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Visitors to northwestern Philadelphia can acquaint themselves with the parks that surround Wissahickon Creek on a nearly 9-mile system of multiuse trails. In the north, the Wissahickon Trail (also known as the Green Ribbon Trail) passes along the quiet creek in Fort Washington State Park. Then a short section of roadside trail links to more dramatic scenery on the Forbidden Drive and Lincoln Drive Trails in Wissahickon Valley Park in the south. The trail ends near the creek confluence with the Schuylkill River and adjacent Schuylkill River Trail.
The picturesque creek, whose name translates to either “catfish creek” or “stream of yellowish color” in local American Indian dialects, has been appreciated since its earliest visitors. A German immigrant and his followers came to the creek’s gorge in the late 1690s to meditate and briefly set up residence in a hollow known today as Hermit’s Cave. Later, the creek valley underwent industrialization as entrepreneurs built dams and mills. The Philadelphia park commission began buying up sections of the valley in the late 1800s to preserve water quality downstream in the Schuylkill River, and the creek surroundings returned to a more natural state.
The Forbidden Drive and Lincoln Drive Trails are part of the Circuit Trails, a developing 800-mile urban network of trails in Greater Philadelphia, of which about 350 miles are currently complete.
The multiuse trail system starts in the north at Skippack Pike, where it enters Fort Washington State Park, named for a temporary military fortification during the Revolutionary War. Upstream, it’s a walking trail that follows the creek for more than 15 miles nearly to North Wales. The 12-foot-wide multiuse trail in the state park is a combination of asphalt and gravel as it passes through lush woods laced with sunlit pockets where shrubbery thrives. Also known as the Green Ribbon Trail, it leaves the state park to travel a segment of Wissahickon Valley Park, and then returns to Fort Washington State Park–South to complete its 2.5-mile journey at Stenton Avenue.
Nearly a mile south on Stenton Avenue, another section of the trail follows alongside West Northwestern Avenue in front of the 92-acre Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania for 0.6 mile. It ends at Germantown Pike in Lafayette Hill. Montgomery County intends to extend this section another 0.2 mile to the Forbidden Drive Trailhead in Wissahickon Valley Park.
The Forbidden Drive Trail is a rare road-to-trail conversion that runs along the most spectacular section of Wissahickon Creek for 5.4 miles. Constructed in the mid-1800s as a turnpike, this roadway was renamed Forbidden Drive in 1920 when vehicles were banned from it. Today, the trail is open to walking, horseback riding, and bicycling, although the gravel and dirt surface is not suitable for bikes with skinnier tires.
A picturesque trail experience, Forbidden Drive Trail users will pass many interesting historical and natural features. Notably, the historical circa 1850 Valley Green Inn is a full-service restaurant and special events venue located 2.5 miles from the trailhead.
At the south end of the park, the 1.4-mile Lincoln Drive Trail runs on the opposite side of Wissahickon Creek from Lincoln Drive. The paved trail ends at a trailhead on Ridge Avenue, where it meets the Schuylkill River Trail.
The 2,000-acre Wissahickon Valley Park contains some 50 miles of trails. Hikers are allowed on any of them, but horseback riders, cyclists, and mountain bikers must get a special permit to use trails other than the Forbidden Drive and Lincoln Drive Trails. Permits are available here.
Parking is available at a number of locations along the trail. View the TrailLink map for all options and detailed directions.
This is likely a lesser used portion of the trail, and my review covers from the Fort Washington State Park trail heading northward. It is a trail that will appeal to mountain bikers and walkers. The starting point is not obvious from the parking lot, but can be deciphered relatively easily. The trail starts out packed gravel and flat and winds through some scenic areas. One then crosses a long bridge, and ahead is a fork, where one wants to take the right fork. There is a road crossing ahead, and it switches to macadam and remains relatively flat. One crosses under an old railroad bridge, and up a steep hill where the macadam ends. With heavy rains recently, there is a lot of erosion and the trail is very rocky. There are some steep stretches, and dips, and with the bicycle I had, I had to bail from the trail. I did see people further ahead on foot, and it appeared pleasant enough. It should be spectacular in fall colors. It is a relatively short trail, and families were walking along. I only give this portion three stars due to its difficulty unless one has a mountain bike and the need for repairs to the erosion. Although a recently fallen tree had been cleared, so there is some attention given to the trail.
Took the Lincoln Drive Trail to Forbidden Drive and road to the end and return. It’s a great place to take a leisurely cruise. It’s a mix of cyclists, runners, and walkers, along with families. It’s crushed gravel, larger gravel, some bigger stones, etc. I saw some road bikes but you’re much better with at least a hybrid, gravel/cyclocross bike. A MTB is not necessary for the main road, but there are a lot of trails off the main road. Enjoy the ride but be careful of others on the trail.
My husband and I rode this trail today. We started on Kelly Drive and took the Schuylkill River Trail to the Lincoln Drive Trail and then picked up the Wissahickon Valley Park Trail and rode it to the end and back. It was beautiful and peaceful. We saw other bikers, hikers, horses and even a wedding ceremony. We will definitely be back again.
Wide gravel trail with many great views. Simply awesome!!!
I was struggling in removing my daypack, when up comes a helpful gentleman who calls himself a Trail Ambassador--"James Charnock" is what his tag says. As soon as I effusively thank him, up walks a lady who wants to know exactly where she is on the Forbidden Drive and how to get where she wants to be. TA James takes out a map and answers both her questions, and, of course, advertises the Friends of the Wissahickon. We talk about the Park and FOW, then we part. Being professional, he doesn't flirt (I sorta sensed an interest)--though I wouldn't have minded. I, nevertheless, DID flirt....with the idea of....becoming a Trail Ambassador myself. What a great "job"!
This is the great escape that is only minutes from anywhere in NW Philly. The trail system is kept in good shape and it's buzzing with activity with everyone from young to old, serious athlete to just getting some fresh air.
The valley green trails and walks are so good for the soul. The clean air And tree and sounds of the birds always deeply relaxes me and enables me to walk farther than I might otherwise. It's a hidden treasure.
I live in Germantown and my first time at this park was on Sunday. What a relaxing, wonderful place. I am going again today! It's a beautiful place to get away and relax!
My family and I went for a nice hike, it was a beautiful day and we walked to manyuak for lunch and then we came back around 6pm and our car had gotten broken into. It was horrible. Me and my moms purse was stolen and all my credit cars and identify. So note to self in the future make sure everything is out of sight or just bring it with you. But overall was a great park.
Ran the top section on a crisp Sunday afternoon in the fall. Lots of walkers and dogs (all on leashes). Crowded but friendly. It's a wide path on dirt and gravel. Gently down hill following the Wissahickon Creek. Not too bad after turning around and heading back uphill.
Our family had a great time riding this trail. My 6 year took a lot of great pictures. The scenery was great. It was very crowed and some area was really rocky. Valley Green rest area was a nice spot for rest and snacks. Highly recommended
Very enjoyable trail from one end to the other. Highly recommended. Gravel and Stones, recommend off road bike or bike with non street tires.
The Forbidden Drive through Wissahickon Valley Park is a rare urban gem and a wonderful escape from the concrete jungle, plus, heavy tree cover provides great sun protection through majority of the ride. This trail is maintained but has suffered from some heavy rains so the trail can be rough - no road bikes; mountain or hybrids only. I have a Trek FX Hybrid and it handles the trail very well. I've been biking and hiking through this park for over 25 years and was intrigued by some of these reviews. Amazed to see that some reviewers see this park as too "ghetto" or not the place to be during off peak hours; really? Grow a pair or limit your visits outside the house to suburban shopping centers.
The trail itself is a beautiful historic area of Phila. Lush foliage, neat old buildings. That's where the fun stops. It's in dire need of maintenance. I would NEVER attempt this trail by myself during off-peak hours unless you are "packing". Peak hours it's crowded with walkers, joggers etc, so relatively safe if you can count on the locals to intervene if you get into trouble...but don't bet on it. Once a season to check it off your list is enough. Don't go out of your way to visit or drive hours...you will be disappointed.
I go hiking on both sides of the Valley Green Inn with my two GSDs. I usually go about two or three times during weekdays. On THREE separate occasions, I have had unleashed dogs charge at my dogs. Of these times, I warned the owner to get their dogs. In two of these incidents, the unleashed dog owners did not even apologize. The most recent incident was disturbing to say the least. Not only did I have a full out dog fight on my hands, but the owner actually told me he wanted to know when I go there because "there are a lot of off leash dogs here and wanted to know when I would be there." I told him I don't have a schedule and turned to leave. He actually FOLLOWED ME with his dogs still trying to fight my dogs. I yelled "I'm going!" and he finally stopped following me. I NEVER see any park rangers there. There is a leash law in PA. Obviously most of these people are either illiterate or ignorant. This should not be tolerated.
Although it's a nice trail, there were a lot of unleashed dogs. I'm a dog lover/owner and would never walk my dog off leash where there are cyclists. Not only is it illegal in Philadelphia, it's not safe...not safe for the dog or cyclists/pedestrians. An unleashed dog charged at me and I swerved to avoid hitting it. I wiped out and sustained road rash, cuts, bruises and muscle contusions. My brand new Trek 7300 (this was only my second ride) got scuffed and scratched. We had to ride all the way up to Ridge Avenue where the nice folks at Tommy Gunns BBQ let me use the hose in their parking lot to wash the mud and blood off of me. There is a leash law in Philadelphia (all dogs must be on a 6' or shorter leash) that applies to the entire park, and this includes Forbidden Drive, the Andorra Natural Area, Carpenter’s Woods, and all hiking and biking trails. Dog owners may be fined or held responsible for damage or injury caused by their dogs. There are visible signs posted. Be careful...and enjoy your ride!
First the positives: Nice mix of walking and hiking trails for casual hikers or a couple looking to mix up their gym cardio routine with something more scenic. Great workout for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
Onto the negatives: Drunk adults and kids perusing the parking lot, jumping off rocks and any surface they can find. There are some trails I am not scared to walk alone during the day... this would not be one of them. Guys with open bottles of jack, kids with tattoos and hands down their pants, etc etc. Road to the parking lot from street was reduced to a narrow one lane due to cars parallel parked on both sides of it. Ignorant + 4 cars trying to enter as you try to leave = gridlock.
If I returned again would only be with my boyfriend and a lot of patience.
We had a great day on the Wissahickon Trail. We parked at Northwest Ave near Chestnut Hill College - rode down the trail to Ridge Ave. Crossed to the Schuylkill River trail and went east - passing the boat houses - to the Art Museum and from there along the river to the JFK Blvd. steps. (nice bike wheel groove so you don't have to lift the bike on the shoulder). Rode to 30th St. Station - about a block away. Took Septa regional rail to Chestnut Hill West station. Rolled downhill back to car down Germantown Ave to Northwest Ave. 12 miles total on odometer. Really nice day.
We have done this trail many times and it's always been a favorite of the kids. Gorgeous scenery and a trailside snack on the way. You can't go wrong on this trail for a great family ride. Trail is a mix of crushed rock and dirt, so leave your road bike at home.
The Wissahickon Valley is a great destination for all ages to bike, hike, or run. The upper trails foliage lend great cover from the hot summer weather. Excellent place to get outdoors with the whole family.
Montgomery County will begin construction to the Morris Aboretum in March 2005 and to Fort Washington State Park by the end of 2005.
"This is a highly accessible bicycling destination from downtown Philladelphia. The rolling creek, massive sycamore and poplar trees, and the steep hillsides often make me forget that I am still within the city limits."
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