5 Places to Run In…Philadelphia

The Rocky Steps are a good starting point for a city full of good running spots. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Philadelphia may be best known for its rich history, perennially frustrated pro sports teams (and fans), and Rocky Balboa. But it also offers many great places to run as well as quirky tourist spots and restaurants that will make you forget the iconic cheese steak.

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Here are five great places to run, from historic parks to iconic speedways in and around Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Art Museum and Kelly Drive

Remember that scene in the movie when Rocky ran up the Art Museum steps? Well, he’s still there—in statue form. After you pose next to him, head west on Kelly Drive (named for Olympic rower John B. Kelly Jr., actress Grace’s brother) and run past the 12 clubhouses of Boathouse Row, where crew teams store their boats. Continue to Falls Bridge and either turn around to return to the start or keep going to tally 20 miles by the time you arrive at historic Valley Forge.

You’ll have great views of the Schuylkill River, but Kelly Drive can get crowded with runners, walkers, roller bladers and baby strollers; if it bothers you cross over the Schuylkill River at Falls Bridge and take the quieter (and closed to vehicles April to October) Martin Luther King Drive, aka West River Drive, back along Fairmont Park and the Philadelphia Zoo. Either route nets you about 8.5 miles.

Schuylkill Banks

In 2014 Philadelphia opened an $18 million shore-style boardwalk. Unlike the beachside version this one is made of concrete, not wood, but it offers runners and walkers a unique, run-on-water experience in the downtown area. Called Schuylkill Banks, it’s 2,000 feet long and part of the Schuylkill River Trail, itself 27 miles long, so you can start further north, and run out and back for your desired distance. Or you can start at the Boardwalk’s northern end, then continue onto the South Street Bridge at the south end of the Boardwalk to go to Penn Park, near the University of Pennsylvania—to get there you’ll pass Franklin Field, home of the historic Penn Relays. Penn Park is a small oasis of green, and it’s marked in quarter-mile increments if you want to do a little distance-specific speed work.

Forbidden Drive

Wissahickon Park’s Forbidden Drive sounds somewhat mysterious, but the “forbidden” refers to motorized vehicles. It’s human-power only in this 1,800-acre park, laced with 50-plus miles of multi-use trails (some of the other users are horses, so watch your step).

There are multiple entry points: if you start on the southern end, at Lincoln Drive, you can see the restored early settlement of RittenhouseTown. Start in the middle, at Valley Green Inn, and you’ll have a convenient refueling spot, and if you start at the northern end, you can visit the Cedars House Café for sandwiches and smoothies. In any case, you’ll feel like you are deep in the woods (the park is a noted birding area). If you stay on Forbidden Drive, you’ll have a flat run, as it parallels the Wissahickon Creek; take a side trail for some elevation. You’ll also see bridges and dams built during the late 1930s by the New Deal agency Works Progress Administration.

FDR Park

If you’re comfortable with a slightly more gritty environment, head to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia. It was designed by the Olmsted brothers, who also designed New York City’s Central Park. There’s a lake and golf course, sports fields, a skateboard park built beneath heavy-use artery I-95, and the arresting American Swedish Historical Museum—if you’re craving lingonberries, the museum store has them. Start your run north of FDR, at Marconi Plaza, where a statue honors Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radio, then head south toward FDR’s Pattison Avenue entrance. Run a lap of the park, keeping an eye out for the lake, the golf course, and the gazebo, for about 3 miles. Want more? Continue south to the Navy Yard, a mixed-use industrial-retail area right on the river: you can see the boats being built.

Ben Franklin Bridge

This 8,300-foot span carries more than 100,000 vehicles a day over the Delaware River, but luckily there’s a pedestrian path. Time your run for sun-up or sundown for spectacular views, and the on- and off-ramps give your quads a nice hill workout. Run from New Jersey to Philadelphia, and you’ll exit the bridge at Penn’s Landing, right next to the historic district. Snake through the narrow streets to see Elfreth’s Alley, which has 32 homes dating from the early 1700s, the atmospheric Christ Church Burial Ground, where Ben Franklin rests, and Franklin Square, one of five parks planned by Franklin as part of his original vision for the city.  You can add miles by running south from the Bridge on the Delaware River Trail, with a view (and breeze) from the river, and take in the Korean War Memorial.

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