John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum
993 acres — 10.0 miles of trails
What’s to love
This may be my favorite weird and wild place to hike in Philly. Located right by the airport, John Heinz is a beautiful thousand-acre wildlife refuge maintained by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. As such, it’s also home to a fancy education center complete with room-length taxidermy displays of local wildlife. (Update: as of 2020, there are newly-added educational displays, including interactive stories from the community and more about the habitats and history of the refuge.) Bring the kids!
The refuge is a bird-watcher’s haven, with over 300 species recorded. The environment transitions from woods to meadows to tidal marshes (in fact, this is the state’s largest remaining tidal marsh).
A wide walking trail circles around the “impoundment”—meaning the diked and captured body of open water at the center of the refuge—with boardwalks, benches, and educational signage and scattered throughout.
Tips and quirks
- John Heinz is a superfund site! Through the 1970’s, several areas around the marsh served as quasi-legal dumping grounds.
- Since this is a National refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wardens enforce rules here. You’ll want to make sure to stay on the trails.
- There are bald eagles at John Heinz. They nest in a tall tree on an island in the impoundment. If you want to see the nest, head up the trail around the west side of the marsh. There’s a sign posted at the best vantage point.
- You can canoe a 4.5-mile section of Darby creek here. According to Wikipedia, you’ll be able to see: an old Sun Oil tank farm, a capped landfill, a recycling center, and an abandoned sewage treatment plant. I’m really selling this, aren’t I? It’s actually very beautiful on the creek.
- The trail around the impoundment is much more scenic than the second loop around the rest of the marsh. The marsh half is…well, marsh-ey. Lots of tall grass. And mud.
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Last updated: February 23, 2022
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.