Rock Creek Park, Washington DC

Rock Creek Park, Washington DC

Access to Rock Creek Park, part of the National Park system, begins at the western end of The Mall, in Washington DC, following a slim, winding corridor along Rock Creek upstream and through the National Zoological Park, north of Georgetown. The lower access opens into a sizeable wooded green space of 1,754 acres between 16th Street and Oregon Avenue, due east of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

An act of Congress made law by President Benjamin Harrison established Rock Creek Park in 1890. It is one of the oldest national parks in the country, along with Yosemite National Park, also established in 1890.

The Carter Barron Amphitheater, located in the lower end of the main park, hosts a summer program of concerts and spoken-word and dance performances. Rock Creek Park has the distinction of having the only planetarium in the entire National Park Service, which was upgraded in the spring of 2009 to digital projection (the planetarium shows are free but limited to 75 seats).

Park visitors can download podcasts for two-self guided park tours – one for the Battleground National Cemetery, the other for Fort Stevens – from the National Park Service website listed below. Those two sites and Fort DeRussy make the park a must-see for Civil War buffs; the only combat engagement in which a sitting President came under enemy fire occurred at the Battle of Fort Stevens. (The Battleground National Cemetery site is physically separate from and due east of the main park.)

Friends of Rock Creek’s Environment (FORCE), a citizens’ non-profit group dedicated to maintaining the quality of the Rock Creek watershed, organized in 2005. With funding from various corporate partners and support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, FORCE makes its greatest impact through clean-up operations, environmental monitoring, and public-education efforts. FORCE’s largest single grant to date -- $110,000 for a two-year demonstration project -- came from the DC Department of the Environment. A $10,000 grant from outdoor gear manufacturer REI in 2009 greatly boosted FORCE's trash cleanup efforts.

Cyclists, hikers, and joggers make use of extensive, designated paths and trails through the entire park, including one cycling path from the Lincoln Memorial through the park to Maryland. The two main hiking systems in the park are the green trail, which follows the park’s western ridge, and the blue trail, which follows Rock Creek's eastern edge. The park also has 15 soft-surface and 10 hard-surface tennis courts, the 18-hole Rock Creek Golf Course, and 13 miles of horse trails across the northern section. Visitors in the southern section can rent kayaks, canoes, and small sailboats at the Thompson Boat Center, for excursions on the Potomac River.