The Wissahickon Gorge
Seven miles of serene wilderness along the Wissahickon Creek
There are 57 miles of trails in this lush, 1,800-acre gorge, crossing forest and meadow before plunging down to the sun-dappled waters of the Wissahickon Creek. You’ll find yourself lost in a feeling of wilderness as you walk, bike or ride your horse through this undisputed gem of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park system.
Relax along Forbidden Drive, the low-lying gravel road that follows the creek, or venture up the steeply wooded paths for a more challenging hike or off-road cycling adventure. If you’re thirsty, or you need a snack, visit the historic Valley Green Inn, the last remaining example of the many roadhouses and taverns that once flourished here.
The Wissahickon, blessed with a fairly stable resident population of owls, chickadees and titmice; five species of woodpecker; nuthatches; blue jays; Carolina wrens; mourning doves; goldfinches and cardinals, was recently named and “Important Birding Area” by the National Audubon Society.
Despite the feeling of quiet wilderness, you’ll find plenty of history in this lush valley. A series of stone bridges and huts date back to the WPA era; two beloved statues pay tribute to the Leni Lenape tribe of Native Americans and the early Quaker settlers who once loved these grounds; and the now-crumbling dams offer gurgling memories of industrial mills that once drew power from the creek.
The Wissahickon Gorge belongs to the Piedmont Province of Pennsylvania, a strip of sloping land rising from the Atlantic coastal plain on the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains. The creek drops more than 100 feet in altitude as it passes through the gorge, before it finally merges with the Schuylkill River.
The Fairmount Park Commission acquired the 1,800 acres of the Wissahickon Valley in 1868 in order to preserve the purity of the City’s water supply. Mills and taverns were demolished, and in 1920, the wide road paralleling the creek was closed to vehicular traffic and became Forbidden Drive.
You’ll need permits if you want to use the upper trails for off-road biking or horseback riding, available through the Fairmount Park Commission.
The Friends of the Wissahickon have a great FAQ section on their website, with information regarding picnics, permits, trails and pretty much everything else you’ll need to know before visiting.
At one time, more than 25 mills drew power from this creek, making the Wissahickon the first industrial area of North America.
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