An early spring morning at Boulder Bridge and Rock Creek in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.

© John Baggaley / Getty Images

Rock Creek Park

Upper Northwest DC

At 1700-plus acres, Rock Creek is twice the size of New York’s Central Park and feels wilder. Terrific trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding extend the entire length, and the boundaries enclose Civil War forts, dense forest and wildflower-strewn fields.

Beach Drive is undergoing extensive renovation and various sections will be closed to vehicles over the course of several years. Visit to learn more.

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.

You can pick up maps, source hiking information and sign up for ranger-led programs at the Nature Center & Planetarium in the northern part of the park. Cell phone ‘tours’ are stationed around the park. When you see a dial-and-discover sign, just call the listed number and enter the stop number – you can then listen to a ranger give a two-minute narration about that part of the park. Southwest of the Nature Center, 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.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Upper Northwest DC attractions

1. Nature Center & Planetarium

0.36 MILES

The Nature Center & Planetarium is the main visitor center for Rock Creek Park. Besides exhibits on park flora, fauna and history, it can provide hiking…

2. Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

0.92 MILES

The former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post of Post cereal fame, this lavishly decorated 1920s mansion showcases her extraordinary collections of…

3. Soapstone Valley Trail

0.95 MILES

This rugged 1-mile trail follows along Soapstone Creek and makes a nice add-on to a hike in Rock Creek Park. Access the trailhead on Ablemarle St NW,…

4. Peirce Mill

1.09 MILES

Alongside Rock Creek, the 1829 Peirce Mill is a beautiful fieldstone building that houses a recently restored gristmill – the last of the mills that once…

5. Fort Stevens Park

1.11 MILES

In a raid on July 11, 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens, the northernmost of the defensive ramparts ringing DC. A small but…

6. Battleground National Cemetery

1.49 MILES

The 41 Union men who died defending Fort Stevens are buried at this tiny, poignant cemetery, a half-mile north of the old fortification.

7. Smithsonian's National Zoo

1.81 MILES

Home to more than 2700 animals and more than 390 species in natural habitats, the National Zoo is famed for its giant pandas, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Bei…

8. Mt Pleasant Street

1.87 MILES

Mt Pleasant St is the corazón (heart) of DC’s Latino, largely Salvadoran community. Many businesses advertise money-transfer services to San Salvador or…