5 Lovely, Shaded Walks You Can Take in Philly to Get Away From the Summer Heat
Staying inside isn't the only option to enjoy the dog days of summer.
I’ve always liked to walk. Growing up, it was part of our family’s nighttime routine. Around 7 p.m. every day, my mom, my sister, and I would grab the leash and take the dog out for a couple turns around the block. The summers were the best. Strolling along in Michigan’s 75-degree air, just warm enough to comfortably bathe you in heat; the sun glinting through the leaves of the impossibly tall yet gentle trees that ringed our neighborhood; Porsche, our black lab, panting with glee to be outside and breathing it all in.
Unfortunately, dear reader, this is not what Philly summers are like. Sure, you might take your pet to the dog park for a short evening jaunt, but the low-hanging heat likely has you running back to your air-conditioned rowhome STAT. It’s a shame, really, that when it’s sunny and light out, we can’t enjoy it because the humidity turns us into human versions of my beloved out-of-breath dog, albeit much less happy.
And yet, we have a solution to provide some relief from this sticky mess of a summer (and it’s not sticking your face in front of your window air conditioner). Five, in fact — five lovely shaded environments (all in Philly!) that will give you a chance to get outside without turning into a walking, melting popsicle.
- Awbury Arboretum
One Awbury Road, Germantown
Like so many of the lesser-known landmarks in Philly, this nature sanctuary in northwest Philly doesn’t announce itself. One minute, you’re driving down the frenetic Chew Avenue and the next, you’re amid 55 acres of lush meadows and swaying trees in a twist that feels like your own door into Narnia. Perhaps that’s why the compound (once owned by the Cope family, the benefactor of several parcels of Fairmount Park, including the Water Works) attracts so few curious Philadelphians; I visited on a Saturday and saw maybe five other people over a several-hour period.
Now, not every corner of this paradise is shaded. Avoid the English Picturesque Landscape, for instance, if you’re looking to keep your skin unfreckled. But both the Beech Hollow Trail on the west edge of the property and the AdventureWoods (pictured), a “natural materials playground” that encourages kids to engage with nature, along the Cope Lane path provide treed respites that make you feel so much much farther from urban chaos than you are.
When to go: AdventureWoods is only open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and masks are strongly recommended. If you don’t have little ones, though, we recommend whiling away your weekend woes on the peaceful property. Tip: While you’re there, download the Heritage Tree Tour map and go on a scavenger hunt for culturally, historically, and environmentally significant greenery.
- Glen Foerd on the Delaware
5001 Grant Ave., Northeast Philly
Another vestige of Philly’s old money circle, Glen Foerd is the city’s only Delaware River estate that’s open to the public. We’re not kidding about the estate part — the grounds feature a 19th-century mansion looking out onto the graceful water, a “tennis lawn” marked by a quaint sign that points the way through a thicket of peaceful oaks, a rose garden, and plenty of little paths to get lost on. Because the area is only 18 acres, it’s easy to do it all. I recommend starting by the river and walking around the back of the palatial home. Then skirt the edge of the tennis lawn, complete with wetlands views. Its perimeter of brick columns is crumbling, like forlorn Roman ruins that belie a grander time, but the serenity of this tucked-away sanctuary remains.
When to go: While guided tours of the mansion are suspended until further notice, you can still wander the Glen Foerd grounds anytime except after dark and during private events. (The 2020 Philadelphia Honey Festival, though held primarily online, will still be coordinated in partnership with Glen Foerd in September.) If you want even more of an explorer’s treat, stop by on a weekday night or a weekend afternoon to have the grounds — likely — all to yourself.
- John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum
8601 Lindbergh Blvd., Southwest Philly
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The refuge is one of those places that you always talk about checking out, but its awkward location tends to make it fall of the list of weekend destinations. Plus, it’s really freaking hot when you walk on the boardwalk over the wide-open, smack-under-the-blazing-sun, absorbing-every-drop-of-moisture tidal marshes, so Tinicum doesn’t seem that appealing during the dog days. Yet the area’s woodlands are lovely, and its flat paved and gravel trails make it easy for even the most novice hiker to feel confident trudging through nature. Check out a pair of binoculars from the visitors’ center (once it reopens — it’s currently closed pending further notice) and see how many of the reported 300 species of birds, including several endangered species, that make their home here you can spot from your shaded vantage point in Warbler Woods. Or take a stroll down Frog Loop Trail to hear the amphibians croak out their own charming symphony.
When to go: Tinicum’s trails are open from sunrise to sunset — we recommend the evening, with darkness (the best type of shade!) quickly falling. The refuge also leads free nature programs on its Facebook page every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m. Circled on our calendar are August 4th’s intro to plant pressing, the “Wildlife of the Week: Monarch Butterfly” chat on the 13th, and the bilingual neighborhood plant walk on the 18th.
- Pennypack Park
Multiple entrances, Northeast Philly
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Formerly the land of the Lenni Lenape Indians, what’s now Pennypack Park was acquired by William Penn — shockingly, he actually bought the property from the tribe — in 1683. The unspoiled land, with its thick canopy of trees, placid creek, and expansive meadows, does feel more like it harks back to the days before property was owned and boundaries were established. And, at 1,500 acres, Pennypack is so large you could spend an entire summer exploring its crannies.
For a quick trip, park at the Verree Road Park entrance (see a full list of entrances here) and walk to the Pine Road entrance and back. It’s a mile and a half total, mostly flanking the water, with plenty of benches to lounge on if you’re interested in lingering longer in the calm. Longer treks include 3.5 miles to Roosevelt Boulevard and 8.25 miles to the Pennypack on the Delaware. (Keep in mind that these are one-way distances so you’ll end up hiking double that to get back to your car.)
When to go: Try an early morning or late afternoon trip on one of Pennypack’s many walking, running, or biking trails. Along the way, you’ll find countless points of interest including the Frankford Avenue Bridge (the oldest stone arch bridge in the U.S.), Ballard Brook and “Thoreau’s Hut,” a variety of tree groves and ponds, and a former Native American campsite.
- The Wissahickon
Multiple entrances, Northwest Philly
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The obvious choice, we know. But the Wissahickon remains one of the most — and largest — tranquil, treed places in the city. Whether you stick with a safe, flat path (Forbidden Drive) or kick the grade up a notch (all the upper trails), you’ll find the sense of calm you’re looking for.
When to go: The Wissahickon boasts over 50 miles of trails, including popular treks such as the 1.7 mile Andorra Meadow Loop and the 4.4 mile, varied-terrain White Trail. If you’re looking for a journey off the beaten path, the Wissahickon also offers numerous small, uncategorized trails ripe for exploration. Remember to keep your distance, however, and wear a mask when within six feet of others.
This post has been updated July 24, 2o2o with additional reporting by Amanda Paule.