When I lived out west, what I missed most about living in Pennsylvania, without question, was the Northeast’s four seasons in excess—the oppressive heat and humidity of summer, the glut of winter snow, the pollenated rebirth of spring, and especially, the hillside hues of fall. After moving to Mt Airy, I’ve spent the past year wandering the many corners of Wissahickon Valley Park, (re)discovering its magic as so many have. But nothing comes close to the fall.
My obsession with the woods dates to my childhood in Tyrone, PA, but my most vivid woodland memories are sensory and unquestionably autumnal: riding with my mom to Indian Lookout to the serenade of Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home;” tasting the fresh pressed apple cider at Camp Blue Diamond with my grandparents; the cool, crisp smell of damp dead leaves everywhere.
My obsession with the Wissahickon dates back to July 2000, when on a weeklong visit to Philly from Tyrone, my friends Susan and Bekka took me on a hike to Devil’s Pool, where we watched kids jump from the rocks. I had to ask them a couple times if they were sure this was really the city of Philadelphia.
Nearly 15 years later, I sometimes still have to ask myself the same question. And sure enough, Friends of the Wissahickon’s estimate of 1.1 million annual visitors confirms that, yes, this is the fifth largest city in the country. And with that comes a need for constant care and maintenance—organized cleanups and work parties to plant trees and build and maintain trails. All of the above will take place tomorrow for the Love Your Park fall service day. Volunteers are welcome at parks all across the city—check the map for your local outlet and lend a hand.
And when you’re done, make sure to take a deep breath of that cool, November air and soak in what’s left of Pennsylvania’s exquisite autumn display.
* * *
Wissahickon Creek begins its 23-mile journey to the Schuylkill River unceremoniously as an outfall near the Montgomery Mall parking lot. From North Wales Township, it passes through places like Gwynedd Preserve, the borough of Ambler, Fort Washington State Park, and the Whitemarsh Country Club, where it reaches Philadelphia at Northwestern Avenue.
The photos below, taken through October and early November, begin here and follow the Wissahickon’s final seven miles through the city of Philadelphia. They’re arranged geographically from north to south—from Morris Arboretum and Chestnut Hill College to Lincoln Drive and the Schuylkill River. Use your right and left arrow keys to move forward and back.
* * *
As we arrive at Devil’s Pool, the most popular and geologically significant place in the entire park, let’s veer off of the main stem of Wissahickon Creek and follow Cresheim Creek—the Wissahickon’s biggest tributary—upstream. Thanks to the efforts and advocacy of the Friends of the Cresheim Trail, the Wissahickon’s trail network has added a brand new segment, extending the two-year-old Cresheim Trail to Germantown Avenue. Eventually, it will continue along the former right-of-way of the Fort Washington Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Chestnut Hill (West) line all the way to Fort Washington State Park and Arcadia University.
* * *
Now we’re back at Devil’s Pool—the mouth of the Cresheim Creek—to ride the Wissahickon Creek all the way to its conclusion, the confluence of the Schuylkill River.
If you like what you see in the video, click HERE to donate to Hidden City’s fall campaign.