Where to Visit Nature in Philly Without Even Leaving the City
With more than 400 community gardens, 80+ neighborhood parks, and acres of national park land, Philadelphia is positively booming with green space and touches of nature. You don't have to walk far to escape from the city sights and sounds and feel like you are in an urban oasis, but there are several parks and spaces that stand out as spots to hit if you are craving a more down-to-earth vibe. You can kayak, hike, fish, picnic, and swim in freshwater pools, all within the city limits.
Check out our list of parks and playgrounds for even more green spaces to explore.
Awbury Arboretum has been open to the public free of charge as a public park and arboretum for nearly 100 years. This 55-acre historic landscape provides access to nature, history, and community with events hosted regularly.
Located along the Schuylkill River in West Philadelphia, Bartram's Garden is truly for all ages. This park offers everything from free kayak rentals, to help with gardening, and even family programming designed to help littles (aged 2-4) explore the natural world. This 45-acre national historic park has plenty of opportunities to connect with nature.
One of the world's largest municipal parks, covering 9,200 acres, is home to more than just the Zoo, Please Touch Museum, and Smith Playhouse. There is plenty of natural wonders to behold as well, with tons of space for hiking, picnicking, and fishing. Plus, it's home to Shofuso Japanese House, and much more.
Clark Park—Spruce Hill
This urban-meets-nature paradise is a 2-block park that offers up eclectic events, space for picnics, a weekly farmers market and plenty of trees and grassy knolls to lounge around or explore.
Sister Cities Park—Logan Square
This urban oasis is right by the parkway in Logan Square. The Children's Discovery Garden features a tranquil pond and garden area that will make you forget about the bustling traffic all around you. In the summer, kids can bring a bathing suit to splash in the pond, in the winter months the Imagination Playground takes the place of the pond.
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge—Tinicum
This 1000-acre National Wildlife Refuge spanning Philadelphia and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania is an excellent spot for communing with nature. The site hosts nature walks geared for families, but it is also an excellent spot to explore without a guide. While you're there, see how many animals you can spot; reptiles, mammals, and more than 300 avian species call the refuge home.
Morris Arboretum—Chestnut Hill
More than 12,000 labeled plants of approximately 2,500 types are growing in the Arboretum’s living collection. This vast space offers a chance to connect with nature at a leisurely pace. Explore the grounds, visit the seasonal outdoor miniature train exhibit, and even explore a treehouse giving you a birds-eye view of the grounds.
Pennypack Park—Northeast Philadelphia
Pennypack Park is a nine-mile green space along the Pennypack Creek covering more than 1,300 acres. Many trails and paths are great for hiking, biking, and even horseback riding.
Penn Treaty Park—Fishtown
This park on the western bank of the Delaware River has a brand new playground, a small footpath, and excellent views of the Delaware River.
Schuylkill River Trail—West Philadelphia
Along the Schuylkill River from Center City Philadelphia and up through Valley Forge National Historical Park in Montgomery County, this trail offers amazing city and nature views. It's perfect for biking or walking, and you can do plenty of bird, turtle, and people watching. Approximately 10 miles in length, the trail ends in Phoenixville in Chester County.
Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education—Chestnut Hill
This park is one of the first urban environmental education centers in the country, with 340 acres of fields, forests, ponds, and streams in northwest Philadelphia. The site has four key areas of focus: environmental education, environmental art, land stewardship, and wildlife rehabilitation.
Wissahickon Valley Park—Northwest Philadelphia
This park has more than 1,800 acres of parkland, including the Wissahickon Creek, biking and hiking trails, fishing, and other opportunities to experience nature and explore animals in their natural habitat. The Friends of the Wissahickon offer programming geared for nature lovers of all ages.
Photo courtesy of the author