Training: DC Trail Running Part II … Rock Creek Park

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.

Snow covered single track trail following a ridge above Rock Creek

Snow-covered Western Ridge Trail overlooking Rock Creek

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.

A view of the waterwheel of the three story brick mill

A view of Peirce Mill from the Western Ridge trail

A view of the southeast wall of Pierce Mill, and the canal dug to turn the waterwheel

This isn’t just a historic building, the mill inside has been refurbished and still turns grain to meal for demonstrations

The Western Ridge trail continues past Peirce Mill and splits into a moderate and strenuous portion, both with excellent views of Rock Creek.

Sign indicating a splitting of the trail into a moderate and strenuous route

No hyperbole here, strenuous means strenuous

When the paths rejoined, I crossed the bridge over Rock Creek to connect to the Valley trail.

View of a snow-covered pedestrian bridge on the Western Ridge Trail that leads to the Valley Trail

Cross the bridge and turn left to connect the Western Ridge Trail to the Valley Trail

Shortly after crossing the bridge, there is a sign for the Valley Trail.

A wooden sign post indicating the start of the Valley Trail

Follow the sign across the field and over the road to 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.

Snow covered single track leading to a wooden pedestrial bridge, tall trees are abound

A bridge crossing on the Valley Trail

A flat portion of single track running on the bank of Rock Creek

Looking back on a tame portion of the Valley Trail

A steep uphill section completely covered in large roots, the sun rises over the crest of the hill in the distance

The rising sun only makes the roots harder to negotiate on the Valley Trail

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.

Overlooking Rock Creek, the rising sun makes the trees on the right bank of the river appear bright orange

Trees in their winter dormancy set ablaze by the rising sun

A view of Beach Driving running parralle to Rock Creek, with a trail running along the ridge above the road.  The trees are brightly lit by the rising sun

Although Beach Drive is closed to vehicular traffic on weekends and holidays, I still prefer the trail

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.

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5 Responses to Training: DC Trail Running Part II … Rock Creek Park

  1. DistrictSweats says:

    Awesome post. Thanks for sharing! I was always a road runner in DC, but have gotten into trail running in Portland and hoping to keep it up when I return to the District next summer!

  2. SoWhatIRun says:

    Beautiful! Gonna have to make it down there for a run!

  3. The views on this trail looks amazing!

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