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Best Hiking Trails for New Visitors to Philly

Philadelphia skyline with the Schuylkill River Trail in the fall.
The Schuylkill Banks portion of the SRT takes you out on the river with great city views.

Lonely Planet has named Philadelphia one of the top 10 Cities to visit in 2024. If you are heading to Philly and are a lover of hiking and nature, below are some of the best hiking trails for new visitors to Philly to add to your itinerary while visiting the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. Three of these hikes are located in Philadelphia proper, while the fourth will take you to a national historic site.


Schuylkill Banks


The Schuylkill Banks section of the Schuylkill (pronounced Skoo-cull) River Trail takes for a lovely walk along the Schuylkill River in Center City. The SRT is a longer route still under construction will ultimately stretch from South Philadelphia all the way out to Berks County. The Schuylkill Banks section takes you past the renowned Philadelphia Art Museum, the beautiful Philadelphia Water Works, and along a boardwalk that literally takes you out over the river. There’s usually at least one spot open to park at Lloyd Hall if you travel by car. More info here.


Wissahickon Valley Park


Wissahickon Valley Park is what we call a watershed park here in Philadelphia. Many decades ago, the waters surrounding Philadelphia were quite foul. The city decided that one way to try to clean the waters was the preserve open space around the major rivers. Wissahickon Valley Park follows the winding Wissahickon Creek. This park stretches a whopping 1,800 acres and has more than 50 miles of hiking, walking, and biking trails. The park is located in the Northwestern park of the city, and the neighborhoods of Germantown, Roxborough, East Falls, Mount Airy, and Chestnut Hill all surround the park. One of my favorite spots is accessed at Bells Mill Road and takes you to the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge, the only remaining covered bridge in a major city in the entire country. You can find maps and info at the Friends of the Wissahickonwebsite. My book features five different hikes within the boundaries of the Wissahickon Valley Park.


John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge


If you are flying into Philadelphia, the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge is a must-visit spot for nature lovers. It’s located a stone’s throw from the airport. Heinz was actually the country’s first urban wildlife refuge. The former Sunoco tank farm is the muddy wasteland-like place you’ll pass by on your way to Heinz. The John Heinz Wildlife Refuge is about 1,000 acres and has some of the best birdwatching you’ll find anywhere in and near Philadelphia. The refuge lies smack dab along the Atlantic Flyway, a route migrating birds follow seasonally. There are 10 miles of mostly flat, gravel trails. Bring your binoculars, because you will certainly want up-close views of the birds. There are even a few boardwalks that take you out over the shallow waters where wading birds love to hang out. More info here.


Valley Forge National Historic Park


If you are history buff and want to squeeze in some nature and history, then a trip out to Valley Forge National Historic Park should be added to your itinerary. The park is the spot where George Washington and his army camped after their defeat at the Battle of Germantown during the Revolutionary War. You can visit Washington’s Headquarters along with numerous huts that represent the soldiers’ living quarters at the time. There are several hiking trails if you are looking to sneak in some hiking on your visit. My favorite hike at Valley Forge is Horse-Shoe/Mount Misery trail loop. It’s got some serious elevation gain, but it passes by some historic ruins and the scenery is pretty spectacular. More info here.


If you want more information on each hike, you can buy my hiking guide book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Philadelphia. Most of the parks have publicly available information, including maps. So, if you Google the park’s name and search for trail maps, you can find out the gist of the route. My book will give you much better and detailed information, but I totally understand not wanting to buy a guidebook for a place you are just visiting. However, I warn you that Philadelphia is a charming and beautiful place with tons of nature. You might just feel the need to return.



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