A Guide to Some of Philadelphia’s Best Outdoor Spaces

By: Rachel Djaraher of the University of Pennsylvania

Living in in the city, depending on what part you are in, can make spending time in nature feel like an obstacle. Given the fact that rates of depression and anxiety are rising, it’s more important than ever to spend time in nature.

Philly is home to many parks, trails and green spaces that can provide refuge from this city life! In fact, time in nature is now being prescribed as an approach to treat a wide variety of health conditions including depression, high blood pressure, and anxiety. 

Spending time in nature really benefits mental health. Researchers in a recent study compared the results of people who participated in a 50-minute walk in either a natural or an urban environment. The study suggested that spending time in nature decreases the negative mental state associated with anxiety. It also suggested that spending time in nature has benefits related to thinking and memory. In fact, people who looked at photographs and videos of nature showed a decrease in heart rate and other indicators of stress. 

Combining exercise and nature can give your mental health the boost it needs during this stressful time. Want to learn more about the mental health benefits of moving? Read this blog post: Do Your Mental Health a Favor & Get Moving!

Here’s a roundup of some of the best spots in Philly to help you spend more time in nature!

Fairmount Park 

At over 2,000 acres, Fairmount Park has family-friendly attractions like ball fields, picnic areas, and fountains. The park lies on both sides of the Schuylkill River, which lends to its beautiful scenery. The park is great for walking, running or biking.

Wissahickon Valley Park 

The forests in this park are so beautiful that you’ll forget you’re within city limits. It truly has something for everyone. With 50+ miles of trails, it’s perfect for hiking, running, biking, fishing, and horseback riding. The park features multiple trails that offer a variety scenic attractions. Forbidden Drive, a wide, flat, gravel trail is popular among many for running and walking. If you’d rather hike, the upper trails feature higher inclines and rockier terrain. 

Pennypack Park 

This park, whose name means “slow moving water” stretches 9 miles along the Delaware River. You’ll find 1,600 acres of meadows, wetlands, fields and rolling hills.  It has a variety of paved and unpaved trails that are ideal for biking, running, horseback riding and hiking. 

John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

Connect with nature at America’s First Urban Refuge! This space is nestled within the city of Philadelphia, providing green space and a diversity of wildlife.  It features 10 miles of trails and a 1 mile Boardwalk Loop that is wheelchair accessible. In the visitor center, fishing rods and binoculars are available free of charge. 

James G. Kaskey Memorial Park aka “The BioPond”

If you work or go to school in West Philly, check out the BioPond over your lunch break. It’s tucked away on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. This is another beautiful space that will make you forget that you’re in the city. 

Cira Green Rooftop 

Cira Green is an elevated park located in University City. This rooftop greenspace area features a 1.25 acre space with grass, trees, and other landscaping. 

Penn Treaty Park

Located in Fishtown, Penn Treaty Park is a quick and convenient way to connect with nature without leaving the city. The park lies along the Delaware River and has 7 acres of open green space and picnic areas.

Schuylkill River Banks

Last but not least, we have the popular and easily accessible Schuylkill River Banks. The best part about this outdoor area is that it’s easily accessible from Center City. This outdoor area that spans along the length of the Schuylkill is a widely-loved spot for running, walking, yoga, biking and picnicking. 

We truly do have the best of both worlds in Philadelphia. Where else can you find lush green spaces with views of the city skyline? As always, please follow CDC guidelines for social distancing in public places and always wear a face mask.

Although studies have shown that exercise and nature can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, it should never take the place of consultation with a mental health professional. If you are experiencing symptoms of major depression or generalized anxiety, consider talking with your counselor about adding exercise to your treatment plan.

Important resources on COVID-19: 

  • For the latest information and updates on COVID-19 coronavirus in Philadelphia: phila.gov/COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 Text Alerts: Text COVIDPHL to 888-777 to receive updates to your phone.
  • Greater Philadelphia Coronavirus Helpline: Call the 24/7 helpline to speak with a health care professional. 1-800-722-7112