Trails chosen by Trish Fries and Tony Croasdale, Environmental Educators
With fall weather finally sticking around and a later colorful fall foliage this year, now is the perfect time to visit Wissahickon Valley Park!
You cannot go wrong with any trail in autumn: every park entrance will lead you to beautiful fall foliage and wildlife preparing for winter. The following trails will take you through some of the park’s most scenic locations.
1. Houston Meadow
Houston Meadow is actually two meadows linked by a path. In autumn, you get a fantastic view of the trees across the meadows in stunning fall color. Look around for the goldenrods and asters in bloom in the fields, and birds like bluebirds and sparrows in the meadows.
You can access Houston Meadow from Houston Playground. Walk downhill past the hockey rink to the trail head. Feel free to wander the trails. We recommend taking the left hand path, which will lead you through the first meadow, a small patch of woods, and then the second meadow.
Trail Length: To hike the entire loop, be prepared to walk about 3.5 miles.
Accessing the Trail: Parking is available at Houston Playground (900 Grakyn Ln., 19128), and the trail is also accessible via SEPTA routes 9 and 27.
2. Andorra Meadow
You can access trails to this meadow from Wissahickon Environmental Center. Follow signs from the center to the meadow. Depending on the trail you choose, you may pass a massive Cucumber Magnolia or the Great Beech, the second largest tree in Philadelphia and the largest European Beech in Pennsylvania.
There is a trail that follows the edge of the meadow. From the section along Northwestern Avenue, you will have a spectacular view of the treeline with crabapples, dogwoods, and a field of native grasses in the foreground. The crabapples attract robins, cedar waxwings, flickers, and blue jays.
Trail Length: The entire loop from the environmental center through the forest and meadow is about 2 miles and would take a leisurely hour to hike.
Accessing the Trail: Parking is available at the environmental center (300 W. Northwestern Ave., 19118), which can also be accessed via SEPTA bus routes 27 and L.
3. Lavender Trail
This trail takes you through some of the most beautiful forest in the Wissahickon. Massive oaks and tulip trees reinforce the cozy feel of the trail as it winds down a fairly steep stream ravine. You may even see or hear a Barred Owl in this section of the park while you are hiking!
Trail Length: This trail is about 1.5 miles long with some modest hills.
Accessing the Trail: Park at the Crefeld Street Entrance. The trail is also accessible via SEPTA routes 23, L, and the Chestnut Hill West Line.
4. Forbidden Drive
This trail is wide, level, and used by hikers, bikers, dog walkers, and equestrians. It’s the busiest trail of any suggested, but a good place to start your experience in the Wissahickon. The stretch of Forbidden Drive from Bell’s Mill Road to Valley Green Inn is particularly lovely. On this stretch, you will see a covered bridge, hemlocks growing above bluffs of schist, and springs that seep from the rock cut to make Forbidden Drive.
Look for the remains of an old mill, where the dam and mill race are still visible. Chipmunks dash across the drive in front of you as they collect seeds for the winter. Their chips join the constant clucking of the gray squirrels also busy preparing for the colder months. The beautiful Valley Green Inn is two miles away and is a perfect turn-around point.
If you are ready for a hiking challenge, you can cross the creek and take the white or orange trail back to Bell’s Mill. That return trip to take longer than walking back on Forbidden Drive.
Trail Length: This out-and-back route is 4 miles in length.
Accessing the Trail: Park at Bell’s Mill Road. To access Forbidden Drive by public transportation, you will need to walk into the park at a number of other entrances or from a side trail. The trail can be accessed via SEPTA bus routes 27 and L.
Maps of the Wissahickon are published by the Friends of the Wissahickon and are available for sale online or at the Tree House at Wissahickon Environmental Center.
Visit the Wissahickon Environmental Center’s Facebook page for updates on the center’s events and programs. For more information, contact Trish Fries at 215-685-9285.