Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hiking Philadelphia's East Fairmount Park Woods Trails

by Brian Schwarz

Have you ever driven along the Schuylkill Expressway or Kelly Drive and wondered what mysteries might be hidden there in the woods, beyond the rush of traffic?

Those drawn to East Fairmount Park typically stick to either the Schuylkill River Trail - that thin sliver of pedestrian traffic wedged between Kelly Drive and river's edge. Or they make their way up the hill, to the ball fields or to explore the old stately homes abutting the historic Strawberry Mansion, and Fairmount neighborhoods.

Far fewer find their way into the woods here, but this post on Hiking Philadelphia's East Fairmount Park Woods Trails aims to remedy that.

Lemon Hill Trail

You will find the start of the East Fairmount Park Woods Trails across the street from the north side of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, near the intersection of Kelly and Fairmount drives. As you stand on the corner you'll notice the begining of a faint dirt path that runs paralel to the west, between Kelly Drive and Pennsylvania Avenue. Take this path as it goes past a playground and leads into the woods at 27th Street. This stretch of the Two Block Woods turns downhill after the 29th Street pedestrian bridge. Then, you must cross Sedgley Drive and find where the trail picks up into the woods and wraps around to the front of Lemon Hill Mansion.

Uplands view from the Lemon Hill Trail of the Shuylkill River Trail below
Catch the views in front of the mansion, then notice the single-track dirt trail takes you along the escarpment between Lemon Hill and Kelly Drive, popping out of the woods only briefly between Oshanter Drive and the Lemon Hill Gazebo overlooking the Schuylkill River. It continues in the woods behind the gazebo all the way to the base of the steps at Girard Bridge. It ends here, but if you cross under the bridge you will find Glendinning Rock Garden just beyond the bridge at Brewery Hill Drive.

Glendinning-Cliffs Trail

The Glendinning-Cliffs Trail begins at the Glendinning Rock Garden near the intersection of Kelly and Brewery Hill drives and leads up through Sedgley Woods to the abandoned Cliffs mansion, ending along Reservoir Drive at 33rd Street. At first, it's hard to make out where the trail continues beyond the Girard Avenue Bridge, but look closely toward the woods and you'll notice an old stone wall with a doorway across the manicured lawn. Take the stairs up to the top, and continue on the trail that leads up and to the left. At the top of this hill there is a veritable spiderweb of trails, but there is an outer ring trail you will follow out to the Schuylkill River overlook.

Continue along the trail, which leads back along the railroad tracks. The trail eventually dips down and you see an entrance to the railroad tracks. Carefully make your way down to the tracks and walk along the tracks to the left. You will cross under the railroad bridge, where the SEPTA line runs from 30th Street Station to North Broad. Beyond the rail bridge, look on the opposite side of the tracks for a trail that leads up into Sedgley Woods. The trail is hidden behind and to the right of a small structure surrounded by a chain-link fence. Take this trail up a few feet until you reach a trail that is part of the Sedgley Woods Disc Golf Course. Turn right, and then immediately look for some rugged log stairs on the left. These stairs lead you to the top of the hill where you come to a gorgeous meadow that's managed by the Audobon Society and is a great place for bird-watching and spotting wildlife (I recently saw a deer there).

Cliffs mansion, in Sedgley Woods, along the Glendinning-Cliffs Trail
At the northwest corner of the meadow you find the Cliffs mansion. Walk carefully along the edge of the meadow to view The Cliffs up close. Then, from the rear of the abandoned mansion, find a trail that leads along the meadow and make your way through the Sedgley Woods trails to find the front of the course along Reservoir Drive near the Strawberry Green Driving Range.

Boxers Trail

The Boxers Trail is an amalgam of paved multi-use trail and packed-gravel path that extends from Reservoir Drive at 33rd Street all the way to Strawberry Bridge. Follow the paved path along the front side of Sedgley Woods and head north. Beyond Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse, the paved trail cuts across a field toward Fountain Green Drive. Turn left at Fountain Green Drive and walk until you notice a packed-gravel path that enters the woods. This is the most charming portion of trail, as it leads along the backside of Mount Pleasant mansion and several other historic homes before coming out of the woods again at the corner of Reservoir and Randolph drives. Here, the Boxers Trail returns to pavement, arching around Randolph Drive between Laurel Hill Mansion and Edgley Field, continuing on to Strawberry Mansion, where the trail ends. From here you can either return the way you came, walk along 33rd Street back to the starting point, or take the 32 bus back to the art museum from the Dauphin Bus Loop at Dauphin and 33rd.

Mount Pleasant mansion as seen from the Boxers Trail, East Fairmount Park
Here are all the important details you'll need to enjoy your day hiking the East Fairmount Park woods trails:

Trailhead: You will find the start of the East Fairmount Park Woods Trails across the street from the north side of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, near the intersection of Kelly and Fairmount drives. As you stand on the corner you'll notice the begining of a faint dirt path that runs paralel to the west, between Kelly Drive and Pennsylvania Avenue. Parking in the art museum parking lot or find street parking. Or, you can reach the trailhead via the SEPTA 32 Bus from Center City, which stops near the corner of Fairmount Drive and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Distance: 4.5 miles one-way (9 miles out-and-back)
Elevation Gain/Loss: The trail has some ups and downs, but nothing more than about 30 feet.
Map: With the exception of the small portion of the Boxers Trail that is in the woods behind Mount Pleasant mansion, East Fairmount Park Woods Trails are not on any of the maps distributed by Fairmount Park. The good news, however, you can view the park in detail using Google Maps, and because the woods run along such a narrow footprint here, it is all but impossible to get lost.
Hiking Time: 1.5 to two hours one-way or 3-4 hour hours round trip, depending on your personal speed and how often you take breaks to enjoy the views.
Best Times to Hike: This hike can be done year round.
Difficulty: Easy

For more information on this hike or other hikes discussed in the blog HikeyHikey, feel free to leave a comment below. Check out my other blogs Man of Merit and MyFitLife2Day and HikingMegalopolis. Or contact me via my splash page at