Colonial National Historical Park is really two separate parks which commemorate historic areas of early US history. Jamestown National Historic Site protects he location of the first permanent settlement in America while Yorktown Battlefield protects the location of the last major military action of the American Revolution.
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Our Visit We visited Colonial NHP in June during a visit to see family in the area.
Our Weather Partly cloudy and humid with a temperature in the low 90s.
Overall Impression Colonial NHP is a “must see” for any US citizen traveling in the tidewater area of Virginia. As the parks brochure puts it, both “the beginning and end of British colonial experience in America” are protected by this park. Jamestown was home to the first British settlement in 1607, and it is an active archaeological site complete with digging teams at the original “triangle” fort and several sets of ruins of later structures. The experience at Jamestown is a realization of just how hard life was for early settlers. Yorktown, on the other hand, is a monument to the defeat of General Cornwallis’ army and the end of major combat in the American Revolution in 1781 and the grounds have an air of victory about them.
Visiting Depending on your fancy, you can easily visit only one of the two halves of the park and still get your money’s worth. In fact, the parks have very different feels about them and even two separate park brochures. If you do visit both, take the beautiful Colonial Parkway to get between them for a refreshing drive through the Virginia woods–be careful, even though there is no yellow line, this is a two-way road!
Colonial NHP – Jamestown NHS
Visiting Jamestown will take a least a couple of hours. Start your visit at the visitors center. It’s a large building with many displays and artifacts recovered from the archaeological dig. There’s also a video that explains the reason Jamestown came into being and the early history with Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. From there, it’s a short walk over the swamp to the original site of Jamestown, known as “Historic Jamestowne.” There isn’t much left of the original triangular-shaped fort, but you can watch teams unearthing the ruins as long as you stay behind the ropes. There are also many old brick ruins in the area you can walk around, though the old church is the only building still inhabitable.
When you’ve finished your tour of Historic Jamestowne, get back in the car and drive to the Jamestown Glasshouse where they still make glassware the way it was made in the early 1600s. My three-year-old was bored to tears walking around Jamestown, but he sat and watched the glassblowers with rapt attention for more than 20 minutes. What makes it enjoyable is you can get within feet of the glassblowers as they’re shaping the glowing blobs of molten sand.
If you’re looking for a more interactive colonial experience, save some time for Jamestown Settlement or Colonial Williamsburg. Jamestown settlement, about a mile up the river from the original site, is home to a replica of the original fort complete with actors and seaworthy replicas of the three ships that brought the first settlers to Jamestown, the Discovery, the Godspeed and the Susan Constance. Williamsburg is home to a large number of shops which still make things the old fashioned way.
Colonial NHP – Yorktown Battlefield
Yorktown can be visited in a couple of hours. Start at the visitors center by watching the video. This will orient you to the battleground and earthworks surrounding the area and give you a sense of the bold strategy that led to Cornwallis’ defeat here in 1781. After watching the video, you can tag along with a guided tour or walk yourself around the premises. You can drive the seven-mile Battlefield Tour which takes you to the major points of interest, but several, including the famous Redoubts 9 and 10 and the Grand American Battery are within easy walking distance of the visitors center.
When you’ve had your fill of the battlefield, drive over to the Yorktown Victory Monument and take a stroll around historic Yorktown where many of the buildings date from the 1700s.
Nearby Towns Williamsburg, Yorktown, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Richmond (Virginia)
Other Nearby Attractions Jamestown Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg
Official NPS Website Colonial NHP
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