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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.