Get Out & About: The Rock Creek Park Trail

As part of a new series, we’re going to be talking about some of the pedestrian and bike paths through the District and surrounding areas while it’s perfect for using them. Looking for a new place to go out, or just a reminder of some old familiar paths? We’ve got you covered. Leave suggestions for future routes in the comments.

When the biking bug bit me last year, I started asking around: where can I go ride where I won’t have to dodge cars the whole time? Some were quick to say the Capital Crescent Trail, while others suggested the Mt. Vernon Trail and the Custis Trail, and we’ll get to all of those this summer, but the one that made me fall in love with biking again was the Rock Creek Park Trail.

The trail is split into two sections: one from the District line down Beach Drive, one from Blagden Avenue down to the National Mall. Each has its moments, but they’re very different beasts.  On Saturday and Sunday, the northern section is a cyclist’s paradise, a gently sloping and curving road two lanes wide and closed to motorized traffic. You will see the spandex set climbing from Blagden Avenue northward to East-West Highway, it’s a phenomenal workout, but me, I prefer to cruise down it, having done all my climbing up Sligo Creek Parkway. The southern section is more narrow, but in my opinion, far more beautiful. Recognize, though, that this is a heavily trafficked trail, so I would not expect to get a lot of speed work done here. This is a good trail for cruising, not for booking it. It’s also a commuter route during the week, so you are

The trail itself has multiple entrances in DC, from Beach Drive at the northern end, to Military Trail NW, Blagden Avenue, and Tilden St NW in the middle, to 24th Street NW, P Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW at the south end, so you’ve got a lot of ins & outs if you want to work this into a regular rotation with other rides, and its accessibility from some major thoroughfares gives you options for using some of the many

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Where to Start: Start on Beach Drive in Maryland, just south of East-West Highway. There’s parking here if you want to drive your bike to the top and ride down, then climb back up again, and there’s a beautiful park that you can use to get your bearings and comfortable before riding down. Trust me when I say you don’t want to be checking your gear riding down, it’s way too beautiful.

What to Watch For: Along the Northern section, it’s all the incredible switchbacks. Each turn reveals new parts of the park to marvel at, especially now as the trees and flowers are starting to do their spring magic, and it’s pretty incredible in the Fall as well. The old stone bridges are also quite lovely. In the southern section, you get to ride beneath some of DC’s wondrous arch bridges, like the Taft and Ellington Bridges, so bring your camera and be ready to stop.  Don’t forget Peirce Mill, right there at Tilden St NW, which is a beautiful 1820s-era gristmill and has an awesome picnic grounds and park space.

What to Be Careful of: Traffic. This is a busy trail with walkers, joggers and cyclers, so be courteous. Use a bell, it cuts through the headphones better than a shout, but they’re probably still not moving out of your way either. Be careful, go slow. The bridge over Rock Creek after the Zoo is perilously narrow for cyclists, it’s single file and one way at a time, or you’ll end up in the road, which can be pretty hazardous with fast-moving traffic coming through the tunnel blind.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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One thought on “Get Out & About: The Rock Creek Park Trail

  1. At the end of 2011, the National Park Service approved a plan for improvements to the Rock Creek Park trail that I can only call epic. They’ll add a real, two-bikes-wide bridge just south of the zoo and expand the sidewalk in the zoo tunnel so two people to walk side by side, along with repaving the stretches of trail north of the zoo that have been crumbling at least since I first rode on the trail in 1995.

    I don’t know when they plan to build all this stuff, but it won’t be soon enough.