Where to Run: Downtown Philadelphia and the Schuylkill River Trail

Get in your daily run without missing out on the sightseeing

I was in downtown Philadelphia, staying at the Loews Hotel (1200 Market Street, 215.627.1200), and needed to slip out of the City Center area for a little exercise the morning after a filling Italian meal the night before. Joining some business-travel friends, we headed out from the City Hall area toward the Schuylkill River Trail, a multi-use trail in Southeastern Pennsylvania that will eventually extend 130 miles. As dawn eased around us and before the noise penetrated the confines of alleys between skyscrapers, we saw the quietness of a great American city.

On the running tour, we stood atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and raised our arms triumphantly like Rocky. The run took us past the historic Water Works and the Schuylkill Navy, which is the oldest amateur athletic governing body in the United States and which rules the historic rowing clubs located in the well-preserved English Tudor boathouses perched along the Schuylkill River. By the time we returned, the sun was up, and the city was alive with the morning rush, from downtown office workers to Philly cheese steak vendors setting up for the day.

How to Do It:

If you’re staying downtown, route yourself to the City Hall. Head northeast around or through the famed LOVE Park (officially JFK plaza, part of the Fairmount Park System). You’ll pick up Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which has wonderfully wide sidewalks. You’ll pass close to the Cathedral Basilica and then round yourself around Logan Square.

Stay along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, cut center through Eakins Oval and direct yourself straight toward the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which had the famous cameo in the original "Rocky" (1976). You’re likely to find other exercise junkies up here, running the steps and even doing sit-ups at the top landing.

From the museum, you can see the Schuylkill River to your left, and alongside it runs the Schuylkill River Trail, popular for bicycling, walking and running. Direct yourself northwest past the museum to pick up the Schuylkill River Trail. Soon you’ll pass the original Water Works area (beautiful!) and see the historic facilities of Boathouse Row from which the rowing teams launch their slender vessels. Continue up the trail in this riverside park and you’re likely to see the rowing teams out practicing on the calm waters. Continue as far as you like; my knees were asking for a break by the time I reached the regatta viewing stands just past the Columbia Railroad Bridge.

You can return into town at many points; we followed the trail until we reached Market Street, which we took straight back to City Hall.

Insider’s Tip: The trail is on both sides of the river, which is convenient if you’re also on the opposite side in West Philadelphia, where both the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are located.

Insider’s Tip #2: Many hotels have maps of suggested running routes if you ask for them specifically at the concierge or registration desk.

Geoff Kohl
About the author

Geoff Kohl previously served as the chief travel editor for Where and Read Geoff's full bio