Walking the Wissahickon Valley Park Trail With Your Dog
Something I love about living in our Nation’s Capital is that we have the advantages of the city with quick access to the country. A quick hop in our car and 20 minutes from home, we are in the deep woods over the Canadian shield, on a trail in the Gatineau Park. We have the best of both worlds.
Turns out that Philadelphians have the same luck. A 10,500-acre park system, one of the largest urban park systems in the world, is right next door for all Philadelphians to enjoy. I explored a part of that park system this summer when we visited the 1,800 acres known as Wissahickon Valley Park Trail. Also known as Forbidden Drive, the trail follows the creek of the same name through the entire length of the park.
The trail was given the ominous sounding title “Forbidden Drive” in the 1920s when cars were banned from the trail. Today, the trail is open to pedestrians, equestrians, and cyclists.
And the trail is pet friendly! Canines are to be kept on leashes, although the signs are not obvious and we saw more than one dog enjoying off-leash freedom with a swim in the creek. *shiver* Not just wet, but creek-wet with no fluffy towel or hair dryer to dry off. Eek!
The park does have other trails but, sadly, I didn’t have time to explore any of them. Pedestrians don’t need a permit to use the other trails but equestrians and cyclists wishing to use these trails must purchase the annual permit from the Philadelphia’s park system.
After a little walk to stretch my legs, take in the beauty of the location, and find a little spot to relieve myself, we stopped for a bite to eat at the Valley Green Inn. Good food is always a great way to start an adventure! After checking to make sure I was welcome on the patio (dogs are welcome and water bowls are provided), we spent a little time checking out the menu and placed our order.
I read up on the history of the Inn during that time and learned that it is Philadelphia’s last remaining roadhouse. The place has been around since 1865 but is well known only to locals. The Inn is a quiet, peaceful place waiting to be found in the bustling metropolis of America’s birthplace.
Service at the Inn was kind and prompt. The food was tasty, the setting is picturesque, and I wasn’t the only canine patron. Life was good.
After lunch, we started out on our walk. The information plaques are a great first stop to learn a little of the history. I learned that on the earliest map of this region of Pennsylvania, the stream was called Whitpaine’s Creek, after one of the original settlers. The final name of the creek – Wisshickon – comes from the Lenape language and means “catfish creek” or “stream of yellowish color.”
Regardless of its name, it didn’t take long for industry to spring up along the creek with European settlement. America’s first paper mill was set up on one of the Wissahickon’s tributaries. A few of the dams built for the mills remain visible today.
The main trail runs along the creek, through the entire length of the park – a total of seven miles. The very scenic trail is well paved and, I would say, an easy stroll. If you want more of a challenging walk, you will have to leave Forbidden Drive and make your way to one of the other more rugged trails. The other trails force hikers to climb over rocks and jump over tributaries. They are not always well marked so hikers need to be aware of their route and keep their sense of direction so they don’t get lost. Sounds like fun to me! But for this visit, we stuck to the main road.
I saw some interesting things along our walk. There was Philadelphia’s first drinking fountain – now sadly closed – and a swimming area known as Devils’ Pool. The Pool is not closed, but it is polluted. Sad. Because of the pollution, it is illegal to swim in the pool, but many humans and their dogs swim in it regardless.
Also along the path is a fifteen-foot statue of a Lenape Warrior, built in 1902. At least we were led to believe that there is a statute. We found the spot, but for the life of us, we could not see the statute. How can you not see a fifteen-foot statue?
My favorite discovery along the walk was the Thomas Mill Road Covered Bridge. I could follow the creek from the bridge and in my head, see the creek running through the parkland. I can understand why literary giants like Edgar Allan Poe and John Greenleaf Whittier were attracted to the spot. I can also understand why so many wealthy Philadelphians built their homes there and why the Valley is now one of the 600 National Natural Landmarks of the United States.
I always love a good hike. I love them even more on a hot summer days. The heat brings out a distinct smell in the air. The heat of the soil is topped by leaves that create a cooling canopy of shade, and the animals seem more relaxed – even lazy. And when there is also water – be it lake, river, or creek – there is the added beauty of diamond-like flickers of light skipping across the surface. You only get that intoxicating mix in the summer.
In review: Wissahickon Valley is a lovely, wooded valley running the entire seven-mile length of Fairmount Park. The Wissahickon Creek runs through the valley. Forbidden Drive, a wide gravel road closed to automobile traffic, parallels the Creek. The park is crisscrossed by more than 50 miles of other, often rugged, trails. Equestrians and cyclists wishing to use these other trails must secure an annual permit from the Philadelphia’s park system. Permits are not required for the Forbidden Drive. Dogs are permitted on leash.