2019 Running Travels: Philadelphia’s John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is beautiful

View of John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum from the Big Boardwalk - marsh in front with trees in back.
Here’s a view from the Big Boardwalk at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. I ran there Sunday, June 16. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I’ve been wanting to run at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum for years, and I finally made that happen this month.

Years ago, I saw the area featured in Runner’s World. There have been many beautiful spots highlighted as part of the Rave Run feature, but usually, they were far away. This one was relatively close, in Philadelphia — a little more than two-and-a-half hours from where I live in Salisbury.

Thin boardwalk going through center of marsh in photo - surrounded by green
This boardwalk was really short, but I thought it looked cool.

So, it wasn’t next door or anything, but it also didn’t involve a plane ride. I’m not sure exactly when it ran in the magazine, but the online timestamp is from 2015 — so I’ve been wanting to visit this place for a while.

I attended the Public Relations Society of America Travel and Tourism Conference earlier this month, which was in Philadelphia. Traveling alone without any plans before the conference began on Sunday, June 16, made for the perfect opportunity for me to check out the refuge.

I left my mom and stepdad’s house in the morning so I’d have time to run at the refuge before I got to my hotel (while visiting them, I ran at Oregon Ridge Park).

Vanessa Junkin taking a selfie with the marsh behind her
Selfie time!

The refuge was not far off Route 95 — very close to the Philadelphia International Airport. My GPS had said to take Exit 13, but signs said to take Exit 10, so I did. I was better off with Exit 13 (which I did end up taking), although the map shows that there are parking lots on both sides of the refuge.

I ended up parking by the visitor center. I headed out on a trail and soon came across a boardwalk that crossed Darby Lake and offered some beautiful views. After crossing that, I made my way to the other side of the Wetland Loop trail and followed that onto the Tinicum Trail. I saw that two trails formed a loop, and the second trail basically went through the marsh, and that looked cool, and I decided to make that part of my run.

Wide trail with trees on both sides
This is what a good portion of the Wildlife Loop Trail looked like. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I knew I was starting to cut it close on time, but I decided to make it to the place where the Tinicum Trail meets the Darby Creek Trail — the two trails that made up the aforementioned loop — where I would then start heading back to where I parked.

There were more trails if I’d had the time, but I didn’t on this day. I also wasn’t moving quickly — I wasn’t going that fast to begin with, I was stopping to take a bunch of photos and I started doing a run-walk at some point. It was warm out. I brought a bottle of water with me, but I finished that before I finished the run.

View of some water, marsh and tall grasses with a tree to the right of center
This was a cool view from my run. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Much of the Wetland Loop Trail on the eastern side, the first side I ran on, was a wide trail with tree cover. I could see Route 95 at times. The Tinicum Trail included a gravel road portion, and later, I crossed a bridge to get onto the Darby Creek Trail. This was the trail that basically went through the marsh. This trail was very narrow at times, and parts of it seemed very overgrown, but I’m glad I checked it out. I wanted to see as much of the refuge as I had the time and energy for.

Thin dirt trail through lush area with water to the left
Here’s a view from the Darby Creek Trail, which went through the marsh. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

On my way back to the parking area, I ran on the short Tinicum Marsh Boardwalk, which I’d seen mentioned on signs. There were small signs with maps every half-mile or so in the area of the Wetland Loop Trail. I was then back on the Wetland Loop Trail — on the other side.

There was an observation tower on my way back, which I made my way up for a couple photos. But by this point, I was ready to get back. I continued back to my parking spot and ran a little extra on a paved path by the parking lot so that I could end at an even eight miles.

Water view at the marsh
There were lots of nice water views along my path. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

The side of the refuge with the Wetland Loop Trail and the boardwalk across Lake Darby, near the visitor center, were definitely more busy than the other side of the refuge.

Vanessa Junkin running on Tinicum Marsh Boardwalk
I used the self-timer to get a photo of myself running on the Tinicum Marsh Boardwalk. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

The refuge is in Philadelphia and Delaware counties, and I saw signs that said it was “America’s First Urban Refuge.” At times during my run, I coulds see the faint skyscrapers in the distance.

Learn more on the refuge website here, or look at a trail map on the brochure.

View with trees on sides, water and then lush plants in the marsh beyond
Here’s one more photo from my run! I took more photos than I really have space for here. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I set a goal to travel to at least one new-to-me place for a run each month of 2019. Here are the other places I’ve traveled to for runs this year:

Like She Runs by the Seashore here.

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