Combining Nature and History: Hikes with Children near Philadelphia

When Virgil was younger, he liked to play a game he called “combinding,” creating fantastical animals that had, say, the wings of an eagle, the legs of a cheetah, and a python’s constricting strength. AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Philadelphia, published this spring, contains a number of hikes that “combind” interesting history, fun activities, and nature exploration for children. Here are five that caught my eye:

1. Schuylkill River Trail. Philadelphia. A 10-mile stretch of a planned 130 miles of trail along the Schuylkill River offers art, gardens, an extensive urban park and trail system, bustling river life, even a water museum. Park at Lloyd Hall, near the entrance to the Philadelphia Art Museum, and walk north along the east side of the river. Not all the art is inside: 9,200-acre Fairmount Park is known for its sculpture gardens — and its flowering gardens (azaleas near the art museum, cherry trees by the river). Watch rowers come and go from ornate boathouses along Boathouse Row. The former Fairmount Water Works now houses a water museum, with exhibits attuned to children’s interests. The round trip from the parking area at Lloyd Hall (where there are public restrooms) to Girard Avenue Bridge is approximately 3 miles.

2. Valley Forge National Historic Park. King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Washington really did sleep here, along with the rest of the Continental Army over a bitter winter during the Revolutionary War that we now call the Encampment of 1777-1778. Valley Forge was considered an important historic area almost from the start. The area around Washington’s headquarters was established as Pennsylvania’s first state park in 1893; the site became a national park in 1976. The current network of trails provides a walking tour of the encampment’s historic buildings, starting with Washington’s Headquarters at the visitor’s center, and including reconstructed soldiers’ huts. You can also see ruins of the forges along Valley Creek that gave the historic area its name.

3. Rancocas State Park. Mt. Holly, New Jersey. This 1,100-acre pinelands park in western New Jersey incorporates the Rankokus Indian Reservation, which is leased to the Powhatan Renape Nation. A museum and replica village are open to the public. (Limited hours; check the website for current schedule.) The New Jersey Audubon Society maintains a nature center, a natural history museum, and a network of trails, and a schedule of programs for children and families.

4. Monocacy Trail. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Follow industrial and immigrant history along a river trail. Depending on where you want to go along the 3-mile trail, you’ll see Illick’s Mill, a grain mill that operated in the latter half of the nineteenth century and is now a community environmental center; Burnside Plantation, a living history museum of the Moravian immigrants who founded Bethlehem; Historic Bethlehem’s Colonial Industrial Quarter, with its restored Water Works (begun in 1754 and considered America’s first pumped town water system), tannery, and other early manufacturing buildings. Cross over the Lehigh Canal and Towpath to the mouth of the Monocacy Creek at its confluence with the Lehigh River for iconic views of the once-mighty blast furnaces and rolling mills of Bethlehem Steel. Steel production ended there in 1995. The mills now house a casino.

5. Little Lehigh Parkway. Allentown, Pennsylvania. Virgil would love this combination: a trail with a scale model of the solar system; the Museum of Indian Culture, with exhibits about the culture of the Lenape and other woodland Indians of the Northeast; the Lil-Le-Hi Trout Nursery — and a fly shop that gives lessons in fly fishing and fly tying. The museum is open Friday through Sunday; fishing is encouraged every day.

Next up — great hikes with children in and around New York City.

Photo by Sue Beyer, from an article about the Illick's Mill opening in 2009.

Learn more
… about AMC’s Best Day Hikes near Philadelphia
… about AMC’s Delaware Valley Chapter

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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