Are You Allowed to Metal Detect at Gettysburg? The Sad Truth

  • By: Chris
  • Last updated on January 20, 2023
  • Time to read: 3 min.
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Planning a trip to historic Gettysburg, PA? I bet you’re bouncing on the balls of your feet, aren’t you?

I was fourteen when I first visited Gettysburg, and the memories are still fresh in my mind. 

On our way there, my family had dinner with Kyle Petty’s family at some random Amish restaurant, either by accident or good luck.

If you don’t know who Kyle Petty is, google ‘NASCAR royalty.’

Anyway, getting back to my point. 

It was a trip I’ll never forget for a lot of reasons. But if you’re planning on digging up some old Civil War relics, I’ve got bad news.

Are You Allowed to Metal Detect on the Gettysburg Battlefield?

Are You Allowed to Metal Detect on the Gettysburg Battlefield
Metal detecting the Gettysburg battlefield is a quick way to get yourself in trouble.

It’s tricky to say whether or not you can metal detect at Gettysburg, as so much land makes up the battlefield.

In total, 11,500 acres make up the Gettysburg Battlefield. And half of that, close to 6,000 acres, is owned and preserved by the National Park Service.

The NPS strictly prohibits metal detecting on the Gettysburg battlefield. You’ll be prosecuted by federal law if you’re caught relic hunting or strolling around with a metal detector in hand.

The combined property the NPS has assembled makes up the Gettysburg National Military Park

It included most of the Gettysburg battlefield, the Gettysburg National Cemetery, supply and reserve areas from the Civil War, and other historic but non-combat locations.

But again, the tricky part is that this makes up only half of this historic landmark.

So what about the rest?

Can You Metal Detect in Gettysburg, PA?

Can You Metal Detect in Gettysburg, PA
All of Gettysburg, PA, isn’t off limits. But you’ll have to get permission.

Besides the part of Gettysburg, PA, owned by the National Park Service, you’ll also find commercial properties, other preservation societies, and privately owned real estate.

Since NPS land is prohibited, your best chance to metal detect in Gettysburg is to ask private landowners for permission.

If you start looking seriously, you’ll see that bordering the preserved land are private farms, small businesses, and old homes owned by local residents.

Some may not be too interested in letting you roam around their backyard. But plenty of Diggers get permission and come away with some civil war treasure.

So knock on some doors and make some friends.

Just be careful. If you get permission to metal detect on private property, the park rangers on the other side of the fence are waiting for you to slip up and cross the line.

Gettysburg Metal Detecting: Options Worth Investigating

Gettysburg Metal Detecting
What other options do you have?

Ok, your initial plans of relic hunting the Gettysburg battlefield came to a screeching halt.

It sucks. I get it.

But you have some other options available other than hoping a friendly neighbor lets you in.

If it’s Gettysburg relics you’re after, you can easily search the areas outside town. After all, several field hospitals and supply stations were set up by both armies within a reasonable distance.

Also, the aftermath of Gettysburg was a trail of historic battle and bloodshed, stretching through multiple counties.

Here’s a map of that route where many towns saw some effect of the battle of Gettysburg.

map of the gettysburg retreat
Map by Hal Jespersen,

Thousands of captured soldiers, wagons, and horses were shuffled along the South Mountain landscape. Skirmishes took place in Monterey and Fairfield.

The further south the army retreated, the more emboldened their victors became.

I’ll stop with the history lesson, but the point is that there are many more places to metal detect Gettysburg-related artifacts.

It just involves a bit more research to determine where the action took place.

However, be aware of the rules and regulations of where you decide to start digging.

For instance, the state governs the 40-mile stretch of South Mountain landscape in Pennsylvania, which was used during the retreat.

Lucky for you, you’re allowed to metal detect in state parks. But some areas in the park known for historical significance may be off limits.

So do yourself a favor and research before finding out the hard way.

Good luck!

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