Top 10 outdoor spots for family fun around Philadelphia

Today's guest blogger is Susan Charkes, the author of Outdoors with Kids Philadelphia, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Susan writes frequently about the outdoors, including AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Philadelphia, and she is a hike leader with AMC’s Delaware Valley Chapter. Contact Susan at susancharkes.com.

With woods, creeks, and open space around almost every corner of our “Green Countrie Towne,” the Philadelphia region is ideal for getting kids hooked on low-tech, healthy outdoor fun like hiking, biking, paddling, and nature watching. Get started with these 10 top picks, which are all highlighted with hours, directions, and more info at kids.outdoors.org, a free online community helping Philadelphia-area families to get outdoors.

  1. Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia: This gem of the Fairmount Park system should be at the top of every family’s go-to list. Forbidden Drive, a wide gravel path, is stroller-friendly and an easy bike ride along the rocky Wissahickon Creek. Young kids can explore footpaths around the Wissahickon Environmental Center (the “Tree House”); older ones can hike or bike rugged trails leading from Valley Green to the “Indian statue” and the Fingerspan Bridge. 

  2. Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse, Philadelphia: The fun never stops with six-and-a-half acres of brand-new playground equipment, for kids up to 10, spread over beautifully landscaped grounds in East Fairmount Park. The century-old Giant Wooden Slide still commands the center of attention, providing old-fashioned downhill thrill rides on burlap bags.

  3. Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia: “Out on A Limb,” sturdy netting strung high in the trees, lets kids safely pretend they’re rolling, tumbling squirrels. With plenty of room to run around the grounds, and interactive sculptures to play with, this Chestnut Hill institution is worth the admission fee.

  4. Ringing Rocks Park, Upper Black Eddy (Bucks County): The rocks in the four-acre boulder field, famed for the bell-like sounds they produce when hit with a hammer, are a natural playground. Short hiking trails lead to a waterfall. Best for kids 6 and up; bring your own hammer.

  5. Ridley Creek State Park, Newtown Square (Delaware County): This former estate in a forested stream valley features woodland hiking trails (some stroller-friendly), paved roads for biking, and a creek popular for fishing (including a wheelchair- accessible pier).

  6. French Creek State Park, Elverson (Chester County): Introduce kids to hiking, paddling, and camping at this large forested park. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at Hopewell Lake. There’s no swimming, but there is a pool. Camp at tent sites or in rustic cabins. Hiking trails lead to adjacent Hopewell Furnace, a restored 19th-century iron-making village.

  7. Valley Forge National Historical Park, King of Prussia (Montgomery County): While you’re taking the kids to learn about the American Revolution, explore hiking trails near Washington’s Headquarters that run along Valley Creek and over Mount Misery and Mount Joy. On the park’s north side, biking and hiking trails connect to the Schuylkill River Trail, a multi-use trail that continues into Philadelphia.

  8. Pakim Pond, Woodland Township (Burlington County), NJ: Discover the unique qualities of the Pine Barrens. Take the stroller-friendly, wheelchair accessible Cranberry Trail through pine woods. Around the pond, kids can watch carnivorous pitcher plants devour insects. Tent sites or cabins are available for camping.

  9. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Kempton (Berks County): Worth a special trip, this wildlife sanctuary dedicated to education and raptor conservation features spectacular views of “hawk highway” from the Appalachian ridge. The main trail is designed with bridges, stairs, and handrails that help kids build self-confidence as they ascend to the outlooks. The trail is partially wheelchair-accessible. 

  10. John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Philadelphia and Folsom (Delaware County): Herein lies the answer to the question, “Where in Philadelphia do bald eagles nest?” This expanse of the Tinicum Marshlands, next to the airport, boasts 10 miles of easy bike and hike trails (many stroller-friendly) around a large pond and through the tidal marshes. At the visitor center, check out the fascinating exhibits about the Refuge’s amazing variety of wildlife.

All destinations (unless noted) are free; all have bathrooms. Public parks are generally open dawn to dusk. For other places, check hours.

Be sure to bring water, snacks, and sun protection for outdoor activities. If you’re hiking or biking on unfamiliar trails, consult a park map. Helmets for biking and life jackets for paddling are a must.


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