Rock Creek Park: Don’t Pass It By!

This week’s blog was written by Paloma M., a Brookies alumni. Paloma is a reporter who specializes in environmental and climate studies. She loves informing those around her about the latest news about our planet, with an emphasis on politics and media. She attended Wildlife Leadership Academy to get out into the world and learn more about the environment she was reporting on.

Paloma collaborated with Leo U., a Brookies alumni to provide the photos for her blog. Leo is an aspiring artist and photographer with a passion for evolutionary biology and herpetology. They love informing those around them about the natural world, especially topics that are obscure or overlooked. Leo attended the Wildlife Leadership academy to learn more about native species and conservation.

Rock Creek Park. The famous nature reserve in the middle of Washington DC. As someone who has lived here my whole life, it’s a very common sight. The parkway that runs through the middle of the park is the quickest way across the city with little to no traffic. But when you’re visiting the Nation’s Capital, it’s tough to know where to start. The park spans 2.41 square miles according to the National Park Service, and every inch of that is crawling with trails and paths to follow and enjoy. On top of that, the park also hosts many historical relics which are worth checking out on your visit. So, here’s what you should visit in Rock Creek Park.

As with every trip, your first stop should be the Nature Center and Planetarium. Unfortunately, the planetarium has been closed for a while due to water damage caused by a recent storm, but the rest of the building is still open daily from 9am to 5pm. Here you’ll find maps of the park, which I highly recommend picking up since most of the park doesn’t have cell signal, and more information about which species the park houses and popular spots to look out for. It’ll also become a go-to spot for bathrooms and water due to its convenient location right at the entrance of the park.

Now, the next thing you’ll probably want to do is go on one of the trails. I warn you now, every single trail the park has to offer will take at least an hour to complete in its entirety, so it’s best to come prepared with food and plenty of water, especially if you’re visiting during the hot summer months. The most popular trail is listed as “moderate” on the National Park Service’s website, meaning it’s a relatively long trail (5.7 miles) which isn’t fully paved. You’ll find this trail listed as “Southern Loop via Western Ridge Trail, Rock Creek, Valley Trail”. The name is a mouthful, but it really is a nice trail to go on. You’ll walk along Military road as the name suggests, which straddles the side of the creek. Part of it also goes through the forest. The trail is also, notably, both kid and dog friendly, so if you want to bring along any younger or furry friends, this would be a great way to start. However, being the most popular trail does have its downfall as it is frequently crowded, so it may be best to tackle it at the very beginning of the day or near the end when there aren’t as many people around. If you aren’t looking for a 5-mile hike (don’t worry, I’m with you) the next best thing would be the Boulder Bridge Loop. This path is only 3 miles long and I would recommend visiting it on the weekend as the route is closed off to vehicular traffic from 7am on Saturday to 7pm on Sunday. If you do visit during the weekdays, please be advised that the road is shared with cars, not making it the most kid friendly route. Dogs are allowed as long as they are leashed in the road, and the whole route is paved, making it a bit easier on the legs. The entrance is by the Rock Creek Park horse stables, and while the start and end of the route is a bit steep, the rest of it is a steady walk surrounded by forest. While hiking, it may be wise to look for the park’s many native species of birds, squirrels, and deer. I’m not well-versed in animal spotting, but this Explore Natural Communities website has a lot of information on where to find which animals and what to look out for.

“But what if I don’t want to hike for miles?!?” I hear you asking. Don’t worry, the park has several other offerings as well. Rock Creek Park is home to many historical sites with rich history. My personal favorite is Pierce Mill, but I’m also biased seeing as I drive by it every day to go to school. The mill is the only functional mill left in the park, and getting to go inside is breathtaking. However, its hours are very odd and fluctuate on the regular, so I would check on the National Park Service’s website to be 100% sure that it’ll be open during your visit. There is also the Old Stone House, which educates visitors on life in the 1800s. Its hours are also fluctuant, so I would also keep an eye on their website for the most up to date hours. Both houses are an interesting look into 1800s living, and are rich with history, and, most importantly, have air conditioning.

In the end, if you ever decide to visit Washington DC, Rock Creek Park is a must see. Its unique trails and rich history are more than a day of fun, and there’s always something more to do. If you want to see more information about the park, you can check out the National Park Service’s official website here. I hope to see you there soon!

The photos used in this blog belong to Leo U., a Brookies alumni.