Groove is in the Hartwell Lane Trailhead
By Shawn Green
On beautiful summer weekends, when the Valley Green parking areas are overflowing with cars and people, it might seem hard to believe that just a short distance away is a quiet, less-used entrance to the park. Adjacent to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH), and nestled along the curve where Cherokee Street turns into W. Hartwell Lane, sits a lovely little trailhead. It’s a short walk from the St. Martins train station on the Chestnut Hill West line, and from the trailhead, it’s a short hike to popular spots like Valley Green Inn, Magargee Dam, Rex Avenue bridge, and the Tedyuscung statue.
Upon entering the forest at this trailhead, you’re immediately greeted by tall trees and the soothing sound of the Hartwell Run – the sweet embrace of nature! A minute down the path, it’s easy to forget that you’re in the 6th largest US city.
One of the most wonderful things about the trail system in Wissahickon Valley Park is its endless options – you can easily create loop hikes of varying distances & terrains, and starting at the Hartwell Lane trailhead is no exception. Within a few minutes of walking down the Hartwell Lane access trail, you’ll be met with a few options. To the left, you’ll find two trails that take you onto the SCH property, the second of which is a beautiful boardwalk recently funded by the SCH Parents Association that zigzags along Hartwell Run. If you instead continue down the access trail, there’s a fantastic little connector trail on the right that leads to the higher elevation White Trail. If you skip those trails, you can continue down the access trail into the gorge, where Hartwell Run eventually meets the Wissahickon Creek. From that spot, you can turn left and take the Orange Trail downstream to Valley Green Inn, or turn right and follow either the (lower) Orange Trail or (upper) White Trail upstream.
Below is a description of my favorite hike starting from the Hartwell Lane trailhead:
About 0.3 miles from the trailhead, turn right onto the connector trail. This dips down briefly to a serene spot along the stream before climbing up and curving around to a footbridge that leads you onto the White Trail. This section of the trail is scattered with with dramatic changes in elevation, beautiful views, and giant poplar trees. If you prefer less people on your outings into the Wissahickon, the white trail is for you! A little less than a mile after getting onto the White Trail, you’ll find yourself at the Rex Avenue trail access – turning left will take you down to the historic bridge. At this point, you have more choices to make! For a shorter hike, skip the next paragraph.
For a longer hike, cross the Rex Avenue trail access to continue on the White Trail. This will take you on a steep 150 feet uphill climb to the iconic Tedyuscung statue, a perfect place to stop and have a rest. Continuing down the White Trail, about a half mile from where you crossed the Rex Avenue trail access, turn left and head downhill along the old Thomas Mill road to the red covered bridge – the only covered bridge in a major US city! Here, you have the option to cross the bridge and take an easier stroll along Forbidden Drive, but I recommend taking the Orange Trail downstream about a half mile back to the Rex Avenue bridge.
From the Rex Avenue bridge, take the Orange Trail downstream. This section of the Orange Trail is rugged and stunning – its keeps close to the bank of the Wissahickon Creek, and provides a mix of fascinating Wissahickon geology, Rhododendron (which bloom around early June), Hemlock trees, and cool, creek breezes. By the Magargee Dam, you’ll find a bunch of great spots to sit and relax and enjoy the rush of water. About a mile from the Rex Avenue bridge, the Orange Trail connects with the White Trail at the bottom of Hartwell Run. Follow that trail access uphill along the Hartwell Run, out of the gorge, and back to the Hartwell Lane trailhead.
Longer Loop: about 3.8 miles
Shorter Loop: about 2.7 miles
When hiking on trails, remember to wear firm hiking boots or sneakers, bring a bottle of water, and watch where you step – avoid poison ivy, stepping off trail, or twisting your ankle on the rocks. I recommend taking a map with you so that you can easily find your way and plan a hike of your own. Or, if you’re more adventurous, just follow a trail and see where it takes you!