Living in Center City, we get only limited exposure to the great outdoors. Sure, you can sun your legs in the park at Rittenhouse Square during lunch hour or take a stroll through one of our many parks, but life in the big city means that the real outdoors – the ones that surround you completely – are not really part of everyday life. Sometimes, you need to get back to nature. Autumn is one of those times when people want to see trees, to watch the falling leaves in their russet and gold splendor, to breathe in the crisp air, and to commune with something greater than ourselves. You can’t do that in Center City, per se, but you can take a day trip out into the rest of the Keystone State and get your woodsiness on. The follow are a car ride away from the skyscrapers of downtown, and can be tackled in a day. Or make a weekend of it and go camping! ‘Tis the season for adventure, and I’m going to tell you exactly where to find it.
Just seven short miles from Center City, this Pennsylvania hiking park is open three seasons – all expect winter. A number of trails wend through the abundant forest, ranging from mild to moderate difficulty. At this time of year, Forbidden Drive will bring you under a canopy of foliage, sun dappling the stone pathway underfoot. Wissahocken can be busy, especially on weekends, and fall is particularly popular. It’s well worth dodging cyclists and dog-walkers, however, for the magnificent views. If you choose the more difficult trails, the going can be rocky and wet, so make sure you are shod accordingly. For families that want a medium-hard hike that’s not overly long, the Wissahickon Gorge’s North Loop trail is 4.7 miles. The park has a quaint restaurant on site, along with public restrooms. As an alternative, grab a late lunch in Roxborough on the way home.
In exchange for a bit of a longer drive – 36 miles from downtown, give or take – you’ll encounter way fewer moseying walkers and a more raw feeling to the outdoors at Franklin Parker Preserve. This park is nestled in the deep, green heart of Pine Barrens, about halfway between Philly and Atlantic City. Although it’s hard to actually get lost in the carefully-marked trails, the preserve is 11,379 acres, and will make you feel like you’ve uncovered the heart of the wilderness. The fall turns the trees into a riot of color, stark against the evergreen pines and the tall grass of the barrens. The trails are designated as easy, but consist mostly of soft sand. Your thigh muscles will probably not thank you for a brisk hike here! You can differentiate the trails by color, marked on painted signs. The shortest is just three miles, but you can customize your own itinerary by chaining different trails together for your personalized hike. At night, the sky is startling with the sheer number of glistening stars you can view overhead. Just keep an eye out for the Jersey Devil. 😉
This hike appeals to the more serious trail-walking enthusiast, both because of its distance from the city (80ish miles) and the difficulty rating of its paths. It is still a very doable trip for an entire Saturday or Sunday if you leave Center City early. Make sure you pack your hiking boots, as many trails, including the popular Golden Eagle, are rocky and described as “ankle-turning.” If you aren’t comfortable hopping from rock to rock, this may not be the hike for you. If you brave it, however, Hawk Mountain will yield simply awe-inspiring vistas and exemplary bird-watching. Of particular interest are the raptors of the park – consider researching ahead of time and buying a guide so you know which of these majestic birds you are seeing!
If you are all about getting the perfect shot for the ‘gram, you’ll find at least a few of them here. At 135 miles outside of town, it’s a bit of a haul, but the popular park makes up for it with camping, an ice cream shop, fishing, and swimming… although, at this time of year, you would have to be pretty brave to jump in the chilly water! The Falls Trail, clocking in at 3.3 miles, has been described as “dreamy” at any time of year, never mind how much more gorgeous it is made by the autumn leaves changing colors! There are no less than 21 waterfalls along the trail, so it is appropriately named. Accordingly, the trail can be a bit rocky and wet, and it does elevate as you go. Even so, as long as you’re careful not to slip, it’s not too bad. There’s a longer trail, which is almost double the length. As it’s likely to be a long day, bring warm clothes.