What’s to love

Let’s get this out of the way: as far as I know, it’s not technically legal to hike to Graffiti Pier, the remains of a coal-loading dock owned and subsequently abandoned by Conrail in the 90’s. But lot of people do it anyway—including local Port Richmonders like me, who desperately wish we had some kind of public access to the waterfront.

(Graffiti Pier is currently going through lots of changes. In mid-May of 2018, the police started cracking down on tresspassers at this location. Since then, we’ve heard rumblings that the city is planning to turn the site into an actual public park, and there are big plans for a neighboring development. Whatever happens, the site is under increasing scrutiny of late.)

Dressed in a brightly-colored coat of drawings and tags, the decaying concrete structure that sits on what was once Pier 124 has become a popular hangout for street artists, photographers, paintball players, and, uh, underage drinkers. Most pier-goers are friendly, but the area is remote and you should use some caution if you’re planning to explore.

That said, one of my favorite things to do is poke around the woods just north of the pier. Calling them “woods” is a little charitable—this is a young, mangy-looking forest, with lots of plants that thrive in poor conditions. You know the Paulownia tree? A Paulownia is so stubborn it can grow from a crack in a brick wall. And you’ll find plenty of them here, along with their partner in not-giving-a-crap-about-soil-quality, the Staghorn Sumac.

Winding through the weed trees is a network of dirtbike trails, dotted with the occasional pile of illegally-dumped construction waste. Like John Heinz before it, this is an excellent place to trip over a toilet. And while it may not sound like a promising day hike, there’s a surprising amount of wildlife hidden in this little wedge of unused land between the interstate, the railroad and the river. I’ve seen deer tracks, fox holes, ducks and seabirds… in fact, on the very day I’m writing this I had the bejesus scared out of me by a groundhog I was not expecting.

In my dreams, the City of Philadelphia follows the John Heinz model and takes this place from a dump to a fully-fledged pocket wildlife refuge. Until then, hike it at your own risk.

Tips and quirks

  • The “trail map” above outlines the existing paths as best I can tell from Google Earth. The most recent satellite image is several years old, but I don’t think they’ve changed much.
  • In addition to Graffiti Pier, several other abandoned piers are accessible. They offer lovely views of the river, but no art.

Last updated: July 16, 2019

A small disclaimer: This website is not affilitated with the City of Philadelphia, its parks department, local non-profits, or any state or federal organization. Opinions reflected here are solely the author's: a regular person who happens to enjoy hiking. Like all outdoor activities, hiking carries some risks (including medical and personal safety risks) and requires preparation and supplies. Routes and conditions may have changed since this post was written. Make sure you follow all posted rules and local laws, as certain activities (like off-leash dogs or leaving marked trails) are frequently prohibitied.