Hello Rock Creek Park!

We often talk about finding an “oasis” in the city (in this case, the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area), and this park has proven to be just that for me and many others in 2020. Say hello to Rock Creek Park! With over a million people inhabiting the surrounding area, Rock Creek Park is just the escape that DC metro residents need, whether they recognize it or not!

Rapids Bridge View/Photo by Chris Rief

So, what makes Rock Creek so special? For starters, this park is massive! While the District of Columbia encompasses just over 43,000 acres, Rock Creek Park takes up 1,700 of them. That makes it more than twice the size of New York City’s Central Park! It bisects the District down the middle on the Northwest quadrant side, with smaller sub-units scattered throughout the region. It seems that at almost every turn, you can find access to this true gem of a park that surprises me all the time. Rock Creek Park offers a peaceful refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city and the pandemic, as well as numerous recreational options, from hiking trails, water, wildlife, and history, just to name a few.

Photo by Chris Rief

I always enjoy hiking in Rock Creek Park, immersing myself in nature and visiting historic landmarks. There are two main trail systems that run North-South throughout the park: the Western Ridge Trail (green) and Valley Trail (pink). You can create your own hike, as there are several access points and ways to connect to the two main trails, and you can see trail options here. One of my favorite hikes is along the Valley Trail. On this trail, you’ll see lots of tranquil water features that are sure to make you forget you are in the middle of a major city. Rapids Bridge and Boulder Bridge are two great spots to soak in views and sounds.

Photo by Chris Rief

Another incredibly special feature of Rock Creek Park is that it’s the only unit in the park system to have a planetarium! And, admission is FREE! What a cool experience to be transported from the city to the stars. I visited the planetarium during one of my first visits to the park years ago, and I’m looking forward to returning when the regular schedule resumes. When visiting, be sure to also stop at the Nature Center to learn about the diverse wildlife in the area. 

Rapids Bridge, Rock Creek/Photo by Chris Rief

Beyond that, you can find many other recreational activities to do at the park. The National Park Service app for the region features 14 notable locations within the park, ranging from forts that are part of the Civil War Defenses of Washington, mills, an amphitheater, horseback riding, a golf course, Pulpit Rock (where Teddy Roosevelt would hike to escape the Oval Office), and much more.

Boulder Bridge/Photo by Chris Rief

This park is rich in history, and I look forward to sharing more about it’s special features. If you enjoy puzzles and want to learn more about the park, take a shot at the word search I created.


Also, don’t forget to do the Junior Ranger booklet, check out the Rock Creek Conservancy, and bring a friend to hike with!

Photo by Chris Rief

Header photo: by Chris Rief

Chris Rief is a non-profit professional with a deep passion for photography and public lands. He lives in the D.C. area, where you can find him exploring national park units near and far with his daughter, Quinn.


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