The Pennypack - Wissahickon Connection

Brendan's latest route connects two of Philly's most important watershed parks. This story is foremost about the region's Circuit Trails, but ultimately becomes a meditation on the city's industrial and railroad heritage while reflecting on its enduring transportation systems.

The Pennypack - Wissahickon Connection

Since 1924, the Swann Memorial Fountain in the center of Logan Circle has hosted wandering tourists and families seeking respite from the summer heat. Alexander Stirling Calder designed the fountain featuring three Lenni Lenape figures who represent the river gods of Philadelphia's three major waterways: the Schuylkill River, the Delaware River, and the Wissahickon Creek.

Brendan Ash, who moved to Philly last year from Buffalo, NY, has been getting to know his new city by bike. He recently used Ride With GPS to plan a route connecting the waterways that inspired Calder's river gods to Pennypack Creek in the Great Northeast, another major yet often overlooked watershed park in Philadelphia.

For more on the wonders waiting in our wild watersheds, peep this previous Trellis story describing a trip down the Cobbs Creek Trail.

I met Brendan and his partner Alexa at Penn Treaty Park, from where we'd head north along the Delaware River on the East Coast Greenway a'la the Wednesday Night Rides route from a few nights prior. Brendan's route deviated to soak up the scenes at Graffiti Pier, a post-industrial paradise that has become a mecca for street art and open space in Port Richmond. A network of trails spins a spider's web across the 150-acre site and its gravel and greenery was the antidote to the venomous sting of another work week.

We carried on with a little creativity to link Graffiti Pier with the Port Richmond Trail to continue heading north along the Delaware (this part of the route crosses an active industrial site perhaps best traversed during the weekend - we had no issues whatsoever but the potential hazard is marked on the map on this page).

Under the Betsy Ross Bridge and past Bridesburg, we rolled onto the K&T Trail, which opened to the public in 2017 on land that once served the Kensington and Tacony Railroad. While refilling water bottles at Lardner's Point Park on Tacony's historic waterfront, we met Jim from Riverfront North, whose organization has been a champion for riverfront trail access in Northeast Philly. Tending to a wildflower garden of morning glory and indigo, Jim looked forward to an October 2023 groundbreaking for nearby Borski Park, which will eventually connect with the greater Delaware River Trail.

Having finally made it to the Pennypack, we pulled off the trail to stuff our tummies at Holmesburg Bakery, a century's old family operation whose treats just can't be beat. I had a cinnamon roll and a Coke and stuffed a couple extra pastries into my bar bag to bring home.


Ok, indulge me here. Alexa was so stoked to see a trackless trolley roll up Frankford Ave that it totally warranted a discussion on The Trellis. While it looks a lot like a bus, a trackless trolley or trolleybus is electrically powered via its connection to overhead wires. Trackless trolleys have a ton of advantages over other transit modes including being quieter and more environmentally friendly, but maybe the best from the perspective of a website like The Trellis is that bike tires can't get caught in the tracks!

Despite their once widespread popularity, Alexa was so excited because trackless trolleys are relatively uncommon these days. Philadelphia is one of only five cities in the USA that still operate trolleybuses and its network, which began in 1923, is the second oldest on Earth. The three remaining lines operate exclusively in North and Northeast Philly.

The Pennypack Trail stretches for 14 miles from the Delaware River through Montgomery County to the border with Bucks. Across the counties, the parks preserving land surrounding Pennypack Creek far exceed the acreage of the beloved Wissahickon Valley Park. The trail winds along stands of beech and tulip trees and rolls up and down the many hills within the valley. Some hills are quite steep, but none are very long. Crossing the city line heading north, our tires rolled off of pavement onto primarily dirt and gravel.

Perpetually hungry, I gobbled up a delicious sandwich under a rainbow of umbrellas at the All Aboard Cafe food truck, which parks along the trail in Bryn Athyn. Adjacent to the food truck is Bryn Athyn's post office, which was built by the Reading Railroad in 1902 and served as the town's train station until it was closed by SEPTA in 1983. Riding on, relics of the region's railroad roots are revealed along the trail.

Cutting across Montgomery County to connect the route back to Fort Washington State Park and Wissahickon Valley Park is tricky. The sad truth is that suburban land use and transportation systems are often hostile to, if passable by, bikes. As it pertains to this route, the roads we rode facilitate high vehicle speeds but do have wide shoulders that could be generously described as bike lanes. Local organizations are advocating for and making progress on establishing a Cross County Trail, which will one day provide a safe and car-free connection from Pennypack Creek to Wissahickon Creek. Alas, I found the drivers to be respectful and accommodating of our presence, and before long we were back on trails.

We intercepted the Wissahickon Creek at Fort Washington State Park and followed the route past horse farms and the Morris Arboretum until we reached Forbidden Drive. We discussed the summer's end as we rolled along familiar terrain toward Kelly Drive, MLK, and the completion of Brendan's grand loop.

In the end, the 55-mile route features about 1,700 feet of climbing, 11 miles of unpaved surfaces, and 35 miles of separated multi-use trails. There are plenty of toilets, water fountains, benches, swimming holes, restaurants for resting or refueling at and transit hubs to facilitate an early bailout.

Big thanks to Brendan for stitching together so many landmarks and for going the extra mile by adding Points of Interest on the map. The route is embedded below for you to download and try yourself!

Alexa Ringer @alexa_not_the_robot Strava
Brendan Ash @brandan_j_a Strava