Autumn in Philadelphia brings bright oranges, reds and yellows to the trees of the city’s urban bike paths, sculpture gardens, cemeteries, parks and neighborhoods. Enjoy the beauty of Philadelphia’s fall foliage at these mostly free destinations.
To appreciate the gold, red and yellow leaves of fall, my Philly family likes to keep it local. Philadelphia offers plenty of great opportunities to view fall foliage, and many of these destinations are free. Here are the best places we’ve found to enjoy changing fall colors inside the city of Philadelphia.
Independence National Historical Park
We enjoy fall season colors without even leaving Center City Philadelphia. For example, Independence Hall, located downtown in the Old City neighborhood at 6th and Chestnut, is surrounded by acres of landscaped gardens, trees and historical buildings. It’s all part of Independence National Historical Park. The park’s autumn colors can often be seen in October, November and even early December. Plus, this colorful oasis in the middle of the city is free.
Fall Foliage Behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art
First, the top of the “Rocky” steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the best places to see the Philly skyline and the fall season colors of the tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Second, behind the Philadelphia Art Museum, also downtown, is a free landscaped sculpture garden. Its trees and bushes put on a good show of fall colors, and its lawn slopes down to the Schuylkill River. This gem of a pocket urban park has plenty of space for kids to run around. And I appreciate that there are bathrooms and a casual café nearby in the public building at the base of Boathouse Row.
Bike & Walking Path Along the Schuylkill River
Behind the Philadelphia Art Museum and Boathouse Row, for several miles along the Schuylkill River, is a free public bike and walking path with good views of the river and fall foliage. If you don’t have your own bike, there’s a rental shop, Wheel Fun Rentals, located at the foot of Boathouse Row. For me, it’s a special pleasure to see changing fall colors next to the beautiful river and the boaters rowing on the river.
TravelingMom Tip: While the bike path and ribbon park are wide, they are adjacent to a busy and pretty noisy street, Kelly Drive. So be careful if you’re biking there with kids.
Fall Foliage Along Kelly Drive & MLK Drive in Philadelphia
A different, free way to enjoy fall foliage along the Schuylkill riverbank is from inside your car. On the east side of the Schuylkill River are several twisting miles of Kelly Drive (named for Grace Kelly’s father, an Olympic rower from Philadelphia). The lovely view of the river and fall leaves is punctuated by runners, bikers and picnickers. And on the west side of the Schuylkill River is Martin Luther King Drive, lined by trees on both sides, with glimpses of the river.
TravelingMom Tip: If you take Kelly Drive a few miles to the East Falls neighborhood where Princess Grace grew up, you’ll find great pizza at In Riva. While it’s a full-service Italian restaurant, my favorite is the creative, wood-fired, thin-crust pizzas.
Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park
Philadelphia is lucky to have a forest inside the city. It’s part of the city’s extensive public park system, called Fairmount Park. And we are lucky that Philadelphia banned cars from the main path through the park. In fact, that’s why the main path is named Forbidden Drive—it forbids cars. But hikers, bikers, dog walkers and even horseback riders are welcome on Forbidden Drive.
This wooded path is even prettier because it runs alongside the twisting Wissahickon Creek, so views of fall foliage are reflected in the creek’s water. Located inside Philadelphia city limits, this 1,800-acre park is mostly woods and stretches from the Chestnut Hill neighborhood to the Manayunk neighborhood. While my family sticks to the main path, hikers who are up for a more rugged experience can take the crisscrossing trails while enjoying the fall colors.
Belmont Plateau in West Philadelphia
It’s fun to check out fall foliage while taking in the city’s skyline. And a good place to do that is Belmont Plateau in West Philadelphia. This sprawling green lawn is rimmed by trees. Far in the distance is the Philadelphia skyline, looming like the Emerald City. And Belmont Plateau is free. Check out other great views of the Philadelphia skyline.
Fall Foliage at Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill
The 92-acre Morris Arboretum in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia has striking fall foliage. And I love seeing kids at the Arboretum climbing the huge outdoor sculptures, playing hide and seek in the garden buildings, visiting the swans and ducks in the pond or peeking inside the Victorian greenhouse. Plus, fall season colors are all around. The Arboretum has native and imported trees of all sizes, as well as programs for kids and adults. While there’s an entrance fee, there are also bathrooms and a casual café on site.
Laurel Hill Cemetery in East Falls
My kids like spooky things. And I love to see the changing leaves while wandering around the sprawling Laurel Hill graveyard, located a few miles from Center City, what we call midtown Philadelphia. Surprisingly, Laurel Hill Cemetery is a lively place. Not only does the cemetery welcome walkers, bikers and picnickers, it also has great views of the Schuylkill River. That’s because Laurel Hill Cemetery is perched high on a hill in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia. Laurel Hill Cemetery is free and has a bathroom and a souvenir shop. (Want 8 More Fun Free Things to Do in Philadelphia? Click here.)
Horticultural Center in West Philadelphia
Between watching the changing fall colors, kids can run on several acres of open green lawn dotted with sculptures, watch a fountain or picnic beneath the trees at the Horticultural Center in West Philadelphia. You can also duck inside the greenhouse, which has plants and statues. The Horticultural Center, which is free and offers bathrooms, is inside Philadelphia’s sprawling Fairmount Park. Bonus: It’s across the street from a replica of a 17th Century Japanese House and Garden, which charges a fee, is a destination in itself and has its own beautiful fall foliage.
For more Philly fun, check out this insider’s guide to things to do in Philadelphia.