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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.
To reach the northern endpoint for the Wissahickon Trail in Fort Washington State Park from I-276, take Exit 339 for SR 309 S toward Philadelphia. Keep left, and follow signs for Fort Washington/Oreland. Go 0.1 mile, continue onto Pennsylvania Ave./SR 2027, and go 0.6 mile. Turn left onto S. Bethlehem Pike, go 1.0 mile, and turn right onto Mathers Lane. Go 0.1 mile, and turn right onto SR 73 W. Go 0.2 mile, and turn left onto Militia Hill Road. Go about 400 feet, and turn left onto State Park Road. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right into the parking lot. After parking, double back on State Park Road until you cross the trail in 0.2 mile.
To reach the northern endpoint for the Forbidden Drive Trail in Wissahickon Valley Park from I-476, take Exit 18A toward Conshohocken. Head southeast onto Ridge Pike. Go 3.6 miles, and turn left onto W. Northwestern Ave. Look for parking on the right in 0.7 mile. From I-76, take Exit 338. Head northeast on Green Lane to cross the Schuylkill River, and go 0.1 mile. Turn left onto Main St., and go 0.2 mile. Turn right onto Leverington Ave., and immediately turn left onto Umbria St. In 1.6 miles turn right to merge onto Shawmont Ave. Go 0.8 mile, and turn left onto Ridge Ave. In 0.5 mile keep right onto Ridge Ave. Connector, and go 0.2 mile. Turn slightly left onto Henry Ave. and continue onto Ridge Ave. Go 0.7 mile, and turn right onto W. Northwestern Ave. Look for parking on the right in 0.7 mile.
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