Southeastern Pennsylvania is home to a variety of trails that allow outdoor enthusiasts and families to get out and explore nature. One of those pathways is the Schuylkill River Trail, a 130-mile stretch that spans from Philadelphia to Auburn, Pennsylvania, and is part of the regional network of Circuit Trails.
Currently over 60 miles of the trail is available to use, with future plans to connect the full trail and make it accessible from start to finish. Even with parts still under construction, the Schuylkill River Trail is packed with learning opportunities and fun activities for kids and adults of all ages.
“The Schuylkill River Trail offers us an opportunity to take a step away from our busy lives and contemplate our place in nature,” says Anya Saretzky, project manager for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails along former rail lines. “It also shows how the Philadelphia region developed because of our waterways.”
Here are a few of our favorite educational stops to make along the Schuylkill River Trail.
640 Waterworks Drive, Philadelphia, PA
Whether you plan to start or end your day exploring the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia, the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, located at the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is a great option for learning about the river’s past and present. The center originally opened in 1815 as the sole water-pumping station in Philadelphia and later operated as the Philadelphia Aquarium until 1962.
In 2003, after years of fundraising to preserve the historic structure, the Interpretive Center opened to the public again as a way to educate the public about the area’s local waterways and water history. Today, Fairmount Water Works is a hub for STEM and environmental education, scientific research, and community events. In addition to land and water tours that educate visitors about wildlife in the river, the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center is home to a freshwater mussel hatchery where visitors can learn how mussels impact freshwater resources like the Schuylkill River.
1201 Pawlings Rd., Audubon, PA
Nestled along the Schuylkill River Trail in Audubon, Pennsylvania, the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove is one of the premiere spots along the trail to do some birdwatching. The educational center offers free bird walks every Saturday morning from 8-10 a.m. and guided canoe trips along the Perkiomen Creek on Thursdays and Saturdays for $15.00 per person. Plus, visitors have a chance to see John James Audubon’s historic home up close, and kids can run about on the Fledgling Trail which offers a zip line and the chance to build their own bird nests!
“We want people to get out in nature and experience why John James Audubon fell in love with this place,” says Carrie Barron, center manager for the John James Audubon Center. “The Schuylkill River Trail allows people to connect to the river and learn more about the amazing animals that call it home.”
8480 Hagy’s Mill Rd., Philadelphia, PA
With over 340 acres of forests, fields, and streams, the Schuylkill Center opened in 1965 and was one of the first environmental education centers in the country. Today, it remains one of the preeminent areas of the Schuylkill River Trail where children and adults can learn about and explore nature and wildlife. The center offers nature preschool and kindergarten classes for children ages 3-5 and summer camps and day-off camps for kids ages 5-12.
If planning a day trip, families can explore the Tall Trees Nature Playscape, designed specifically for youngsters, and stop into the interactive Discovery Center, which teaches visitors what they will see and experience before setting out on the hiking trails.
140 College Drive, Pottstown, PA
Schuylkill River Greenways facilitates community outreach initiatives and educational opportunities along the five-county heritage area along the Schuylkill River Trail. “The mission of Schuylkill River Greenways (SRG) is to bring people to the trail and river with the goal of fostering stewardship of the watershed and its heritage,” says Miica Patterson, communications director for SRG. “We want people to experience the Heritage Area so they are motivated to protect it.”
At the organization’s headquarters, visitors will find the River of Revolutions Interpretive Center. “The visitor center provides education about the Schuylkill River region with features such as fun, interactive exhibits, maps, video monitors and informative displays,” says Patterson. “The center is an interactive way for individuals and families to learn how the river played an impactful role in the American, Industrial and Environmental Revolutions.”
The center also provides access to the Pottstown RiverWalk, a one-mile-long loop trail where families can learn about birds, wildlife, and plant species.
575 St. Bernardine Street, Reading, PA
If you find yourself in or near Reading, Pennsylvania, take a moment to enjoy all the Schuylkill River Trail has to offer by stopping at The Nature Place, which is located just a short walk from the trail. “Most of our programs and displays at The Nature Place help to educate visitors about the Schuylkill River watershed and, of course, the larger Delaware River Watershed,” says Tami Shimp, vice president of development and community relations for Berks Nature. “Our property includes wetlands, creek, and many habitats to explore—there is even a boardwalk over the wetlands!”
This fun, educational center sits on nearly 100-acres in Angelica Creek Park and offers a host of great learning activities for kids and adults including teaching gardens, a nature preschool, and the kid-friendly Nature Play Zone.
Visitors who wish to examine the wetlands can pick up a free explorer pack to help assist in their mission. The center also features an indoor observable beehive, a special birding window where visitors can see local species, microscopes in the lobby, and rescued three-toed Eastern Box Turtles.
No matter where you are on the Schuylkill River Trail, there are plenty of chances to stop off and learn about local wildlife and the importance of the local watershed. Find a center and start exploring today!