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Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC
Rock Creek Near Beach Drive
Nature in Washington, DC
I have lived in several neighborhoods in DC and it wasn't until I moved up to Northwest (NW) DC that I really discovered Rock Creek Park. I had heard of it, probably everyone who lives in DC has. But I was not aware that along with the golf course, tennis courts, equestrian activities and outdoor concert space that there are also hundreds of acres of walkable wilderness. There are paths that range from easy walks to intermediate, and a walking path along much of the creek that allows you to walk clear across the city if you so choose! Whether you want the exercise or just want to spend a little time with nature, Rock Creek Park is a great place to visit.
Finding Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC
Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington, DC
Where is Rock Creek Park?
Rock Creek Park is in the NW quadrant of Washington, DC, and depending on where you want to go in the park it is a short bus or Metro ride to get there. The park is maintained by the National Park Service, who has a very useful map of the park that will help you plan your trip. As any seasoned Washingtonian can tell you, the fact that the park is wholly encompassed in the NW quadrant does not mean you shouldn't think ahead! The park bisects two areas of NW that do not have a lot of connecting public transportation so just going to the park randomly may result in a very long walk. If you have a specific destination in mind when you go to the park, use Metro's trip planner to get you to a good starting point. Don't be dissuaded from just going and exploring however, some of my best trips to the park have been spontaneous and on those trips I discovered the most because I wasn't looking for anything in particular.
Rock Creek Near the National Zoo
Hiking in Rock Creek Park
When I hike in Rock Creek Park I tend to start off along Beach Drive on the Southeast side because it includes views of the creek itself, which particularly from the higher trails is absolutely beautiful (and will make you forget you are in the city!). You can also access some of the historical sites in the park on the East side, including Boulder Bridge and Peirce Mill. There are several trails that span each side of the park however so regardless of where you are in DC you are never far from an accessible trail. My favorite resource for finding trails that suit my mood and motivation level is the trailfinder at trails.com. You can also refer back to the map mentioned earlier from the National Park Service, which will give you a geographic overview.
Turtles in Rock Creek Park
Wildlife in Rock Creek Park
While the park abuts the National Zoo, in the park itself you will find much more tame forms of wildlife. For the city dweller who doesn't get to see them very often though you can get a lot of joy spotting a family of turtles, snakes, squirrels in their natural habitat, chipmunks and other small creatures. Please be respectful of the wildlife in Rock Creek Park and do not approach them or feed them. These animals live in the wild and do not benefit from becoming dependant on humans for food. And of course no littering!
Daffodils in Rock Creek Park
Plants and Flowers in Rock Creek Park
Some of my most enjoyable hikes in the park have included walking a little off the beaten path to explore the fauna. In spring especially you will be greeted by the yellow daffodils and other spring flowers that flourish in DC. There are also several varieties of trees, for example redbuds that bloom with beautiful purple flowers. Please do not pick up any plants or flowers when you are hiking in the park.
Pierce-Klingle Mansion in Rock Creek Park
Historical Sites in Rock Creek Park
There are several sites of historical significance in Rock Creek Park. You can get plan which to visit by using the map provided by the National Park Service. Here is a little more information on some of these sites from various sources:
Pierce-Klingle House - The house was built in 1823 and serves as park headquarters. It is not as visible as other sites as it is off a residential street, or can be accessed by hiking up a path. It is worth the trip, the builder and subsequent owners of the home had a deep interest in horticulture and so the area surrounding the house has a variety of plants, flowers and trees without giving it the sense of a "planned" garden.
Peirce Mill - One of my favorite places to visit in the park as not only is the original mill still standing but so are some of the various outbuildings and machinery also from the 1800's. Milling was an important part of the economy along Rock Creek and because so much of it is still standing those with enough imagination can "see" the people from that era hard at work.
Fort DeRussy - Fort DeRussy was active during the Civil War and the remains of the fort are easily accessed via a short and scenic trail. If you choose take a longer hike from this point you will be on the Western Ridge Trail which contains a number of beautiful views and bridges.