It’s a park. It’s a sculpture garden. It’s an arboretum. It’s a natural sanctuary where graves are dug by hand (!). Meet Laurel Hill’s “sister” cemetery, the hippie of the family.
Laurel Hill Cemetery in East Falls is often referred to as a “necropolis” – and we love its mad jumble of monuments and headstones, it’s city vibe. Three and a half miles away, West Laurel Hill is bigger, greener, and almost just as historic (it was founded in 1869, 33 years after the original opened). Lots of famous dead people here, but the big attraction is the horticultural ridiculousness.
Seriously amazing — it’s an accredited “Level 2” arboretum. Almost 200 acres of beautifully-planted landscape. Rare & native trees, flowers and plants cultivated by their staff arborist and master gardeners. Criss-crossed with paths, dotted with sculpture from Victorian times and modern pieces too. My favorite says “Cocktails at Six” (ha!) and sits at the entrance to the Cynwyd Heritage Trail.
Oh yeah, cause there’s a multi-use repurposed rail trail right outside the gates that connects to the Manayunk Bridge, and from there you can pick up the Schuylkill River Trail into East Falls. Which means you can get here by bike from Philly! They also have tons of parking, though, which is also nice.
Dog and kid friendly, free admission, open every day. While you’re there, make sure you visit Nature’s Sanctuary, 3.5 acres of meadow meticulously cultivated with indigenous grasses and wildflowers — without chemicals or motorized lawn equipment of any kind. The space is a Gold Certified Green Burial site, which requires graves to be hand-dug for minimal environmental impact (takes two men a full day, btw).
And — GOATS! Nature’s weed whackers work hard here all summer long controlling thorns, brambles, poison ivy, and other invasive species thru fall. From a partnership with Green Goats, an eco-friendly, sustainable (and adorable!) landscaping service from the Northern Hudson Valley, New York State. They’re not for petting but it’s fun to watch them destroy unwanted vegetation along the Sanctuary’s entrance by Cynwyd trail.
The vibe is almost too joyful to be a cemetery. Families come by for picnics, walk dogs, enjoy the scenery. Hawk, deer, and fox sightings are common – wildlife seems unusually calm here, less easily spooked in such a peaceful natural environment. My new favorite place to recharge.
Looking forward to the leaves changing already! Email editor@EastFallsLocal.com for a list of guided bike rides from the Falls Bridge to West Laurel Hill this autumn.