Boomeresque:Definition
1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

Philadelphia Phriday – Wissahickon Valley Park

by Suzanne Fluhr on October 26, 2013 · 44 comments

Waterfall in Wissahickon Creek, Philadelphia

Many Boomeresque readers know that before I was a travel blogger, I was (and still am, sometimes), a Boomer, Esq. — that is, an attorney of a certain age. Confession: I didn’t love law school. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story famously said:  “The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship”. (Well, he said it famously if you ever attended law school. It’s their way of telling you to kiss your real life good-bye). One of the ways I coped with the demanding (and frequently mind numbing) required study was to escape for a run or walk in the woods.

Having grown up in the leafy Mount Airy section of northwest Philadelphia, for me, “the woods” was/is the Wissahickon Valley Park. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of being taken there to feed the ducks where the Wissahickon Creek flows past the Valley Green Inn and of ice skating on the Creek — before Global Warming and before the floods from Hurricane Floyd deposited too many rocks there to make ice skating a good idea.

The Valley Green Inn in Philadelphia's Wissahickon Valley Park

My “baby” sister in front of the Valley Green Inn in Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Valley Park

My sister recently had a weekday off. I took a SEPTA regional rail train from Center City Philadelphia out to the Chestnut Hill West station where she picked me up. Despite the fact that we are both directionally challenged, we drove into the Wissahickon valley to the Valley Green Inn.

Thomas Mill Road covered bridge from Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon Valley Park, a mile and a half west of Valley Green Inn

Thomas Mill Road covered bridge from Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon Valley Park, a mile and a half west of the Valley Green Inn.

After a French onion soup and salad lunch on what was likely one of the last days people (and dogs) would be wanting to dine on the Inn’s lovely outside porch, we set off on a 3 mile round trip walk on Forbidden Drive to the only remaining covered bridge within the Philadelphia city limits. We could have opted for a more strenuous hike along a trail on the opposite side of the creek — what we call the “rough” side. If you walk along Forbidden Drive, there are explanatory signs explaining the history of the Wissahickon Valley, first home to the Lenni Lenape tribe and to German mystics in the late 1600’s.

A cabin built in 1939 by WPA workers along Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon Valley Park.

A cabin built in 1939 by WPA workers along Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon Valley Park.

 

The Wissahickon Valley Park has Thomas Mill Road Covered Bridge, the last remaining covered bridge within Philadelphia’s city limits. First built in 1737, the bridge was restored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1939. WPA workers also built several picturesque log and stone cabins along Forbidden Drive in the Park. There are numerous benches if you need a rest and picnic tables if you pack your own food. In addition to the sit down restaurant, there is also a snack bar with an outside service window at the Valley Green Inn. Call the Inn for opening hours. (Their website is linked to below).

 

When most people think of Philadelphia (not that most people actually ever do), they do not immediately think of parks. Despite Philadelphia’s reputation for being somewhat gritty, cheese steaks, the Liberty Bell, rude sports fans and Rocky running up the Art Museum steps, Philadelphia also has one of the largest urban park systems in the world. Who woulda thought it, but National Geographic included the Wissahickon Valley Park in its list of the 15 best hiking cities in the United States.

Wissahickon Valley Park is part of the Fairmount Park System, consisting of some 63 parks within the city limits. Covering 1,800 acres and running for approximately 7 miles along the banks of Wissahickon Creek, this Park has 57 miles of fairly rugged trails used by hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. In addition to the trails, the Park also has the unimaginatively named Forbidden Drive, a 7 mile long gravel road through the forest, running along the Creek.  Motor vehicles have been barred from “Forbidden” Drive (get it?) since the 1920’s. Forbidden Drive is popular with cyclists, walkers, runners, burned out law students, leashed dogs and horseback riders. They are joined by horse drawn sleighs and cross country skiers when there is sufficient snow.  The last of over 50 watermills along Wissahickon Creek was razed in 1884, although in some places the mills’ stonework remains, creating picturesque low waterfalls along the Creek.

Waterfall in Wissahickon Creek, Philadelphia

A waterfall left over from one of the old watermills along Wissahickon Creek in northwest Philadelphia

Forbidden Drive, Wissahickon Valley Park

A lone runner enjoying Forbidden Drive on an early fall day in the Wissahickon Valley Park.

Should you go?:  If you are visiting Philadelphia and need some fresh air after too many museum hours, this would be a nice excursion. While you could certainly spend an entire day(s) hiking/walking/bike riding/horseback riding/clearing your head in the Wissahickon Valley Park, it is also worth a half day visit. Beautiful weekend days are best avoided unless you are not driving into the park. Parking spaces can become sparse to non-existent as this Park is a favorite with Philadelphians. Those with mobility challenges should be aware that Forbidden Drive has an uneven rough surface, not suitable for regular wheelchairs.

Additional Information About Visiting the Park:  The Wissahickon Valley Park is jointly maintained by the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department and by the non-profit Friends of the Wissahickon which has a very helpful website with updated information. If you plan to visit the Park, I highly recommend consulting this website first. If you know in advance of your visit to Philadelphia that you would like to visit this Park, it is worth ordering the fold out map prepared by the Friends of the Wissahickon. (As of this writing, the map is on back order).

The Valley Green Inn:  You cannot sleep at the Inn, but if you are planning to have a meal at the historic Valley Green Inn, use their website for additional information and to make reservations. They are an Open Table restaurant. I would recommend making a reservation. (You can even use the website to plan your destination wedding at the Valley Green Inn).

When you have had enough nature, and you don’t want to eat at the Valley Green Inn, make the short drive into Chestnut Hill. Germantown Avenue, the main street through the commercial area of Chestnut Hill is one of the remaining cobble stone streets in the City and is lined with restaurants and small stores. This residential area has been popular with the Philadelphia elite since the 1850’s when commuter rail became available. In this country area, they built stately, large old homes, manyconstructed from Wissahickon schist — a rock formation you can see in the Wissahickon Valley Park. This schist glitters with layered silver colored mica and contains small garnets.

Getting There:  The Valley Green Inn website has a good directions page if you plan to drive to Valley Green. I also used Google Maps to plot a route walking and using public transportation. There are good bike paths from Center City and from the Western Suburbs you can use to bike to the Wissahickon Valley Park. Use the website of the Greater Philadelphia Bike Coalition for information if you plan to use your own bike or to rent a bike.

When you visit cities on your travels, do you ever look for and find places for outdoor activities? If so, are there any you would want to recommend for Boomeresque readers?

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Billie October 26, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Hi, Suzanne,
This brings back my childhood memories of romping around Tookany Creek Park with the neighborhood kids. From your pictures, I remember it having a similar look and feel with little brooks and waterfalls. It offered a welcome respite from the grind of the city streets around us.

In your travels, have you stumbled upon a group of homes that look like they were transplanted from Europe? I think it’s near this park. Some of the homes look English, though not classically Tudor style. Others look like stuccoed Dutch cottages. All have chimneys. I’ve been looking for the area since 2001 when I was shopping for a home in Philadelphia. If any of your local readers knows, I’m desperate to revisit that section so I hope they’ll advise.

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avatar Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) October 26, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Yes. I think I know where you’re talking about. It kind of looks like a Cotswold village. It’s one block long and parallels West Allens Lane, running between Emlen Street and Elbow Lane which runs into McCallum Street on the border between West Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill. It’s basically across McCallum Street from the Allens Lane Art Center. Here’s the link for Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/2Umt6

It really does seem to be part of its own little world. Do you think this is where you are thinking of?

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:08 pm

It’s called Gate Lane.

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avatar santafetraveler October 27, 2013 at 12:27 am

Way before “Rocky” Philadelphia was the museum and the steps for me. Wonderful falls- I miss the greenery in the northeast!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Billie, you didn’t ever live in Philly, did you?

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avatar Billie October 29, 2013 at 9:29 am

Yes, of course I lived in Philly! That’s why I know you. 215! And that’s how I was romping around Tookany Creek. I was born in Mt. Airy and moved to E. Oak Lane/Fern Rock. The area you pinpoint might be the spot…I need to drive through and see.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 2, 2013 at 9:38 am

Billie, I actually know two Billies. The other one lives in Santa Fe; hence, the “Did you live in Philly?” question. Sorry.

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avatar Linda ~ Journey Jottings October 27, 2013 at 12:35 am

When in a city I always track down a Botanical Garden or major parkland as we all need a little respite to balance the manic-ness of urbanity –
But not so much adjacent countryside or national parks on the outskirts – Unless of course they are a destination in their own right!
I think as you indicate in your post, there are some natural wonders that only the domestic local market gets to enjoy 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:13 pm

The Wissahickon Valley Park is actually within the city limits—and not all that difficult to get to.

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avatar Cacinda Maloney October 27, 2013 at 1:34 am

Wow! I had no idea that this could be so close to Philadelphia. What a pleasant surprise and what looks to be a great day hiking in the woods. Thanks for the tip!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Cacinda, thanks for stopping by. The Wissahickon Valley Park is IN Philadelphia. On a nice day, it’s worth visiting, evven during the winter. It can be magical after a snow, especially one that coats the trees.

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avatar Mike October 27, 2013 at 5:12 am

I’m with Cacinda…I would have never known that this was so close to or even near Philly, Suzanne! Of course I would want the French Onion soup and salad! But, you know what really caught my attention? Was that Forbidden Drive picture. Oh my gosh, I would love for Phoenix and I to walk along that! Funny, you should mention your feelings on law school as I’ve been wanting to ask you about that! Great post, our friend! 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Thanks, Mike. There are some things on the Valley Green Inn menu that you might like even better than a salad. Phoenix would find lots of doggie friends on Forbidden Drive and maybe even the occasional horse friend.

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avatar Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie) October 27, 2013 at 9:56 am

What a beautiful setting! Personally, I liked wandering around wine country in California. I was booked on a tour, but split off so I could wander and find somethings on my own. There was something holy in those vineyards. I particularly enjoyed the luncheon at Chandon… best tomato bisque I’ve ever had.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:24 pm

No wineries in the Wissahickon Valley, but there are actually some not too far west of Philly.

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avatar Jan Ross October 27, 2013 at 9:57 am

What a beautiful place! We are planning to go though Philly on our way to a New England cruise next summer so we may stop here. Thanks for sharing.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Cacinda, thanks for stopping by. The Wissahickon Valley Park is IN Philadelphia. On a nice day, it’s worth visiting, evven during the winter. It can be magical after a snow, especially one that coats the trees.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Jan, I hope you will stop off in Philly. We feel overlooked here in between New York City and Washington, DC.

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avatar Roz Warren October 27, 2013 at 10:21 am

Great post. As always, loved the photos. And I have a food recommendation! If you do head into Chestnut Hill, check out the fabulous Night Kitchen Bakery. Terrific pastry and coffee drinks, but also wonderful healthful light lunches. The owners are into environmentally friendly and locally sourced ingredients. A great place to relax after a nature walk.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I can second Roz’ recommendation of the Night Kitchen in Chestnut Hill.

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avatar Josie October 27, 2013 at 10:39 am

Hi Suzanne,
It is essential to find green spaces and a patch of grass upon which to sit while traveling. Just as Linda commented above – “a little respite to balance the manic-ness of urbanity”

Well said, Linda!

Both Conrad and I share a deep appreciation for both city and country. His was gleaned from an early age, as he grew up in Philly’s Mayfair neighborhood and played in Pennypack Park, giving him a unique knowledge of urban and natural landscapes. I grew up on Long Island, so we walked to beaches on the Sound and also frequented Manhattan.

I love your fact-filled blog and lovely pictures. What a pretty time of year, also.

Josie

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Thanks, Josie. I think most of us who grew up in Philly had our forrest Wonderlands. And, back in the day, our parents used to let us wander pretty much at will starting at about age 10. By the time I was a parent here, we were much less likely to let it boys out of our sight although both of mine used to go mountain biking in the Wissahickon Valley Park.

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avatar Cathy Sweeney October 27, 2013 at 1:13 pm

What a lovely way to spend time with your sister. The whole lunch and hike sounds appealing to me. I’d especially like to see the covered bridge. There’s something so romantic about them — maybe that’s got something to do with the “Bridges of Madison Country” 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Thanks, Cathy. It was some quality sister time. Our other sister will be visiting from California over Thanksgiving. I hope we can return to Valley Green with her.

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avatar Poppaea October 27, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I miss the Wissahickon! I, too, thank you for the trip down memory lane. Do you remember our families going hiking there when we were kids? I remember your “baby sister” losing a hat once when we crossed the creek under a waterfall! The year we lived there, I had to take my son fishing “down Valley Green” as I had done with my father years before.

Speaking of nature in & around Philadelphia, I am also amazed that there are still sheep farms within about a mile NW of Chestnut Hill. Have you seen those? We’d pass them on those back roads in Montgomery County behind Chestnut Hill College (Stenton Avenue to Flourtown & Joshua Roads), on the way out to Plymouth Meeting Mall.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Poppaea, I certainly remember trips to the Wissahickon with our families. I also remember being allowed to do a lot of wandering without parental supervision. I suspect our parental units were no where to be seen while you and Jenny were under a waterfall!

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avatar Patti October 27, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Confession: I didn’t love law school.

Does anyone? We watched our son go through 4 rigorous years of a double program – JDMPP. Grueling. He was exhausted by the end, but fortunately the hard work paid of in aces.

Lovely walk with equally lovely photos! I am a sucker for fall photos!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I do know a few people who at least purported to “like” law school. Interestingly, they were often the same people who could not tolerate actually being a lawyer. The rest of us were usually tired enough not to be able to spend too much time worrying about whether we were having a good time. I went to a “commuter” law school with a significant number of non-traditional students. Many of us were also working while we were in school.

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avatar Becc October 27, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I love these type of posts. I have not been to Philadelphia and being Australian, don’t know much about it. When I come across these types of posts, my bucket list just grows as does my knowledge of places yet to be seen.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Thanks, Becc. As a travel blogger, not surprisingly, I read quite a few travel blogs which also continuously add to my bucket list. I also find that when travel bloggers also write about their home town, one is likely to learn about places off the normal tourist route. If you ever make it to this neck of the woods (ouch), please let me know. I have enjoyed meeting other bloggers passing through Philly and I’ve enhanced visits to places on my travels by meeting local “virtual” blogging friends.

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avatar Neva Fels October 27, 2013 at 9:12 pm

What a beautiful area. I love the Philadelphia history and what an appropriate name for this road that doesn’t allow any vehicle drivers to mess it up! Our legislature in Utah needs to rename a few roads (hmmm).

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 27, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Thanks, Neva. At the moment, I think the legislators in certain states which will absolutely remain nameless, are afraid they’ll be “primaried” if they infringe on “freedom”, so they might be unlikely to close a road to traffic—and if you want to ride your motorcycle at over 75 MPH without a helmet or health insurance, but with an assault rifle with an extended clip — go for it. OK. I’m jumping (no, leaping) off my soap box now.

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avatar Muza-chan October 28, 2013 at 3:44 am

Very beautiful place 🙂

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avatar Jenny aka "baby sister" October 28, 2013 at 6:00 pm

That day in the woods (I have always referred to the Wissahickon as), was a particularly nice day. The environment is quite scenic (attested to in the pics.) It was a special day because I got to have a leisurely lunch and walk with my “big” sister and on a week day no less. Way back when I was one of those runners one may have spotted or before I was a runner (40 odd years ago) you may have seen me floating on a home made raft with my dog swimming by the side. Don’t tell my mom! The Wissahickon Creek was particularly polluted back then. It never occurred to me that this was not a real smart idea or a dangerous activity. Luckily I nor our dog Stuart had any near drownings or picked up any infectious diseases.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr October 28, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Girl, you are very lucky that Mom has decided to be paranoid about the internet, so she doesn’t check my blog herself. However, a friend does often print out my posts for her. You better hope he printed out this one before your comment was added. Otherwise, you might get a retrospective “time out”. (I don’t even think there was such a thing back in the day.) 😉

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avatar Suzi Jordan November 5, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Another great article Suzanne. I actually have a painting of the Valley Green Inn hanging in my family room here in Dallas. I have always loved that entire area.
Suzi

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 5, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Thanks, Suzi. I think if I moved from Philly, a painting of Valley Green would be a lovely way to take a bit of one of my favorite parts of Philadelphia with me.

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avatar Pearl the Girl November 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Remember me Aunt Pearl with 5 Boomers?

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I certainly do. You knew me when I was a real baby Baby Boomer;-) Thanks for checking in. Now, if you could only get your sister back on-line!

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avatar Sole Stephenson January 26, 2016 at 8:29 pm

Suzanne that sound lovely! I love to hike and everything that comes with it in nature. Everything your are describing here sound great! I will add this to my favorites to show it to Ron. I hope we can plan something and go there with Teddy and Nino (The Kitten) maybe. Thank you,

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avatar Billie September 8, 2016 at 7:02 am

I think I saw a photo of Hillary Clinton a couple months ago on the campaign trail inside the Valley Green Inn.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr September 8, 2016 at 3:04 pm

She has been in Philly a number of times, so maybe. Northwest Philadelphia tends to support Democrats, so she would have been in comfortable territory.

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