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Philadelphians in search of a day filled with art, nature, history, and hammocks need look no further this summer than the Delaware River Trail.
This is the first summer bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians can enjoy a totally completed version of the trail running from Columbia Avenue to Washington Avenue. There’s also an “interim” portion running further south to Pier 68.
The project is just one piece — albeit a big one — of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s “Master Plan” for connecting and revitalizing the area along the riverfront in Philadelphia. It’s also part of greater regional trail networks, like greater Philadelphia’s Circuit Trails and the 15-state East Coast Greenway.
Some parts of the trail have existed for years, and the DWRC hopes to expand the trail in the future to reach even further north, up to Allegheny Avenue.
The DRWC celebrated completion of the portion from Spring Garden Street to Washington Avenue this spring. Reaching the finish line on that milestone means that many of Philly’s Delaware River attractions are now easily walkable or bikeable from one to the other.
So… what are the best spots to hit along the trail this summer? Here are six suggestions, arranged from north to south.
Visit an unexpectedly outdoorsy stretch…behind the casino
Just south of Penn Treaty Park, the trail splits into two for a short stretch as it winds behind the Rivers Casino in Fishtown. One pathway is paved, directly adjacent to the back of the building, and lined by trees, flowery bushes, benches, and trash cans.
The other pathway, though, is just gravel. It’s almost completely shaded by trees, and quite close to the river — perfect if you’re looking to experience the sights and sounds of nature as you start warming up for or wrapping up your walk along the trail. (Depending on the time of year, you can expect geese honking pretty much constantly.)
Enjoy art installations at the Cherry Street Pier
Cherry Street Pier, located just south of the Ben Franklin Bridge, is filled with container studio space for artists-in-residence. A beer garden at the back welcomes hungry visitors seeking french toast bites or tacos, and the central area often hosts events like flea markets and cornhole leagues.
No matter what’s going on day to day, you can wander the year-round public space and check out the changing art in its gallery and main central space.
Through the end of this month, you can catch three exhibitions by artists-in-residence in honor of Juneteenth: Acori Honzo’s and James B. Abbott’s “B.E. (Black Excellence),” Thomcat23’s “Juneteenth 3000,” and Athena Scott’s “Something Old, Something New.”
On display through Nov. 6 is “Freshwater,” a collection of works by Brooklyn-based artist Jean Shin that includes a 16-foot fountain/sculpture/natural filtration system composed of glass baubles and living freshwater mussels.
(Don’t) swing in a colorful hammock at Spruce Street Harbor Park
A stop at Spruce Street Harbor Park (right at Spruce Street, as the name suggests) will give you a chance to lounge about on colorful outdoor furniture.
The park, which has been around since 2014, operates seasonally — this year, it’s open until Sept. 25. Scattered throughout are picnic tables, brightly-colored tables and chairs, and rainbow hammocks.
The hammocks hanging between trees in the park are totally free to use on a first-come, first-served basis. Swinging back and forth theoretically isn’t allowed (though you might see it happening), and they can support up to 250 lbs each.
There’s also an option on weekends to reserve one of the park’s private “riverside lounges,” which include hammocks. Those reservations cost $75 for a 90-minute session, capped at 10 people.
The park offers other activities and options, like boardwalk-style snacks from food and drink vendors, a 21+ “oasis” cocktail bar, and an arcade where you can play all kinds of games.
Boats, boats, boats!
The Delaware River Trail follows the banks of a waterway (yes, Captain Obvious moment here), so spotting a boat might not seem surprising.
However! There are some cool historic sea vessels docked on the river, right near Spruce Street Harbor Park. There’s the USS Olympia, a Navy cruiser used in the Spanish-American War and World War I that once carried the body of the Unknown Soldier to DC; the USS Becuna World War II submarine; and the Moshulu, the largest still-floating four-masted ship in the world.
All three are very cool to admire from the outside, which you can do for free.
There are ways to see inside each of them, if you want to spend some dough. You can buy tour tickets for the Becuna and Olympia from the nearby Independence Seaport Museum, which manages the vessels. The Moshulu has a restaurant inside, serving both dinner and weekend brunch, and the ship accepts bookings for private events.
Sit on a bench and watch helicopters take flight (or duck under to stay dry during sudden showers)
Let’s say you foolishly trust the weather forecast before going for an extended walk. You leave your umbrella at home, then watch clouds suddenly turn into rain. Respite awaits a little north of Queen Street, where a set of benches with hoods above them line the trail.
More than just rain shelter, the hoods are covered in solar panels that help power nearby street lamps.
Bonus: whether you stop at the benches to enjoy some shade on a sunny day or stay dry in less ideal weather, if your timing is fortuitous, you can catch a glimpse of a helicopter taking flight from the Penn’s Landing Heliport.
Get close to nature (and history) at Washington Avenue Green & Pier
If you’re coming from the north, it might be easy to miss the turn — at the Washington Avenue intersection, right after you pass the U.S. Coast Guard station — that leads you to the Washington Avenue Green, a riverfront park tucked behind some parking lots.
When it opened in 2010, the Green was Philly’s first dedicated public space along the Delaware River waterfront. But it has more historical significance than that: It was the site of the Washington Avenue Immigration Station, which operated starting in 1873 and grew to be the country’s third-largest immigration port by the early 1910s.
The pier had been abandoned, but after $2.5 million in renovations it opened as a park in 2014. It’s lined with native plants and allows for beautiful waterfront views on a boardwalk structure. Visiting the site also brings the opportunity to climb Jody Pinto’s “Land Buoy,” a spiral staircase that allows visitors to “climb the spiral into a crows nest and take the place of what it meant to sight land for the first time,” in the artist’s words.
The whole area — particularly the pier — is perfect for anyone looking to get away from the busy road that runs along much of the trail’s central portion and have a quieter and more tranquil experience along the river.