Urban parklands provide us a space for wonderful afternoon get aways, sorely needed exercise and fresh air. They are best savored on an early autumn Sunday, somewhere not too far from home. Any modern city should have something nestled somewhere within its midst. New York has Central, Vancouver has Stanley, Tokyo has Ueno, and DC has Rock Creek.
Rock Creek Park, established by congress in 1890, is located in North Central DC, and stretches north from The National Zoo to the tip of Washington’s diamond shaped border with Maryland. It is managed by the National Park Service and is a wonderful hilly, forested area for hiking, biking, jogging, horse back riding and picnicking. The park has no admission fees. Several roads pass through the park, most notably Beach Drive, which follows the creek along its entire length. Check out the map to plan a visit.
There are a number of interesting historic sites in and around the park. We visited Pierce Mill: a gorgeously preserved, four-level stone building that dates back to the 1820’s. The sturdy, blue-grey cobbled exterior makes for nice photos, but the greater treasure is the inside where you can see the meticulously restored gears, the grain elevator, the hoppers, and grinding stones. The mill is a testament to preindustrial ingenuity, an incredable refining machine powered by water.
In a city like Washington, filled with more sites than anyone can fit into even a lengthy tourist itinerary, the attraction to Rock Creek Park is probably more for locals looking to escape the crowds and get back to nature. The scenery is pleasant, and typical of the low country forests that once covered this mid-atlantic region. It is easily accessible by car and with plenty of free parking. Even on a gorgous Sunday afternoon in September, there were plenty of open parking spaces along the drives.
If taking Metro, the park can be easily reached from a number of stations. We got off at Cleveland Park station and walked down Porter St. for about ten minutes until we got to the park. Then we followed the trails north for a leasurly three hours, including a picnic lunch. Leaving the park from the north east, we crossed over into Maryland, and got on Metro again at Silver Springs. That was about a six mile hike.