Belmont Plateau

Yesterday, I retrieved my bike from Penn’s campus. I took a long way home when biking back from West Philly, and made a detour over to the Belmont Plateau so that I could look at Philly’s skyline.

The Plateau receives a two line reference in the song Summertime, the 1991 hit by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. (The song celebrates its 25th birthday this year!) And when your favorite spot in the city gets a shout out in a song, you know you have to include it in the soundtrack for the summer.

Back in Philly we be out in the park, a place called the plateau is where everybody goes.

I used to run cross country and Belmont Plateau was my school’s home course. I think that the best view of the skyline comes at the top of Flagpole Hill, which runners climb twice throughout the 5k race. The more grueling hill is located in the second mile of the course, a triangular trail that dips out of sight for most spectators and leads into the woods. The infamous Parachute Hill has a steep incline with rocky terrain, and is lovingly featured on the back of every t-shirt sold at larger XC invitationals organized at Belmont: “I conquered Parachute Hill at Philly’s Belmont Plateau”.

belmont course map
a color-coded map made by an old cross country coach. along with other assorted xc memorabilia, I’ve kept this map taped to my wall near to my old race bibs and trophies.

I didn’t appreciate the skyline too much during the competitions, but I loved looking out at it when the races had wrapped up and we were running lazy loops around the course for our cool-downs. I think that this is one of my favorite views of the city. It’s a more scenic view than I usually get from the rooftops in West Philly, and I love the proximity to the greenery of Fairmount Park. I’ve always found the trails surrounding Belmont and the nearby Chamounix to be less traveled than the trails in the Wissahickon, so if you’re looking for a good place to run or bike with a bit more solitude – this might be your place.

You can reach the Plateau by foot, car, or bike. I didn’t see any bike racks around when I was there, but you can easily use sign posts or baseball cages to secure your cycles if you wanted to walk around. There are three parking lots around Belmont, and (barring XC races) I’ve never seen more than a few cars in each.

I biked home using Martin Luther King Jr. Drive/West River Drive, which I rarely travel on. It’s usually a bit more straightforward for me to use Kelly Drive/East River Drive, though this path tends to have a steady stream of people using it up until you get to East Falls. The West River Drive bike path was mostly unoccupied, except for a few folks running in the opposite direction, and I really liked the peace and quiet. Maybe next time, I’ll get a bit of company and we can bike together? Until then – happy adventuring!




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