It is easy to feel trapped by city life and for many they think that escaping into the great outdoors requires careful planning and a whole bunch of gear. However, there are wilderness adventures in the United States hiding right within city limits; the kind of adventures that you can take a city bus to and yet feel as though you travelled hundreds of miles outside of town. The Wissahickon Gorge Orange Trail is one of those sort of adventures. Although the trail is hosted in one of the largest urban parks in the United States--Fairmont Park--the Wissahickon Gorge Orange Trail is something of an enigma. On a map it looks like it is far too close to the surrounding sprawling city of Philadelphia to be enjoyable, but once on the trail, the surrounding scenery doesn't look like it is anywhere near civilization.
|Trail Length:||7.5 miles||City/State:|| Philadelphia,
|Elevation:||100 feet elevation gain||County:||Philadelphia||Dogs Allowed:||Yes|
Getting There: This is one of the easiest trails to get to if you know your way around Philly, but those who don't only need to navigate their way to Chestnut Hill College on East Northwestern Avenue via car, subway or bus. The trail begins by crossing south over the bridge, visitors will know it when they see it because the city melds into endless wilderness.
The Hike: After crossing the bridge, the trail splits off to the right and hugs along the namesake of the area, the Wissahickon Creek. Hikers will remain on the right side of the creek for the majority of their hike, walking along a rugged dirt stone-and-root-strewn path. Across the creek is the Forbidden Drive which is a highly travelled multi-use trail. However, because the Wissahickon Gorge Trail is foot and occasion bike traffic only, it is significantly more peaceful.
As hikers continue forwards on the trail, the city buildings fade away and as does all the noise that comes with it. When visitors reach half a mile in and cross West Bells Mill Road, it doesn't seem like a busy Philadelphia thoroughfare, but rather some lonely county road, surrounded by trees and hosting the occasion creepy fog in the morning hours. At the one mile mark, the illusion of country hiking is only accentuated by an old-timey covered bridge. Similar bridges used to crisscross the creek when this particular bridge was built in 1737, but this is the only one that still exists. Take a moment to savour that you are walking over a relic from before the United States was even a country. History has never been so palpable.
There is a picnic area around the bridge for those that want to enjoy the view, but there is still yet more to see. Within another half-mile, the Wissahickon Gorge and its massive rock slopes will come into view. Eventually, hikers will be able to spot a statue of a kneeling Lenape warrior that sits atop one of the many rocky outcrops, this outcrop being named Council Rock. For those that want a closer look at the statue, which is recommended, there is a short side trail that leads up there. This statue was created in 1902 and commemorates the area where the Lenape where believed to have held their gatherings. While the statue is beautiful in a fierce sort of way, it is still sad to realize that the native people were pushed from the area only shortly after the Revolutionary War.
After visitors rejoin the Wissahickon Gorge Orange Trail, the next section is host to some particularly scenic terrain. For those that are hiking during the months of May and June, they will get to see dozens of rhododendron bushes in bloom, giving the trail that extra splash of color. After emerging through the wilderness, a bridge and a building will come into view. Across the bridge is the Valley Green Inn. Here visitors can stop for some lunch or to use their restrooms, it is a fine spot for a break, especially during months where hikers can sit on the veranda.
Further along the path is a spot of deep water where the Wissahickon Creek joins with the Cresheim Creek called the Devil's Pool for whatever reason. It doesn't look like the swirling, surging pool of the underworld like the name suggests, but who knows what is lurking under those dark green waters. In fact, the Devil's Pool is actually quite the popular spot for swimmers, even though park policy bans swimming there.
Just past Devil's Pool is a lonesome looking house made out of aged stone. This house belonged to a Quaker, Thomas Livezy who built it in 1749 but was originally a mill, one of many located along the creek. After this point, the trail begins to seem a bit more civilized. There are less roots and stones in the path and eventually hikers come to a modern bridge. The Fingerspan Bridge looks like a modern inner city bridge, fully equipped with wire mesh completely covering it, but with more artistic flair. It was designed by artist Jody Pinto and was airlifted into place by helicopter in 1987. It seems out of place surrounded by trees and hills, but it certainly is interesting.
They trail again returns to its rough beginnings after the Fingerspan Bridge and will take a sharp curve while following the creek. Just beyond the curve hikers will happen across an outcropping called Mom Rinker's Rock. As the story goes, an accused witch, Molly or "Mom" Rinker, dropped balls of yarn that contained messages about British troops to Colonial soldiers that were waiting below. Visitors can take a side trail here that goes up to the top of the rock where the Toleration Statue sits. The statue, built in 1883, is of a simple Quaker man in simple clothing with 'Toleration' carved deep in the base. Perhaps that statue shouldn't be hidden so deep in the woods but rather where everyone can get the message.
Back on the trail, the city will begin to show itself again, not in buildings but rather in its culture. As visitors pass under the Walnut Lane Bridge that towers above their heads, there is a number of colorful pieces of graffiti under there, true marks that there is a city nearby. Shortly after, hikers will pass the Rittenhouse Town, a house that was yet another mill house that sat on the shores of the creek. It is, more interestingly, one of the last remains of the original bustling mill town from 1690 that was here long before Philadelphia ever expanded this far.
Visitors will traipse back into town as they are confronted with the busy intersection of Lincoln and Rittenhouse Street. Hikers often end their hike here because crossing can be difficult, but the hike continues on just a little bit further. Across the street, hikers feel a bit like stalkers as they walk through the woods looking down at the busy Lincoln Street below, playing voyeur as they peek in between trees at the cars. However, eventually, the trail will dead end into Kelly Street. Visitors can choose to turn around and do the hike in reverse, maybe go back to lunch at the Valley Green Inn or just hop the next bus for a cheesesteak somewhere across town.