Sometimes Philadelphia surprises me in the best way. A few weeks back now, the family started to embark on weekend hikes. We haven’t wanted to go too far away from home because there is a balance between getting into nature, enjoying ourselves, and coming home relaxed, and having too much prep work, too much traveling, and too much stress leaving us cranky for the week ahead. So we’ve been discovering hiking close to home, within an hour’s drive. My expectations were pretty low but we’re discovering that the Greater Philadelphia area actually has some legitimate hiking, like with hills and rocks and animals and no visible civilization.
Our first hike was to Ridley Creek State Park and I had meant to make an entry but didn’t quite get around to it. It’s interesting to note that Ridley Creek comes with a mansion from the 1920s on the property and a working 18th Century plantation nearby. I considering this a fluke until we went to Wissahickon Creek Gorge and discovered more 18th Century, and then Vallue Forge, but more about that later. So, there is a legitimate theme here, hiking and history. Needless to say, I am thrilled because that is just so me.
Wissahickon Creek Gorge is actually nestled in Fairmount Park and is within Philadelphia city limits. It’s completely surrounded by city but once you enter the park, you have no concept of city and it feels far more remote than a hiking area you can get to by public transportation from Center City. I read that some people had experienced issues with parking further south so we traveled to the northern area of the park to the Chestnut Hill neighborhood and parked near the Lavender trail entrance.
Twenty feet in, just past the trail map, voila! You’re in! Woods everywhere! You could be anywhere but Philadelphia, which has just disappeared. What is there is steepness. The Wissahickon offers two general options, the relatively flat Forbidden Drive, which is paved, and the more steep, challenging trails of various colors. We mostly stayed around the Orange trail for the first half, which is relatively easy, and did the White trail for half of our return, which is much steeper, and then took the Forbidden Drive, also known as the Green trail for the last leg. Regardless of trail, you are hiking along the Wissahickon Creek, which is lovely, and passing little waterfalls periodically along the way.
But first, we started on the Lavender trail, which seems lovely and isn’t flat. Coming across flat is disappointing. The idea of a hike is to go up and down hills. We read there was some sort of Indian statue so we aimed for that but before we got there, we came across this…
What, what, what?!? The Thomas Mill Covered Bridge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mill_Covered_Bridge) is the last covered bridge in Philadelphia, as there used to be more, and it’s the only covered bridge in a major U.S. city (Wikipedia) and it’s red! There’s an informational sign near the bridge but I forgot to take notes because I wasn’t prepared for this. Thankfully Wikipedia knows. You can see the remains of the mill along the edge of the creek and the banks are relatively low so some great exploring can be done.
If you cross the bridge you can get to Forbidden drive and the easy hiking. We continued along the Orange trail in search of the Big Indian Statue. Meanwhile, I am not joking about the legitimacy of this hike. There are nice inclines and big rocks. If you go quickly, you are going to get a great workout!
The neat thing about having some civilization nearby, and the area being long used for hiking, there are architectural elements lurking about. These enchanting stairs led to a pathway that would eventually get us to the Big Indian Statue.
And here he is, the Big Indian Head. He’s fairly challenging to get to, very steep. This the best I could do without falling off the edge.
During our first hike at Ridley Creek, we hadn’t seen many animals. The trick is to leave as early as possible because the animals are more active in the morning, except these – Baby Geese! So cute!
From our starting point at the Lavender trail head, Green Valley Inn (http://www.valleygreeninn.com/history.php) was going to be a half-way point, and since the baby geese were really cute, we stopped for a breather. Yes, the Green Valley Inn has a fantastic brunch in an awesome 18th Century setting but we didn’t want to get food coma when our car was parked all the way in Chestnut Hill, so we opted for ice cream and pretzels. It may seem odd to have an inn in the middle of a park but at one point, there were several mills along the Wissahickon and many travelers coming to and from Philly and they needing a nice place to stay.
There was a special event going on, along with a wedding, and a shower, so there were a lot of people and horses. Several riders were in a parade of sorts. Apparently there are stables but not the public variety. A few horses were taking a break in the stables next to the inn so we stopped to pet them, of course. The Pumpkin isn’t going to pass that up.
I’m not entirely sure a horse counts as a wild animal but we’re going with it and it was a neat treat to see so many riders. On the bright side, maybe we should be careful what we wish for. (http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Black-Bear-Spotting-Swimming-in-Philadelphia-Creek-379399131.html) I think seeing a bear would not have been as pleasant.
There are several of these small houses along the train. Some appear to be comfort stations although they all were locked up. Then, there were a few of these, which didn’t have bathrooms. This particular one did have a sign that mentioned the WPA, or Work Progress Administration. Thankfully, I remembered that much and discovered this article (http://hpef.us/publications/preserve-and-play/the-analysis-and-restoration-of-the-wpa-outbuildings-in-the-wissahickon-valley) that explains what the little houses are and why they’re there. Some are even big enough to live in, if you’re into tiny houses. We are very temped but alas, not available for living in. Besides, with all the hikers, it wouldn’t be very private even if it’s set in the woods.
We made our way back to Chestnut Hill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chestnut_Hill,_Philadelphia) and I thought I’d share a few photos of our walk back to the car. It’s fantastic to have a hike and embrace nature and a chance to admire local architecture as well. Some of the houses are quite ostentatious. This gate actually connects a driveway of one of the more elegant homes directly to the Lavender trail. The entire gate is delicately crafted grapes and vines.
This, hard to believe, is still in the city.
The variety of architecture is astounding. French-influenced…
Germantown Avenue is the main street that runs through the neighborhood. It’s where our favorite hardware store is located, home of our favorite Limeworks mortar and everything else you need for your old house. We were worn out so photos will have to come another day.