Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hiking Philadelphia - Wissahickon Gorge White Trail

Wissahickon Valley Park is a gem among gems within Philadelphia's Fairmount Park System, the largest urban park system in the United States. Among the many highlights of this park is its geography. Here, the Wissahickon Creek has carved a gorge through the landscape as it flows southward toward the Schuylkill River, where the Pennsylvania Piedmont flattens to form the Coastal Plain. As a result, trails are secluded within the city, and bustling urban life is at once proximate and absent, making the park both amazingly accessible and surprisingly serene.

Statue of the last Lenni-Lenapi chief, at Council Rock, along the White Trail
There are four primary routes through the park - three dirt-and-stone foot trails and one flat and wide pedestrian path, a former auto route. The 4.5-mile White Trail is a single-track and sometimes wider route that follows a primarily north-to-south trajectory high above the east bank of Wissahickon creek. The trail begins at the north end of Seminole Avenue in Chestnut Hill and continues southward to a point along Park Line Drive in Germantown.

A rocky incline along the White Trail, high above Wissahickon Creek
The White Trail parallels the Orange Trail for the most part. The White Trail, or the "high trail" climbs up and down the walls of the Wissahickon Gorge and involves a water crossing at Cresheim Creek, making it a bit more strenuous than the longer Orange Trail, which, as the "low trail", sticks more to the creek's shoreline.

Along the way, hikers pass two statues - the Indian Statue immortalizes the last Lenni-Lenapi chief at Council Rock and the Toleration Statue is of Pennsylvania founder William Penn and harkens to his political leanings toward inclusion.

Rock-hopping across Cresheim Creek may become treacherous after rains
The White Trail is at some points heavily trafficked by dog walkers, mountain bikers and joggers, which takes away some of the joy of hiking that one feels along the more secluded Orange Trail, where mountain biking is mostly restricted. Still, it is a great fitness route, especially for folks in adjacent Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy and Germantown, as well as folks in South Philly and North Philly who can reach trailheads easily on SEPTA buses from the Broad Street Line's Erie Station or via SEPTA Regional Rail on the Chestnut Hill West line.

Dog walkers, runners, mountain bikers and hikers share the White Trail
Here are all the important stats you'll need to enjoy your day hiking the Wissahickon Gorge White Trail:

Trailhead: Take the SEPTA 23 bus to the intersection of Chestnut Hill and Germantown avenues, walk three short blocks down Chestnut Hill Ave., and you will see the trailhead on your right. You could also take Regional Rail to either Highland Station or Chestnut Hill West and follow the local streets to the trailhead at Chestnut Hill and Seminole avenues. (Check the SEPTA schedule here). The other trailhead is at Park Line Drive and Hortter Avenue, just a few blocks from Tulpehocken Station on the Chestnut Hill West rail line and two blocks south of the SEPTA 53 bus stop at Hortter and Wayne Avenue.
Distance: 4.5 miles one-way (9 miles out-and-back). Add a quarter mile to each end if taking transit.
Elevation Gain/Loss: Estimated 100-300 feet (30-90 m). The elevation change is 100 feet (30 meters), but the trail has a lot of ups and downs, so until I can get a GPS reading I've included an estimate here.
Map: Friends of the Wissahickon and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation have just put out a 2013 Map of the Wissahickon Valley Park, which you can pick up at several locations in and around the City of Philadelphia, including at the Valley Green Inn, along Forbidden Drive in the park. You will find more information about the map and where to get it here. Also, find information on the Wissahickon Gorge's geography and geology in this 1997 report.
Hiking Time: 2 to 2.5 hours, depending on your personal speed.
Best Times to Hike: This hike can be done year round, but snow and ice may impede enjoyment without snowshoes or crampons in the winter. Springtime is mud season, but you can avoid the mud by rock hopping. Avoid this hike after heavy rains, as the stream crossing may become treacherous at these times.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Overuse on the White Trail has led to re-routing to protect habitats
For a more rugged experience in the Wissahickon Gorge, check out the Orange Trail. And for more information on this hike or other hikesdiscussed in the blog HikeyHikey, feel free to leave a comment below. Check out my other blogs Man of Merit and MyFitLife2Day. Or contact me via my splash page at about.me/brian.schwarz.