An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Wissahickon Valley Park
Visits to Wissahickon Valley Park skyrocketed during the pandemic, and nearly three years later, its roads are still very much well-traveled. But considering its 1,800 acres and 50-plus miles of trail, figuring out where to start can be intimidating. Here’s everything you need to know about exploring “The Wiss.”
For Starting Out
Want to explore Wissahickon Valley Park, but don’t know where to start? Consult our map to the park’s access points, plus what trails to travel for a day of outdoor exploration. Read more here.
Ruffian Tittmann, executive director of Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), suggests Forbidden Drive, a predominantly flat trail that allows hiking, cycling, horseback riding and more. Its five-plus miles of gravel road function as the main thoroughfare through the park, following the Wissahickon Creek from Northwestern Avenue to Lincoln Drive.
Local triathlete Lia Belardo 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 — for peaceful hiking. “Once you’re on the trail, you forget that you’re in Philly. The downside is that it gets really crowded, so go early,” she says.
For quick but well-worth-it jaunts, hit the 1.5-mile pedestrian-only Lavender Trail that features modest hills and is often pretty quiet.
Author and outdoor enthusiast Lori Litchman loves the Orange Trail: “It stretches the length of the park and connects to two of my favorite icons in the Wiss: the Thompson Mill Covered Bridge and the Fingerspan Bridge. It’s also got lovely rolling hills, so it’s a good workout, too.”
Experienced cyclists and mountain bikers will enjoy the moderately challenging Yellow Trail, with nearly eight miles of single-track dirt-and-rock terrain on the park’s west side, and the White Trail, which features some rugged paths and steep climbs on the east side.
For a less populated route, the Wissahickon Bike Trail has 1.6 miles of asphalt road and elevated boardwalks along Lincoln Drive, connecting the Schuylkill River to Forbidden Drive. After closing for major renovations in early 2021, four bridges along the trail are now open and decked out with a new anti-slip surface.
For Horse-Back Riding
Equestrians looking for nothing more than somewhere to hoof it can take their steeds along Forbidden Drive’s wide, smooth lanes or Wissahickon Creek Gorge’s more rugged but charming hillsides.
For quaint trots through open fields, horses and handlers should visit Andorra Meadow Loop — which only allows hiking and horseback riding — or Houston Meadow Trail.
The park is also rife with stables that offer boarding, lessons, and activities for novices, such as Courtesy Stables in Roxborough, Northwestern Stables in Chestnut Hill, and Monastery Stables in Mount Airy — a historic 22-stall boarding facility where the Philadelphia Saddle Club lodges its members’ horses.
Much of the work that wildlife photographer Troy Bynum creates through his partnership with FOW is shot in Andorra Meadow and along the 3.5-mile Houston Meadow Trail. Both have recorded more than 150 species throughout the year, from woodpeckers and cute warblers to majestic bald eagles.
Litchman recommends checking out Carpenter Woods — a 37-acre section of the park named an “Important Bird Area” by the National Audubon Society — for your fill of sightings. The area sees some 120 species during spring migration.
For Time With the Kids
Tittmann suggests trails that take nature-loving adventurers through the Wissahickon Environmental Center, like Andorra Meadow, a roughly two-mile loop with tons of picturesque views. The terrain is fairly even, meaning there isn’t much elevation change — good for little ones who tire out quickly.
Young explorers and budding history buffs should head to Historic Rittenhouse Town, accessible from the Orange Trail, which (bonus!) is largely restricted to hikers.
If your little one is just starting out or relies on you for transportation via stroller or carrier, begin at Valley Green Inn and walk along Forbidden Drive, passing Livezey Dam and Gorgas Creek Cave. Go as far as you want before turning back and taking a load off at the creekside restaurant.
Where to Eat
Valley Green Inn
With breezy porches in the summer, cozy fireplaces in the winter, and a super-charming atmosphere, Valley Green Inn is one of the most sought-out spots in the park. It offers hearty New American cuisine for lunch and dinner plus brunch on Sundays. 7 Valley Green Road.
Owner Michael O’Brien takes a mad-scientist approach to his handcrafted loose teas. His shop is a hidden gem, serving soothing herbal blends and funky black/green/white teas paired with vinyl suggestions. 538 Carpenter Lane.
Though the name might imply otherwise, Cake offers much more than display cases of fresh baked goods. Breakfast, lunch or Sunday brunch in the enchanting floral conservatory turned dining room will fill your belly after a jaunt in the woods. 8501 Germantown Avenue.
The Cedars House
Conveniently situated on Forbidden Drive, the Cedars House is the perfect homey cafe for a bit of rest and a chat with fellow park-goers. Plus: homemade soups, rejuvenating salads, and smoothies made to order. 200 West Northwestern Avenue.
Paper Trail Bike Cafe
Located on the footpath of Historic Rittenhouse Town, Paper Trail Bike Cafe has it all, from bike tours and mechanics to a bucolic outdoor area where you can sit with a cup of locally roasted coffee while you wait for your wheels to be repaired. 211 Lincoln Drive.
The Juice Room
When you’ve finished your expedition, you might want some grub that will keep the endorphins going. Hit the Juice Room for fresh-pressed juice, smoothies and wellness shots using raw veggies, fruit and other superfoods. 7127 Germantown Avenue.
Young American Hard Cider & Tasting Room
This Germantown spot has a rave-reviewed menu of in-house crafted ciders and farm-fresh fare Thursday through Sunday. Pro tip: Get the belly-filling shrimp and grits. 6350 Germantown Avenue.
The Landing Kitchen
Sister cafe to Nick Elmi’s Lark, the Landing Kitchen brings scenic views, nutrient-dense breakfast and lunch items, and refreshing sips — coffee, tea, smoothies, zero-proof cocktails — to Ironworks at Pencoyd Landing. 617 Righters Ferry Road.
Published as “Endless Adventures” in the 2023 issue of Be Well Philly. Request a complimentary copy here.