It’s fitting that Rock Creek Park, one of the oldest federally managed parks in the country, is situated in our nation’s capital. In the District, the park boasts 4.4 square miles of serene nature stretching from the northernmost point of DC to the Potomac River. The park is popular among hikers, bikers, horse riders, bird watchers, painters, photographers, budding scientists, and history enthusiasts. In my case however, it’s the extensive network of running trails that keeps me coming back.
Two main trails on either side of Rock Creek, the Western Ridge Trail and the Valley trail, form an ~11 mile loop around the park from the Maryland border to just south of Peirce Mill. Here is a map of a recent run along the Western Ridge/ Valley Trail loop.
In the map above, my run started on the Soapstone Valley Trail, and headed east to Broad Branch Road. I turned right on Broad Ranch Road, and right again after about 100 meters southbound on the Western Ridge trail. The Western Ridge trail follows the west bank of Rock Creek, past Peirce Mill.
The Western Ridge trail continues past Peirce Mill and splits into a moderate and strenuous portion, both with excellent views of Rock Creek.
When the paths rejoined, I crossed the bridge over Rock Creek to connect to the Valley trail.
Shortly after crossing the bridge, there is a sign for the Valley Trail.
From here, I followed the blue blazes of the Valley Trail 5.4 miles north along the east bank of Rock Creek to the DC-Maryland boundary. The miles flew by as I danced over, around, and between the myriad rocks and roots littering the trail. The run doubles as a strength workout, with plenty of short, steep slopes to spike the heart rate.
At the boundary bridge on the DC-Maryland border, I crossed over Beach Drive at the intersection of the Valley and Western Ridge Trails. I continued south, following the green blazes of the Western Ridge, all the way back to the Soapstone Valley Trail. The Western Ridge Trail has more sustained climbing and descending than the Valley Trail, but has far fewer rocks and roots, which was a welcome change of pace. To mix things up, I often run along the numerous sister trails that split off and later rejoin the Western Ridge.
The variety of wildlife, spectacular views, and vast and diverse network of trails make Rock Creek Park the trail running destination in DC.
This post is the second in a series about Washington DC trail running. Read about trail running in Glover Archbold Park here.