Ask Washingtonians what they love most about their city, and you’ll likely hear that D.C.’s ubiquitous parks and trees lend the place a particular grace. At 1,754 acres, Rock Creek Park is the granddaddy of the city’s green spaces. Bisecting the northeast and northwest quadrants of Washington, the park is accessible to a wide swath of city residents and beloved by the many bikers, rollerbladers, walkers and birdwatchers who populate its trails on weekends.
Recreational options inside the park are surprisingly diverse: horse stables and trails, a tennis stadium, a golf course, Civil War fortifications, a concert and theatre venue, and a 20-mile bike trail, a portion of which is closed to vehicles on weekends and holidays. The Park’s Nature Center offers a full slate of ranger-led programs and hikes for all ages (see web site for schedule). Kids will want to check out the on-site beehive and will enjoy learning about the park’s coyotes, red fox and white-tailed deer. Maybe they’ll spot one.
The park is also home to the National Park Service’s only planetarium, which holds regular shows on Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. for children 5 and older (5-7-year-olds must be accompanied by an adult); and at 4 p.m. for children 7 and older. It’s best to arrive early; only 75 tickets are distributed 30 minutes before each presentation.
Sports-minded travelers might want to spend a day at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in early August. Or rent a kayak or bicycle at Thompson’s Boat Center, on the Potomac River.
History buffs can download self-guided podcast walking tours of Fort Stevens, which served as the focal point for defending Washington, D.C., during a Confederate attack in July 1864; or the Battleground National Cemetery, the burial site of Union soldiers who died defending the city. Nine Civil War installations can be found throughout the park.
For podcasts, visit www.nps.gov/rocr/photosmultimedia.
For general park information, visit www.nps.gov/rocr.
Rock Creek Park
Hours: Rock Creek Park is open during daylight hours. The park’s three visitor centers are open as follows: The Nature Center and Planetarium and the Old Stone House are open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Days. The Peirce Barn is open noon to 5:00 p.m. on weekends.
Parking: Public parking is available at the Nature Center and Planetarium.
Metrorail: You can walk to different sections of Rock Creek Park from various Metro stops. The Nature Center and Planetarium are not accessible by Metro. On weekends, walk to the Peirce Barn from the Van Ness or Cleveland Park stops on the Red Line. For easy access to the park’s bicycle and walking path, exit at the Woodley Park-National Zoo stop on the Red Line.
Old Town Trolley Tour