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Recently I’ve received a lot of Google traffic from searches similar to this, “How to find access to <insert Rock Creek Trail name here> from <insert DC neighborhood here>.”  If you are one of those people, I know your pain.  When an old roommate of mine, the WisconsinBeerRunner, talked about running trails in the park, I had some trouble figuring out where to find them!  I knew where some of the trailheads were located, but didn’t have a good way to get there.  I would end up running 3 miles each way to the trail, which usually left me with just a few miles off the pavement.  So after exploring any and every little path I could find, causing me to get lost or find myself in a place I probably shouldn’t be alone, I’ve found what I believe to be the best access points for dirt hiking and running trails in Rock Creek Park from the NW neighborhoods.  With so many people hitting the trails this summer, I thought I’d lay out my access points, hoping that you don’t have as much trouble as I did.

Now to be clear, these are not the most direct ways to Rock Creek Park.  There are often closer access points to Beach Drive/Rock Creek Trail, but this will put you directly onto the dirt, giving you access to all the great dirt hiking/running trails that Rock Creek has to offer.

14th and U – Valley Trail Trailhead

From 14th and U it is about two miles before you hit the dirt.  The map shows you running up 16th and through Mt. Pleasant to Park Rd.  Follow Park Rd. until you hit the bridge over Piney Branch.

Columbia Heights – Valley Trail Trailhead

From the Columbia Heights Metro area, things are pretty quick and easy.  Just head up to Park Rd. and continue on down the hill.  Cross over the bridge and hit up the trail on the right.

Unofficial Trailhead Access

Photo from Google Maps

Once you head down Park Rd., cross over the bridge, keeping to the right.

Photo from Google Maps

Immediatelly following the fence, hang a right, follow the trail up the hill, then just keep hanging lefts until you hit the Vally Trail trailhead.

This short section after the bridge is unofficial trail, but is very well used and easy to follow.  If you took a right at the top of that hill, it would lead you to a neighborhood behind 16th Street.

Hopefully that will help!  Do you have another way to enter into the park?

Enjoy the trail!

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7 thoughts on “Access to Trails in Rock Creek Park from 14th and U and Columbia Heights

  1. Nice routes and maps. Your studying cartography or something? They’re sweet. That looks more direct than what I tended to take too(although i would wimp out and just run dirt patch along the RC Trail mostly).

  2. I’m one of those Google searchers so thanks for this post. I’m wondering if you know a way to get to the Western Ridge Trail from Broad Branch Rd.? Specifically, up where Broad Branch meets 27th and Nevada Ave. I’m planning on running home from work which is located at the Friendship Heights Metro. I’d like to take Military Rd. to Nevada Ave. and into the park along Broad Branch. But I’m fairly certain that Broad Branch doesn’t have a sidewalk or trail running alongside it. If it did Grant Rd. would be a possible entry point. If not, maybe 27th street? I wonder if you have more intimate knowledge of that section of the woods. Thanks.

    1. Hey Matthew, glad you found the site.

      I’m not very familiar with Broad Branch Rd., but going off of Google’s street view, it doesn’t look like Broad Branch has a sidewalk. I think your most direct route would be to simply take Military straight to the trail. You can pick it up right after St. Johns High School – about 1.7 mi from Friendship Heights Metro. Although I can’t think of any off the top of my head, I’m sure that people have made cut throughs between 27th and Western Ridge. I like to take a route I know the first time, and just look around for ways to make it a little easier the next time.

      Good luck and sorry I’m not more help. I run home from work along parts Western Ridge almost every day. It’s a great place to find some quiet after a day at the office. See you on the trail!

    2. You are correct that the is no sidewalk on Broad Branch. I run on it sometimes anyway, but there is not much of a shoulder so it’s not the safest spot to run. But it’s a scenic shaded road with park on the east and steep wooded hills and large private estates on the west. I have not noticed any access trails from Broad Branch up to the Western Ridge. Any route would have to first cross the creek that runs along the east side of the road.

      One interesting route would be to take metro to VanNess and then run the Soapstone Valley Trail down to Broad Branch, where there is a short on-road connection to the Western Ridge Trail. You can pick up Soapstone on Albemarle St east of Connecticutt.

  3. There is a natural surface trail that runs between Park Rd and 17th St, parallel to Piney Branch. This would be a quicker access point to dirt trails from Columbia Heights, etc. The trail crosses 17th very close to Piney Branch at the bottom of a hill. It hits Park Rd just south of the bridge over Piney Branch.

    1. Thanks John, you are right! That short trail is a great way to connect Columbia Heights to the bridge. It is a really beautiful back there, and typically full of dog walkers and other runners.

      Thanks for sharing!

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