Range through idyllic forest and creek-side ecosystems on this mellow loop through Rock Creek Park. A visit to the iconic Boulder Bridge with its bit of presidential lore is not to be missed. Built in 1902, it is one of the few park bridges not to have been washed away in floods.
Features: Birding — Fall Colors — River/Creek
Family Friendly: Gently rolling trail with shade, easy access, and ample parking make this a low-stress proposition. There are several bail-out options if you need to cut the loop short.
Horses are also allowed on some parts of this loop - be aware and respectful.
To access this loop trail from the Nature Center, head south toward the Horse Center. Take a sharp left into the horse center and, keeping left, head past the small parking lot towards the corral. The dirt trail begins behind and to the left of the corral, descending gently towards Rock Creek. Soon you'll hear the rushing rapids of the Rock Creek "falls." This cascade of water runs over a geologic transition zone where the harder rock of the Piedmont Plateau meets the softer, sedimentary rock of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.
Follow along the creek for about a ½ mile, and cross the unmarked Rapids Bridge footbridge (enjoy the view upstream and downstream!) Then cross Beach Drive, and take a right (south) onto the Valley Trail - South
, marked by blue blazes. Continue south for 1/2 mile until you reach the historic Boulder Bridge.
Constructed in 1902, Boulder Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in the park. It’s an example of rustic architecture, or ‘parkitecture’ (architecture designed to blend in with the natural landscape). Keep an eye out for Theodore Roosevelt’s ring, which he lost at Boulder Bridge during one of his many walks in Rock Creek Park over one hundred years ago. One hundred feet after Boulder Bridge, take the small, unmarked trail on the right ( Foot Trail #17
) and head uphill.
After 1/4 mile, stay straight at the four-way trail intersection, following the unmarked, Cross Trail #9
. Soon you cross Ridge Road and arrive at the Equitation Field. Circle around the southern end of this horse field and then head north. Follow the green blazes of the Western Ridge Trail
northward, following the “foot traffic only” signs when it turns off of the wider horse trail. After 3/4 of a mile, the trail seemingly ends as you come upon Picnic Grove 13 and a grassy field. Cross the field and the two roadways, and then continue just up the hill to the Nature Center to complete the loop.
Virginia pines, mountain laurel, beech, oak. Fox and deer.
It is said that the extra large boulders that comprise Boulder Bridge resulted from a misunderstanding by the bridge's contractor. The plans called for "man-sized" stone, which meant stone that could be easily handled by a stone mason. Instead, the contractor used life-sized boulders. When the Corps of Engineers head, Colonel Beach, arrived at the site and saw the work underway with the large boulders, he liked the way they looked. The boulders did not come from the immediate vicinity of the bridge or from within Rock Creek Park, but nearby. The bridge cost a total of $17,635.77 to build.