Wissahickon Valley Park
GOOD FOR: All Ages

Source:Outdoors with Kids Philadelphia (AMC Books)
Address:300 Northwestern Ave, Philadelphia PA
Hours:Grounds open 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily; Wissahickon Environmental Center open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fee: Free

215-685-9285; fow.org

Bathrooms: Next to Valley Green Inn; at Wissahickon Environmental Center; portable or composting toilets along Forbidden Drive
Water/Snacks: A snack bar is at Valley Green Inn

Map available for purchase at Valley Green Inn or from Friends of the Wissahickon (fow.org)

If there is “must go” trip in this book, Wissahickon Valley Park is the one. Its rugged beauty in the heart of the city offers endless variety in all seasons.

Wissahickon Valley Park
Photo by: Susan Charkes

Wissahickon Valley Park’s woods are full of birds and flowers, and the rocky terrain creates a tremendous variety of views, sounds, and experiences. Wissahickon Creek plunges through a rocky, forested ravine on its way to the Schuylkill River.

To get kids acquainted with the 1,800-acre park, walk along Forbidden Drive, a wide, level path that runs along the meandering creek for 5.5 miles from Northwestern Avenue to Lincoln Drive. The gravel path is suitable for strollers and bicycles with thick tires. Helpful maps are placed at intervals along the path.

Forested hills laced with small streams rise steeply on both sides of the creek, with numerous trails—some well marked, others less so. You’ll find many spots along the trout-stocked creek for fishing.

For older kids, the trails are a fun challenge, as they go up and down hills, across streams, and along old water supply pipes. Some of the trails are steeper than others; many have small rocks and are slippery when going downhill. Most trails are open to mountain bikers and equestrians.

Special features that kids will love are hidden along these trails. From Rex Avenue, follow the orange and white trails to the 15-foot-high “Indian statue” along the cliff above the creek. Take the orange trail to the Fingerspan Bridge, a sculpture you walk through. Walk through the red Thomas Mill Road covered bridge for a magnificent view of the creek. Near Lincoln Drive, climb the trail behind the stone bridge to reach “Lover’s Leap”—a rock parapet high over the creek.

A good introduction to the park for kids under age 8 is the Wissahickon Environmental Center (WEC), at the park’s northern end, called the Andorra Natural Area. The WEC has educational exhibits and a native-fish aquarium. Trails in this area go through meadows and hills; in general, they’re easier than in the other sections. The WEC provides educational programming for families. It’s still known as the “Tree House,” even though the tree that grew through its front porch has been gone since the 1990s.

Near the park’s southern end is Rittenhouse Town, a restored historical village that was the site of the first paper mill in British North America. Tour the visitor center to learn about the history of the town and of papermaking (fee charged, tours weekends only; rittenhousetown.org).

Remember: The nonprofit group Friends of the Wissahickon organizes events, walks, and programs, many suitable for families (fow.org). It also sells an indispensable map of trails, parking, and other structures. Trails in the Andorra section are not open to mountain bikes. Dogs must be leashed. Bring water with you; it’s hard to find in the park.

Plan B:

Smith Playground is a huge playground for young kids.

Where to Eat Nearby:

Go to Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill, a busy commercial area.


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