Rock Creek Park is a rustic expanse of 2,100 acres surrounding Rock Creek and extending north of the District line. The Park includes Peirce Mill, The Old Stone House, a nature center, riding stables, tennis courts, a golf course, 30 picnic areas, playing fields and an extensive network of trails for walking, jogging and cycling.
Rock Creek Park is one of America’s largest and oldest city parks and one of the first urban natural areas to be set aside by Congress for the enjoyment of the people. Much like New York City’s Central Park, it offers a nearby respite from city dwelling.
Rock Creek Park was founded in 1890 as one of the first federal parks. Initially, the parkland was sought in the 1860s in order to build a new presidential mansion. The White House at the time was too small to accommodate the offices and living quarters of the First Family. It was also too near the wastes from the Potomac River, creating an unsanitary environment. By 1866, the United States Senate set out to find land suitable for a president.
A Corp or Engineers officer Major Nathaniel Michler discovered the valley of Rock Creek in the District of Columbia and presented his findings to the Public Building and Grounds Committee. Senator B. Gratz Brown, chairman of the committee, immediately introduced legislation to acquire the land “for the purposes of a public park, free to all persons under such regulations as to police and government as may by proper authority be established.” The bill, however, made no mention of a presidential mansion site.
The bill was tabled for many years due to disagreements between the House and the Senate about the land, which prevented it from passing into law. After several drafts and compromises, President Benjamin Harrison finally signed the legislation into law almost a quarter century later.
Between historic mills, a nature center, riding stables, tennis courts, a golf course, 30 picnic areas, and miles and miles of trails, Rock Creek Park has something for everyone. Read our Things to Do in Rock Creek Park for a plethora of ways to spend an afternoon.
- Rock Creek Park occupies 2,100 acres within the District of Columbia, with an additional 4,400 acres in Maryland’s Montgomery County.
- Rock Creek Park is 30 miles long in its entirety.
- President John Quincy Adams enjoyed walking through the park after a day of politics
- President Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed bird-watching and rough cross-country walks through the park.
- President Abraham Lincoln was exposed to enemy fire while witnessing a Confederate attack on Washington on July 11 & 12, 1864 at Fort Stevens.
- President Ronald Reagan often rode horses at the stables in Rock Creek Park.