Tips For Trail Travel

Conservation // March 11, 2021

We’ve had some unseasonably warm days here in Philadelphia recently and a visit to the Wissahickon is at the top of everyone’s mind!  As you start exploring off of Forbidden Drive, there are a few things you should always remember about sharing and taking care of the park’s trails. 

#1. Mind the mud!

It’s mud season in the Wissahickon! When the frozen ground of the park’s upper trails begins thawing in the spring, it becomes looser and highly susceptible to erosion. If disturbed before they have time to adequately dry, the upper trails become muddy, making them less passable for park visitors and causing long-term damage to trail surfaces.

What can you do to prevent this damage? Give muddy trails a miss. If you are leaving prints (hoof, tire, or boot) on a trail, it’s too wet to use and you should probably pick an alternate route. If you have to cross a muddy spot, please hike or ride through it rather than around it: going around widens the trail and can cause damage to the surrounding habitat. When the park is really muddy, it’s best to stick to Forbidden Drive.

If a trail looks like this, give it a miss.

#2. Keep calm and courteous.

Bikers, hikers, and horses: who goes first? It’s not a mystery, and following trail courtesy guidelines is key to staying safe on the trails. 

  • As the largest, slowest-to-maneuver and (usually) least-predictable creatures on the trail, horses get the right of way from both hikers and mountain bikers. Hikers and bikers should avoid loud noises or sudden movements that could spook a horse.
  • Bikers should be prepared to yield for hikers and pedestrians at any time,  and should always call out on trails as they approach.
  • Though not widely known, hikers and runners going uphill have the right of way. Hiking courtesy also extends to groups: groups should walk in single file, and single hikers should yield for groups to pass.
  • Finally, all dogs must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet within the boundaries of Wissahickon Valley Park. Dogs off leash can scare or injure horses, riders, bikers, and runners, and dog waste is a significant contributor to water quality issues in the Wissahickon Creek. Owners of off-leash dogs can also be assessed a significant fine from Philadelphia Park Rangers. Don’t let that be you!

#3. Stay on trail, don’t start your own.

While giving trails a break during mud season is key to preventing erosion damage, the best place to be on a hike is always directly on trail to protect the surrounding habitat. FOW works to improve the park’s trails so that they are sustainable, easy to maintain, and minimize impact on the species that call the park home – but that means straying off them can smush native plants that have taken years to grow or scare animals living in the cover.

If you see a rogue trail (created accidentally or purposefully off an existing one), don’t travel it – and let us know. We regularly close rogue trails or unsustainable routes to protect the park’s habitat. The quickest way to report a rogue trail is texting WISS to (267) 966-2207, our park damages reporting system.

Thank you for looking after Wissahickon Valley Park’s trails!