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Hiking the Civil War Defenses of D.C.

Rock Creek Park

Here are 8 hikes you might enjoy taking at Rock Creek Park. Each can be viewed on the interactive map of Rock Creek Park.

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Half-Day Hikes (or shorter)

Boulder Bridge Hike

This loop hike travels through forests and creek-side ecosystems, parallels the mile-long rapids section of Rock Creek, and crosses two picturesque bridges.

Map of Boulder Bridge HikeLength: 3.17 mi; 5.13 km

Difficulty: Moderate, with slopes. Bring water.

Start Here: Nature Center (5200 Glover Rd. NW)

Tips: Some trail segments shared with horses. Beware of vehicle traffic on Boulder Bridge on weekdays (no sidewalk). No restrooms on this route.

Street Crossings: Ross Dr., Beach Dr., Boulder Bridge, Ridge Rd., Grant Rd., Glover Rd.

Highlights: The Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest; the Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest and rapids in the Fall Zone of Rock Creek (viewed from Rapids Bridge footbridge); the iconic 1902 Boulder Bridge; the Mixed Oak / Heath Forest; the Successional Tuliptree Forest; Picnic Areas 22 and 13.

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Milkhouse Ford Hike

This loop hike offers you a glimpse into Washington, D.C.'s diverse past. You'll hike past a Civil War fort, poet's cabin, and historic creek ford.

Map of Milkhouse Ford HikeLength: 1.66 mi; 2.73 km

Difficulty: Moderate, with slopes. Bring water.

Start Here: Nature Center (5200 Glover Rd. NW)

Tips: Some trail segments shared with horses. No restrooms on this route.

Street Crossings: Military Rd. (at traffic signal)

Highlights: Fort DeRussy (Civil War site marked by a signpost on a hilltop) reforested by large oaks; Rock Creek; a narrow ravine with a Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest; a view from across the creek of the 1880's cabin of historic poet Joaquin Miller; a look at Milkhouse Ford—the only Rock Creek crossing before the 1950's; a forested valley below Fort DeRussy.

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Rapids Bridge Hike

This loop hike takes you through beautiful forest and then parallels the scenic rapids section of Rock Creek before heading back uphill, passing the Horse Center. The route is identified by orange tape on wooden posts.

Map of Rapids Bridge HikeLength: 1.88 mi; 3.02 km

Difficulty: Moderate, with slopes. Bring water.

Start Here: Nature Center (5200 Glover Rd. NW)

Tips: Some trail segments shared with horses. No restrooms on this route.

Street Crossings: Ross Dr.

Highlights: The Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest; Picnic Area 22; the Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest; a patch of slender-trunked pawpaw trees (just downstream of a big bend in Rock Creek, look upslope); rocky rapids in the Fall Zone of Rock Creek (step out on Rapids Bridge footbridge to enjoy the views upstream and downstream); The Rock Creek Park Horse Center.

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Chestnut Oak / Mountain Laurel Hike

This loop hike follows the ridgeline and upper slopes of the hill that separates Rock Creek from Broad Branch, passing through a unique natural community at the top of a knoll.

Map of Chestnut Oak / Mountain Laurel HikeLength: 1.59 mi; 2.58 km

Difficulty: Moderate, with slopes. Bring water.

Start Here: Nature Center (5200 Glover Rd. NW)

Tips: Some trail segments shared with horses. No restrooms on this route.

Street Crossings: Glover Rd., Ridge Rd., Grant Rd.

Highlights: Picnic Area 13; a Successional Tuliptree Forest (Rich Type); a Chestnut Oak / Mountain Laurel Forest on a knoll near Picnic Area 16 featuring the broadleaf evergreen shrub mountain laurel (blooms late spring) and cobblestones; trail loops back lower on the slope with an obvious transition to different vegetation (look for corresponding mylonite underfoot: bedrock that's been stretched like taffy by prehistoric fault motion); Rock Creek Park Horse Center.

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Floodplain Forest Hike

This loop hike skirts Rock Creek's broadest floodplain forest, follows a gentle slope up the narrowing Rock Creek Valley wall, crosses a footbridge over Rock Creek, and winds through a forested valley and rolling hills.

Map of Floodplain Forest HikeLength: 2.60 mi; 4.18 km

Difficulty: Moderate, with slopes. Bring water.

Start Here: Parking Lot at Boundary Bridge (Beach Dr. NW at D.C. / MD boundary)

Tips: All trail segments shared with horses. No restrooms on this route or at trailhead.

Street Crossings: Beach Dr.

Highlights: The Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest; a Red Maple Seepage Swamp where the Valley Trail starts climbing the Rock Creek Valley wall; transition zones between a mix of natural communities on the meandering trail above Rock Creek; Riley Spring footbridge; large outcrops of Laurel Formation bedrock surrounded by mature Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest and a patch of Basic Mesic Hardwood Forest in the wide lower section of a ravine; acres of rolling Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest.

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Oak - Beech / Heath Hike

This loop hike takes you high on the forested slopes above Rock Creek to the summit of Pulpit Rock, crosses a picturesque bridge, and loops back on the opposite side of Rock Creek.

Map of Oak - Beech / Heath HikeLength: 1.13 mi; 1.83 km

Difficulty: Moderate, with slopes. Bring water.

Start Here: Parking Lot off Broad Branch Rd. NW at Beach Dr. NW.

Tips: Some trail segments shared with horses. Other parts of this hike are on narrow hillside trails. Beware of vehicle traffic on Boulder Bridge on weekdays (no sidewalk). No restrooms on this route or at trailhead.

Street Crossings: Beach Dr., Boulder Bridge, Broad Branch Rd.

Highlights: The Oak – Beech / Heath Forest on Theodore Roosevelt Trail's steep slopes above Rock Creek; summit of Pulpit Rock; the Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest; Boulder Bridge; scenic views of Pulpit Rock (a hillside dense with rock outcrops) from across the creek.

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Day Hikes

Northern Circuit Hike

This long loop hike through the northern half of Rock Creek Park takes you deep into the woods up to the boundary with Maryland. Hiking southbound, you parallel the meandering waters of Rock Creek.

Map of Northern Circuit HikeLength: 6.52 mi; 10.55 km

Difficulty: Moderate, with slopes. Bring plenty of water!

Start Here: Nature Center (5200 Glover Rd. NW)

Tips: Some trail segments shared with horses. Restrooms at Picnic Area 6.

Street Crossings: Military Rd., Bingham Dr., Wise Rd., Beach Dr.

Highlights: Successional forests; Rock Creek Community Garden; the Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest; Boundary Bridge (crosses Rock Creek at MD/DC border); the Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest along Rock Creek;  a Red Maple Seepage Swamp where the Valley Trail starts climbing the Rock Creek Valley wall (as Rock Creek turns southwest); step pools in Rock Creek (built for migrating fish) visible from Valley Trail above; Picnic Area 6 (Restrooms); Fort DeRussy (Civil War site on a hilltop) reforested by large oaks.

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Southern Circuit Hike

This long loop hike through the southern section of Rock Creek Park takes you past the scenic whitewater section of Rock Creek, above a cliff face, and past historic Peirce Mill.

Map of Southern Circuit HikeLength: 5.20 mi; 8.40 km

Difficulty: Moderate, with slopes. Bring plenty of water!

Start Here: Nature Center (5200 Glover Rd. NW)

Tips: Some trail segments shared with horses. For a more strenuous challenge at the southern end of this hike, you can take the lower Western Ridge Trail along the cliff face, instead of the upper Western Ridge Trail above the cliff over Rock Creek. Restrooms at Picnic Area 1.

Street Crossings: Ross Dr., Beach Dr., Blagden Ave., Park Rd., Tilden St., Broad Branch Rd., Ridge Rd., Grant Rd., Glover Rd.

Highlights: The Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest; Picnic area 22; the Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest and rapids in the Fall Zone of Rock Creek; Oak – Beech / Heath Forest on steep slopes above creek; a view of Boulder Bridge; summit of Pulpit Rock; Mixed Oak / Heath Forest on top of knoll and managed meadow on slope (north of Park Rd); cliff (bluffs) above Rock Creek at south end of hike; Picnic Area 1 (Restrooms); Peirce Mill; Picnic Area 2b; Picnic Area 27; equitation field (horse ring); Picnic Area 13.

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