Where to Live in the Philadelphia Region if You Love Nature

This heavily populated region still has plenty of nature left for you to enjoy. These communities sit close to some of the best of what’s out there.

philadelphia nature Wissahickon Valley Park

Philadelphia is surrounded by, and in some cases surrounds, nature. Here, mountain bikers coasting along a trail in Wissahickon Valley Park / Photograph by Jon Lovette via Getty Images

Welcome to our first entry of “Where to Live if You Love …” — a new series of Philly-area neighborhood guides to help you find your place. Whether you’re passionate about nature, dining, the arts, or your furry friends, we’ll highlight the best towns and neighborhoods where you might want to settle down.

Philadelphia is home to one of the country’s best urban wilds, the Wissahickon Valley Park.  And its suburbs can match it with places like Ridley Creek State Park in Delaware County, Tyler State Park in Bucks County, French Creek State Park on the Chester/Berks county line and the huge Wharton State Forest in Camden and Atlantic counties.

Hundreds of thousands of area residents visit these parks every year, many traveling some distance to enjoy them. But maybe you don’t want to have to drive far to get your nature fix. Would you like to have the wilds in your backyard, or close to it? Then consider making one of these communities near our parks your home.

Downtown Newtown / Photograph by Kevin Crawford Imagery/Visit Bucks County

Newtown, Bucks County

Just a little way up Swamp Road from the original Bucks County seat lies Tyler State Park in Newtown Township. Just about all of the 1,711 acres in this park were once farms, and the trails in this park — 25 miles of hiking trails and 10.5 miles each of paved biking and unpaved horseback riding trails — were originally farm roads. Neshaminy Creek flows through the park, and you can fish in it, but the state Department of Environmental Protection says that possible contamination of the fish in the stream means you should catch and release only. (You can’t camp out here, either, for the park is only open from 8 a.m. to sunset.)

nature lovers neighborhood guide schofield ford covered bridge

The Schofield Ford Covered Bridge in Tyler State Park, rebuilt in 1997 after a 1991 arson fire destroyed the original 1874 bridge / Photo by Flickr user Zack, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In addition to exploring some of what remains of the Bucks countryside in this park, you can also come here for a healthy dose of art and culture. The Tyler Park Center for the Arts occupies what was once an equestrian barn and is now a beehive of activity, with classes, exhibitions, workshops, summer camps, special events and an annual community crafts fair in the fall. Then there’s the former Spring Garden Mill in the park, now home to the Langhorne Players, a community theater company that has produced thought-provoking plays for more than 75 years.

Depending on your tastes, you can choose either the historic charm of Newtown Borough or the more suburban Newtown Township that surrounds the borough.

nature lovers guide

Elverson’s main street / Photo by Willjay via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Elverson, Chester County

This compact borough of some 1,100 souls bills itself as “The Greatest Square Mile in Pennsylvania.” It was good enough for us to feature it as one of “9 Towns Pushing the Boundaries of the Philadelphia Region” back in 2022, and the reason we featured it then is the reason we include it now: It’s all but surrounded by preserved open land.

French Creek State Park, whose main entrance lies about two miles to Elverson’s northeast, is the largest park in Southeastern Pennsylvania, with 7,977 acres of forests, streams, lakes and trails. The forests that dominate the park are second-growth forests; the first forests were cleared to fuel the “iron plantation” at the adjacent Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. Civilian Conservation Corps volunteers invited by Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot, the father of the state park system, built many of the facilities you find in the park today back in the 1930s.

nature lovers neighborhood guide hopewell lake french creek state park

Hopewell Lake in French Creek State Park / Photo by Flickr user jmdelacy, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

French Creek’s more than 30 miles of trails accommodate hikers, bikers, equestrians and mountain bikers; its 20 miles of mountain bike trails are considered the most challenging in any of the region’s state parks because of the hilly terrain they traverse. Three of those 30 miles are part of the 130-mile-long Horse Shoe Trail, which runs from Valley Forge National Historic Park to the Appalachian Trail near Harrisburg.

The park also contains the widest variety of campsites of any state park in the region; you can rent a cottage, hook up your RV or trailer, or pitch a tent at an individual or group campsite. Its two lakes allow cold and warm water fishing, and you can keep what you catch. Other activities you can pursue at the park include orienteering, disc golf and swimming in its pool.

nature lovers neighborhood guide hopewell furnace coal furnace

Anthracite coal furnace at Hopewell Furnace / Photo by Karen Foley Phogtography via Getty Images

The park office, the foundry at the Hopewell Furnace historic site and state game lands are located in next-door Warwick Township, a slightly larger (2,500 population) community two-and-a-half miles to the east on Route 23 and a mile closer to the park entrance.

nature lovers neighborhood guide providence road, upper providence township

Providence Road in Upper Providence Township / Photo by Mike Szilagyi via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Upper Providence Township, Delaware County

Most of Ridley Creek State Park lies in this almost exclusively residential community just north of Media. In the park, which also extends into adjacent Edgmont and Middletown townships, Upper Providence residents enjoy access to 2,606 acres filled with trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, picnic sites, campgrounds, hunting grounds and historic sites. The latter include the 1683 Worrel House, the oldest house in the township; Hunting Hill Mansion, an expanded stone farmhouse dating to 1789, and Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, a living history museum.

nature lovers neighborhood guide ridley creek

Ridley Creek in Ridley Creek State Park / Photo by Flickr user Thomas, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

You can also go fishing in Ridley Creek itself, and the park also has an Olmsted-designed formal garden. And as a bonus, lovers of historic ruins can also explore the remains of the Arts and Crafts Movement community that failed where Rose Valley succeeded: Sycamore Mills, also in the park, at its southern edge.

nature lovers neighborhood guide tyler arboretum

Tyler Arboretum / Public domain image by daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Add to this the 650-acre Tyler Arboretum, next door to the park in adjacent Middletown Township. The tree museum’s history goes all the way back to 1825, when brothers John and Minshall Painter planted the first of what would grow to more than 1,000 varieties of trees and shrubs. Almost all of the Painters’ original plantings survive, including the largest giant sequoia in Pennsylvania.

Want something a little more urbane but still close to the park? Then you want to live in Media.

ursinus college dorm

An Ursinus College dorm in Collegeville / Photo by Montgomery County Planning Commission via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Collegeville, Montgomery County

Head towards Philadelphia on Germantown Pike, then hang a left onto Skippack Creek Road, and you will already be in Evansburg State Park, whose visitor center lies just off May Hall Road (Skippack Creek Road runs into it). This 3,349-acre park lines the banks of Skippack Creek, which runs through valleys not as deep as but reminiscent of the one Wissahickon Creek runs through. Bikers, hikers and horseback riders can all enjoy 26 miles of paved and unpaved trails along the creek; 15 of them are open for horseback riding, and a five-mile trail at the park’s southern end is open to mountain bikers. To get to that trail from Collegeville, head towards Philadelphia on Ridge Pike instead. (On your way to either road, you will cross the historic 1798 bridge over Perkiomen Creek around which the town grew.)

hiking in evansburg state park

Hiking in Evansburg State Park / Photo by Flickr user Garen M, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Part of the park is open to hunters, and while the park is open from sunrise to sunset, it also has a campsite for overnight group camping. The park also has a golf course, the Skippack Golf Club.

The land that now lies within the park was part of a huge tract consisting of “all the land along the Pakehoma,” which William Penn purchased from the Lenape in 1684. (The “Pakehoma” is today’s Perkiomen Creek.) The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acquired the land in 1979 to spare it from creeping suburbanization. Local residents successfully killed plans to dam the Skippack and turn the stream into a lake, and thus the farms and mills that once lined the creek remain available for you to explore; these include Kuster Mill and Indenhofen Farm, the latter of which is open for tours.

Collegeville is home to Ursinus College, founded in 1869, but it was named for another school founded before it: the Pennsylvania Female College, founded in 1851 and closed in 1880.

nature lovers neighborhood guide germantown avenue in chestnut hill

Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill / Photo by Stephanie Ramones, Contigo Photography, via Visit Philadelphia

Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia

Living in the city’s toniest outlying neighborhood not only puts you at the top of the hill, literally and figuratively, but also down in the valley: Its western border is the Wissahickon Valley Park. The more than 2,000-acre park was created to protect Wissahickon Creek, which provided part of Philadelphia’s water supply in the era when the Fairmount Water Works furnished it.

forbidden drive in wissahickon valley park

Forbidden Drive in Wissahickon Valley Park / Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

The park’s central attraction is the 1,200-acre Wissahickon Valley Gorge, one of only two National Natural Landmarks in the Philadelphia region. Alongside the creek, Forbidden Drive — so named because motor vehicles are forbidden to use it — is a popular trail for hikers, bikers and equestrians alike, and the Valley Green Inn near its midway point is both a refreshment stop and an upscale New American restaurant.

Other trails that climb the gorge and run along its rims offer challenging hiking and mountain biking opportunities. Just don’t try diving into the “Devil’s Pool” on Cresheim Creek — it’s both dangerous and against the law.

Want easy access to Wissahickon Valley Park but can’t swing Chestnut Hill house prices? Take a look at Roxborough on the other side of the creek instead.

atco station

Atco Station on the New Jersey Transit Atlantic City Line / Photo by Adam Moss via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Atco, NJ

Let’s be honest here: many of the towns in the Pinelands of Camden and Atlantic counties lack the ambience of their Pennsylvania analogs. Atco is one of those towns, but this modest community in the heart of Waterford Township, Camden County, sits at the western end of the Wharton State Forest. At 122,800 acres, the Wharton State Forest is the single largest nature preserve in both New Jersey and the Philadelphia metropolitan region.

wharton state forest hiking trail

A former road through the Pine Barrens is now a hiking trail in Wharton State Forest / Photo by Naga Film via Getty Images

The forest is named for Philadelphia industrialist Joseph Wharton, who also founded the world’s first business school at the University of Pennsylvania. Starting in the 1870s, Wharton purchased 100,000 acres of forested land in Burlington, Camden and Atlantic counties with the aim of diverting the many freshwater streams in the area to slake Philadelphia’s thirst. The New Jersey Legislature thwarted that plan in 1884. When Wharton’s estate tried to sell the land to New Jersey after his death, voters nixed the sale in a 1915 referendum. Plans floated by the Federal government to turn the estate into a huge airport led New Jersey to finally take the Wharton estate up on the offer starting in 1954.

Batsto Village

Batsto Village in Wharton State Forest / Photo by Flickr user Paul Comstock, licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the 19th century, small industrial villages dotted this area, and remnants of one, Batsto Village, is one of the most visited sites in the state forest. The park also contains Atsion Mansion, built in 1826 as the summer home of an iron forge owner. Since it has neither electricity nor indoor plumbing, the restored house may offer the most authentic window into the way people lived in the 19th century.

The forest also has plenty of natural attractions, including nearly 184 miles of trails, nearly 34 of which are open to bikes and 33 of which may be traversed on horseback. The forest also contains numerous campsites. You can go canoeing on the Wading and Batsto rivers and boating on the Batsto. Fishing is allowed in Batsto and Atsion lakes.

Racially integrated Chesilhurst Borough, just southeast of Atco, is a little closer to the forest. In 2008, New Jersey Monthly ranked it the 566th best place to live out of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities. But if you want to build a home of your own, lots abound in the borough, which calls itself “Southern New Jersey’s Best-Kept Secret.” A larger community at the forest’s edge, Hammonton, is located a few miles further down the White Horse Pike (Route 30) in Atlantic County, the core county of the Atlantic City-Hammonton metropolitan area.