Delco’s Big Backyard: Ridley Creek State Park
Springtime in Delaware County is a sight to behold. As the frost melts and our lush landscape is reborn in a new season of color, it’s not difficult to imagine William Penn looking out over our picturesque countryside and giving it a new name: “Pennsylvania” – or, quite literally, “Penn’s Woods.”
One of the best places to experience Delaware County as Penn knew it is Ridley Creek State Park, nestled between Media and Newtown Square. With more than 2,600 acres of woodlands, meadows, hills, and streams, there is something to enjoy visit after visit, season after season.
For the History Lover:
While natural beauty can certainly be found throughout the park, the grand showpiece of the grounds is the Hunting Hill Mansion and the formal gardens that surround the estate. Built in 1915 by the Jeffords family around a 1789 stone farmhouse, the mansion now serves as the park office and a rental venue for weddings and special events.
On a smaller scale, visitors will find several modest historical homes scattered throughout the park. These buildings represent the remnants of the once-vibrant village that grew up around the mill that harnessed the creek’s power. Several of these 18th-century homes are still utilized as private residences and are designated as the Ridley Creek State Park Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
History truly comes to life at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, a working 18th-century farm located within the boundaries of the park. The Plantation is open on weekends from April through November and hosts several special events throughout the year. (There is an admission fee to enter the plantation.)
A Picnic in the Park:
Whether you are searching for the ideal setting for an intimate lunch for two or a large, family-friendly barbecue, it won’t take long to find just the spot. Fourteen picnic areas are available throughout the park, some more secluded than others and many outfitted with charcoal grills. (Can’t you just smell the hamburgers now?) A few of the larger picnic areas have covered pavilions, playground equipment, and large grassy fields – perfect for a game of Frisbee or wiffleball.
Hikers, Bikers, and lots of Little Tykers:
Twelve miles of nature trails weave throughout the park, practically daring outdoor adventurers to come explore the labyrinth of paths. The main paved trail is five miles long and is a favorite route for bikers, joggers, parents with strollers, and dog walkers. As the trail follows along the creek, you never know what may lie around the bend. It might be the remnants of a home from the mill’s glory days, a majestic blue heron standing guard on the shoreline or a waterfall tumbling over the rocks. You’ll see plenty of bikers – young and old – and plenty of four-legged friends taking their owners out for a walk. (To access the paved trail, be sure to park in areas 7, 11, 15, or 17.)
A Walk on the Wild Side:
Who knows how many hundreds of animals make their home in the park, but we know three in particular that are especially popular with visitors: fishes, birds, and horses.
Every season, fisherman of all ages flock to Ridley Creek because of its status as one of Pennsylvania’s “Stocked Trout Waters.” Fly fisherman also frequent the creek, especially the catch and release, fly-fishing only section between Sycamore Mills Dam and the mouth of Dismal Run. A wheelchair accessible fishing platform is available on the paved trail along Sycamore Mills Road.
The park also provides an excellent environment to spot and study many different types of birds and is recognized by the Audubon Society as a significant birding site. Dedicated bird watchers can enjoy a walk sponsored by a local birding group while beginners need nothing more than a pair of working binoculars (and a touch of patience) for an enjoyable afternoon.
Finally, if your idea of bliss is riding through the woods on horseback, then Ridley Creek is – yet again – the place for you. There is a 4.7 mile horse trail that begins in Picnic Area 8 ad has a parking lot for trailers at the trailhead. Hidden Valley Farms operates a stable within the park that provides horse boarding, riding lessons, pony rides, and other horse-related services.
Ridley Creek State Park is open every day of the year from sunrise to sunset. Restrooms can be found in picnic areas #7 and #17. Day use areas close at dusk. The park office is open specific hours and can be reached at 610-892-2900. For more information, visit www.dcnr.pa.gov.