By Sam Klugherz
The Schuylkill River Trail is, without a doubt, the central passage of The Circuit within Philadelphia. While it may seem like the trail system ends at the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk area near South Street, there are ride destinations beyond the trail that are well worth checking out. These destinations include the peaceful Bartram’s Garden on the river, the Cobbs Creek nature corridor that divides West Philly and Delaware County, and the scenic wetlands of the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. A route that travels through these destinations follows entirely along a section of the East Coast Greenway, the trail network connecting Florida to Maine. A link to the map of the route can be found at the bottom of this post.
Bartram’s Garden is a 45-acre garden and arboretum located right on the west bank of the Schuylkill River. Like many other destinations in Philadelphia, Bartram’s Garden is a National Historic Landmark with a rich history dating back to the 1700s. As a riverfront property, Bartram’s Garden hosts fun activities on the river such as boating, which is free on Saturdays until October, and fishing. The grounds are free to visit and open year round. The garden is easily accessible by bike, since a segment of the Circuit Trails called the Bartram’s Mile Trail travels through the garden. Bike racks are also available. Explore a map of the garden and other activities on their website.
A short ride from Bartram’s Garden on the 58th Street Greenway takes you to the Cobbs Creek Trail, which is a 3.7-mile trail along Cobbs Creek in West Philly. Along the trail are several historic and educational sites that you can visit, including Mount Moriah Cemetery and the Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center at 700 Cobbs Creek Parkway. There are few street crossings, which is ideal for an uninterrupted ride when cycling with children.
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge
Riding south from the Cobbs Creek Trail takes you to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1972, the National Wildlife Refuge is made up of 1,000 acres of different kinds of natural habitats, easily accessible by 10 miles of trails throughout the refuge. In addition to protecting Pennsylvania’s largest remaining freshwater tidal marsh, the refuge serves as a resting and feeding place for migratory birds. This allows for outstanding birdwatching and wildlife-viewing during a ride through the refuge. John Heinz NWR also has an environmental education center of its own with exhibits specific to the refuge.
Trail Additions Coming Soon!
Despite making up a section of the East Coast Greenway, the route that travels to these destinations is partly on roads with bike lanes. Fortunately, thanks in part to the advocacy of the Bicycle Coalition, there are current and future trail projects that will make it possible to ride to these destinations entirely on trails! You can see the progress of the color-coded trails on the Circuit Trails map. Here’s a brief summary of the trails that are coming soon:
- Schuylkill Crossing Swing Bridge: This addition will connect the east and west banks of the Schuylkill River with a bike/ped swing bridge. The bridge will make it much easier and safer to access the Bartram’s Mile Trail from the Grays Ferry Crescent. Construction is ongoing and is expected to be completed next summer.
- Cobbs Creek Connector: Currently under construction are trail segments that will ultimately connect the Cobbs Creek Trail to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.
- Schuylkill Banks extension to Crescent: This trail, which is in the pipeline stage, will connect the end of the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk to the Crescent Trail, making for a complete trail-only route to the future Schuylkill Crossing swing bridge from the SRT.