Where Can you go Hiking Near Philadelphia?
The city of Philadelphia is nationally known for its artery-clogging cheesesteaks much more so than it is for its outdoor recreation. But come on, tourists from around the country flock to the city to get their fitness fix by running up the steps of the Museum of Art just like Rocky did. That’s got to worth something, and actually there are a number of great parks and urban trails to get your workout on within the city limits. However, it’s the nearby trails through the hilly countryside and the rocky gorges of the Alleghenies that make Philly such an attractive city for nature lovers. These three hikes near Philadelphia will inspire you to hop in your car and drive to the mountains for a day of outdoor fun.
Mount Joy at Valley Forge
Most people know Valley Forge from their elementary or middle school textbooks as the site of George Washington’s winter during the American Revolution. Nearly 250 years later, though, it’s no longer a place of war and misery, having been replaced with inviting walking paths along verdant hillsides – only a half hour drive from Philly.
One of the better hikes through Valley Forge combines the Chapel Trail and the Mount Joy Trail for a 7.5-mile out-and-back that covers most of the sights in the area. The Chapel Trail starts next to the abandoned Valley Forge Park Train Station and runs close to the adjacent railroad tracks, but is somewhat shielded from them by a wall of trees in the spring and summer. During the autumn and winter, when the trees provide less cover, you can see the ruins of a stone-built home not far off trail. After 2.25 miles of relatively flat ground, you’ll come upon the Washington Headquarters building, a large home that was rented to George Washington to use as a command post in the winter of 1777. From here, walk the Valley Creek Road for a few minutes until you reach the Mount Joy Trail.
The Mount Joy path rises 350 feet over the course of a mile, so it’s the most strenuous section of the hike, but still not terribly challenging. There’s a trail split fairly quickly into the ascent, but either one will take you up in about the same distance. Admittedly, the summit doesn’t have great views, but it does have a nice meadow, suitable for a picnic if it’s lunchtime.
Falls Trail at Ricketts Glen State Park
Waterfall seekers rejoice, because this trail has 21 of them packed into a 7-mile loop. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to start this adventure by driving almost three hours to Ricketts Glen State Park; but sometimes, great hiking requires great sacrifices of time. Park your vehicle at the Lake Rose Trailhead parking area. From here, you’ll utilize the Highland, Ganoga Glen, and Glen Leigh Trails – the latter two of which are dotted with nearly a dozen waterfalls each.
A 10-minute hike from the trailhead will take you to a fork, with the right branch leading towards Ganoga Glen and the left towards Glen Leigh. Head right, as it will be much easier descending on the Ganoga Glen side. Over the next mile, there are 10 waterfalls to be seen; they’re so bunched together that it will feel like you’re constantly next to one. But one that will stand out among all the rest is Ganoga Falls, the tallest in the park at 94 feet. Soon afterwards, you’ll reach the area known as Waters Meet, where you can cross a bridge and ascend up the Glen Leigh Trail. Then head up Glen Leigh where there are eight more, including the 60-foot Onandoga Falls. After the falls, take the Highland Trail 1.2 miles back to the parking lot.
This is a challenging hike with steep ascents and descents, and the abundance of waterfalls means that much of the rocky trail is coated in a mist that makes everything a little slick. Making your way through this slippery mess becomes exponentially harder the more people there are on the path. Since this hike is on many Penn residents’ bucket lists, it would be advisable to save it for a weekday outside the summer months, if possible.
Only 90 minutes from the city lies one of the most popular hikes on the Appalachian Trail. While many AT enthusiasts will recognize Pennsylvania as one of the most grueling sections, the Pinnacle and the Pulpit Rock buck the stereotype by shepherding hikers to two of the most amazing views on the trail in the span of a 9-mile out-and-back hike.
The trail starts at Hamburg Reservoir and begins on a half-mile spur before reaching the main Appalachian Trail. From here, white blazes will guide you to the Pulpit Rock, 2.5 miles from the trailhead, and then to the Pinnacle two miles later. From both peaks, you’ll have a stellar view of the Lehigh Valley below. However, you’ll have to climb 1,300 feet, some of which is covered in the rocky slag piles that remain a fixture of AT thru hiker tales. These precarious piles of mini-boulders require sturdy boots and plenty of determination, but the views from the two vistas will make it all worthwhile.
While the hiking near Philadelphia isn’t always the closest, and the nearby trails are mostly lacking in elevation, there are certainly some gems to be found in the wilderness areas outside the City of Brotherly Love. With 230 miles of the Appalachian Trail passing through Pennsylvania, waterfalls at Ricketts Glen that are so dense it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the next one starts, and the Allegheny Mountains only a couple hours away, there’s never a reason to not be spending the weekend in the great outdoors. And a reminder, cheesesteaks are no good cold – pack a nutritious lunch for your hike.