The Best Running Trails in Philadelphia and Beyond
Thirty-six years ago, a thousand-plus hardy souls hightailed it 10 miles from North Philly to South Philly in the very first Broad Street Run. The average Philadelphian undoubtedly shook his head: You know there’s a subway you could have taken, right? Since then, Philly has officially transformed into a running mecca.
Not only will next month’s Broad Street Run feature 40,000 lottery-chosen entrants (did you make the cut?), but there’s hardly a weekend from April through December without some kind of amazing running event. And that’s not to mention the running clubs, running stores and running conversations that have overtaken our city. How to make the most of it? Start by embracing the region’s most memorable running places and races. From the Main Line to Penn’s campus all the way down the Shore, here are 15 of the region’s most gorgeous running trails. See you at the finish.
Philadelphia Running Trails
Ben Franklin Bridge
For: Spectacular views … and heights
Running to Jersey and back on the bridge’s pedestrian walkway — a three-mile round-trip — not only offers an amazing panorama of the river and the Philly skyline; it also provides an intense workout, with a three-quarter-mile climb up each side. Focus on the sights, not your sore legs.
For: A change of pace to Kelly Drive
If, like us, you’re over constantly dodging strollers and surreys on the Kelly Drive path, you’re in luck. Just on the other side of the drive is an underutilized 3.8-mile trail that mixes East Fairmount Park’s secluded woods and open, scenic pathways — and is named for the Philly pugilists who used the park as their training grounds. The southern end of the trail starts at Sedgely Woods Disc Golf Course at 33rd and winds north toward Strawberry Mansion. If you’re coming up from the river, connect to the trail from the crosswalk at the intersection of Kelly Drive and Fountain Green (by the Ulysses Grant statue).
Cobbs Creek Park
For: Running paths (with a touch of goth)
This strip of pristine parkway in West Philly stretches about four miles from 63rd and Market to 70th and Chester. In addition to the paved multi-use trail, there’s plenty of uncharted terrain to explore: trails that wind down to the creek and, for history nerds and lovers of ruin porn, Mount Moriah Cemetery, a 19th-century graveyard whose overgrown and crumbling tombstones have an eerie Secret Garden vibe.
Cynwyd Heritage Trail
For: An all-new view of the Schuylkill
With the anticipated opening of the Manayunk Bridge over the Schuylkill later this year, this two-mile stretch of side-by-side gravel and concrete pathways (for foot and wheel traffic) will become a scenic gateway between Manayunk and the Main Line. The trail runs northeast from Cynwyd Station past Bala Cynwyd Park (water fountains!), West Laurel Hill Cemetery, and pretty views of hillside Manayunk. Clear quarter-mile markers along the way make it perfect for tempo or speed workouts.
For: Speed work without leaving town
Running tracks are hard to come by in Center City. Actually, they’re near-impossible to come by. So when Penn unveiled its sparkling new public park in University City, local speed-trainers rejoiced. The park’s winding pathways have half-mile, three-quarter-mile and full-mile loops you can use for your speed sessions. And since it’s all easily accessible via the Schuylkill River Trail — just run across the South Street or Walnut Street bridge — you have a built-in warm-up and cooldown.
Schuylkill River Trail
For: The quintessential Philly run
With the opening last fall of the fabulous Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, the SRT has become even more popular with city runners, and understandably so. You can now travel on the SRT from South Street to Phoenixville. That’s basically a marathon — 26.5 miles — with stretches that include the Manayunk Canal towpath, the old Pennsylvania Railroad line, and pastoral views in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
For: Classic trail running
Local Wissahickon devotees know the magic of this place. The hillsides framing Forbidden Drive have a labyrinth of trails that at every turn take runners to some mythical obstacle — the Fingerspan Bridge near the end of Livezey Lane, which balances over a small, rocky cliff; the Toleration statue, with incredible canopy views; the Depression-era concrete aqueducts that runners and mountain bikers precariously cross. For the easiest parking and central access to all the coolest trails, start at Valley Green Inn. (Take the orange trail south for just about a mile to get to the Fingerspan Bridge.) Enjoy the run, and mind the poison ivy.
Bucks County Running Trails
Delaware Canal Towpath
For: Long training runs
Marathon aspirants: Before lacing up for one of your double-digit milers this summer, know that a long run through the same old stomping grounds can get, well, torturous. The towpaths that edge the Delaware River canal (on both the east and west sides of the river) are a picturesque escape from the norm. Park at Washington Crossing State Park, head over the bridge to the west side of the Delaware, and hop onto the canal path. Head north to New Hope, cross over the bridge into Lambertville, and head south. The whole loop is about 15 miles.
Peace Valley Park
For: Perfect weekend running
The quiet Bucks County reservoir known as Lake Galena is a Happy Place for local runners. The 5.4-mile pavement-and-gravel path (with just enough rollers to keep it honest) surrounding the lake is punctuated by a boat launch, a family-friendly nature center, picnic tables and other pleasantries. Plenty of parking and access points make it an easy weekend running destination.
Tyler State Park
For: Gorgeous scenery and kick-butt trails
This 1,700-acre Bucks County park’s paved roads, bike paths and equestrian and hiking trails wind through the best of Bucks County scenery — roaring dams, the iconic covered bridge, farmland, meadows and wooded hills. To add a little adrenaline to your otherwise peaceful Tyler run, hit up the Nature Trail, a short, steep loop that will have you hopping mossy boulders, crossing creeks, and generally being a badass trail runner.
Delaware County Running Trail
Ridley Creek State Park
For: Trails galore
At this stately Delco park, the road-more-traveled is the famed multi-use trail, a five-mile loop. There are multiple entry points, but it’s worth starting and finishing at Hunting Hill Mansion — take a cooldown walk through the gardens or around the equestrian center on the other side of the road. The real fun of Ridley, though, is on the rolling, color-coded hiking trails off the multi-use path — don’t be afraid to get a little lost on those.
Montgomery County Running Trails
Rolling Hill Park
For: up-and-down runs (with your dog!)
The aptly named network of trails and meadows in the heart of Gladwyne starts at the Lower Merion Conservancy and spreads out over 103 acres. Trails wind and roll (a lot — no shortage of hill work here) through the woods and lead hikers and joggers down to Mill Creek, past the closed Barker Mill and the ruins of the former Toddtown Tenement House. Bonus: Dogs are welcome to roam and sniff leash-free (as long as you have a permit) while their trail-giddy owners run.
Valley Forge National Historical Park
For: Climbs you’ll never forget
You simply have not had your tail whipped properly if you haven’t completed this four-mile loop over Mount Misery and Mount Joy. (Don’t read too much into the names; they’re both excruciating.) Park at the parking lot on Knox Tindle Lane (just off Route 252) and cross over the creek to the start of the Mount Misery trail. You’ll head up (and up and up and up) to the top of the mountain, where you’ll stop to take in the view (and gasp), and take the second right onto the Horseshoe Trail. That will spit you out onto Route 23. Go right, head up Mount Joy (come on, you still got this!), and stay to the right to eventually wind back down to the parking lot.
South Jersey Running Trails
Cooper River Park
For: A view of the Philly skyline … and a taste of Haddonfield
While South Jersey runners love the relaxed people- and boat-watching of this Camden County park (not to mention the view of the Philly skyline in the distance), the path that runs along the river’s north branch stretches past the well-worn 3.8-mile loop and out into Haddonfield. From the park, follow the path along Park Boulevard, which will take you under a graffitied train trestle and behind the National Guard. Eventually you’ll hit (and cross) Grove Street and find yourself in charming Pennypacker Park. (It’s just under three miles from the heart of Cooper River Park to the far east end of Pennypacker.)
Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge
For: A back-to-nature excursion in spring or fall
For South Jersey runners, this saltwater-marsh bird sanctuary is an otherworldly escape; for everyone else, it’s a well-worth-the-gas journey. There are a few miles of trails through pines, but the real treasure is an eight-mile gravel Wildlife Drive (or, in your case, Run). The loop takes you across serene marshland where egrets and sandpipers warble; the evening brings mind-blowing sunsets; and the A.C. skyline sits across the bay. Pro tip: Hot, humid days can bring a swarm of bugs. Save this one for temperate spring or fall weather.
Originally published as “Gotta Run” in the April 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
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