Kelly Drive - the Schuylkill River trail during Philly's beautiful cherry blossom season

As the birthplace of America, Philadelphia’s rich history draws millions of tourists per year. Many important museums and historical landmarks can be explored in Philly’s touristy Old City neighborhood. While taking in the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall will definitely be first on your itinerary, you may be craving a natural break after a few days dealing with the heavy foot traffic.

There are many great public squares right within the city, including Rittenhouse and Washington Square Park, home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. However, for those seeking a more rustic nature experience, you will want to venture outside of downtown. Fortunately, there are a number of great parks and preserves located within close proximity. All of the parks featured below are conveniently located no more than a half hour from Center City. Take a break, refresh, get in a nice workout, and enjoy the fresh greenery.

1. Wissahickon Valley Park

Hiking a trail at Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia

Wissahickon Valley Park is a large 1800 acre park located along the tranquil Wissahickon Creek. If you really want to get lost in nature, this is one of the best places near the city to do so. With over 50 miles of diverse nature trails, there really is something for everyone here. Besides reaping the benefits of a great workout and enjoying the sights & sounds of nature, this is a prime place for birdwatching. The Pennsylvania Audubon society has named it an important birding site.

Wissahickon VP really is the natural oasis of the city. Once you get lost on a leafy trail surrounded by tall trees, it’s hard to imagine you are anywhere near Philadelphia. For anyone tired of dealing with the crowds downtown, the peace and quiet found here should come as a real treat. Forbidden Drive is a popular 5 mile long multi use gravel trail which is popular with cyclists and hikers. Portions of this trail are steep, however, you can turn around at any point. Who knows – the lovely views of the creek may motivate you to continue on a bit further than you originally planned.

Wissahickon State Park trail map

2. John Heinz Wildlife Refuge

John Heinz wildlife refuge in Philadelphia

For a tranquil nature escape with ample bird watching opportunities, consider planning a visit to the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge. Located just 20 minutes north of Philly, this is a great place to take a nice nature walk without venturing too far outside of the city. Here you will find a wonderful 3 mile long loop around the water. This beautiful trail transverses through a variety of habitat including woodlands and marshland. Tinicum marsh is the largest remaining freshwater tidal marsh in the state.

More than 300 bird species have been identified here, so definitely put a visit to this refuge high on your to-do list if you enjoy bird watching. Many small mammals also call the refuge home including white tail deer, wild turkey, and red fox. This little gem is located so close to the city, yet feels so far away due to the abundance of natural beauty and ample wildlife. On an interesting side note, this preserve opened in 1972 as America’s first urban refuge.

John Heinz Wildlife Refuge trail map

  • Address: 8601 Lindbergh Blvd.
  • Distance from Philly: 20 min

3. Valley Forge National Park

National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge National Park near Philadelphia

This park is quite popular with tourists due to its’ historical significance. Numerous important events took place here, the most notable being that the park was the winter encampment of the Continental Army in 1777. Besides the historical significance, the park is loaded with miles of beautiful hiking trails. Whether you are looking for a rejuvenating stroll or a rough and tough workout, you can find it all here. From woodlands, to quaint river views, to a covered bridge, the diversity of landscapes is quite impressive.

A great place to start is the moderately challenging paved Joseph Plumb path, starting at the visitors center and leading up to the National Memorial Arch. This 2.5 mile trek is slightly challenging, but should be easy enough for anyone in basic shape At the end, you get to enjoy a prime view of an important landmark before continuing on the more leisurely downhill ascent. Other options to consider include the Schuylkill bike trail (a nice 2 mile section crosses through the park) and the 3 mile long River Trail. Stop by the visitors center for a trail map and consider signing up for a tour.

Valley Forge Park trail map

  • Address: 1400 N. Outer Line Drive (King of Prussia)
  • Distance from Philly: 30 min

4. Schuylkill River trail

Cherry blossoms lining the beautiful Schuylkill River trail in Philadelphia

Recently rated as one of America’s top urban bike paths, the Schuylkill River trail is a great itinerary addition for fitness enthusiasts visiting Philly. Whether your preferred mode of fitness is biking, walking, or jogging, this 60 mile trail will give you plenty of opportunities to get your workout on. However, you do not need to go all out to enjoy the refreshing break from city life. Simply enjoy an easy nature stroll and take in the scenery.

Kelly Drive, a 9 mile loop which begins near the Museum of Art, is one of the best sightseeing hotspots along this trail being that it features amazing views of the skyline. During the early spring season, the trail is lined with lovely cherry blossoms. Enjoy the tranquil views of the river and the fresh air before heading back into the craziness of the city. If you do not feel like doing the entire loop, simply go out a mile or 2 and backtrack. Although the path can get a bit crowded on weekends, it is conveniently separated into a walking and biking path to cut down on the congestion a bit.

Schuylkill River trail map

  • Address: Recommended starting point is located on Kelly Drive. You will find several large parking lot. Arrive early on weekends.
  • Distance from Philadelphia: 5 min

5. Fairmount Park

Philly's beautiful Fairmount Park during cherry blossom season

Fairmont is the largest municipal park in Philly. Besides a number of hiking trails, the park is home to some of the city’s best attractions. The Shofuso Japanese Garden, a portion of the Schuylkill River trail, and the Philadelphia Zoo, all lie within the massive 2000+ acre urban park. The park also is popular with picnickers, horseback riders, and cyclers. Additionally, tours of historic mansions draw thousands of tourists each year.

The best time to visit this park is definitely during the early spring cherry blossom blooming period. I recommend taking a walk near the Japanese Garden and the West Fairmount Park area. Here is a list of a few of the recommended trail options within Fairmount Park.

More info on Fairmount Park

6. Fort Washington State Park

Beautiful spring day at Fort Washington State Park near Philadelphia

A drive over to Fort Washington State Park is a must for nature lovers, hikers, and picnickers. The park’s name comes from the fort that Washington’s troops built in 1777 before going to Valley Forge. The highlight here is a beautiful 2.5 mile creekside walk, which is great anytime of year. This trail is not only popular with hikers, but also cross country skiers after a big snowstorm.

For non-hikers, the park offers a beautiful setting for picnics as the park is loaded with trees providing ample shade. This park is definitely one of Philly’s most picturesque options if you are seeking a wonderful picnic destination.

  • Address: 500 S. Bethlehem Pike (Ft. Washington)
  • Distance from Philly: 30 min

7. Ridley Creek State Park

Picturesque creek scenery at Ridley Creek State Park in Media, PA

If you are looking for a nice scenic paved trail, then consider planning a daytrip to Ridley Creek State Park. This large 2000 acre park is located in tranquil delaware County just 25 minutes outside of downtown Philadelphia. The quiet setting and ample outdoor opportunities draw all types of outdoor enthusiasts including fishermen, hikers, runners, cyclists, and dog walkers. Views of varying habitats including wetlands, meadows, and old growth forests can all be enjoyed.

There are 13 miles of trails here including a popular 5 mile paved loop around the park. This trail is the perfect distance for anyone looking for a nice lengthy weekend walk or run. The creekside scenery and lush greenery will make you quickly forget that you are anywhere near a big city, thus making this park an ideal destination for anyone seeking a nature escape. This is also a great place for wildlife watching due to the diversity of habitats found here. White tailed deer, foxes, and great blue herons are often sighted.

Ridley Creek bird watching checklist

  • Address: 1023 Sycamore Mills Rd. (Media)
  • Distance from Philly: 25 min

8. Four Mills Nature Reserve

Hiking at Four Mills Nature Reserve in Ambler, PA

Four Mills is a small quiet preserve located in Montgomery County, just a half hour outside of Philadelphia. For anyone who enjoys solitude, this park is a great choice as it is rarely overcrowded. Even better, the park features gorgeous views of the Wissahickon Creek, thus making it a picturesque choice ever during the cold barren winter season.

The trail here is about a mile out-and-back, so perfect for an easy weekend nature outing. It’s so easy to get lost in the woods here as there is no commercialization anywhere in sight. The trail is very woodsy and lined with beautiful greenery. As an added bonus, there is a fun little stepping stone creek crossing about mid way through the trek.

  • Address: 12 Morris Rd (Ambler)
  • Distance from Philly: 30 min

9. Kenealy Nature Preserve

Relaxing creek views at Kenealy Nature Preserve in Gladwyne, PA

The Bridlewild trail at Kenealy Nature Preserve in Gladwyne is one of the hidden gems in the Philly suburbs. This quiet woodsy trail features wonderful creek views and is usually completely deserted, allowing you to enjoy some much appreciated alone time away from the city clutter.

The full loop is about a mile and a half and mostly flat, so really easy enough for just about anyone. A few small stream crossings using stepping stones makes for a fun hiking experience. At Kenealy, you will gt to enjoy lots of unique plant life here, flowers, pretty views of the creek, and plenty of opportunity for birdwatching.

  • Address: Youngs Ford Road & Monticello Drive (Gladwyne)
  • Distance from Philly: 20 min