As November sets in and trees in the region shed their leaves, the Philadelphia area is expected to be getting its last glimpse of peak fall colors.
Might it be time to squeeze in some leaf peeping before they’re gone?
You could enjoy the foliage hiking through one of Philly’s tree-filled parks, or by taking a leisurely drive through some wooded areas. But if those options don’t work for you — or if you’re just not feeling them — there’s another way to behold Southeastern Pennsylvania’s autumn vistas: public transit.
SEPTA has a number of scenic routes across its several transportation modes that offer the opportunity to just sit and enjoy. It lets you have a day that’s mostly about the journey, not necessarily the destination.
This Billy Penn reporter recently crowdsourced some suggestions from social media for personal purposes, but the experience was too much fun to not share.
So whether you’re looking to have a weekend adventure or you just want to file this away for next year, here’s a guide to which SEPTA routes have good leaf peeping potential, what to expect on some of them, and how to go about planning out your expedition.
Finding a route
The route you take depends on what sort of experience you’re looking for, and how far you want to go.
Many of SEPTA’s trains to and from the suburbs travel quickly through wooded areas, offering changes of scenery at a pretty quick clip for those who aren’t wanting to dwell too much on the sights.
The fare is the highest of any of SEPTA’s transportation modes, but it’s also where you’re likely to see the widest variety of trees and colors.
This Billy Penn reporter traveled from Center City to Yardley on the West Trenton Line, and from Center City to Media on the Media Wawa Line. Other routes included the full Lansdale Doylestown, Chestnut Hill East, and Chestnut Hill West lines, and went for a ride on Amtrak’s Keystone Service route, which overlaps with SEPTA’s Paoli Thorndale Line.
Two weeks ago, the West Trenton Line was rife with trees displaying the changing leaves, offering some of the best views this fall in a 52-minute ride from Jefferson Station to Yardley.
The train to Doylestown, which is one of the furthest-stretching of SEPTA’s routes, also had some nice views that same weekend. Being able to walk around and explore Doylestown in the autumn at the end of the line was a bit of a cherry on top, because the Bucks County town has some pretty strong Stars Hollow vibes.
The Media Wawa Line and the stretch of track shared by Amtrak and the Paoli Thorndale line were also solid picks. In comparison to the rest, the Chestnut Hill lines felt a bit underwhelming.
The suburban trolley routes offer a little bit of a town view, and a little bit of a nature-y view, since pieces of their routes use their own right-of-way through wooded areas, and other parts involve traveling on streets alongside cars.
Expect more stops and starts and slower speeds than on Regional Rail. A pro: the trolley lines are more frequent than the trains.
Route 101, which runs between 69th Street Transportation Center to Media, passes through and alongside several Delco parks. The endpoint in Media is walkable to the Media/Wawa Regional Rail line.
Route 102, running between 69th Street and Sharon Hill, crosses through a wooded area around Darby Creek. It stops near the Media/Wawa Regional Rail line at Clifton-Aldan, and it also intersects with Route 101 at Drexel Hill.
A note for this fall: Service is normal during the week, but on Saturdays and Sundays until Nov. 19, Routes 101 and 102 are being replaced with shuttle buses due to track work.
Also, not technically a trolley, but several folks recommended the Norristown High Speed Line, which runs from Norristown Transportation Center to 69th Street and passes through Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Villanova, and Gulph Mills.
“It travels sort of through the woods at times in like little valleys,” wrote @east_lot. “Covers a lot of ground on a short trip. Take it out and back and feel immersed in the foliage.”
Compared to trolleys and trains, buses take a lot more patience. But they could be a good pick if you live near a line that runs through or next to one of Philly’s parks, or a route that travels out into some more wooded or tree-lined suburban areas.
Billy Penn rode a portion of Route 40, which travels from 2nd and Lombard in Society Hill across the southern pieces of Center City, into University City, through Parkside, along the edge of Fairmount Park, and eventually up to Wynnefield Heights. The views of the park from the bus were nice, but it might’ve been preferable to just spend time in the park instead of seeing it from a vehicle.
Here are some crowdsourced suggestions we didn’t get to test out:
- Route 16 (Cheltenham-Ogontz to City Hall)
- Route 23 (Center City to Chestnut Hill)
- Route 27 (Broad-Carpenter to Plymouth Meeting Mall — runs along the side of Wissahickon Park)
- Route 28 (Fern Rock Transportation Center to Torresdale-Cottman)
- Route 67 (Philadelphia Mills and Bustleton to Frankford Transportation Center — passes through Pennypack Park)
- Route 93 (Pottstown to Norristown Transportation Center)
- Route 139 (Limerick to King of Prussia — passes through Valley Forge)
When to go
Obviously, you’ll want to go while it’s light outside so you can actually see the leaves — be mindful of earlier sunsets due to Daylight Saving Time ending this Sunday.
As for which day of the week to go, you’ll probably want a day when you can clear a multi-hour block of time to make sure you have enough time to take things in. Be aware that SEPTA operates less frequently on the weekends, so be sure to check timetables in advance and leave comfortable time gaps between transfers in case things end up running late.
You’ll also want to go before the colors fade. Prime leaf-peeping time has passed for much of the commonwealth, but Southeastern Pennsylvania’s trees are just starting to fade this week, per the Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
You can check the status of the colors across the state in the DCNR’s weekly fall foliage reports, which the state agency publishes every autumn.
Planning it out
If you’re looking to combine multiple routes, take a look at a map and see where it makes sense to transfer.
SEPTA has a variety of different maps of the system on its website. Google Maps’ transit layer can also be helpful, especially if you’re looking for places to go when you get off the train, trolley, or bus.
Keep an eye out for intersecting transit lines, and railroad junctions where you might be able to switch from one line to another to get a change of scenery. For example, you can ride from Yardley to the Jenkintown-Wyncote station on the West Trenton Line, then switch to the Lansdale/Doylestown Line and ride to Doylestown from that same station.
As noted above, make sure you check the timing of arrivals and departures in advance. Once you get on the vehicle, try to snag yourself a nice window seat.
Paying for it
You can certainly pay as you go using your SEPTA Key or credit card, but buying a pass before you set out on your journey could save you a few bucks depending on your itinerary.
If you’re planning to mesh a bunch of leaf peeping adventures into one day, you might want to load a “One Day Anywhere FleX Pass” onto your SEPTA Key. It costs $13 and includes 10 rides within Pennsylvania, including on buses, trolleys, subways, the NHSL, or Regional Rail. (There’s an extra charge if you cross into New Jersey.)
For those planning to stay within city limits or stick with just buses and trolleys, there’s a “Neighborhood” version of the one-day flex pass that costs $10 and is valid on all “transit” modes (bus, subway, trolley), plus on Regional Rail up to Zone 2. If you’re taking just transit for the day, a “One Day Convenience Pass” will get you 8 rides for $6.
You can load day passes onto your SEPTA Key in the app by going to your Key’s drop-down menu, selecting “Add Fare Product,” then “Daily Passes,” and then picking the one you want to buy. Your pass should activate automatically the next time you tap your Key.