Philadelphia is well known for its skyscrapers, sports fans and cheesesteaks, but the city and surrounding countryside are just as celebrated for attractive scenery and greenery. Parks, forests, gardens and trails draw droves of residents and visitors who want to get out and explore the local terrain, which includes options for routes with everything from sonic rocks to sacred ground and steep climbs to casual strolls.
No matter which path you choose, be sure you're prepared with weather-appropriate clothing, sturdy shoes, sunscreen, a compass and plenty of water. Respect the natural flora and fauna, stay on marked trails, and don't forget a camera—you're guaranteed to come across sights you'll want to share now and revisit later.
Wissahickon Valley Park
It's only about ten miles from Center City, but Wissahickon Valley Park feels like a world away from the frenzy of urban life with more than 50 miles of marked trails. Experienced hikers who seek challenging terrain and steep inclines opt for the White, Orange, and Yellow trails, which run 4.4, 5.6 and 7.9 miles, respectively. Explorers with less experience can set out on Forbidden Drive, which—despite its imposing name—is appropriate for all skill levels; the gravel-strewn path is relatively flat and easy to navigate.
Valley Green Road, Philadelphia, Pa., 215.247.0417
French Creek State Park
French Creek State Park in Chester County spans more than 7,700 acres of forests, meadows, creeks and wetlands. Located roughly an hour outside of the city, the park's trails are best suited for seasoned explorers. Thirty-five miles of scenic paths range from the one-mile Kalmia Trail to the eight-mile Horseshoe Trail. Several pathways intersect and intertwine, enabling adventurous explorers to easily move between them. Hikers aren't the only ones who get to enjoy the trails, however; be prepared to share the road with cyclists and horseback riders.
843 Park Road, Elverson, Pa., 610.582-9680
Schuylkill River Trail
The Schuylkill River (pronounced skool-kil) bisects Philadelphia, but this mighty body of water extends way past the city limits. In total, the Schuylkill spans more than 130 miles and a highly anticipated, long-term project is in the works to add trails along the entire length of it. Currently, 60 miles of mixed-use trails are open for hikers and cyclists, including a stretch that reaches from Philly to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. The route leads through a wide variety of settings, including parks, gardens, rural areas and residential settings—just be sure to stay on the marked path to avoid unintentionally trespassing on private property.
1 Boathouse Row, Philadelphia, Pa., 215.222.6030
Valley Forge National Historic Site
The world-renowned Valley Forge National Historic Site draws visitors seeking to set foot on hallowed ground; the site served as George Washington's winter encampment in 1777-1778 and played a vital role in the Revolutionary War. Today, this iconic spot is home to nearly 20 miles of marked hiking trails. The most scenic paths ascend Mount Misery and Mount Joy, but families and history buffs of all hiking abilities can opt for the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail and the Horseshoe Trail, which wind through landmark sites like the National Memorial Arch, the Patriots of African Descent Monument and the Muhlenberg Brigade Huts.
1400 North Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, Pa., 610.783.1099
Ringing Rock Park
Bucks County, PA boasts one of the area's most unique spots: Ringing Rock Park. Hikers traverse the trails of a 128-acre forest to reach a field of geological anomalies, whose melodic name stems their uncommon quality. When hit with a hammer, the rocks ring like bells, and different rocks emit different tones. Scientists have yet to identify the cause of this phenomenon, a mystery that adds an extra level of appeal to this already intriguing area.
Ringing Rocks Road, Upper Black Eddy, Pa., 215.757.0571
For an easily accessible hike, look no further than Fairmount Park. This 9,000-acre oasis is one of the largest green urban spaces in the country. From on-foot journeys that lead deep into the woods to paths that loop around historical landmarks and mansions, more than 215 miles of winding trails appeal to hikers of all interests and skill levels.
Reservoir Drive, 215.988.9334