September 20, 2013
With cooler temperatures and stunning foliage on the horizon, autumn is the ideal season to take advantage of the great outdoors in and around Philadelphia.
Philadelphia has some of the most enormous, not to mention gorgeous, park spaces in any city in the country, so fall is the perfect time to take advantage of all the potential places to explore.
Below, check out our roundup of the best trails for hiking or biking in the greater Philadelphia area, followed by recommendations for where to gear up and how to get connected with other cyclists and hikers near you.
Trails in Philadelphia
• Delaware River Trail: The Delaware River waterfront holds a host of fantastic festivals and irresistible attractions, but the most compelling draw to the river might just be the advancements of the Central Delaware Master Plan — namely the Delaware River Trail, a multi-use waterfront pathway. For now, the first sections of the trail are open, and once complete, the multi-use trail will eventually run for six miles both on-road and off from Oregon Avenue in South Philly to Allegheny Avenue in Port Richmond, connecting the Delaware River waterfront to other regional and city-wide trails, including the East Coast Greenway and The Circuit.
• Schuylkill River Trail: Most know it for the segment that runs through the heart of downtown Philadelphia, but did you know this trail actually runs for more than 20 miles and counting? Hop on the bike or get walking on Philadelphia portion (which is about 10 miles in length) and you can experience the awesome city views along the Schuylkill Banks, located between the Fairmount Water Works and Locust Street, and still be out of town in no time. Plus, the Schuylkill River Trail is undergoing expansion, and will be more than 130 miles once complete, running from Roxborough all the way out to Bartram’s Garden.
• Fairmount Park: With more than 215 miles of meandering scenic trails featuring over two dozen historically significant sites scattered throughout, Fairmount Park is one of the largest metropolitan parks in the country, and a great start to any outdoor outing. Philadelphia Parks & Recreation maintains trails in many areas, including Cobbs Creek Park, Franklin D. Roosevelt Park and Tacony Creek Park.
• Wissahickon Creek Gorge Trail: Speaking of Fairmount Park, this section of it, in particular, is a must-see for anyone in Philadelphia. There are more than 57 miles of trails in the Wissahickon Gorge, but we recommend this trail because it’s very well-maintained and great for most skill levels.
• Forbidden Drive: Also known as the Wissakichon Valley Park Trail, this 7-mile stretch takes you along the Wissahickon Creek from one end of the part to the next. This trail is particularly popular for cyclists due to the wide and mostly flat, gravel path. Don’t know where to start the ride? We suggest driving to the Valley Green Inn to park and unload.
• Manayunk Towpath: Gorgeous views of the Schuylkill River, downtown Manayunk, Falls Bridge and more can be found along this charming 28-mile canal pathway that’s easily accessible from downtown Philadelphia and Manayunk. The path runs right along the river, and its surface varies, so there’s no shame in taking a rest at a Manayunk restaurant right off of the trail.
• Kelly Drive Loop: This is the 8.5-mile downtown to just-outside-the-city portion of the Schuylkill River Trail that loops around from center city, across Falls Bridge in East Falls and back up along the opposite, parallel side of the Schuylkill so you can see views of the skyline, Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Multiple entry points along Kelly Drive will get you to this scenic city trail, especially popular among cyclists and runners.
Many more picks for terrific trails, below.
• Mount Joy and Mount Misery at Valley Forge: With nearly 20 miles of designated trails throughout Valley Forge National Historical Park, there are scores of hiking and biking options. Hikers should report directly to the hilly trails of Mount Misery or Mount Joy, which are only open to hikers and offer moderately challenging 1.5-mile hikes apiece.
• Joseph Plumb Martin Trail at Valley Forge: This 5.6-mile paved trail in Valley Forge National Historical Park is perfect for beginner cyclists. You can bike the trail, which makes a meandering loop of the park, while getting a ride-by historic tour of the park.
• Pennypack Trails: Take your pick of more than a dozen scenic trails for walking, hiking and biking and decide between easy to difficult, old roadbeds to dirt paths to mowed trails. The Pennypack Trust has a trail for everyone.
• Skippack Circle Loop Trail: This is a fairly easy 4-mile trail located in Evansburg State Park not far from Germantown Pike South. Note to fishermen: try your luck in the stocked waters of the Skippack and Perkiomen creeks.
• Fort Washington Trail: Paved until entering into Ft. Washington State Park, the 3.5-mile trail is perfect for biking, hiking, bird-watching and viewing the beautiful fall foliage.
• Cross County Trail: This 3-mile trail runs through urban and more rural areas from the Schuylkill River Trail in Conshohocken to the Germantown Pike. Since the Cross County Trail is paved, it’s perfect for beginner cyclists or anyone looking to get a quick ride in.
• Green Ribbon Preserve Trail a.k.a Wissahickon Trail: The trail from Fort Washington State Park to Stenton Ave is perfect for hiking and biking and intersects with several other cool trails.
• Perkiomen Trail: This former Reading Railroad bed is now a gorgeous 20-mile trail that connects to the Schuylkill River trail and is popular with bikers, hikers, walkers and runners — basically anyone who wants to spend some time outdoors. The Perkiomen is a crushed stone trail, so bring the appropriate gear.
• Delaware Canal Towpath: Running from Easton to Bristol, this 60-mile trail is one of four that make up the 165-mile D&L Trail. Check to see what sections of the trail are currently closed before heading out, find the spot you want to hike/bike and get ready for picturesque scenes from what’s been referred to as “the backbone” of the National Heritage Corridor.
• High Rocks Trail at Ralph Stover State Park: Breathtaking vistas facing the Delaware River are well worth the more strenuous High Rocks Trail.
• Core Creek Park Mountain Bike Trail: This bike trail, located in Langhorne, is a great trail for beginners and all skill levels. Considered a medium intensity ride, all of the ramps and log piles have paths around them so you can get extreme, or not. More info here.
• Top Rock Trail at Nockamixon State Park: Located on the picturesque Haycock Mountain, Top Rock Trail will give you a great view of Lake Nockamixon as you hike approximately 1.4 miles to the summit.
• Haycock Mountain Trail near Quakertown: Access this Quakertown trail from the Top Rock Trail and take a slightly longer, 1.5-mile hike that gives you the option of bouldering the diabase rocks.
• Delhaas Woods at Silver Lake Park: Take your pick of trails in this 235-acre nature preserve with views of lakes, marshes and fields. The Delhaas Woods are a great place to potentially get a look at some wildlife while taking in the foliage.
• Tyler State Park: With trails that take you through several unique sections of the park, the Neshaminy Creek zig-zagging through the terrain, four miles of gravel hiking trails and 10.5 miles of biking paths, Tyler State Park is a great spot for a short-but-sweet hike or bike ride. Make a day out of it and play some disc golf or have a picnic in one of about a dozen groves to unwind after your workout.
• Boone Trail at French Creek State Park: With more than 35 miles of well-marked trails, French Creek State Park’s 7,730 acres are a haven for both hikers and bikers. Get started on the Boone Trail, a 6-mile trail that loops past all the attractions of French Creek, making it an excellent route. Start at Hopewell Lake Boat Launch or Hopewell Furnace Visitor Center. Note that the trail is closed to mountain bikes around Hopewell Lake.
• Chester Valley Trail: Much of this trail is incomplete, but we can recommend the portion running from Valley Creek Road near the Church Farm School eastward to Route 29. Chester Valley Trail is not exactly a wilderness trail, but still an easily accessible trail perfect for cycling.
• Horse-Shoe Trail in southeastern Pennsylvania: The trail is 140 miles long and runs all the way from Valley Forge to the Appalachian Trail. Not quite feeling up to weeks of hiking? Check here for information about trail head locations so you can do whatever portion you’d like.
• Yellow Trail at Ridley Creek State Park: This 0.09 mile trail is rated as moderate and takes you on a loop past a waterfall through lovely tree-lined paths. Find this and more trails at Ridley Creek State Park here.
• Keswick Cycle: More than just your friendly neighborhood cycle shop, Keswick, with three locations around the Philadelphia area, is the region’s top Cervelo, Cannondale, Specialized, Raleigh and Electra seller. Take a safety course if you need to and then check their Twitter account for notifications about group rides and getting involved in one of their two cycle teams, which welcome all ages and skill levels.
• Breakaway Bikes: Located right in the heart of downtown Philly, Breakaway will stock you up with all the gear you need and even offers indoor training, seminars, workouts and rides to help get you up to speed. They also have several teams connected with various local institutions like QCW Cycling, Temple University and UPenn.
• Neighborhood Bike Works: Aiming to offer a healthy escape for urban youth in under-privileged neighborhoods, NBW is a great place to start getting hooked up with other cyclists in your area. All ages, skill levels and styles are encouraged to get involved.
• Conshohocken/Plymouth Meeting R.E.I. Store: This is really the ultimate shop for outdoor athletics, so R.E.I. is a great spot for cyclists as well as hikers. Specifically for cyclists, they offer custom wheel-building, tune ups and more. Check out their blog for a great resource to getting active.
• Eastern Mountain Sports: With five local locations, EMS is definitely one of the best spots to grab your hiking backpacks, boots, trekking poles and more. They strive to stay connected to the community as far as hiking events go, so stop by their Upenn store or hit up the suburban shops to get some information on what’s happening in your area.
• The North Face: Now that fall is here, taking proper clothing into consideration will be a very necessary part of your hiking plans. The North Face is always the go-to for weather-proof attire, for good reason, so stop by any of the three local stores before you head out this season.
• Southeast PA Sierra Club: Even if you don’t exactly consider yourself an ‘environmentalist’, per say, you can get involved in the SEPA Sierra Club to get in on the amazing local adventures they organize, if nothing else.
• Batona Hiking Club: With scheduled hikes every weekend that happen regardless of the weather, Batona is a great group to get involved in so you can meet other hikers, stay active and stay in the know about outdoor events in your area.