First time visitors heading the city of Philadelphia could be forgiven for thinking that a trip to America’s fifth most populous metropolis will include little in the way of nature and the great outdoors. In the Birthplace of America, it is history and heritage that most often take center stage. The green meadows, rolling hills, rocky creeks, misty mountains and deep forests that claim the land all around and nearby rarely get a look in.
But, if you feel like you’ve ticked off all of Philly’s must-do history sites, and lingered in the central streets just a little too long, then there’s a wealth of such outdoorsy destinations really close to the city just waiting to be explored. They range from historical battlefields to dense, lake-peppered forests; supreme images of Pennsylvania’s majestic hinterland. Here is Hopper’s pick of the top five!
Located less than 20 miles from the bustling business centre of Philadelphia, this verdant patchwork of thick beech and walnut forests, wide meadows and winding nature walks offers the perfect antithesis to city life. It’s crisscrossed by the babbling waterway of Ridley Creek itself, which snakes between a web of more than 15 miles of hiking trails, teeming with freshwater trout and littered with fishing platforms along the way. For history buffs, the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation offers an immersive historical journey, back to the days of 1700s America.
Late in the summer of 1777, the undulating hills, grassy meadows and sporadic treelines of the Brandywine Battlefield State Park played host to one of the most definitive military contests of the Revolutionary War. Vying over control of Philadelphia just 30 miles away, British and American forces clashed dramatically for a whole day, until Washington’s forces were finally forced to retreat. Today, guests can still see the quaint Benjamin Ring House, where the American generals planned their defensive lines, along with the quarters of the famous Frenchman La Fayette himself.
Late in the year, the oak leaves and maple groves of this 7,500-acre park display a kaleidoscope of distinctive hues; turning deep red and glowing orange just before the fall. During the summer the Hopewell Big Woods burst with greenery, giving rise to some of the most picturesque and alluring hiking trails in all of southern Pennsylvania. Other activities here include freshwater fishing and sailing on the site’s Hopewell and Scotts Run Lakes, while 6,000 acres of the land is also a designated game park open to budding hunters.
Moss-studded rocks and trickling waterfalls are strewn along the course of the magnificent Swatara Creek that runs the length of this state park, all shrouded by thick lines of dense woodland and wide, riparian fern meadows. The whole site is nestled in the valleys beneath the iconic Blue Mountain of Pennsylvania, which marks the eastern ridges of the American Appalachians and delineates the famous hiking trail of the same name through the state. With such a rugged natural setting and at just under two hours from Philadelphia city, it’s easy to see why so many locals head here for the weekend!
Hikers and nature lovers will feel right at home at the Gifford Pinchot State Park, which sits on the southern cusp of eastern Pennsylvania, close to the state border. It’s home to more than 18 miles of protected walking routes, ranging from the difficult Lakeside Trail and sections of the famous inter-state Mason-Dixon trail, to the magnificent Ridge Trail, which pierces its way deep into the oak forests that sprawl out from the banks of Pinchot Lake.