Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hiking DC's Rock Creek Park - Southern Bluffs and Rapids Section

by Brian Schwarz

Rock Creek Park is a swath of preserved parkland located in Northwest Washington, DC. Managed by the National Park Service with hiking trails maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, Rock Creek Park is a haven for urban hikers. Still, despite being well within the urban core of the nation's capital, Rock Creek's trails offer hikers a surprising amount of solitude.

This hike in the rocky southern section of Rock Creek Park begins at historic Pierce Mill. From the Pierce Mill parking area, take the green-blazed Western Ridge Trail north along the Rock Creek flood plain. Carefully cross Broad Branch Road and continue to follow the green blazes up a steep hill to cross Glover Road, soon after which you will reach Equitation Field. 

View from Rapids Bridge of Rock Creek, along the Fall Zone
Keep going on the Western Ridge Trail until you reach the signed Picnic Area 17. Here, cross Glover Road and find unmarked horse trail, identified on the PATC Map N Rock Creek Park map as CT7. Cross trail 7 joins CT6 after you traverse Ross Road at the picturesque Ross Road Bridge. Soon you will reach the flood plain once again. Turn left when you see Rock Creek and walk to Rapids Bridge, where you will cross the bridge to enjoy one of the most scenic views along Rock Creek. This is the Fall Zone, where the Piedmont physiographic province yields to the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

After enjoying views of the boulder-strewn waters, continue across the bridge, and then cross Beach Drive to join the blue-blazed Valley Trail. Turn Right. Stay on the Valley Trail as you pass by Boulder Bridge, where president Theodore Roosevelt once lost a precious gold ring that was never recovered, and climb to the precipice known as Pulpit Rock, a great place to rest and refuel.

Continue on the Valley Trail and soon you will cross Blagden Avenue, then later Park Road and Beach Drive once again. As you once again reach the banks of Rock Creek, turn left, to the end of the Valley Trail at Bluff Bridge.

Cross Bluff Bridge and turn right to join the Western Ridge Trail, at the base of a hill topped by Klingle Mansion, which houses Rock Creek Park Headquarters. Several yards on, you must choose the strenuous or moderate route to continue on the Western Ridge Trail.

The strenuous route is more scenic but requires some light bouldering (grabbing onto boulders to navigate obstacles in the trail). Along the moderate route you will find a spur trail that leads to Klingle Mansion. Just beyond the point where these two routes converge is your starting point at Pierce Mill.

Trailhead: Find the Pierce Mill parking area along Park Road, just west and across Rock Creek from Beach Drive. This hike is also accessible via the Metro Red Line. From Vann Ness - UDC Station walk south on Connecticut Avenue to Tilden Street and walk east. Also, You may take H2, H3, or H4 Metrobus to the corner of Klingle Avenue NW and Park Road NW, then walk north on Park Road to Pierce Mill. Each of these public transit routes add approximately one mile, round trip.
Distance: Approximately 3.5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain/Loss: Approximately 400 feet, spread out between several hills
Map: A free map is available from the National Parks Service here. However, for a more enriching experience hiking Rock Creek Park, I recommend purchasing Map N: Trails in the Rock Creek Park Area, from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, available for purchase here.
Hiking Time: 1.5 to two hours round trip, depending on your personal speed and how often you take breaks to enjoy the views.
Best Times to Hike: This hike can be done year round.
Difficulty: Easy

For more information on this hike or other hikes discussed in the blog HikeyHikey, feel free to leave a comment below. Also, check out my other blogs Man of Merit and MyFitLife2Day and HikingMegalopolis. Or contact me via my splash page at about.me/brian.schwarz