Trail Running in Rock Creek Park: Pictures of Beauty

by Jason Fitzgerald

Trail running in Rock Creek Park is my preferred way to train. I’m extremely lucky to have an amazing trail system about a mile from my door right in the middle of Washington, DC.

These pictures are from the northern end of Rock Creek Park on a loop that crosses the DC-Maryland border. If they don’t get you motivated to run trails instead of the roads then I’m not sure what will!

I enter the park after about 9 minutes of road running just south of the Maryland state line.  The entrance is on the right of this picture and it’s a slight downhill, just enough to pick up some speed and stretch out the legs.

After entering the park and turning right, the trail levels off. This is a great shot of what most of the trails look like in Rock Creek – wide, mostly good footing, with plenty of vegetation flanking the trail.

Rock Creek Park This area is typically flooded but it’s been dry in the DC area for the last month. I hope the tadpoles make it!

Rock Creek ParkAfter a severe lightning storm last summer, a lot of trees toppled because of high winds. The overturned root system on this tree is about ten feet high.

Rock Creek ParkMost of my running in Rock Creek is done along the river itself. Here’s a great shot from the trail at about the 2 mile mark of this run.

Rock Creek ErosionWith all the storms last summer, parts of the trail are being constantly eroded away by the river. After a tree fell into the creek, this part of the trail runs just next to the water. Its days are limited before runners will need to find an alternate route.

Rock Creek Park BridgeJust before the halfway mark I cross this bridge and go over Rock Creek. Beach Drive (the main road that goes through the park) is on the other side of the bridge.

Rock Creek SignNow in Maryland! The paved trail is also part of the Candy Cane City 5k I won in this area in the fall of 2010.

Rock CreekAbout two miles from home I cross another foot bridge – here’s the view looking out on the river. After a storm I’ve seen the river rise about 8 feet!

Narrow TrailWhile most of the trails are wide, they narrow in a few short sections and the vegetation closes in on you as you run through. This is probably the narrowest section; still very runnable!

Rock Creek LogGood thing I ran the steeplechase in college.

Treacherous TrailThe most treacherous stretch of trail runs very close to the river and drops off sharply into the water. With the plants pushing you toward the creek, quick feet are a must when navigating this part of the trail. I’ve never come close to falling, but luckily if I did the water is only about a foot deep here.

Can you believe that all these pictures were taken in only 2.5 miles of trail running? This easy loop is part of my easy 5 miler that I typically run on Fridays before my long run.

If you’re ever in the DC area then let me know and I’ll tell you some of the best areas in Rock Creek Park to run. The trails are beautiful, mostly non-technical, and there are a lot of flat section for trail newbies. If you crave hills, there are plenty of those as well!

I hope I’ve motivated you to get off the roads and hit the trails! I think since I just finished Relentless Forward Progress (ultramarathon book) I am especially excited about trail running, which is an integral part to most ultras. Enjoying the woods is one of the primary reasons I prefer trails to roads. It’s more tranquil, peaceful, and fun!

Where are your preferred trails? Do you like hilly technical trails or well-groomed paths?

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{ 16 comments }

Matthias (runHerne)

Hi Fitz! Thanks for these nice pictures! There are not so much trails in my area, so I have to run like 5km or so to reach the next trails. I think about cycling to the forest entry and have a 15km trail. It’s like you said, much more fun to run on a trail than in the city. But there’s not always a choice. ;) -Matt

Fitz

That’s right, you have to do what works for you in your area. Biking there is a good idea!

Kris

I did my first trail race about 3 weeks ago after only one trail run, and it was an amazing experience! Took nearly twice as long as the normal 5k race, but was worth every minute, I would recommend it to anyone.

Fitz

Awesome, thanks Kris.

Lisa

It looks like a fun trail and it must be cool in the summer with all the shade.

I need to hit the trails more!

Fitz

Can’t go wrong with more trail running!

Art

Running Rock Creek Park in the summer and no mention of the humidity? You must have been dripping out there! It’s definitely a great place to run. Now that I’m in Los Angeles I like running the bridle paths of Griffith Park. They’re very sandy and you have to dodge people on horseback, but the paths go on for miles and miles and offer great views of LA and the SF Valley.

Fitz

Sounds like a great place to run Art! I didn’t mention the humidity because it doesn’t bother me too much – I usually head out at 7am so it’s cooler then too.

Andy Eaton

I had a decent trail it was really good to run on but the council have decided to add stones on it and it’s now terrible yours looks great

Wes

I like trail running. I’m fortunate enough to live about twenty minutes away from several good ones!

Fitz

That’s great, take advantage of them!

Tammy

Great photos and great reading like usual! So nice to live in the mountains surrounded by the technical trails- would be lost without them! A nice change for the body from pushing it on the paved roads all the time. Technical trails are great for strengthening the ankles and working the core/hips due to the need to finesse your way over some of the rocks and roots.

(pssst… I am running again with a smile on my face! See you in August!)

Fitz

Awesome! Talk to you soon :)

Tammy

Can’t wait.. just won my age category in a fun 3.5 mile community race :))) I am BACK!

justin

Hey Fitz, my brother and I are taking a road trip/hiking trip up north and were passing through Annapolis. Any suggestions for trails over 6 miles in between Annapolis and D.C.?

Fitz

Hey Justin. Believe it or not, I’ve never been out to Annapolis so I’m not really sure. Try looking up parks on nps.gov. Good luck!

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