The playground is fun and all, but going for long walks — in nature — is something that benefits everyone in the family. Babies can nap, kids can get some old-fashioned outdoor time, parents can get in some exercise. And ya know what? You don’t have to be a “hiker” or know how to cook beans over a campfire to enjoy the local trails. (You can even wear your skinny jeans if you want.) Here are eight great spots close to Philly that are worthy of the trip.
What: The Schuylkill Center in Roxborough is the largest privately owned tract of land in Philadelphia, and its entire raison d’etre is to connect people with nature. There are 340 acres of trees, streams, and fields, and three miles of totally doable hiking trails.
Why it’s great for kids: There’s an actual “center” here, which has a strong, kid-focused educational mission. That means a nature preschool, summer camps and solid weekend programming, including exhibits, hikes and activities. The trails will loop you through wooden bridges, ponds, and play areas. Picnics are allowed.
What: The John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, deep in South Philly, is a 1,000-acre preserve, created to restore and develop the natural area known as Tinicum Marsh. The place feels secluded, and it’s rich in wildlife, even as it sits at the edge of the city.
Why it’s great for kids: The Refuge offers wide paths that are well-suited for stroller-pushing and rarely crowded, so kids can wander. There are also endless opportunities for wildlife-viewing and getting up close and personal with nature. (It’s a bird refuge, as well as a migratory stopover for 300-plus species — and you’ll definitely spot some turtles, too.) The visitor center offers maps, brochures, exhibits, and even binoculars and fishing rods on loan.
What: Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon is popular for a reason: Shaded and lush, the wooded path actually smells like you’re in New Hampshire, not Philly.
Why it’s great for kids: The trail is wide and great for the whole family, no matter the ages — you can skip stones in the river, you can fish, you can picnic, you can climb out on giant rocks over the water. Valley Green Inn, a historic inn-turned-eatery, is a good destination for sustenance: They sell ice cream and snacks and brunch and booze. You can also plan to hit up the historic RittenhouseTown, a group of buildings from the early 1700s that were part of an old paper-making village.
What: The Cynwyd Heritage Trail connects a recently reopened pedestrian bridge with a rehabbed historic trail that once served as a rail line. The bridge takes you over the Schuylkill Expressway and into Manayunk on one side, and onto the trail and into Montgomery County on the other side.
Why it’s great for kids: Kids will think it’s fun to ride their bikes or to run over the busy highway, and the fact that it’s pedestrian-only makes it safe for them to explore. (And the wide paved path is great for both bikes and strollers.) You can head into Manayunk for something to eat before or after, though we suggest hitting up the bridge first, then heading onto the trail, and taking it to the Bala Cynwyd Playground.
What: Pennypack Park Trail in the northeast boasts a big paved path similar to the Schuylkill River Trail, but it is far less crowded and far more secluded. The path is verdant and shaded, as it goes through the lovely, forested Pennypack Park.
Why it’s great for kids: You’ll like the wide and easy paved paths, and there are lots of places to get closer to nature than you ever do in the concrete jungle. You will most definitely see deer and geese, and the kids can throw sticks in the creek.
In the Philadelphia Suburbs
What: Haverford College Nature Walk, located on the Main Line, is a two-mile path that edges historic Haverford College. It’s also an arboretum, which means sky-touching trees everywhere. The path is a favorite with local runners and dog walkers because it’s easy to access and peaceful.
Why it’s great for kids: The stroller would be a challenge on parts of the trail because of dips and tree branches, but it is doable. However, if your kid is old enough to explore on his own (say, toddler-aged and up), then this is a great option. The path is quiet and safe but still plenty interesting for little ones (lots of change of scenery, creeks to cross, small rocks to climb). Another perk: You can walk the whole thing in an hour or less.
What: Valley Forge National Park in Montgomery County is giant and full of historical tidbits (hopefully you know by now that it’s where Washington gathered troops and camped out during the Revolutionary War). There are about 20 miles of trails, some that take you through historical relics (old log cabins and such), and some that are more wooded.
Why it’s great for kids: Well, the history is pretty great, of course. If your kid is into biking, scooting or is being pushed in a stroller, then you should park near the Visitor’s Center and walk along the large path (it’ll probably be crowded) past the historical markers, and through the arch to the valley, where you can take a break and picnic, play ball or fly a kite. For something a little more outdoorsy and less touristy, head to the other side of the park and hit up the Schuylkill River Trail.
What: There are many destination gardens around Philadelphia, but Winterthur, in Delaware, has a really nice blend of manicured beauty and nature trails that have many points of interest along the way. It’s not free, but it makes for a wonderful day trip that will get you some history, culture and exercise.
Why it’s great for kids: Nature at Winterthur is meant to be hands-on. You can be as ambitious as you want with the walk, and the informative map shows you the best routes for strollers. That stroller path takes you through a koi pond and a reflecting pool and Winterthur’s Enchanted Woods a garden-within-a-garden that that has things like a faerie house and troll bridge. If you head over to the museum area, there’s an indoor “touch-it” play area. Check out the awesome events too, like the truck and tractor day in early October. There’s a place to eat onsite, or you can bring your own picnic.