The Best Fall Hikes In Southeastern Pennsylvania

Autumn is here. As the cool winds blow leaves from the trees, so too are the remnants of summer gusted from the muggy forests of the Delaware Valley. And with that comes some of the most pleasant and beautiful weeks of hiking in late September and October.

Below we’ve cobbled together a list of some of the best hikes from around the five-county Philadelphia area. Doubtlessly many regional gems have been snubbed, but this list isn't meant to be comprehensive. Each trail was selected for its distinctiveness, range of ecosystems represented, viewpoints offered, and, perhaps most important for a good hike, the sense of adventure afforded.

One word of caution: at every location listed below, ticks and poison ivy are common well into the fall months. Always stay on marked trails. Poison ivy is most common along trail edges and near areas of recent human disturbance, while ticks thrive in tall grass. Check yourself for ticks after you hike, and if you think you've brushed some poisonous flora, scrub yourself as soon as possible.

  • Black Rock Sanctuary and Lock 60 to Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, Phoenixville/Upper Providence

Address: Black Rock Sanctuary is located on 953 Black Rock Road, Phoenixville. The Lock 60 parking area is at the end of a long, narrow strip of road between the canal and the river at 400 Towpath Road, Mont Clare.

Image of Lock 60 Canal area via Justin Heinze

On the Montgomery County side, Schuylkill Canal's Lock 60 Recreation Area is a well-known spot for kayakers and fishermen. But there is a lesser-used network of trails just beyond the end of the lock, heading up towards Black Rock Dam. Steep side trails ultimately afford a view for miles around, including a vast patchwork of suburbia and farmlands, not to mention the twin spires of the Limerick Generating Station. Hikers can also continue all the way to the end of the trail at the Upper Schuylkill Valley Park. Waiting there, in their roomy outdoor enclosure, are two gray wolves named Hunter and Scout. The playful pair love visitors.

Across the river is Chester County and the Black Rock Sanctuary, which is an important stop for migratory birds and a variety of waterfowl. Open grass fields surround the parking lot on Black Rock Road, and visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the park’s aerial biodiversity can take a stroll through the open fields, following dozens of feeders and passing through different habitats uniquely suited to different birds. Hikers proceeding straight ahead from the lot will enter the woods. The forest is thick here, and the air is filled with the calls of songbirds and frogs. The area is marshy, and trails become wet the closer you progress to the Schukyll River. An interpretive, ADA-accessible, paved trail is perfect for a more casual hike, and includes picture exhibits for children. As long as warm weather persists, mosquitoes and gnats can be especially troublesome here as dusk approaches or after a significant rainfall.

  • Lower trailhead at Cedar Lane, Evansburg State Park, Collegeville

Address: Cedar Lane, Collegeville

Image of Skippack Creek at Evansburg south section via Justin Heinze

The lesser traveled part of Evansburg, south of Ridge Pike, is often far less crowded than the more well-known trails near the park headquarters. Sunny days will see anglers hunting trout in the fast flowing waters of the Skippack Creek, but the trails on the slopes above the creek are often absent of all human activity, save for an occasional mountain biker. Hikers can partake in one of the many creekside paths that snake along the water, just feet away from the rapids and babbling brooks of the creek. Some double back on themselves, some come to dead-ends, others spill out onto rock beds that force the hiker to either turn around or ford the creek. The creek lies in a small valley, so steeper and more challenging trails can almost always be found by heading inland from the water. Because this section of the park is wilder, vigilant hikers can expect to encounter white-tailed deer, red foxes, squirrels, groundhogs, beavers, frogs, turtles, and the occasional snake.
  • Orange Trail, Wissahickon Valley, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Address: There are dozens of access points to the valley throughout Philadelphia and Montgomery County. Accessing the southern end of the park is easiest via Historic RittenhouseTown, 208 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia. There are two lots just off Lincoln Drive.

Covered Bridge, about four miles down Forbidden Drive from RittenhouseTown, via Wayne Heinze

A few steps from any trailhead in the Wissahickon, and you instantly forget that you are still within the city limits of one of the major metropolitan areas on the East Coast. Dense woods line either side of the meandering Wissahickon Creek. The creek is paralleled by Forbidden Drive, a wide, five-mile long towpath that runs from Lincoln Drive to Northwestern Avenue in Chestnut Hill. Motorized traffic is strictly forbidden on Forbidden. Miles and miles and hilly side trails afford incredible views of the creek and the valley, and a wide range of diverse tree species whose leaves coat the water and its banks a burnt gold color through autumn. From RittenhouseTown, head uphill and bear to your left to reach the Orange Trail. From that point, follow the creek up to Kitchen's Lane. This particular stretch of trail is around a mile in length (one way) and provides a sampling of everything the Wissahickon has to offer: rocky trails, narrow wooden bridges, paths over old stone culverts, and a view of the creek at some of its faster moving points. Deer, red foxes, turtles, raccoons, and a variety of birds, including the brilliant blue indigo bunting, bald eagles, and falcons can be seen here. You could even spot a coywolf, a new strain of coyote and wolf "evolving before our eyes" in the Wissahickon and surrounding area. A general rule of thumb for the labyrinthine Wissahickon: if you want to avoid people, want a better chance of spotting wildlife, and want to embark on an adventure, head uphill. If you're lost or you want a more relaxing, smoother hike, head downhill. All paths lead, eventually, to Forbidden Drive, and from there it's easy to re-orient. The Wissahickon is not dangerous, but no matter where you park, lock your doors and keep valuables out of sight.
  • Side trails, Belmont Plateau, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Address: Army Road and Belmont Mansion Drive, Philadelphia

Image via Justin Heinze

Belmont Plateau is best known in fall as a mecca for cross-country runners of all ages. It's also the site of perhaps of the best - and certainly most famous - view of the Philadelphia skyline. But thanks to the hard work of nonprofits like the Belmont Trails Alliance, there is an extensive network of side trails in the woods along the side of the plateau. The miles of winding switchbacks are used by bikers and runners and are great for hikers looking to get lost - without ever being lost. Enter the woods via the towpath at the bottom of the hill. Make your first right onto a narrow trail and follow the switchbacks for a mile or so. You'll pass old stone ruins of various structures, new wooden footbridges, and the even the frame of an old greenhouse. There are stretches of this forest that have a distinct Jurassic Park feeling. Eventually, you'll come out on the towpath again. At that point, you can follow the towpath to the left and back to the plateau, or you could continue straight and check out Greenland Nursery, a 12.5-acre working nursery buried deep in the woods.
  • White Trail, Ridley Creek State Park, Media
Image of Ridley Creek in late summer, via Wayne Heinze

Address: Park headquarters provides easy access to most of the best trails in the park. There is a large parking area there: 1023 Sycamore Mills Road, Media.

Park headquarters are located near the center of the park, accessed by a beautiful drive through forested roads. From headquarters, head through the woods to the paved road that is blocked to traffic. From here there are numerous side trails which ascend up the banks of Ridley Creek and ultimately wind all the way to Tyler Arboretum, whose property is adjacent to the state park. The White Trail is a short hike down this road. It parallels the creek for at the time and features numerous opportunities to cross smaller tributaries, as well as waterfalls and numerous footbridges. The trail is a loop and is just under a five-mile hike all-told. However, there are several opportunities along the trail to turn off and head back to park headquarters.

  • Cynwyd Trail, Bala Cywyd-Manayunk
Image of Manayunk skyline from Cynwyd Trail, via Justin Heinze

Address: Parking is easiest at Cynwyd Station, located at 1 E. Montgomery Avenue, Bala Cynwyd. There's also a nightmarish lot at the corner of High Street and Dupont Street, Philadelphia.

The Cywynd Trail runs for two miles from the Manayunk Bridge trailhead to its terminus at Cynwyd Rail Station, now home to the friendly confines of the Trail's End Cafe. Along the way, you'll encounter towering views of the Schuylkill River and Manayunk from the old converted rail bridge, a crew of goats who are doing some environmentally-friendly landscaping just off the trail, and a short, shaded side trail with benches that overlook a thin stream (yes, the goats are behind a short wire fence, and yes, they have been known to pose for photos in hopes of gaining social media fame). The Cynwyd Trail is adjacent to the scenic West Laurel Hill Cemetery, and a well-marked right of way through the wrought-iron gates, left ajar, will take intrepid hikers through the cemetery and back onto Main Street Manayunk via the Pencoyd Bridge (just don't touch the bridge's fence).

  • Covered Bridge Trail, Tyler State Park, Newtown

Address: 101 Swamp Road, Newtown

Image via Commons courtesy Mike Parker

A romp through Tyler State Park takes you back in time, as old stone buildings, well-preserved woodland, and long stretches of pastoral countryside are all evident on almost any hike. Hikers should be sure to include the impressive, restored Schofield Ford Covered Bridge on any route. The 170-foot long cavernous bridge is also 13 feet high and spans across the length of Neshaminy Creek. The Covered Bridge Trail runs from the edge of the park north of the bridge, across it, before continuing further into the wooded hills of the park. If you follow the loop all the way around, you can eventually pass by the Thompson Dairy House, a 18th century historic site (although it is not open to the public). A range of species are frequently be spotted in the park, including wild turkey, deer, foxes, turtles, and more. Black bears have also been seen in the area.
  • Horseshoe Trail, Malvern-East Whiteland

Address: Great Valley Nature Center, 4251 State Road, Devault

Due to the presence of the iron industry in 18th and 19th century southeastern Pennsylvania, there are many furnaces and forges scattered throughout the region. The skeleton of trail networks that eventually popped up to traverse between these locations would later become the basis for the Horse-Shoe Trail, a 148-mile path from Valley Forge to the Appalachian Trail near Harrisburg. Its terminus is at Stony Mountain in Dauphin County. One of its most beautiful stretches is near the beginning, a hilly, rocky stretch that can be accessed from the Great Valley Nature Center, just a five-minute drive from the populous Great Valley Corporate Center. From that point, the trail is heavily shaded in either direction, though hilly and rocky at points. Deer are common, as are beavers and many different kinds of birds. Several creeks intersect the trail, crossing and re-crossing it. Arms of Pickering Creek trickle past the Center. If you go, be mindful that a hike longer than a half mile or so will involve road crossings, and could involve brief stretches on the actual road (it's well-marked, with spray markings on trees and telephone poles). If you want to stay near the Center, there is a replica Lenape Indian Village on site, in addition to a wildflower garden, colonial-era maple sugar house, and a Bird of Prey center (check hours here).

Main image via Justin Heinze