By Cory Runk – When spring hits, my body tells me it’s time to get outside and be active. Spring can often be a big tease when it hits 70 degrees one day and then snows the next morning. Despite the ever-changing “mood” of the spring weather, you can’t help but get excited because you know warmth is right around the corner. Everyone has their own way of enjoying the warmer days whether that’s going for long walks or preparing their garden for planting, but for me, it’s combining two of my favorite hobbies: photography and hiking.
Growing up, I loved being in nature – I’d ride my bike out to the woods and go exploring for new adventures to see what I could find. I’d climb rocks, trek through steams and walk trails all through the woods, which I believe is where I found my affinity for hiking. While hiking and being in nature, I began to develop a passion for photography. I’d see all of these beautiful landscapes and decided it was time to start capturing them with a camera.
One of the first places that really revved up my photography passion was the Gettysburg battlefield. I’d drive through the park and pull over to get shots of Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top, just to name a few – the battlefield truly is a photographer’s heaven. One of my favorite times of the year to go there and shoot is during the spring. Not only is it a great season for photographing the colorful blossoms on the battlefield, but there is also a “golden window” that happens in March/April which provides unique viewing opportunities because of the bare trees. Gettysburg has a few vantage points which provide views in the fall and winter months that are otherwise obstructed by the leaves on the trees the remainder of the year. One of these opportunities is at the summit of Big Round Top.
One place that I’ve never explored in-depth was Big Round Top. I’ve been on the lower half of the Big Round Top many times to photograph the unique and awe-inspiring rock formations but I’ve never hiked the upper half of it. When I reached the summit of Big Round Top, I realized how special and unique this place really is. You can begin the hike at the base, which can be entered by the parking lot of Devil’s Den or you can start it half way up at the parking lot on South Confederate Avenue. I would consider this hiking trail to be easy to moderately challenging. Although the trail is steep, it is paved and pretty clear of large tree roots which makes it a trail that can be enjoyed by all. As I began hiking further up the trail, it started to feel like an entirely different place, a quite and peaceful place. I started my hike at the bottom near Devil’s Den where it was bustling with people enjoying the beautiful day. As I was approaching the summit of Big Round Top, I noticed it was silent and serene – perfect for reflecting. I explored the rock formations atop the summit where you can glimpse the surrounding landscape through the bare trees. I realized very quickly that this time of the year is the absolute perfect time to hike Big Round Top. With the weather warming up and the trees still bare, you’re able to enjoy the view from the top which would normally be covered during the summer months. For comparison’s sake, Big Round Top stands just a hair under 800 feet tall which makes it one of the tallest land masses in Gettysburg. I was awe-struck by the view but it was tranquility of it that I connected with the most. Being up there alone with the sun shining and many different types of birds roosting in the trees around me, I realized this is a place where you can really reflect and connect with nature. The summit feels like it’s in another place, a place all its own with no distractions. I spent a good 30 to 40 minutes at the top exploring rock formations, monuments and trying to photograph birds. During the time I was up there, I encountered ravens, vultures, hawks and wood peckers. It’s not often you get that type of diversity in one location. Of all of the places on the battlefield I’ve explored, Big Round Top is my favorite in terms of going to a place to have a quite moment and enjoy nature.
Image credit: TeachersFirst.com
Despite the several ways to explore the battlefield, packing a camera, strapping on my hiking boots and preparing to walk the battlefield is my favorite way to experience it. I feel more connected with it by walking the paths the soldiers walked and experiencing the terrain. This is a great way to see it from a different perspective and feel the life they lived. Walking through the groves and standing in the tree lines puts you in the spot many soldiers would’ve been standing at on those immortalized three days of July 1863. What is your favorite way to experience the battlefield? Share your stories with us on social media, we’d love to hear how you explore history.
About the Author
Cory Runk is a native of the Adams County area and has spent many years frequenting the fine establishments of Gettysburg. Despite spending the majority of his life in or around Gettysburg, Cory still manages to learn new and interesting facts about the town and finds that to be one of the greatest features of the town. Cory is an avid photographer, nature hiker, sports enthusiast, and beer lover. Cory currently lives in Fairfield, Pa., with his wife, Bridget.