Nestled neatly alongside Rock Creek sits my favorite trail in Rock Creek Park. The 5.5 mile Valley Trail offers a variety of rocky, technical singletrack and smooth horse trail for runners and hikers alike.
I first discovered this trail at the beginning of my trail running days. I remember finding myself along a particularly technical section of the trail and thinking to myself, “People actually run this?” Turns out they did, I now do regularly, and so can you.
If you are looking for a great day hike or nice trail run through Rock Creek Park, this is a perfect trail to do it on, but if you are new to trail running, keep it mind that the Valley Trail is probably the more advanced trail options in the park.
Before we get in to the details, I should probably mention a few of the downsides about this trail. While it spends most of the time snaking alongside Rock Creek, sections also follow directly beside Beach Drive. On the weekends, when those sections of Beach Drive are closed to cars, this can be a good thing (you pass by a few bathrooms!), but during a weekday run after work, passing cars can make nature bathing a little difficult.
Below I’ve mapped out the details to run from the southern trailhead to the northern trailhead.
Valley Trail Info:
The Valley Trail branches off of the the Rock Creek Trail, a paved walking/bike path that runs along Beach Drive. You can find the trailhead just south of Peirce Mill and Tilden Street. Head up the trail, immediately crossing both Beach Drive and Park Road. The trail then leads up a short but steep hill in a small open field (pictured above).
The trail flows up and back down this hill before crossing Blagden Avenue. Cross the road and continue back up hill where you will top out at Pulpit Rock, which has a nice view of the creek and down the valley. It is also here that you will pass by the Theodore Roosevelt Trail, a great connector trail if you are coming from either the Western Ridge Trail or the parking areas around Peirce Mill.
It is from here that things really start to get interesting. As you drop down from Pulpit Rock, the trail grows significantly more technical and challenging. While little elevation change takes place during this 1.5 mile section, you’ll find yourself doing the tiptoe dance to bounce over rocks and roots. If you aren’t familiar with more technical trail running, be sure to take it slow through this section.
The trail continues directly next to both Beach Drive and Rock Creek until you hit the Park Police Station, located roughly 2 miles from the southern trailhead. At the Park Police Station, the trail hits Beach Drive, which you will follow for a few tenths of a mile.
After passing below Military Road, the Valley Trail sends you directly up the bank and back into the woods.
This section of trail offers a good mixture of terrain, providing a place for some fast running while keeping things interesting with the typical East Coast rocky/rooty trail.
For the final two miles, the trail switches between pedestrian only singletrack and wider, smoother horse trail. During these miles the trail also takes you further away from Beach Drive and into some more secluded sections of the trail.
These miles are fast and fun, and a great place for people who are more interested in smooth trail running. The northern section of the trail is also very popular for dog walkers and other hikers who park at the northern trailhead.
The Valley Trail ends right at the DC/Maryland boarder, giving you the option to pick up the paved Rock Creek Trail and continue on into Maryland’s section of the park, or loop back down into DC along the beautiful Western Ridge Trail.
For the most part this trail is well marked and easy to follow. Like most trails in Rock Creek Park, many official and non-official side trails dart off in every direction, but even if you take a wrong turn, it would be hard to veer too far off course.
View the full interactive Trail Map on MapMyRun.com.
Be sure to check out RCR’s Trail Running in DC page for more Washington area trail information.