Best places for hiking near Philadelphia
Start close to home. Everybody knows that Belmont Plateau in West Fairmount Park offers one of the best views of the Philadelphia skyline. But fewer know that in the woods around the iconic park, there’s a series of trails used for mountain bike and cross country races. The trails are great for easy hiking, too. A few years ago, the Fairmount Park Conservancy used money it raised from the Broad Street Run to upgrade signage on the trails to help visitors orient themselves. And the Belmont Plateau Cross Country Hall of Fame keeps course maps online. While you’re there, check out the 200-year-old Chamounix Mansion, now operating as a hostel.
Wissahickon Valley Park is one of the lushest environments in the city. And with more than 50 miles of trails, there’s plenty to hike. For a relatively easy trip, try Forbidden Drive, which follows the course of the Wissahickon Creek. It’s a gravel path, so it’s not too hard on the feet. If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging, try the Orange, White, or Yellow Trail. And keep an eye on the calendar for guided hikes. Forbidden Drive connects to the Schuylkill River Trail via the Lincoln Drive Trail, so it’s possible to walk or bike the whole way there. Or you can access the park from Valley Green Inn, or a handful of other trailheads.
High Rocks is the name for a vista that overlooks a series of 200-foot-tall shale cliffs in Bucks County. Hiking trails to the site start in both Ralph Stover State Park and Tohickon Valley Park. Visitors say the trails can be rocky and muddy, so wear a good pair of boots. You can see a map of the roughly three-mile hike here.
As a hike, the trail to Ringing Rocks isn’t much—less than a mile of pretty easy walking. But the real draw is the bizarre boulder field that gives the park its name. The rocks resonate like bells when you hit them with a hammer. Seriously, you have to see it to believe it. Located only about 20 minutes’ drive from High Rocks, you can make a day out of both attractions.
The other great boulder field in the area is the 18-acre one in Hickory Run State Park. Probably the work of a glacier during the last ice age, the boulder field is now a National Natural Landmark. Try the Boulder Field Trail, a 3.5-mile moderate hike. You’re going to want to wear good shoes, because once you get to the boulder field, you have to jump around on the rocks. Not enough for ya? Hickory Run has two dozen hiking options over 44 miles of trails.
If you live in the Philly area for any length of time, sooner or later you make your way to Ricketts Glen State Park. The scenery, which crisscrosses most of the park’s 24 waterfalls, is among the best in the region. Unfortunately, that means that on warm weekends, the trail, which is very steep and narrow in certain sections, gets really crowded. But on the bright side, probably because of its popularity, it’s very well-maintained. The drive takes at least two-and-a-half hours, so make a weekend of it, and camp in the park or one of the many private campgrounds nearby.
The Pennsylvania portion of the Appalachian Trail is infamously rocky. But the scenic views on Mt. Minsi make the discomfort worth it. Take a day to do this five-mile trek through the Delaware Water Gap. You’ll get great scenery of the river, and of Mt. Tammany across the way in New Jersey—and even of the highway.
Definitely pack binoculars when you hike the 4.3-mile Lookout Trail on Hawk Mountain—it’s one of the best places in the area to watch raptors. The bird sanctuary has a range of hiking options onsite, culminating in panoramic views. It also offers educational programs, and a “raptor camp” for kids in the summer.
Once you’ve mastered the day hikes, set your sites a little higher with an overnight trek. Try the Loyalsock Loop Trail. It’s 17 miles with first-come-first-serve campsites in the middle. If you’re feeling up for it, you can tack on a five-mile out-and-back to the Haystack rapids. Obviously, the stakes are higher on an overnight hike, so plan accordingly. Make sure you’ve got enough food, water, a water purifier, a map, dry socks—the list goes on. And there are a few steep scrambles along the trail, so bring snacks to re-energize before or after the difficult parts. And don’t underestimate the power of a good walking stick.