Rock Creek Trail

Trail Overview

The Rock Creek Trail is managed by the National Park Service and is the major recreational pathway running north and south directly through Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Park. The path is evenly paved and is generally in excellent condition. However, the entirety of the trail is pieced together by both dedicated trail segments and segments that run directly on Beach Drive (north of the National Zoo). Moreover, the trail is windy, with some rolling hills, and it is very popular with cyclists, joggers, and walkers. Therefore, runners should exercise significant caution when using this trail. It is best only for slower distance workouts, and runners should always run single file, while keeping to the right, and without headphones. Given the trail’s close proximity to Rock Creek Parkway and Beach Drive (traffic barriers are intermittent), runners need to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

Water and Lighting

The bulk of the Rock Creek Trail runs parallel with Rock Creek Parkway and Beach Drive. Therefore, the trail does receive significant lighting from passing traffic. However, direct lighting on the trail itself is infrequent. The northern portions of the trail run deep into Rock Creek Park and are very remote, where lighting is not available at all. In contrast, the dedicated lighting on southern portion of the trail, which runs on the west side of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, is frequently unmaintained and is often out of service. Therefore, runners should always be equipped with the necessary reflective gear and personal lighting when using this trail.

Water is available on the Rock Creek Trail with some frequency (though athletes should be advised of possible seasonal restrictions). There is a water fountain at the southernmost stretch of the trail by the Lincoln Memorial Sand Volleyball Courts. Another popular hydration stop is just south of Pierce Mill. The availability of water in the northern stretches of the trail is somewhat infrequent; however, there are some park restrooms that line Beach Drive as it travels through Upper Northwest DC (seasonal closings may apply).

Access Points

Many. Though the Rock Creek Trail does travel through some of Washington, DC’s most remote natural landscape, the trail itself is never too far from the city. Runners can easily access the southern portions of the trail via multiple entrance ramps from Georgetown and Dupont Circle. The National Zoological Park’s Olmsted Walk intersects with the trail at its southeastern edge, just past the Great Cats exhibit (runners can also descend to this point from Harvard Street NW in Adams Morgan).

Heading north, there are multiple intersection points from the east and the west via Porter Street NW and Piney Branch Parkway. Athletes can also access the trail from multiple points in the heart of Rock Creek Park itself. North of Military Road NW, direct trail access is a little more limited, given the expansive width of the park in this part of the city, but there are a variety of off-road trail access points descending west from 16th Street, as well as from the more urban pockets of Upper Northwest DC and Montgomery County, MD.


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