Rock Creek Park (Beach Drive)
Rock Creek Park is my favorite weekend destination in Washington, DC. It’s beautiful, wild, not far from my apartment, and our dogs love it. Though DC is the most densely populated “state” in the country, there are sections of Rock Creek Park that look every bit as wild and unspoiled as the most remote corners of West Virginia.
The park is huge. I can’t say I’ve explored even a quarter of its 2000 acres. I know the southern end of it pretty well, having first lived in Mt. Pleasant, on the park’s east side, before moving to Cleveland Park, on its west. I’m not too far away from it now so I go there a lot still.
My weekend routine is to follow the trails that skirt Beach Drive, which is closed to vehicle traffic on the weekends. This two-lane road becomes the Tour de France at peak times during nice spring, summer, and fall weekends. There are so many bicyclists that if you don’t walk along the dirt path along the road you are liable to get run over by those taking their pastimes a little too seriously.
My dogs love it. They get to be outdoors and enjoy the nice trails and take in the colorful fall forest scenery right out of the Last of the Mohicans. There’s also a lot of wildlife. I’ve seen all sorts of birds, fish, some deer, and even a muskrat once. Might have been a beaver, not sure.
If you go
If you’re driving I’d recommend parking at the small lot at the intersection of Broad Branch Road and Beach Drive. There’s only about 12 spaces there so make sure to get there early. If all the spots are taken, you can continue up Ridge Road, where there are more spots as you drive up the hill a ways.
I walk along the green-tinted river as its snakes through a shallow gorge through the park. There is also a nice trail that follows the river but on the other side of the street. Here you can can excellent views of the gorge below while getting a little workout in.
The Boulder Bridge (lat/long 38.948362, -77.044397) is worth seeing for its graceful span of granite boulders over a sharp bend in the river. I like this area of the park because it’s a natural amphitheater — the hillsides all around you are very steep and you can hear the flowing water echoing off the rocky slopes above.
From the river there is a trail that leads up the hill towards a clearing located at lat/long: 38.948706, -77.049052. There’s a few BBQ grills here, along with an equestrian pen. This might be the best spot in the city for viewing the night sky.
Another part of Rock Creek Park that I love is the area around Peirce Mill, at the corner of Tilden Street and Beach Drive. There is a park pavilion here with BBQ pits and picnic benches. From the picnic area there is a trail leading up to Connecticut Avenue called the Melvin Hazen trail, one of the park’s best kept secrets.
- Watch yourself along the Beach Drive trail as it is covered with horse poop in spots.
- The footbridge at (lat/long) 38.953303, -77.043626 is my usual halfway point. The river here is really rocky and you really get the feeling that you’re far away from DC in some national park somewhere.
- There are no bathrooms anywhere so unless you want to use the woods, you’re gonna be holding it for a while.