Much of the park's landscape remains as it was in 1861 and 1862, when Confederate forces decisively defeated Union troops along the banks of Bull Run. First Manassas is considered the first major battle of the war, the initial opportunity for the two sides to experience each other's military prowess.
From June to September, rangers provide half-hour guided tours of the area (tours are sporadically given in other months, except December, January and February). Other times, self-guided walking tours, which take about an hour and cover about a mile, are the best bet for families. A 13-mile, 90-minute, self-guided driving tour also is available. If you are an enthusiastic hiker, a network of trails provides great exercise and a lot more battle detail around the 5,000-acre park.
The visual highlight of the park is a heroic equestrian statue of Stonewall Jackson: "There stands Jackson, like a stone wall," the legend reads. Lines of cannons and other artillery, as well as the homestead that was caught in the crossfire also inhabit the grounds. The visitors center has a six-minute slide-show-with-lighted-map narrative and a few exhibits, including a memorable display of how soldiers were outfitted in mismatched uniforms. A 45-minute film, "Manassas: End of Innocence," is shown daily, every hour on the hour starting at 9 a.m. with the last show at 4 p.m. It covers both the First and Second Battles of Manassas.
Auto tour, 13-mile self-guided tour
Hiking, 15 miles of trails
Horseback riding, one 14-mile bridle trail
Picnic area, 30-acre area
Words to the wise: The guided tours provide a wonderful window on what happened here, but they are certain to bore kids under 10, who probably are better off just free-lancing around the property.
Avoid Memorial Day-to-Labor Day crowds.
Notes: Wheelchair access to the field depends on weather conditions.
Food: Old Town Manassas, five miles south, is filled with restaurants (and antiques shops).
Nearby: Manassas Museum