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Exploring outdoors in Philadelphia: From Historic Homes to Parks and Scenic Trails

Exploring outdoors in Philadelphia: From Historic Homes to Parks and Scenic Trails

Philadelphia is home to one of the largest urban park systems in the nation, with over 100 parks, squares, and recreation sites totaling over 10,000 acres. The green spaces both in the city and in surrounding areas present ample opportunities for visitors to spend time exploring outside, while also not venturing far from the heart of the city. We’ve collected a few key parks, historic sites, and other outdoor experiences to seek out during your visit to Philadelphia. TIP: Fairmount Park Conservancy’s new Digital Guide is a helpful tool that will aid your exploration of the park, highlighting trails, historic landmarks, and more.

Fairmount Park

Totaling over 2,000 acres when combined, Philadelphia’s East and West Fairmount Park offers visitors an abundance of biking, walking, and hiking trails as well as recreation fields to explore. The park system is also home to several museums and attractions (Philadelphia Zoo, Please Touch Museum), six historic mansions, a music venue (Mann Center for the Performing Arts), and horticultural center. Kelly Drive — named after John B. Kelly, Jr., the brother of actress and Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly — and MLK Jr. Drive run parallel to one another on the banks of the Schuylkill River, each with their own set of paths and picnic areas. TIP: Sections of MLK Jr. Drive are closed to auto traffic Saturdays and Sundays in April through October.

Don’t miss the iconic Boathouse Row that caps the park’s eastern end (best viewed from along MLK Jr. Drive) and the beautiful grounds of the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden adjacent to the Fairmount Park Horticultural Center.

Schuylkill River Trail

Winding its way through Philadelphia along the Schuylkill River, the Schuylkill River Trail serves as a recreation trail with paved lanes for biking, running, or walking, including a 2,000-foot-long Boardwalk that hovers over the river near the city’s Rittenhouse neighborhood. The trail extends from South Philadelphia through Fairmount Park along Kelly Drive. In total, the trail is 120 miles long and extends to Frackville, PA.

Parks & Squares

In William Penn’s original plan for the city of Philadelphia, he envisioned five squares stationed evenly throughout the city’s grid-like system of streets. Originally intended to help prevent the spread of fires from building to building, now four of these squares — Rittenhouse, Franklin, Washington, and Logan — serve as recreation and community spaces, each with their own unique features. The fifth square, Centre Square, is where you will now find Philadelphia’s historic City Hall — the largest municipal building in the United States — and accompanying Dilworth Park, which transforms into an outdoor ice rink and holiday market each winter.

Wissahickon Valley Park

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Originally considered part of Fairmount Park, the 1,800-acre Wissahickon Valley Park follows the Wissahickon Creek as it winds through northwest Philadelphia. The wooded park is home to 50 miles worth of trails, a quaint tavern and event space (Valley Green Inn), and Historic Rittenhouse Town.

Countryside of Philadelphia

A short drive west from Philadelphia will bring you to either Valley Forge or Brandywine Valley. Both of these countryside destinations offer a green escape from the historic and downtown settings of Center City. In Valley Forge, visitors can explore the over 3,400 acres of Valley Forge National Historical Park — once home to General George Washington’s encampment during the Revolutionary War — or any number of biking trails throughout Montgomery County. Alternatively, in Brandywine Valley, visitors can find the renowned Longwood Gardens — a sprawling botanical garden complete with lush conservatories and beautiful fountains.

Heading north from Philadelphia, you can visit the Andalusia Historic House, Gardens and Arboretum — the ancestral home of the Biddle family — in nearby Bucks County.

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