Rock Creek Park is a bit off the beaten track of the running trails surrounding The Mall and the monuments, but it is a hidden gem. On those hot Washington days, Rock Creek park is a wonderful opportunity to run along a shaded pathway and enjoy the lush Washington foliage. Administered by the National Park Service, Washington, D.C.’s largest park and the nation’s oldest urban national park. It’s more than 10 miles in length, officially stretching from the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Maryland border. But the ‘park’ part of Rock Creek Park runs from just north of the National Zoo to the Maryland border, where it continues further as Rock Creek Regional Park.
This is a good guide to the various sections and trails in Rock Creek Park published by David Romanowski. There are three main sections in the park: South, Central, and North. And there are four principal trails: Rock Creek Trail, Valley Trail, Western Ridge Trail, and Black Horse Trail. Some of the trails are more rugged. A great running option on weekends and holidays is the ~4 mile section of Beach Drive is closed off to cars (see the ‘yellow line’ in the NPS Map).
South Section. Memorial Bridge to Park HQ @ Kingle Mansion. ~5 miles, elevation gain 380 feet headed north. This isn’t really in the park itself, but pertains to the Rock Creek Trail that runs from the Arlington Memorial Bridge just behind the Lincoln Memorial north to Park HQ at Kingle Mansion, which is just north of the National Zoo. The trail sticks close to both the creek and Beach Drive. You’ll run by the Kennedy Center, Dumbarton Oaks Park, numerous embassies, & the National Zoo in the Georgetown, Kalorama and Adams Morgan sections of town. At the south end, you can connect with the Memorial trails and the Mount Vernon trail. ROUTE MAP: ROCK CREEK TRAIL SOUTH SECTION
Central Section. Park HQ to Planetarium. There are numerous trails in this section.
- Western Ridge Trail. 4.6 miles, 450 foot gain. More of a trail run. Starts just north of Piney Branch Pkwy and runs along the west side of Rock Creek and Beach Dr. to the Maryland Border. There are a few spurs, road connections, and crossings. ROUTE MAP
- Valley Trail. 5.3 miles, 520 foot gain. This trail is more rugged. Starts at the same place as the Western Ridge Trail and runs along the east side of Rock Creek, mainly paralleling Beach Dr. NW, north to the Maryland Border. Quite hilly. More of a trail run.
North Section. Planetarium & Military Rd. to Maryland Border. ~3 miles. In this section, choose from a section of the Western Ridge Trail, Valley Trail, or other trails.
Rock Creek Regional Park. North of the Maryland border, there are additional trails — but not officially in the NPS Rock Creek Park. This area is called Rock Creek Regional Park. The main trail is the Rock Creek Trail [northern section]. This mainly paved ‘hike/bike trail’ runs for up to 14 miles from the Maryland border north to Lake Needwood in Rockville, MD. ROUTE MAP
Georgetown Connector Trail
One key thing to know about in the Georgetown area is the Georgetown Waterfront Park trail. It is a key connector between the Rock Creek Park and C&O Canal trails to the north and west, and the Mall/Memorial trails.
- Various Options -- See table
- Depends on which section chosen. Closest D.C. start is Theodore Memorial Bridge near the Kennedy Center, paralleling Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway
- Metro: Dupont Circle and then following Connecticut Ave.