A Love Letter to the Wissahickon

There are a number of mistakes a person living in Philadelphia can easily make. To name a few: forgetting to look at the seat before you sit down on the El, not packing an emergency snack arsenal for Jersey Shore drives that turn into five-hour affairs, and never exploring the Wissahickon.

That third mistake is what we’re here to talk about, because this warm-weather season, I’d like you to stop making it.

Now, I’m not judging. I, too, was once one of those people who said “Wissa-what?” But about four years ago, I took my first trip to the Wissahickon—an 1,800-acre gorge boasting a whopping 57 miles of trails, all within city limits—dog and boyfriend in tow, and we were all instantly hooked. In a city where so much of our time is spent wading through litter, it’s a blessing to be surrounded by a canopy of trees, not a single Arctic Splash carton in sight.

Plus, when it comes to fitness, even an easy walk or run along the uneven dirt trails—constantly inclining and declining, speckled with rocks and streams to jump over—challenges your body in a way you can’t while traipsing through our fair flat-as-a-pancake city.

The day after that first hike on steep, winding trails, my legs were that good kind of sore where walking down the steps in my house led to audible groans. Now, four years later, I take everyone who visits me to the Wissahickon. It’s my way of saying, “Look! Philly is more than just cheesesteaks!”

The Wissahickon is home to plenty of places for hiking, mountain biking on both flat-and-wide and winding-and-steep paths, trail running and even swimming. (I’m not saying I swim there, but people do. Now, I can’t guarantee people don’t get sick immediately upon submerging themselves into that water, but people do swim there.)

Spanning from East Falls to Lafayette Hill, there are plenty of entrances—many of which are easily accessible by Regional Rail. Plus, there are several groups you can explore the trails with: Chasing Trail, a local and free-to-join trail running group, meets on Thursdays at 5:45 a.m. at Forbidden Drive and Bells Mill Road and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. at Valley Green Inn. The Wissahickon Wanderers running club meets multiple times each week for runs along the trails. And the Fairmount Park Conservancy hosts guided hikes through the trails, which run $10 for non-members—just check its events calendar for upcoming dates.

So go, explore, and don’t forget to stop at the snack spot along Forbidden Drive, right by Valley Green Inn, for some soft serve before you head home—trust me, you’ll have earned it.

Photo by David Freed

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