part of American History. But, if you want to understand it more deeply, consider pairing it with a visit to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.
Special Events at Yorktown Battlefield
Several times per yer, there are races held in the park. For example, a race is held in conjunction with the Yorktown “All-American July Fourth” celebration. With a parade and fireworks, the 4th of July celebration in Yorktown VA is well worth attending. As part of the day’s activities, there are 5K and 8K runs at Yorktown Battlefield.
There are several additional runs each year including the Yorktown Freedom Run with 5K and 8K races sponsored by the Yorktown Rotary Club. In 2019, the races were on Memorial Day.
On November 2, 2019 there will be the Yorktown Battlefield 10 Mile and 5K runs. Sponsored by the Lions Club.
Dining at Yorktown Battlefield
There is no dining option at Yorktown Battlefield. I recommend you check out dining at the nearby Yorktown Riverwalk Landing. Riverwalk Restaurant, Water Street Grille, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Visiting Yorktown Battlefield With Your Dog
Well behaved dogs on a leash are welcome in the park. However, they are not allowed inside any of the Yorktown Battlefield buildings.
Yorktown Battlefield Tickets
Yorktown Battlefield tickets are sold at the visitors center from 9:00-4:30 daily.
Adults 16 and over are $10 and are good for 7 days entrance. Youth 15 and under are free. A Colonial Annual Park Pass $40.
If you have an America the Beautiful National Park Pass or another interagency pass, you can get in free.
There are several free entrance days to the National Parks. For 2019, the free days are:
- January 21
- April 20
- August 25
- September 28
- November 11
If you are planning to visit multiple historic areas, consider the Jamestown and Yorktown Four-Site Value Ticket. It’s $46 for adults, $30 for youth ages 13-15, and $16.50 for you ages 6-12. This ticket will provide seven days of admission to Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestown, Yorktown Battlefield, and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. I used this ticket and found it to be a convenient way to visit the four great attractions.
Parking at Yorktown Battlefield
There is no charge for parking. There is a large parking lot at the visitors center. Several parking spots are available at each stop on the car tour route.
The Yorktown Trolley offers a free shuttle to several Yorktown VA sites. You might find this to be a convenient option. However, you wouldn’t be able to do the Yorktown Battlefield car tour. Note that it stops running most days at 5:00.
Campgrounds Near Yorktown Battlefield
If you are visiting Yorktown Battlefield in your RV, there are some great nearby camping options. The following are good options if your plans include a visit to the Yorktown Battlefield.
Machicomoco State Park
Virginia’s newest State Park, Machicomoco, is located in Gloucester, VA. There are 14 RV campsites, 13 tent sites, and 3 yurts. Machicomoco State Park is located about six miles past the Coleman Bridge and is the closest campground to the Yorktown attractions. Note that you’ll have to cross the Coleman Bridge which has a toll; $2 for cars and $4 if you are towing a camper. The toll is only charged only when crossing Northbound.
Jellystone Park Gloucester Point
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Gloucester Point is a waterfront campground approximately 7.5 miles from Yorktown Battlefield. There are over 200 sites ranging from tent sites to deluxe pull through with 50 AMP service. This campground offers many family-oriented activities. Note that you’ll have to cross the Coleman Bridge which has a toll; $2 for cars and $4 if you are towing a camper. The toll is only charged only when crossing Northbound.
Newport News Park
At over 8,000 acres, Newport News Park is among the nations largest municipal parks. It is located about 7.5 miles from Yorktown Battlefield. The Newport News Park Campground offers 188 campsites in a wooded setting. At $36.00 per night for a water & electric site, this is definitely a good value option for the area. In addition to a great natural campground setting, you have access to hiking and biking trails, a nature center, an archery range, and canoeing & fishing on Lee Hall Reservoir.
Williamsburg/Busch Gardens Area KOA is located approximately 20 miles from Yorktown Battlefield. The Williamsburg KOA has 370 sites divided into two sections. There is a lot to do at this KOA including a nice heated swimming pool, bounce pillows, and plenty of planned activities. Pull through sites with 50 AMP service are available.
Attractions Near Yorktown Battlefield
There is a lot to do in the Williamsburg area. Yorktown Battlefield is one of our top picks. You might also enjoy visiting Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown. Check out our list of the Top 7 Must do Williamsburg VA Area Attractions.
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