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John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

993 acres — 10 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. Bring the kids!

The refuge is a bird-watcher’s haven, with over 300 species recorded. I can’t tell a crane from an egret, but I know you can find both of them here. 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. Walk into the woods and you might come across an old toilet and some tires. Actually, you should probably not walk into the woods here.
  • 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?
  • 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: May 30 2016