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. Here are some great ways to spend an afternoon at this national park:
- The Old Stone House is one of the oldest known structures remaining in the nation’s capital. Built in 1765 in what is now the Georgetown neighborhood, the house was both a residence and a shop for cabinetmaker Christopher Layman. He died shortly after building the house. It was sold to Cassandra Chew who added a wing to the rear of the house in 1767. The Old Stone House is open seven days a week from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The house can be viewed while a Park Ranger is on duty during these hours.
- Peirce Mill was named for Isaac Peirce who built and ran one of eight mills that lined Rock Creek in the 1820s. The mill used the waterpower of the creek to grind corn and wheat into flour. The mill closed in 1897. However, the antique components and wooden waterwheel were made functional again and, up until April of 1993, it became famous for operating as the only 19th century gristmill in the National Park system. Peirce Mill is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
- Meridian Hill Park was named in 1819 when John Porter erected a mansion on the grounds at the exact longitude of the original District of Columbia milestone marker set down on April 15, 1791 at Jones Point, Virginia. It was to this mansion that President John Quincy Adams moved when he left the White House in 1829. Meridian Hill served as the site of Columbia College, the precursor to George Washington University. It was also used as a park and during the Civil War, Union troops camped there. Over time, Meridian Hill Park was turned into a grand, formal park modeled after the Renaissance and Italian gardens found in the world’s great capital cities. Meridian Hill is open daily during daylight hours. Admission is free.
- Dumbarton Oaks Park is a 27-acre, largely wooded park with several acres of meadows. Known for its wild flowers, visitors can admire the tranquil scenery from benches along the shaded trails. The park was designed by landscape architect Beatrix Farrand between 1921 and 1941, who was commissioned by the Dumbarton Oaks estate owners Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss to create an illusion of country life within the city. Lover’s Lane and the popular Rose Garden are accessible by foot near 31st and R streets in Georgetown. Open daily except Mondays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Montrose Park is wooded parkland consisting of 16 acres of grassy lawns, plants, play areas and tennis courts. Montrose has been a popular picnic and meeting location since its original owner Robert Parrott allowed Georgetown residents to use it freely during the 19th century. Open daily except Mondays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- The Georgetown Waterfront Park curves along 10 acres of the Potomac extending from the Washington Harbour complex to Key Bridge. It provides a green space for cyclists, skaters, boaters, kayakers and pedestrians.
- Francis Scott Key Park was named in honor of the creator of America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The park is located where Francis Scott Key once lived from 1803 to 1833.
Carter Barron Amphitheatre is a 4,200-seat outdoor performance venue in Rock Creek Park. The amphitheater opened in 1950 in honor of the 150th anniversary of Washington, DC as the nation’s capital. Performances include plays, dance and musical concerts.
- Rock Creek Park Nature Center/Planetarium is the major information center and focal point for activities related to the park’s natural and cultural history. The Center has a library, a Discovery Room, an observation beehive and the only planetarium in the national park system. Evening star-gazing sessions and regular educational programing takes place each week.
- Bicycling is available along a variety of paved bike paths. One trail runs from the Lincoln Memorial throughout the park north into Maryland. Memorial Bridge connects it to the Mount Vernon Trail in Virginia. Other trails include the C&O Canal towpath and the Capital Crescent Trail.
- Picnicking is popular in Rock Creek Park. The area offers 30 picnic locations, some of which have rain shelters.
- Playgrounds can be found throughout the park and feature large recreational fields suitable for soccer, football and field hockey. Tennis courts are available to reserve year-round for a fee. There are 15 soft-surface and 10 hard-surface courts available.
- Hiking trails traverse many sections of the park and offer nearly 15 miles to explore. A 5.2-mile blue-blazed trail runs along the eastern side of the creek from the Maryland line to Bluff Bridge and is rated moderately easy. Along the western ridge of the park is the green-blazed trail that is 4.3 miles long and strenuous. Tan-blazed trails connect the two.
- Exercise courses are located in the woods along Rock Creek. Along its 1.5-mile oval route are 18 calisthenics stations, each with a sign illustrating how to do the exercise.
- Rock Creek Park Horse Center offers boarding, camps, lessons and trail rides for equestrians of all skill levels. Horse riders can find 13 miles of wide dirt and gravel bridle trails in the park.
- Rock Creek Golf Course is an 18-hole public course with a clubhouse. Golfers have access to lockers and a snack bar.
- Thompson Boat Center rents bicycles, kayaks, canoes, small sailboats and rowing shells. Lessons are available.