Fairmount Park: Explore the Great Outdoors without Leaving the City

You don’t have to move to the suburbs to enjoy greenery and nature. Fairmount Park, one of the largest park systems in the country, offers the best of urban and suburban living. Enjoy a stroll on a trail or spend time picnicking in the park.

When you choose to live in the city, you often give up what some consider the perks of suburban life. You typically don’t get a yard, or if you do, it’s the size of a postage stamp, meaning there’s not much room to play, plant a garden, or set up a swimming pool. But while Philadelphia’s urban dwellers may lack their own private backyards, they can still find over 9,000 acres of lush greenery in Fairmount Park, the nation’s largest network of landscaped parks.

The Park’s History

Fairmount Park wasn’t created to offer residents of Philadelphia more green space. Instead, it was part of a 19th-century government initiative to provide a clean source of water for its citizens: The city bought the land around the municipal waterworks (the site where the Philadelphia Museum of Art is currently located), deeming it parkland. Its borders expanding over time, Fairmount Park now consists of more than 100 neighborhood parks.

What the Park Offers Today

Before the city bought the land that would become the initial part of the park system, it was one of the first public gardens in the country. The South Garden of the Fairmount Water Works fell into disrepair in the 20th century, but it was restored in 2007 and is now enjoyed by many. The park offers many other public gardens, too. In the early spring, the Azalea Garden (located near the South Garden, behind the Art Museum) is in full bloom and is a great place to sit, enjoy a picnic, or take engagement photos.

The park’s Horticultural Center will whet the appetite of any nature lover and will make you forget that you’re actually in the city. Inside the center is a greenhouse full of tropical plants, and the exterior of the building is surrounded by a number of gardens, including a vegetable garden, a perennial garden, and a butterfly garden.

The park has over 200 miles of walking and biking trails, which offer the perfect chance to escape the hustle and bustle of city living. You can access the park system’s trails at locations throughout the city, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park down in South Philly to Cobbs Creek Park on the western edge of the city. If you plan on taking a bike (or a horse!) on certain trails in the park, you need to apply for a permit.

Opportunities for fun and games abound in Fairmount Park. Ever wanted to learn how to ride a horse? You don’t have to go to a horse farm in the country. Fairmount has several stables and riding programs, which offer lessons to people of all skill levels. Tennis courts are scattered throughout the park system and free for residents of Philadelphia to use. You’ll also find several driving greens and mini-golf courses — and even a disc golf course in Sedgley Woods.

No matter where you end up in Philadelphia, you’re guaranteed to find a piece of the Fairmount Park system nearby. Whether you’re looking to enjoy more greenery or want to participate in an outdoor recreational activity on a lovely weekend day, Fairmount really has it all.

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