A crucial part to the ongoing redevelopment of the Philadelphia waterfront, the Delaware River Trail takes cyclists and walkers past a variety of environments and attractions over its relatively short length.
As of Oct. 2020, the trail is comprised of 3 formal, designated segments, linked by sidewalks along Christopher Columbus Blvd. The sidewalk between Washington Ave. and Penn's Landing Road is currently being upgraded to a trail, with the portion from Penn's Landing to Spring Garden St. slated to follow in the next couple years. When finished, there will be a continuous, multi-use greenway extending from Fishtown south to Pier 68, forming part of the Circuit Network and linking Center City via the Spring Garden Street Greenway and Camden, NJ via the Ben Franklin Bridge.
The northern segment of the trail begins at Penn Treaty Park in the Fishtown neighborhood. Constructed on the site where city and PA founder William Penn signed a treaty with the Lenape Indians, this park is popular with locals in the warmer months of the year and is noted for its memorials to Penn and marking the site where the treaty was agreed to, as well as benches that offer breathtaking views of the Delaware River. Also note the abandoned power station located immediately north of the park. Although currently dilapidated and an example of urban decay, plans are underway to redevelop this property into a concert hall in the near future.
From Penn Treaty Park, the paved, asphalt trail heads south, passing an apartment complex currently being developed, and rounds the north, east and south sides of Rivers Casino. Here, the trail passes through lush gardens with colorful plants and numerous small animals and warbling birds. Pedestrians have the option of using a small, stone path that runs directly along the riverfront to take in panoramic views and observe the birds that frequently perch on an abandoned pipeline that sticks above the water.
Continuing south from River's Casino, the northern segment of the trail follows Sugarhouse Drive south past the towers of the Waterfront Square condo complex. Here, the trail divides into two, with pedestrians directed left onto a sidewalk, while cyclists are to use a specially designated asphalt lane to the right. Note the fountains in front of Waterfront Square and the views out toward the river, where a small estuary has been developed. This segment of the trail between Penn Treaty Park and Spring Garden Street is also part of the East Coast Greenway, the long distance megatrail currently being developed from downeast Maine to Key West, FL.
The middle segment of the trail begins about a mile to the south at the north end of Penn's Landing, and follows the River Promenade past a dog park, plazas and the Independence Seaport Museum. Here, trail users have the opportunity to learn about Philadelphia's heritage as a seaport and can also tour several of the decommissioned ships and a submarine. Immediately south of Penn's Landing, Spruce Street Harbor Park gives trail users the opportunity to leave a lock on the Philadelphia Hope Fence outside the Hilton Hotel or grab a bite to eat from several food vendors. The Korean War Memorial and the controversial monument to Christopher Columbus are also located here.
The trail again diverges from Christopher Columbus Blvd. across from the intersection with Washington Ave., just south of the Gloria Dei Church. This mile-long segment differs from the northern and middle sections by crossing through sections of abandoned waterfront that have been reclaimed by nature and transformed into open space. Check out a section of old parking lot that now has vegetation growing up between cracks in the pavement and is now designated a rain garden and marvel at the array of colorful plants on Pier 48, an old wharf that was covered with dirt and now supports a small woodland. This experimental nature preserve is intended to attract both land and water based flora and fauna and also includes a walkway off the southern part of the pier where people can observe the river or go fishing as well as a spiral stairway ascending to a small observation platform. From Pier 48, the trail passes a plaza that provides additional opportunities for fishing or observing the river and continues through a grove of trees and a meadow before dividing into a second "green boulevard" next to the Wal-Mart off Tasker Street. Trail users will be surprised by the serenity of this segment and will find it hard to believe they are in a major city.
The trail's southern terminus is at Pier 68, another former boat dock that has been transformed into a park. The giant loungers here provide a great place to rest at the end of your walk or bike ride.
With its detailed landscaping, a route that passes several historical and cultural sites and providing numerous opportunities for active and passive recreation, the Delaware River Trail is a great counterpart to the Schuylkill River Trail and another great link in the Circuit trail network. The only thing keeping this trail from getting a full five star rating is the graffiti on parts of the southern segment, which, although minor, nonetheless mars the look of an otherwise great example of urban renewal.