6 of the Most Peaceful Places to Hike in and Around Philly
We polled local outdoor enthusiasts for their favorite places to clear their heads in nature.
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Unlike, say, Colorado, it may be easy to overlook the Philly area for hiking. But right here, in our own backyard, we have access to some head-clearing, soul-cleansing experiences that don’t require booking a flight. Hiking is good for not only physical exercise but also mental health and spiritual wellbeing. And while walks around your neighborhood certainly have their benefits, one study showed that 90 minutes spent strolling through natural environments demonstrated a decrease in neural activity in the part of the brain associated with risk of mental illness.
Not only do we have some excellent natural resources in Philly, but we also have groups like Hike+Heal, which seeks to provide space for women’s mental and physical wellness and self-care through hiking. Founder Brandi Nicole says her favorite hike in the area is the Wissahickon Trail — and no surprise, considering how tranquil parts can be. We’d recommend keeping an eye on the Hike+Heal Instagram to join upcoming outings. And in the meantime, if you’d like to do some hiking and healing of your own, we asked local outdoor enthusiasts who have hiked extensively in the region which parks and trails they find to be the most peaceful. Here are six of their faves.
Local hiker and Chestnut Hill resident Lori Lancaster loves hiking the parts of the Wissahickon nearest her neighborhood. Her favorite stretch is on Forbidden Drive, a five-plus-mile trek that follows Wissahickon Creek and takes you past the historic Valley Green Inn. (Not for nothing, the trail was named the 2018 Trail of the Year by the Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee.) While it is a nice escape from the bustling city, Lancaster notes that the path is popular: “It’s a very peaceful area that, at times, can get pretty crowded,” she says. Find a trail map here.
Lia Belardo, a triathlete who lives in Graduate Hospital, favors the Wissahickon Creek Gorge Trail, a 9.4-mile loop that follows the creek along Forbidden Drive, loops Houston Meadow, then returns south on the Orange Trail. “Once you are on the trail, you forget that you are in Philly,” says Belardo. “The downside is that it gets really crowded, and so my suggestion is to get there early. Overall it’s worth it to go early, run or walk the trail when it’s sparsely occupied, and ‘get out of the city’ while very much being close to downtown.” Find a trail map here.
Given that this 1,000-acre wildlife refuge — which is set right next to the airport and is America’s first urban nature refuge — was created around a marsh, it may not be the first place that comes to mind when you’re searching for local hiking trails. Nonetheless, the land is interlaced with more than 10 miles of paths to explore, including a 3.5-mile Wetland Loop that offers the opportunity to spot wildlife. “John Heinz is one of my favorite places to hike in Philly because of the beautiful scenery,” says West Philly resident and avid hiker Jay Shaw III. “It’s a gem hidden in plain sight on the southwestern border of the city. The array of beautiful birds, fish, and four-legged creatures are all around you existing in peace. It’s a wonderful place to be, even inclement weather.” Find a trail map here.
Set a little more than a 30-minute drive from Center City Philadelphia, Ridley Creek State Park provides more than 2,606 acres of woodlands and meadows and 13 miles of hiking trails. The terrain is easy enough to navigate on foot, bike, and even when pushing a stroller. Diana Gerstenbacher, a trail runner from Sewell, New Jersey, loves to get away here to explore some trails and to see some historic buildings throughout the park — including a 1789 stone farmhouse that now serves as the park office’s reception center. “I recommend you go with a hiking buddy so you both can stick together,” says Gerstenbacher. “Be sure to bring a trail map with you and be ready for some amazing pictures of the creek and the sun peeking through the trees.” Find a trail map here.
The 3,349-acre Evansburg State Park, set along Skippack Creek, is located just 50 minutes from Center City in Collegeville. The park’s five main trails range from just over a half mile to six miles, which make for a great short hike or a day-long journey. “I really enjoy a nice hike at Evansburg State Park. It’s quiet and a nice escape from the city to unwind and enjoy nature,” says Wynnefield resident Sarah DeGeorge. Find a trail map here.
Rolling Hill is a petite, 103-acre park that’s ideal for dog lovers (Philly Mag named the park “Best Suburban Dog Park” in 2014). The terrain throughout the park is constantly changing, so on a hike you may pass from a peaceful meadow into a heavily-wooded area. As you trek along Mill Creek on the park’s Blue Trail, keep an eye out for the stone ruins leftover from the days that gave Mill Creek its name. The trail is only a little over a mile, but it’ll still require some effort. “It is quite the workout if you go all the way down to the creek and back up,” says Gladwyne resident Colleen Derby-Peck, who likes to watch the dogs playing in Mill Creek at the end of her journey. “It’s definitely an adventurous, peaceful trek that’s great for furry friends.” Find a trail map here.