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At one time an important thoroughfare for commerce carried by canal barges and railroad cars in southeastern Pennsylvania, the Schuylkill River corridor now accommodates walkers, bicyclists, and others on the Schuylkill River Trail. Projected to stretch 120–130 miles when complete, the trail forms the backbone of the five-county Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area.
The trail, now covering about 71 miles, follows the route of old canals and the Pennsylvania Railroad that hauled resources out of the anthracite coalfields. Planning for the trail began in the late 1960s, with construction starting in the 1990s and continuing today. Check the website (schuylkillriver.org) before setting out for information on closures or trail gaps.
The trail helps make up part of the Circuit Trails, a developing 800-mile urban trail network in Greater Philadelphia, of which 350 miles are currently complete. It’s also included in the East Coast Greenway, which one day will span 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida. The Schuylkill River Trail links with other trails as it heads deep into Pennsylvania, and it’s a component of the September 11th National Memorial Trail that connects the 9/11, Flight 93, and Pentagon Memorials.
Philadelphia to Valley Forge: 25.9 miles
Beginning on the west bank of the Schuylkill River in southwest Philadelphia, the trail traverses Bartram’s Garden, the oldest botanical garden in North America. Resuming on the eastern riverbank as a paved trail, it passes through an old industrial area—Grays Ferry Crescent—that’s now a park. A pedestrian bridge to connect both sections of trail is scheduled to open in 2020.
Another paved trail segment begins about 0.5 mile upriver and continues along the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk that runs out over the river about 50 feet from the shoreline. Future plans call for extending the boardwalk downriver to the Grays Ferry Crescent segment.
At the northern end of the boardwalk, you can hop onto one of the Schuylkill River Trail’s most popular sections, the nearly 30-mile stretch from downtown Philadelphia to Valley Forge National Historical Park. Along this segment, which is nearly all paved, you’ll pass many attractions, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Boathouse Row, Fairmount Water Works, Lemon Hill Mansion, and the 2,000-acre Fairmount Park, a premier outdoor Philadelphia destination. Vendors often sell snacks along this section of trail.
A part of the 8.5-mile Wissahickon Valley Park Trail System connects with the trail about a mile north of Falls Bridge. Beyond are the former industrial towns of Manayunk, Conshohocken, and Norristown, where you’ll pass redbrick mills and old factories tucked alongside modern office buildings and restaurants. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) commuter rails parallel the Schuylkill River Trail here. Nearby SEPTA regional rail stations create an opportunity to travel by train.
Valley Forge to Parker Ford: 14.3 miles
About 4 miles north of Norristown, you’ll arrive at Valley Forge National Historical Park, the winter encampment of the Continental Army in 1777–78. You can visit the museum and historical structures by crossing the newly opened pedestrian bridge that spans the river parallel to US 422. Just north of the park, the Schuylkill River Trail offers a direct connection to the Perkiomen Trail, which follows the creek more than 20 miles north to the borough of Green Lane.
To stay on the Schuylkill River Trail, head west toward Phoenixville on a mostly crushed-stone section. In 3.6 miles, you’ll reach the village of Mont Clare, crossing the river on SR 29/Bridge Street to enter Phoenixville and Chester County. For the next 8 miles, the trail continues through town along French Creek, heads northwest through Spring City, and ends in the community of Parker Ford.
Pottstown to Reading: 20.3 miles
After a 5.5-mile gap, the trail resumes on the eastern shore of the river in Pottstown. The 20.3-mile Pottstown to Reading section, which includes a section known as the Thun Trail, is well shaded. Leaving Pottstown’s Riverfront Park as a paved trail, it switches to crushed stone entering Berks County. A 5.8-mile section beginning in Birdsboro is on road. Back on the trail, the route arrives in Reading after crossing the Schuylkill River three times.
Reading to Landingville: 11.2 miles
A 20-mile gap between Reading and Hamburg must be navigated by following a signed on-road route. A short stretch of gravel exists between Ontelaunee Township and Leesport Borough.
The final leg of the Schuylkill River Trail is known as the John Bartram Trail. Horseback riding is allowed on three disconnected gravel sections between Hamburg and Pottsville, which will be the trail’s future terminus. The longest section runs 6 miles from Hamburg to Auburn. Along the way, the scenic trail enters Schuylkill County and crosses the Appalachian Trail south of the village of Port Clinton. Another piece of trail spans 0.75 mile through a heavily wooded area east of Auburn between River Road and Market Street. The last segment of completed trail runs through Landingville, paralleling Tunnel Road and Canal Street.
To reach parking for the southern trailhead at Bartram’s Garden from I-76 W, take Exit 347 for Passyunk Ave. Turn right onto W. Passyunk Ave., and go 0.2 mile. Take a slight right onto W. Passyunk Ave., and go 1.1 miles. Turn right onto S. 61st St., and go 0.8 mile. Turn right onto Lindbergh Blvd., and go 0.5 mile. Turn right onto S. 56th St., and go 0.3 mile. The road dead-ends into the trailhead parking lot.
To reach parking for the southern trailhead at Bartram’s Garden from I-95 N, take Exit 13 to merge onto SR 291 W/Penrose Ave., and go 1.4 miles. Turn right onto Island Ave., and go 0.4 mile. Stay straight to continue on Island Ave., and go 0.5 mile. Take a slight right to stay on Island Ave., and go 0.1 mile. Turn right onto Lindbergh Blvd., and go 2.3 miles. Turn right onto S. 56th St., and go 0.3 mile. The road dead-ends into the trailhead parking lot.
To reach the Sullivans Lane trailhead at Valley Forge National Historical Park from I-76, take Exit 328A for US 202 S/US 422 W/Swedesford Road toward W. Chester/Pottstown. Follow signs for US 422 W, merge onto US 422 W, and go 2.0 miles. Take the SR 363 N/S. Trooper Road E exit toward Audubon/Trooper. Take a sharp left onto SR 3051/S. Trooper Road, go 420 feet, and take a slight left to stay on SR 3051/S. Trooper Road. Go 0.2 mile, and turn right onto Sullivans Lane. Turn right into the trailhead parking lot. A spur in the back of the parking lot leads to the trail. Turn left to head north toward Parker Ford. Turn right to head south toward Philadelphia.
To reach parking in Reading from I-76, take Exit 286 toward US 222/Reading/Ephrata, and continue onto Col. Howard Blvd. 0.7 mile. Turn right to merge onto US 222 N, and go 12.2 miles. Continue onto US 422 E, and go 0.3 mile. Take the exit to stay on US 422 E toward Potts-town, and go 1.6 miles. Exit onto Bus. US 422 E/Penn Ave. toward Penn St./Reading, and go 0.4 mile. Turn right onto S. Second St., and go 0.1 mile; then turn right onto Franklin St., and go about 0.1 mile. Turn right onto S. Front St., and go 0.2 mile. Turn left into the parking lot.
To reach the trailhead in Hamburg from I-78, take Exit 30 toward Hamburg. Head south on N. Fourth St. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Franklin St. Go 0.2 mile, and look for parking straight ahead.