When we think of Washington, D.C. many thoughts turn toward thoughts of politicians, payoffs, lobbyists and lawyers. However, nestled in Northern D.C. is a 1700 acre piece of paradise called Rock Creek Park where people can escape all the minutiae of living and working in the nation’s capital and enjoy a slice of nature.

Peirce Mill (c 1918)

Peirce Mill (c 1918)

Established as one of the nation’s first federally managed parks in 1890, Rock Creek had a long history prior to that time. For thousands of years prior to European American arrival, Native Americans fished and hunted in the streams and woods of the area as well as using stone from the outcroppings to make tools. In the 1600’s and 1700’s the area tobacco farming exhausted the soil forcing many farmers to turn to wheat and corn production. This prompted the construction of several gristmills along the creek including Pierce Mill which can still be visited today.

During the Civil War, Rock Creek Park was the location of several forts placed to defend Washington. These forts were called into service only once in July of 1864 when a Confederate raid by General Jubal Early was attempted and promptly stopped by the guns at Fort Stevens. The Confederate force regrouped, attempted to go around the fort but were again stopped, this time by a thrown together force including dismounted cavalry, War Department Clerks and garrison troops with the support of artillery. This impromptu militia held off the attack long enough for reinforcements to arrive and force a retreat.

Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C.Today, the same woods and rough terrain that gave natives so much hunting and fishing ground and stymied the Confederate raid in 1864 has been used to make a natural wonder.

When it comes to hiking and running, there are over 32 miles of trails throughout Rock Creek Park that include everything from paved roads and paths to singletrack to gravel trails. The two main trails are the Western Ridge Trail and the Valley Trail with the majority of the other trails being connectors and lesser paths. This web of trails and connectors gives endless possibilities to loop hikes and runs throughout the park.

Cyclists who want to use the park have access to all roads and paved paths. This includes large parts of certain roads that are closed to vehicular traffic on weekends. While it would seem like an ideal place for mountain biking in places, Rock Creek Park itself doesn’t allow it. It is possible to ride on road/path into Maryland to Upper Rock Creek Park which does have mountain biking possibilities around Lake Needwood.

While it’s not part of the park’s trail/path system itself, the C&O Canal Trail does connect with the path system. This system of trails gives cyclists, runner, hikers, skaters, etc. access to 184.5 miles of protected trail to use. This route extends from Washington, D.C. all the way to Cumberland County, MD. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, it then becomes the Great Allegheny Passage which goes from Cumberland to Pittsburgh which is a total of 334.5 miles!

In addition to hiking, running, biking and walking, Rock Creek Park offers kayaking, golf, equestrian activities and several educational programs. Below are some key links:





Have you visited Rock Creek Park?

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