Let’s face it, no matter how much we love walking the beautiful streets of D.C., sometimes you just need an escape without the hassle of leaving the city.
I really discovered Rock Creek Park after complaining to an old roommate about running on crowded sidewalks. I knew the park was there, had driven through it many times, and had even spent some time throwing the Frisbee down by the creek, but I never really viewed the park as a place to go on a regular basis. The park always seemed a little intimidating, I wasn’t sure how safe it was, and I didn’t really know what it had to offer, but after that roommate gave me some advice on where to run, all of those perceptions quickly changed.
If you are like I was several years ago, I’m here to tell you that once you get to know it, Rock Creek Park is far from intimidating, it is in fact safe, and it has so much more to offer than just a few trees and picnic benches.
Below you will find a short guide for those who don’t know where to get started. If you are an avid Rock Creek Park visitor, please chime in and let us know about anything I’ve left off.
The Park: Established under President Harrison in 1890, Rock Creek Park is home to over 1,700 acres which run along Rock Creek and provide a playground for runners, hikers, bikers, and children looking for a little urban nature.
How to Reserve Picnic Areas: Rock Creek Park hosts dozens of picnic areas and pavilions for anything from a family picnic to an office party. Did you know you can even get married in the park? Reserving a spot is cheap (only $7) but unfortunately not very easy. To secure one of the picnic areas, you must visit the DC Department of Parks and Recreation located at 1250 U Street, NW in person to submit an application. The $7 payment must be made by check or money order, no cash accepted.
More info here: http://dpr.dc.gov/DC/DPR/Facilities+and+Permits/Permits+and+Reservations/National+Parks+Picnic+Areas+and+Volleyball+Courts
How to Volunteer In the Park: DC loves cleanups, and Rock Creek needs plenty of cleaning up. There are two main ways to volunteer in the park, the first being through the National Park Service. For more information, contact the volunteer coordinator here: http://www.nps.gov/rocr/supportyourpark/volunteer.htm
The second way to get your hands dirty by doing a little good is through the Rock Creek Conservancy, a non-profit organization which focuses on protecting and restoring Rock Creek in its entirety. They host loads of volunteer days throughout all 33 miles of Rock Creek, and offer opportunities for groups who wish to do cleanups together. For more information, visit the organization’s website here: http://www.rockcreekconservancy.org/index.php/get-involved/volunteer
Ranger Led Programs: Special ranger led programs are offered nearly every weekend. For a full list of upcoming events like guided hikes, bird watching trips, and star gazing run through the park’s Nature Center, visit the website here: http://www.nps.gov/rocr/planyourvisit/ranger-led-programs.htm
The Bonus Goodies:
- Golf Course – Rock Creek Park Golf Course is an 18 hole course which sits entirely in Rock Creek Park. The course entrance is located at 16th Street NW and Rittenhouse Street NW. More info here: http://www2.cybergolf.com/sites/courses/layout11.asp?id=694&page=38723
- Horse Rides – Rock Creek Park houses the District’s only horse center, where you can do anything from take lessons and trail rides, to board your own horse or send your kids off to summer camps. With over 13 miles of horse trail in the park, there are plenty of places to ride and enjoy the woods within the city! More info here: http://www.rockcreekhorsecenter.com/
- Outdoor Gyms – The park is home to two outdoor gyms. The gyms are located at the Shoreham Drive NW and Beach Drive intersections near the Woodly Park metro and at the Brightwood Recreation Area in 16th Street Heights.
- Peirce Mill – Built in the 1820s, Peirce Mill is now a non-operational mill which has been converted to a historic museum and educational building. Significant renovations and funding have been put into the building over the past few years, and the facilities which opened back up this year are beautiful. More info here: http://www.nps.gov/pimi/index.htm
- Thompson Boat Center – The boat center provides public access to the Potomac River through non-motorized boat rentals and storage. More Info here: http://www.thompsonboatcenter.com/index.htm
- Official NPS Site – http://www.nps.gov/rocr/index.htm
- Official NPS Park Map – http://www.nps.gov/pwr/customcf/apps/maps/showmap.cfm?alphacode=rocr&parkname=Rock%20Creek%20Park
- Rock Creek Runner’s Runner’s Guide to Rock Creek Park – https://www.rockcreekrunner.com/2012/04/09/runners-guide-to-rock-creek-park/
- BikeWashington.org – Rock Creek Trail Map
- DC – http://bikewashington.org/trails/rockcreek/dc.htm
- Maryland – http://bikewashington.org/trails/rockcreek/md.htm
Hopefully this will get you started with discovering the park, but what you may enjoy the most might not be on this list. The park is home to so many animals, unique trees, and hidden gems around every corner. See you on the trails!