Escapes: Riding Rock Creek

D.C. might not be an outdoorsman’s paradise, but this big city has more to offer than concrete jungles and asphalt gardens. The nation’s capital is actually an extremely outdoor-friendly city, with miles of trails, parks and waterways. So, interested in crossing a stream rather than 23rd Street? Or want to ditch the cab for a bike? Here is the third in a series of stories profiling some of D.C.’s accessible and appealing outdoor adventures.

Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park starts as a narrow strip of trees and a paved trail running along Rock Creek. It is listed as a National Park, but the highway running alongside the trail for much of the way is somewhat disappointing. Even so, this trail is enjoyable and conveniently located just past the Hall on Virginia Avenue on the way down to the Thompson Boat Center on the Potomac River waterfront. From there, the trail runs north into Rock Creek Park and southeast along the river in West Potomac Park.

Rock Creek is one of my favorite routes for an afternoon bike ride. My friend and I usually begin with a city ride, weaving through traffic and pedestrians up to Dupont Circle and past the shops in Adams Morgan. On the main drag in Adams Morgan, 18th Street, I recommend stopping at one of the “Jumbo Slice” pizza parlors. There are about three of these identical shops selling enormous slices of pizza, each one claiming to be the original home of the slice.

The park is easily identifiable as the great arboreal depression. From there, it’s a leisurely downhill ride straight back to campus. Depending on where the park is rejoined we might ride through areas raucous with birdsong, past the National Zoo or evening traffic making its desperate way out of the city.

The trail is well-populated with eco-conscious commuters, bikers and joggers moving at varying speeds. Be wary casual bikers: serious cyclists are not there to enjoy the scenery.

The glory of Rock Creek is, typically, to be found farther out on the trail where the park widens and the traffic dissipates. On one ride – originally scheduled for an hour, but stretched to maybe four and a half – my friend and I discovered a secluded woodland bluff overlooking the creek that held our undivided attention for more than an hour. The Metro area is full of sublime spots, tucked away between metro stops, traffic and harried civil service workers.

Am I ruining my own special relationship with these last places by sharing them? I don’t think so, as Rock Creek is far from undiscovered, and I don’t actually expect anyone to locate the hidden bluff. But, should anyone find it, I’ll be happy to meet you there.

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