In Philadelphia, you’ve got lots of options for a waterfront walk, riverside run, or streamside cycle, with trails running along both the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. However, neither is fully continuous.
Why are there gaps?
Building trails is far from straightforward, said Sarah Clark Stuart, chair of the Circuit Trails Coalition and executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. Beyond the all-important question of funding, lots of things need to be figured out before ground can actually be broken: land acquisition, structural issues, figuring out who’s going to be responsible for maintenance.
The trails along the city’s two rivers are part of larger efforts to create pedestrian- and bike-friendly infrastructure. The Schuylkill River Trail, for instance, is actually a regional effort organizers hope will yield 120 miles of trail from Schuylkill County to Philadelphia.
They’re also part of the Circuit Trails, a regional plan for an 800-mile trail network through the greater Philadelphia region by 2040, as well as the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile trail route that stretches from Maine to Florida.
Lots of organizations are involved with planning the trails piece-by-piece. The Riverfront North Partnership, for example, helps lead projects along the Delaware in Northeast Philadelphia, while the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) handles the section from Fishtown to South Philly. The Schuylkill River Development Corporation, meanwhile, plans projects along the Schuylkill south of Boathouse Row, but other organizations handle areas north of there.
That’s all to say it can be a little complicated to form a clear picture of exactly where the Delaware and Schuylkill river trails run now, and what’s coming.
Here’s a guide to what’s open and what’s not, what you can do along the trails, and how they might grow in the near future.
Take a stroll along the Schuylkill
The Schuylkill River Trail comes into the city from Montgomery County at Roxborough, traveling down the banks to the Manayunk Canal Towpath section, which leads to an on-street section along Main Street.
Starting Monday, some of this part of the trail — from Shawmont Avenue and Nixon Street to Leverington Avenue — will be closed through the end of the year for improvements to Flat Rock Dam. The Philadelphia Water Department suggests detouring by way of Umbria Street.
South of the Wissahickon Transit Center, the trail runs along Kelly Drive on the east side of the water.
At the East Falls Bridge, there’s the option to cross over to the other side of the river, where there’s a parallel trail running along Martin Luther King Drive through Fairmount Park until you reach the area across from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A bridge at that point normally lets you cross over to the other side of the river, but there’s a detour right now; it’s closed for badly-needed repairs.
If you stay on the east side of the Schuylkill, the trail continues from East Falls until you get to Locust Street in Center City, where a “boardwalk” begins, taking you on a path directly over the water until you reach South Street. From there, you can continue on until Christian Street, where you’ll hit another gap.
It picks back up at the Grays Ferry Crescent. After that, the trail jumps over to the west side of the river — an east/west connection is currently in the works. (More on that later.) There, it runs in Kingsessing from Bartram’s Mile to 61st Street, the end of the trail for now.
Things to do and see along the way
As it travels through Philly, the trail passes through a diverse group of settings, said Heather Saeger, chief operating officer at the Schuylkill River Development Corporation.
The Bartram’s Mile segment, for instance, offers opportunities to be close to nature and the oldest surviving botanical garden in the country, she said. Bartram’s Garden often hosts free programming, like bike-riding lessons for both children and adults, and all-ages kayaking.
The portions bordering Center City are essentially “connected to everything,” Saeger said, offering easy access to whatever’s going on in the city and institutions like the museums on the Ben Franklin Parkway.
At the northern end of the Kelly Drive portion of the trail, where the gap in the trail is, there’s a trailhead for the Wissahickon Trail. That path branches off and twists for miles through Wissahickon Valley Park, along the wooded creek.
What’s in store for the future
A bridge over the Schuylkill for pedestrians and cyclists will eventually connect the Grays Ferry Crescent and Bartram’s Mile portions, replacing an old swing bridge that was removed in 2018. It’s currently under construction, and it’s expected to open in late spring 2024.
Also under construction is a trail segment between Christian Street and the Grays Ferry Crescent, which will allow for a continuous run all the way from Ridge Avenue and Kelly Drive to 61st Street. The opening of that piece is currently planned for 2025.
There are also plans to extend the trail further south from 61st Street to Passyunk Avenue, where it would meet up with an existing bike lane. That addition is in the preliminary design phase right now, according to Saeger, so there’s no firm date on when it will be completed. The hope is to see some “construction activity” in 2025 or 2026, she said.
Ride down the Delaware River Trail
A number of disparate stretches offer the opportunity to run, bike, walk, or roll alongside the Delaware River from the far Northeast down to South Philly.
At the north end, you can get on the Baxter Trail at Pleasant Hill Park in Holmesburg, ride along State Road, and then loop over near the waterfront. It eventually links up with the Pennypack on the Delaware Trail, which continues through the piece of Pennypack Park that’s right along the riverfront.
That’s not quite the case right now, though. The part of the Baxter Trail that runs along the street hasn’t been fully accessible due to Philadelphia Water Department construction, according to Stephanie Phillips, executive director of Riverfront North Partnership. She estimated it would reopen in 2024.
Another part of the trail, in Pennypack Park, is only seasonally accessible because there are active gun ranges on adjacent properties. That section is open on weekends from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Between Pennypack Park and Tacony, there’s a gap with no trail. After that comes the newly-extended K&T Trail, which links together the Frankford Boat Launch, Lardner’s Point Park, and the Tacony Boat Launch.
After another gap in Bridesburg, the Port Richmond Trail starts, beginning near the riverfront at Orthodox Street and running to Allegheny Avenue near General Pulaski Park. But some parts of that trail are temporarily closed right now due to PennDOT construction on I-95, per Phillips. That’s expected to be over later this fall, she said.
The trail picks up again in Fishtown at Penn Treaty Park. From there you can walk or bike almost without interruption until you get to Washington Avenue in South Philly.
Right now, the trail is partly blocked near Spring Garden Street for the Festival Pier redevelopment project. Cement barriers instead attempt to create a temporary path along Delaware Avenue car traffic. Construction at the site is slated to be done by 2025, said Lizzie Woods, vice president of planning and capital projects for the DRWC. But there could be phased reopenings of trail segments before then.
Once you reach Washington Avenue in South Philly, the trail has some issues. It is in what Woods called “interim trail condition” until you get to Tasker Street near Walmart. The segment between Reed and Tasker streets is on privately-owned land and has been “blocked off periodically” over the past several years, per Woods.
South of that area, there’s a complete segment until you get to Pier 70 behind the Walmart, where the trail currently ends.
Things to do and see along the way
One of the best things about the Delaware River Trail is how it creates a “visually and physically cohesive link between a whole bunch of different attractions and destinations along the waterfront,” said Woods, the DRWC vice president.
In the Northeast, the “nicest and prettiest stretch” as of right now is the new K&T Trail with its connections to three different parks, opined Phillips, of Riverfront North Partnership.
The pieces of the Delaware River Trail near Center City have a lot to offer, with several piers that are open to the public and often host programming. There’s also Spruce Street Harbor Park, which is accessible to the public year-round but has extra food and entertainment options during the summer months.
Further south, you can check out the Washington Avenue Pier — one of Woods’ favorite spots — for some tranquil moments by the riverside.
What’s in store for the future
A new trailhead park, called Robert A. Borski Jr. Park, is going in at the northern end of the Port Richmond Trail, with groundbreaking expected in October.
According to Phillips, a PennDOT road project in Bridesburg will include a sidepath that will connect the soon-to-be-built Borski Park and the Frankford Boat Launch. That’s expected to break ground in 2025, she said, with completion expected in 2027.
Also planned is a connection called the Tacony Holmesburg Trail, to fill in the gaps from the Tacony Boat Launch to Pennypack on the Delaware. That on-road segment is in the planning phase, Phillips said, “probably won’t break ground” until 2025 at the earliest.
The DRWC is “in the final stages” of a conceptual study to extend the trail north from Penn Treaty Park up to Lehigh Avenue in Port Richmond, according to Woods. The idea is to follow the river’s edge where possible, she said, but it may not in cases where the land is privately owned.
Eventually, the DRWC is looking to extend the trail to Allegheny Avenue, where the trail would meet up with the portions of trail Riverfront North oversees.
As of now, there’s “no timeline on the final improvements” for the trail segment between Washington and Tasker Avenues, per Woods, “as we’re working with the various property owners there.”