Lost in the Woods: Discovering the Lavender Trail

Conservation // September 23, 2020

The Wissahickon hides some of its loveliest trails well – and the little-known, pedestrian-only Lavender Trail is a jewel of the park’s trail system. A network of loops that descends downhill from the Chestnut Hill side of the park to the Orange Trail, it’s usually comfortingly quiet and peaceful even on the weekends, with only walkers on their way up or down the valley. If you’re looking for a place to have a serene experience of nature in the Wissahickon, this might be it. 

Step through the curlicued iron gate at the Crefeld Street entrance, and begin your journey to the right. Massive oaks and tulip trees spread their canopies over the trail as it winds down a fairly steep stream ravine, while sweet birches and red maples fill the understory. The mature trees on the Lavender Trail are the tall species that once dominated the Wissahickon’s woods, and there are also native black cherry, hickory, and box elder trees hiding in the forest (though sadly, none of the American Chestnuts that once characterized these woods.) The oaks offer acorns in the fall for hungry wildlife, and perches for birds – if you are quiet enough, you might even see or hear one of the Barred Owls who nest in this section of the park. About 0.2 miles in, you’ll reach a fork in the trail – if you take the right, you can cross the footbridge and continue down the slope towards the Wissahickon Creek. The left-hand fork onto the Orange trail will lead you to the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge and Forbidden Drive.

In these ancient woods, you can almost imagine that the Lavender trail is the sole presence of people in an area that has always been wilderness – but the truth is more complicated. Like all of the Wissahickon, this forest is fundamentally shaped by human presence. Stormwater from the neighborhoods above the trail courses down the branches of the Lavender Gully in the valley, deeply eroding the steep stream ravine and making it one of the largest sources of sediment discharge into the creek. Meanwhile, invasive plants like burning bush and English ivy have spread onto the trail in many places. FOW’s next major restoration project, the Lavender Trail (Gully North) Project, will focus on combating both developments: we plan to slow the stream’s descent with catch ponds to stop the sediment outflow, including covering its banks with erosion-reducing native plantings. We hope that the design and permits for this stabilization project will be completed in the spring of 2021.

While the Wissahickon Valley Park we see today is a result of human influence, it’s comforting to know that we can do our part in preserving and creating new spaces of wildness. (You can find out more about FOW’s projects to tackle the challenges of climate change, development, and stormwater runoff in this month’s Weavers Way Shuttle article, here.) 

Trail Length: This trail is about 1.5 miles long with some modest hills. You can enter the trail from both the Crefeld Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue entrances, or below from the Orange Trail at the Covered Bridge. The Tedyuscung statue is also nearby, if you have some time for a brief detour down the White Trail.

Accessing the Trail: Park at the Crefeld Street Entrance. The trail is also accessible via SEPTA routes 23, L, and the Chestnut Hill West Line.