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WAS H I N G TO N I AN ★ N MON T H 2 0 1 6

How to Absolutely Crush
Rock Creek Park From
Top to Bottom in One Day

For her book A Year in Rock Creek Park, Washington writer Melanie
Choukas-Bradley spent hundreds of hours walking (and skiing) every
nook and cranny of the park. Our challenge for her: Cram its highlights
into a single hike on a single day. Here’s the path we followed—all
seven miles—in pocket-guide format so you can take it, too.

Gr
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From Grubb Road, take this
Boundary Trail down to the
Valley Trail, our pick over
the park’s west side because it follows Rock Creek
and has way better scenery.

START HERE

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Probably not the creek itself, according to NPS
ranger Bill Yeaman. Although Rock Creek has
plenty of time to accumulate pollutants on its
33-mile flow from a spring in Laytonsville, that
summer stench you’re getting a nasty whiff of isn’t
water-based. Instead, it’s gas venting from nearby
manholes that gets caught in the park’s valley.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PHOTOGRAPHER NAME

Look for a vernal pool—it’s the amphibians’
happy place. Toads and salamanders mate
here, and if it’s spring, you’ll hear the sleighbell tune of the spring peeper frog. See any
green or white golf-ball-like specimens near
the water’s edge? They’re salamander eggs.

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Behold the scarlet oak. The
District’s official tree—which grows
throughout the park—can extend up
to 80 feet. In the fall, it displays its
can’t-miss/don’t-miss red leaves.

See those who came before
by way of their carvings
on the park’s American
beech trees—an illicit but
decades-old tradition.
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What’s That Smell?

Just past the Pine Trail crossing, veer off to the right onto
a short, unmarked side trail
to get to “Laurel Ledge,” so
named by Choukas-Bradley.
You’ll have a sit-and-stayawhile view of the creek, especially if you’re daring enough
to climb down the ledge.

Map
illustrations
by L-Dopa

Clearly this is no day to go hungry, so
your first stop is a Silver Spring institution: Parkway Deli. Because latkes,
eggs, and lox—in heaping portions.

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d.

Hear a high-pitched
whistle? You may not
see the wood thrush,
the bird of DC, but its
singsong call may be
your soundtrack for
the whole day.

By
Jennifer
Ortiz

TRIVIA!
The Rolling Meadow Footbridge is one of eight built
as part of public-works projects during the Depression.

PHOTOGRAPH BY PHOTOGRAPHER NAME

At the two blue blazes,
veer off to the right onto
this foot-and-horse path.

Golf Course

MORE
TRIVIA!
Until 1996, passenger
cars (and before that,
crop-filled wagons)
were allowed to drive
across the shallow
parts of the creek here
at Milkhouse Ford.

Now head west
onto the footpath for about a
half mile to see
the remnants of
Fort DeRussy,
one of many Civil War forts
that helped protect DC
from Confederate capture.
During one 1864 battle,
Union soldiers fired the
fort’s 100-pound cannon 28
times to fend off the enemy.

Nature Center
Last loo until Peirce Mill!
It’s technically not in
the park, but in summer
the meadow across
from St. John’s High
School = nature porn,
packed with milkweed
and butterflies.

Now double back
via this footpath.
Otherwise, you’ll
miss the most
dramatic part of
the Valley Trail.

Horse Center

Who cares if you finished
your hash browns three
hours ago? The grassy
expanse around Miller
Cabin (page 78) is perfect for refueling. Bonus:
great people-watching
on the weekend.

Capitol Stones

TRIVIA!

4 Hacks That Will
Make Your Day in
Rock Creek Park

In 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt, who
hiked the park regularly, lost a ring near
here. A search failed to turn it up. Roose­
velt put an ad in the paper saying, “Golden
ring lost near Boulder Bridge. . . . If found,
return to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Ask for
Teddy.” The ring has yet to be found.

Amazing View!
Tennis Stadium

If you insist on a paper map, order
Map N from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

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This may sound obvious, but BYO
water. Our route doesn’t have many
spouts—you’ll find them only at
Miller Cabin, the Nature Center, and
Peirce Mill.

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NM O NTH 2016 ★ WASHINGTO NI A N

Make sure your phone has 100 percent charge. Trails in the park aren’t
well marked, so you’ll want Google
Maps to help you along at times.

Trust us, all the rockscrambling is worth it
when you get to Pulpit
Rock. Sit. Savor. And
psych yourself for more
scrambling on the Teddy
Roosevelt Trail, which
you need to pick up here
in order to cross Beach
Drive and get onto the
Western Ridge Trail.

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Carter Barron Amphitheatre

The Red Line drops you off in Silver
Spring; it’s a short walk from there
to Parkway Deli. Otherwise, park in
the Boundary Bridge parking lot and
walk north from there—but note
that on weekends, the lot is accessible only coming from the north.

Check out Peirce Mill, a 19thcentury gristmill powered by
the creek. Back outside, look
upstream for the fish ladder,
which helps herring and shad
get up over the dam to mate.

Jules Jusserand Memorial

The contract for Boulder Bridge
called for it to be surfaced with
actual boulders—specifically,
“man-sized” stones, a technical
term meaning that a stone­
mason could easily carry them.
Perhaps the contractor didn’t
have an architecture background: He used life-sized stones
instead. No matter—the mistake
resulted in one of the most picturesque spots in the park.

After seven miles, we called it a day here at
Bluff Bridge. But you could go on, via the
bike and foot trails that lead around the zoo
and all the way to the Potomac. Better idea:
Quit at Peirce Mill and Uber to St. Arnold’s
Mussel Bar patio in Cleveland Park for liters
of beer in boot glasses. You earned it.