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Wissahickon Valley Park

Miles of serene wilderness along the Wissahickon Creek...

Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

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There are dozens of miles of trails in Wissahickon Valley Park , a lush, 1,800-acre gorge, crossing forest and meadow before plunging down to the sun-dappled waters of the Wissahickon Creek.

Visitors find themselves lost in a feeling of wilderness as they walk, bike or ride horses through this undisputed gem of Philadelphia’s park system.

Permits are required to use the upper trails for off-road biking or horseback riding.

The History

Despite the feeling of quiet wilderness, visitors find plenty of history in Wissahickon Valley Park .

The Wissahickon Gorge belongs to the Piedmont Province of Pennsylvania, a strip of sloping land rising from the Atlantic coastal plain on the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains. The creek drops more than 100 feet in altitude as it passes through the gorge before it finally merges with the Schuylkill River.

A series of stone bridges and huts date back to the Works Progress Administration era, two beloved statues pay tribute to the Leni Lenape tribe of Native Americans and the early Quaker settlers who once loved these grounds, and the now-crumbling dams offer gurgling memories of industrial mills that once drew power from the creek.

The Fairmount Park Commission acquired the 1,800 acres of the Wissahickon Valley in 1868 in order to preserve the purity of the city’s water supply. Mills and taverns were demolished, and in 1920, the wide road paralleling the creek was closed to vehicular traffic and became Forbidden Drive.

The Experience

Relax along Forbidden Drive, the low-lying gravel road that follows the creek, or venture up the steep wooded paths for a more challenging hike or off-road cycling adventure.

The historic Valley Green Inn, the last remaining example of the many roadhouses and taverns that once flourished here, serves drinks and snacks.

The Wissahickon is blessed with a fairly stable resident population of owls, chickadees and titmice; five species of woodpecker; nuthatches; blue jays; Carolina wrens; mourning doves; goldfinches and cardinals. The area is designated as an Important Birding Area by the National Audubon Society.

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