Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Exploring the Uplands Hiking Trails of East and West Fairmount Parks

by Brian Schwarz

For the past six weeks, I have been exploring the uplands trails of East Fairmount Park. And today, inspired by The New Fairmount Park plan presented last night by the folks at Penn Praxis in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, I decided to check out some of the trails of the West Fairmount Park uplands as well. Here's a list of the Fairmount Park trails I've identified so far:

East Fairmount Park Trails

Lemon Hill Trail (Fairmount Avenue to Girard Avenue)

Uplands view from the Lemon Hill Trail of the Shuylkill River Trail below
This trail starts inconspicuously near the corner of Fairmount Avenue along Kelly Drive. Take the dirt path between Kelly Drive and Pennsylvania Avenue until it leads into the woods at 27th Street. At the 29th Street pedestrian bridge, turn left down hill, cross Sedgley Drive, and continue into the woods in front of Lemon Hill Mansion. This single-track dirt trail takes you along the escarpment between Lemon Hill and Kelly Drive, popping out of the woods only briefly between Oshanter Drive and the Lemon Hill Gazebo overlooking the Schuylkill River. It continues in the woods behind the gazebo all the way to the base of the steps at Girard Bridge. It ends here, but if you cross under the bridge you will find Glendinning Rock Garden just beyond Brewery Hill Drive.

Glendinning-Cliffs Trail (Girard Avenue to Reservoir Drive)

Cliffs mansion, in Sedgley Woods, along the Glendinning-Cliffs Trail
This trail begins at the Glendinning Rock Garden near the intersection of Kelly and Brewery Hill drives and leads up through Sedgley Woods to the abandoned Cliffs mansion, ending along Reservoir Drive at 33rd Street. Take the path that leads up to a doorway in an old stone wall, taking the stairs up to the top, and continue on the trail that leads up and to the left. At the top of this hill there is a veritable spiderweb of trails, but there is an outer ring trail you will follow out to the Schuylkill River overlook and then back along the railroad tracks. When the trail dips down and you see an entrance to the tracks, take it. Take the railroad tracks trail to the left, crossing under the railroad bridge. Then, look on the opposite side of the tracks for a trail that leads up into Sedgley Woods. Take this trail to the top of the hill where you will find a meadow. At the northwest corner of the meadow you find the Cliffs mansion. The trail continues out of the northeast corner of the meadow, where you will pass through the disc golf course and exit at the border between Sedgley Woods Disc Golf Course and the Strawberry Green Driving Range.

Boxers Trail (Reservoir Drive to Strawberry Bridge and Kelly Drive)

Mount Pleasant mansion as seen from the Boxers Trail, East Fairmount Park
The Boxers Trail is an amalgam of paved multi-use trail and gravel cart path that extends from Reservoir Drive at 33rd Street all the way to Strawberry Bridge. Follow the paved path past Sedgley Woods and Smith Playground & Playhouse, until it cuts across a field toward Fountain Green Drive. Near the base of Fountain Green, a gravel cart path enters the woods and continues along behind Mount Pleasant and several other historic homes before coming out of the woods again at the corner of Reservoir and Randolph drives. The Boxers Trail returns to pavement, arching around Randolph Drive between Laurel Hill Mansion and Edgley Field, continuing on to Strawberry Mansion. Behind Strawberry Mansion, the trail continues down two sets of steps, the first leading to Strawberry Bridge, and the second leading all the way to Kelly Drive.

West Fairmount Park Trails

Chamonix Woods Trail (Greenland Road to Falls Road)

"Brown Bear Stump" along the Chamonix Woods Trail, West Fairmount Park
This hilly run goes from Greenland Road, just west of Martin Luther King Drive, and leads up through Chamonix Woods to Chamonix Mansion. Enter the woods on the south side of Greenland Drive, then take the trail that hooks back and passes through a stone arch bridge. Continue on this wide trail - a former cart path or remnants of an old trolley line perhaps - as it sidles the Schuylkill Expressway. Just as the trail begins to go uphill, notice a single-track dirt path crosses it. The high trail goes to the left, passing by Chamonix Ball Fields, and the low trail goes to the right. Both will eventually join up again and take you all the way up to Chamonix Mansion. Cross the cul-de-sac, and the Chamonix Woods Trail continues down an old cart path, across an old stone bridge, where it turns sharply onto a smaller trail to the right. Continue on this path to its terminus near the intersection of Falls Road and Neill Drive.

Chamonix Creek Trail (Chamonix Drive to Ford Road)

Beneath the old stone bridge along the Chamonix Creek Trail
Across the cul-de-sac from Chamonix Mansion, located a few feet to the right of the cart path portion of the Chamonix Woods Trail, you will find a trail that is blazed bright orange and unofficially maintained by rogue mountain-bikers. According to locals, mountain bikers came in at night and blazed this overgrown historic trail by pruning back weeds and painting bright orange stripes on trees. Follow the orange blazed trail as it leads down to Chamonix Creek and continues as it passes beneath an old stone bridge (over which the aforementioned cart path passes) and continues to a spot along Ford Road just north of Chamonix Drive.

NOTE: Stay tuned for updates on this page, as I will add to it whenever I discover new trails and trail connectors - including the trails of the Belmont Plateau and West Park Wetlands.