Trailhead of the Month: Andorra Natural Area

Nature // November 02, 2016

The Andorra Natural Area, one of the less visited access points in Wissahickon Valley Park, can be reached by car from the intersection of Ridge Avenue and Northwestern Avenue. When SEPTA workers are not on strike, the SEPTA 27 bus stops at this intersection as well. Cruise (slowly!) down Northwestern Avenue for a little over a half mile, pass Andorra Meadow on the right, and pull into the parking lot on the right. The three trailheads in this area offer many different and interesting trail experiences.* Click here for a detailed map of the Andorra Natural Area trail system.

The Andorra Natural Area was formerly a tree nursery and many unusual, non-native tree species like Japanese maple, Korean evodia, and European beech can be seen in this section of the park. Take the Forest Loop Trail at the trailhead adjacent to the kiosk and make the first right on the Yellow Trail** to visit the Great Beech, a European Beech and a Pennsylvania State Champion Tree with a height of over 102 feet.

Continue along the Yellow Trail for less than a quarter mile to meet up with the Forest Loop Trail again. Turn right to visit the Andorra Meadow, a recent restoration project undertaken by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) to expand habitat for birds, pollinating insects, and other wildlife. This area was cleared of invasive species and planted with native trees, shrubs, and warm-season grasses supporting over 20 species of birds. Keep a lookout for raptors flying overhead this time of year and enjoy the scenic vistas along the Meadow Trail Loop, a sustainable trail route through the meadow built by FOW volunteers and contractors.

For a more direct route to the meadow, follow the Forest Loop Trail along Northwestern Avenue by entering from the southwest corner of the parking lot where we started our journey. You’ll pass through a Japanese maple grove on your way up the hill to the meadow.

Want to stay in the woods instead of visiting the meadow? Turn left onto the Forest Trail Loop from the Yellow Trail to visit the Fallen Cucumber Magnolia. This tree had a diameter of over four feet when it fell in the spring of 2008. Continue along this trail for approximately a half mile to reach the Wissahickon Environmental Center, also known as the Tree House because of the giant Sycamore that once grew through the back porch roof. FOW recently invested over $500,000 restoring the exterior of the building, improving the landscaping around the building, and installing the back porch, which serves as an outdoor classroom space complete with a green roof! If you want to visit the Wisssahickon Environmental Center first, follow the trail beginning in the northeast corner of the lot (adjacent to the parking lot gate) down and make a left at the next intersection. You will see the Tree House down the hill on the right.

There are many other trails and points of interest to visit in this area, so please consider stopping by to say hello to the PPR staff in the Wissahickon Environmental Center. They have a wellspring of environmental and historical knowledge to share about the Andorra Natural Area and the entire Wissahickon Valley Park!

* Please remember that the trails in the Andorra Natural Area and Meadow are open only to hikers and equestrians. Bikers can opt for the bike bypass route to reach Forbidden Drive.

**This trail does not connect to the Yellow Trail that runs parallel to Forbidden Drive on the west side of the Wissahickon Creek. This trail begins just below Bells Mill Road.

by Sarah Marley, FOW Outreach Manager