Rock Creek Park
Lonely Planet review for Rock Creek Park
At 1700 acres, Rock Creek is twice the size of New York’s Central Park and feels a hell of a lot more wild. You can be out here and feel utterly removed from the city. Even coyotes have settled into the wilderness (they’re not dangerous, by the way). Rock Creek Park begins at the Potomac’s east bank near Georgetown and extends to and beyond the northern city boundaries. Narrow in its southern stretches, where it hews to the winding course of the waterway it’s named for, it broadens into wide, peaceful parklands in Upper Northwest DC. Terrific trails extend the entire length, and the boundaries enclose Civil War forts, dense forest and wildflower-strewn fields. Cell phone ‘tours’ are stationed around the park; when you see a dial-and-discover sign, just enter the listed number. A good first stop for visitors is the Nature Center & Planetarium (202-426-6829; off Military Rd; 9am-5pm Wed). Besides exhibits on park flora, fauna and history, it has two small nature trails, tons of information and maps and field guides to the city. A ‘touch table’ is set up for kids, and rangers lead child-oriented nature walks. A bit further north of here, on the west side of Beach Dr, is the Joaquin Miller Cabin, a log house that once sheltered the famed nature poet. Further south, the Soapstone Valley Park extension, off Connecticut Ave at Albemarle St NW, preserves quarries where the area’s original Algonquin residents dug soapstone for shaping their cookware. Alongside the creek, the 1820 Pierce Mill (202-426-6908; Tilden St; 9am-5pm Wed-Sun Sep-May, daily Jun-Aug) is a beautiful fieldstone building that was once a water-driven gristmill. Next door, local artists display work in a 19th-century carriage house known as the Rock Creek Gallery (202-244-2482; 2401 Tilden St; 11am-4:30pm Thu-Sun). In summer, pick up an events calendar at the Carter Barron Amphitheater (202-426-0486; www.nps.gov/rocr/cbarron; cnr 16th & Kennedy Sts NW), a 4000-seat outdoor theater where concerts and plays, many of which are free, are held on summer evenings. The remains of Civil War forts are among the park’s most fascinating sites. During the war, Washington was, essentially, a massive urban armory and supply house for the Union Army. Its position near the Confederate lines made it vulnerable to attack, so forts were hastily erected on the city’s high points. By spring 1865, 68 forts and 93 batteries bristled on hilltops around DC. Overlooking Rock Creek in Cleveland Park is the Klingle Mansion (202-282-1063; 3545 Williamsburg Lane; 7:45am-4:15pm Mon-Fri). Built in 1823 by Joshua Pierce, the 10-room Pennsylvania Dutch fieldstone house is now park headquarters, open for information and permits for special events.