Tag Archives: autumn

Wissahickon Gorge: Valley Green and Two Meadows Loop

The Wissahickon Gorge offers beautiful hiking without even having to leave the Philadelphia city limits. There are seemingly countless entry points into the gorge and hiking options are plentiful, with everything from a leisurely stroll down Forbidden Drive to an 18 mile boot buster available.

One of my favorite hikes to do is what I like to call the Two Meadows Loop, which accesses both Houston Meadow as well as Andorra Meadow. I find the meadows to be some of the least visited parts of the gorge and have hiked through each without seeing a single other person on the trail. The loop also allows for endless route options ranging from a mile to 10+ miles. Described here is an 8.5 mile version that includes historic Valley Green as well as the meadows. Click the map above for my GPS track.

To get to the trail head, park at either of the lots along Bells Mill Road, near the north end of the gorge. (You can really start the loop from any number of locations, including Valley Green or any of the parking areas along Northwestern Avenue.) I like to start at Bells Mill Road because there is a decent amount of parking and it allows for a number of route options from the start.

Leaving from the parking lot on the east side of the creek, cross Bells Mill Road and begin on the Orange Trail. The trail stays just above the creek here and is fairly level, rolling over a few small hills. Mountain bikers share this trail, so keep an eye out and be aware of riders coming from behind.

Fall scene along the Orange Trail
Fall scene along the Orange Trail

Just over .5 miles on the Orange Trail, you’ll arrive at the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge, the only covered bridge in Philadelphia, built in 1855. Take some time to explore the bridge and other historical buildings around it.

covered-bridge

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Passing the bridge, continue on the Orange Trail. A quick trip up the hill after the covered bridge will bring you to the Teedyuscung Indian Statue, along its own trail between the Orange Trail and the White Trail, which runs parallel to the Orange Trail, just higher up the hill. After another half mile or so, you’ll arrive at the Rex Avenue Bridge. This is another scenic bridge with beautiful stone architecture along the trail. Continue past the bridge and stay on the Orange Trail.rex-ave-bridge-2

Rex Avenue Bridge
Rex Avenue Bridge

The trail remains above the Wissahickon as the creek curves around a bend. The White Trail is just above the Orange Trail in this section and is an alternative if you’d like a little more solitude and a view from higher up the gorge. The two trails will eventually meet just before you arrive at Valley Green Rd, about 2.7 miles into your hike.

View from the bridge at Valley Green
View from the bridge at Valley Green

Arriving at Valley Green Road, turn right and cross the bridge along the road to Forbidden Drive. Take some time to explore the historic Valley Green Inn, a functioning restaurant that also contains an ice cream stand in the summer. There are also restrooms here.

Valley Green Inn
Valley Green Inn

From Valley Green Inn, turn around and came back the direction you came from to walk north along Forbidden Drive. Car traffic is allowed on the trail for a short section to access to the parking area for the Valley Green Inn. Keep walking about 1/3 of a mile to where there is a 6 foot high dam along the creek. This a scenic spot and a good place for lunch either along the rocks or at one of the picnic tables. The area around Valley Green to the dam is probably one of the busiest in the gorge. Don’t expect much solitude here.

Dam
Dam

From the dam, walk almost straight across Forbidden Drive to where the Yellow Trail climbs uphill. Take this trail as it climbs away from Forbidden Drive. Stay on the Yellow Trail for a little over a mile, passing side trails that go out to Summit Ave and then Cathedral Ave. You will come to a sign for Houston Meadow and a trail will lead uphill, take this trail.

The trail into and through Houston Meadow is one of my favorites in all of the Wissahickon. Take your time through here and enjoy the meadow, which was restored in 2013, and features wildflowers as well as some of the best bird-watching in the gorge.

trailtohoustonmeadow

Houston Meadow
Houston Meadow

Take the obvious trail as it winds through the meadow, passing Houston Playground on the left. A short walk through a forested area will put you into another section of the meadow, close to the houses in the Andorra neighborhood. After exiting the meadow, the trail descends fairly steeply back to Forbidden Drive, near where it meets Bells Mill Road. Your car is nearby and you can end your hike here, having completed close to 6 miles. But there is more to see if your legs will keep going!

Cross Bells Mill Road along Forbidden Drive and immediately turn left onto the trail to Andorra Meadow, for which there is a sign. The trail leading to the meadow as well as the trails through it are footpaths only and mountain bikers won’t be found here.

Follow the obvious trail as it switchbacks up the hillside before reaching a bench with a partial view of the meadow. Continue along the trail to the meadow. There are various trails that cut through and circle Andorra Meadow. I like to hike the “outer loop” which is a shade over a mile and completely circles the meadow. You will reach a sign advertising the outer loop, follow it.

andorrameadow
Trail through Andorra Meadow

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The outer loop trail curls around the meadow and offers scenic views throughout. It will get very close to some of the backyards for houses on Northwest Avenue. I highly recommend sitting on the bench just before reaching the end of the trail for a fine view overlooking the meadow. Keep following the outer loop trail until you see signs for the Wissahickon Environmental Center. Then follow signs for the trail to the environmental center. The trail will parallel Northwest Avenue, drop slowly down the hill away from the meadow, past the environmental center, and end at Forbidden Drive again, near The Cedars House, a seasonal cafe.

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Germantown Ave Bridge

Turn right onto Forbidden Drive and walk just a short way to where an obvious path descends to the left through a picnic area and back down to the creek. Follow the path past more picnic tables and toward Germantown Avenue, which will be visible in front of you. Climb the stairs at the end of the trail to the street and turn right onto Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill College will be right in front of you. Cross the bridge on Germantown Avenue and follow the obvious ramp that leads back to the Orange Trail where you started your day. Follow the Orange Trail 1/2 mile or so as it runs very closely to a scenic part of the stream and return to your car at Bells Mill Road.

Following this route will give you a roughly 8.5 mile loop. There are countless ways to lengthen or shorten the trip. You can turn around at either the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge or the Rex Avenue Bridge and walk back on Forbidden Drive for short loops of about 1 mile or 2 miles respectively. You can cut out the trip to Valley Green and just hike to Houston Meadow for a trip that comes in just over 3 miles. You can do the two meadows without Valley Green for a hike in the 5 mile range.

You can also add side trips. If you follow the Orange Trail for just 1/2 mile past Valley Green, you can explore the famed Devils Pool, a local swimming hole that features a nice cascade, deep pool, and beautiful stone archway.

Devils Pool
Devils Pool

Six Hikes to Do in Eastern Pennsylvania this Autumn

After a mild, moderately rainy summer, a September of cool nights and sunny days will soon give way to a beautiful autumn throughout Pennsylvania.

The Department of Conservation of Natural Resources website boasts, “Pennsylvania has a longer and more varied fall foliage season than any other state in the nation — or anywhere in the world.”  It continues, “Pennsylvania’s location between 40° and 42° North latitude and its varied topography…supports 134 species of trees and many more shrubs and vines that contribute to the display of autumn color.” If you’ve spent much time in Penn’s woods during Fall, you know that Pennsylvania puts on an incredible display. Maples aflame with orange and red, oaks blazing a deep orange, and ash and birch trees twinkling with every shade of yellow represent just a small sample of what you’ll find throughout the state.

This post is by no means a comprehensive list of beautiful autumn hikes in eastern Pennsylvania. It’s more of just a short list of hikes that I’ve been able to do personally over the last few years. I originally wrote this for the Keystone Trails Association, so please don’t think that I have any bias against the other states in the area, all of which feature trails worth exploring as the leaves change.. And though I know eastern PA better than the rest of the state, I acknowledge that there are many beautiful hikes in the central and western parts of PA as well. I welcome comments with advice on other trails to explore this Fall, in PA and elsewhere.

DCNR claims the Pennsylvania weather will “favor earlier peak dates this year.” I’ve tried to use that information, combined with my own experiences, to give the best times to attempt these hikes. My “Best Time to Visit” looks to give others the best chance to experience peak foliage.

DCNR has a great page about foliage in Pennsylvania that includes weekly updates.

Old Loggers Path

Old Loggers Path
Rock Run Gorge. Sullivan Mountain to the left, McIntyre Mountain to the right. October 18, 2010.

The only backpacking loop I’ve included here, though there are plenty of others to tackle during Autumn (the Black Forest Trail, Loyalsock Trail, and the Pine Creek Gorge area all come to mind.) Located in Lycoming County, the OLP is 27 miles long and often hiked over 2-3 days. There are numerous mountain streams, including one of Pennsylvania’s most beautiful waterways, Rock Run. The trail itself is comprised mainly of old logging roads and often the trees themselves create vibrant tunnels over the path during Fall. The loop also features some outstanding views, all of which are amplified during the first few weeks of October. Vistas overlooking the Rock Run Valley, atop Sullivan Mountain, and the incredible Sharp Top Vista should not be missed.

Woods Road
Old logging road. October 19, 2010.

Best Time to Visit: Early to mid October

Bonus Tip: The Loyalsock State Forest is a wonderland of fantastic hiking. Plan to visit any number of beautiful vistas and waterfalls. Some of my favorites include Hoagland Vista and Smith Knob, as well as Mill Creek Falls and Angel Falls.

Flat Top Vista

Flat Top Vista-2
Flat Top Vista, November 5, 2013.

This beautiful vista in Wyoming County gives hikers a view over the untouched valley carved by the Mehoopany Creek. Only a few remote hunting cottages are visible as the stream flows through the dense forests of State Game Land 57. On clear days, you can see all the way to the fire tower in Red Rock. There are no official trails in the State Game Land and only experienced hikers should attempt to reach this view. Park in the Game Commission parking lot near White Brook and take the path out of the lot past the cottages and up the mountain. I visited this beautiful vista in the first week of November last year and most of the leaves were already down, but those that remained were beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red. We hiked here the day after the start of daylight savings time and the high only reached into the mid 30s for the day. There was a cool wind at the top and an outstanding feeling of solitude.

flat-top 5

Best Time to Visit: Early October

Bonus Tip: If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, drive the length of SR 3001/Windy Valley Rd through the game land. The road is precipitous but closely follows the beautiful Mehoopany for a short while. Many of the tributaries of the Mehoopany feature waterfalls and are worth exploring. Hikes in SGL57 are some of the most remote that you can do in the eastern part of the state.

Worlds End State Park

Worlds End 2015-1
Canyon Vista, October 13, 2015

Though one of the smallest, World’s End State Park is also one of Pennsylvania’s most beautiful state parks. There are multiple vistas and streams to explore and even more in nearby Loyalsock State Forest. In autumn, a trip up to the most popular vista in the park is a must. Canyon Vista looks out over the beautiful S shaped valley of the Loyalsock Creek as it flows through Sullivan County. It is possible to drive right to this vista, but the beautiful forests and clear mountain streams around it are best explored on foot. The park’s Canyon Vista Trail brings you straight to the view, but more intrepid hikers can construct a loop using the Loyalsock Trail, Link Trail, and the Double Run Nature Trail for a beautiful, and relatively challenging, 3-4 mile trek.

autumnhike 2

Best Time to Visit: Early to Mid October

Bonus Tip: The beautiful High Knob Overlook is only about 5 miles from World’s End. It is another impressive vista that overlooks Sullivan and Lycoming Counties. It is also possible to drive up to this vista.

Big Pocono State Park

autumnhike 5
Looking west from the top. October 13, 2013.

The view at the top of Big Pocono State Park is always impressive, and it is made even more beautiful with the addition of Fall foliage. Panoramic views showcase a large swath of eastern PA, as well as portions of New Jersey and New York. The Delaware Water Gap, some 20 miles away, is also visible. Various hiking loops can be started from the top, and a trek out on the orange-blazed Indian Trail is a must, as it ends in yet another impressive vista. When hiking here, I often start at the bottom of the mountain, at a parking area known as Riday’s Gate. Using the North/South Trails, in addition to the mountain biking trail at the beginning of the trip, a decent 7 mile lollipop loop can be formed. The trails cut through beautiful forest as they make their way up the mountain, reaching the top in about 3 miles.

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Old railroad grade near the trailhead at Riday’s Gate. October 13, 2013.

Best Time to Visit: Mid October

Kelly’s Run and Pinnacle Overlook

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View of the Susquehanna River from the Pinnacle Overlook. October 21, 2012.

I’m always surprised by the workout I get from this hike in Lancaster County. Located in the Holtwood Recreation Area, a nice 5 mile hike will take you along beautiful Kelly’s Run before climbing to the impressive view of the Susquehanna River at the Pinnacle Overlook. Kelly’s Run features many cascades and even a few small waterfalls as it nears the Susquehanna. The climb out of the gorge is a bit steep, but not terribly long. The reward at the top is more than worth the effort though, with the beautiful Susquehanna River flowing through the farmlands of Lancaster and York Counties.

autumnhike 3
Kelly’s Run. October 21, 2012.

Best Time to Visit: Mid to late October

Bonus Tip: Extend your hike by taking the Conestoga Trail from the Pinnacle Overlook to the north, where you can meet up with the beautiful Tucquan Creek.

Ralph Stover State Park

tohickon creek, ralph stover state park
Tohickon Creek. October 14, 2013.

Located in scenic Bucks County, Ralph Stover State Park features views over the lovely Tohickon Creek as well as streamside hiking along the creek itself. Park at the lot in the High Rocks section of the park and explore the (mostly) unblazed trails that lead to views over the creek. Follow the trails to the east and make your way down the creek, where more unblazed trails follow the water in both directions. There are some nice rapids and great places to picnic along the Tohickon as it makes a horseshoe bend in the park. 

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View from High Rocks. October 14, 2013.

Best Time to Visit: Late October and even early November

Bonus Tip: Longer hikes can be put together using the trails at Tohickon Valley Park.  Autumn is the perfect time to enjoy the Bucks County Covered Bridge Tour.