Falling for Foliage

Nature // November 03, 2021

In the last week of October and the first two weeks of November, the normally verdant trees in Wissahickon Valley Park take on shades of red, orange, gold, and brown in an amazing transformation. Here’s what’s going on – and our recommendations on where best to see the magic of fall foliage happen.

Fall colors…

As summer fades into fall, the days start getting shorter and there is less sunlight. For deciduous trees that plan to shed their leaves in the winter to save water and energy, this is a sign to stop producing chlorophyll, a green compound that is used for photosynthesis. Once this happens, the green color starts to fade and the orange, brown, and yellow pigments that are also in the leaves become visible to all.

Some trees like the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) get their fiery red colors from another chemical compound called anthocyanin, which is produced from sugars left in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn cause the leaves to turn this glucose into red and purple colors.

…And Foliage Destinations.

Most areas in the park at this time of year have good foliage, but there are some which really stand out. Here’s our short list for leaf-peeping in the Wissahickon.

10. Andorra Meadow. 

The Wissahickon’s meadow landscapes (Andorra and Houston Meadows) offer an amazing contrast with the forested trails, with open fields of golden grasses allowing you to see sunrise and sunset views. Andorra is particularly exciting as there are many sugar maple trees, which turn a brilliant red color in the last few weeks of autumn.

9. Lavender Trail

A network of loops that descends downhill from the Chestnut Hill side of the park to the Orange Trail, this trail offers a quiet time on trail with just you and the leaves. Don’t miss the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge at the bottom of the valley.

8. Houston Meadow

The wide meadow landscape of Houston Meadow offers striking scenic views of the Wissahickon Valley’s forest at a distance. At Houston Playground (900 Grakyn Ln, Philadelphia, PA 19128), you can see the full spectrum of fall color in one place.

7. Wigard Avenue

Sections of the Yellow Trail near Wigard Avenue pass by several deer exclusion zones, intended to keep young forest growth save from cervine grazing. Thanks to habitat restoration effort’s like these, this recovering forest area’s foliage doesn’t disappoint.

6. Valley Green

Though Valley Green is a good description most of the year, it also looks good when the colors change to gold, orange, and brown. Stop a while beside the creek feed your need for all things autumn.

5. Cresheim Trail

Fall foliage is a given on a hike beside the Cresheim Creek, and there are numerous interesting landmarks along the way like the ruins of Buttercup Cottage. End your trip at Devil’s Pool in the confluence of the Cresheim and Wissahickon Creeks, to check out the leaf reflections on the water.

4. Carpenter’s Woods

The 37 acres of Carpenter’s Woods contain some of the oldest trees in the park, and it’s an Audubon Important Birding Area in its own right. Keep an eye and ear out for wildlife along with the falling leaves.

3. Kitchens’ Lane

Below what once was the Kitchen’s Mill complex, Kitchen’s Lane Bridge crosses a bend in the creek and sets up some dramatic views for fall photographers. Nearby, the Toleration statue also offers an unparalleled lookout over the valley during golden hour.

2. Henry Avenue and Walnut Lane Bridges

For those looking for a bird’s eye view, both the Henry Avenue and Walnut Lane Bridges are great for getting aerial foliage photos of the Wissahickon Valley.

1. Thomas Mill Covered Bridge

If there was one place to go for fall in the city of Philadelphia… it might have to be Philadelphia’s only remaining covered bridge! The red covered bridge has been here since 1737 (though the most recent FOW restoration was in 1998) and trust us, the surroundings are spectacular.