Parks in Washington, D.C.
- Places to Explore
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Rock Creek Park. The 1,800 acres surrounding Rock Creek have provided a cool oasis for D.C. residents ever since Congress set them aside for recreational use in 1890. The bubbling, rocky stream draws nature lovers to the miles of paved walkways. Bicycle routes, jogging and hiking paths, and equestrian trails wind through the groves of dogwoods, beeches, oaks, and cedars, and 30 picnic areas are scattered about. About twice the size of NYC's Central Park, the park stretches through much of the Northwest part of the city, so it's very easy to enter and exit the park for a short or long exercise excursion.
An asphalt bike path running through the park has a few challenging hills but is mostly flat, and it's possible to bike several miles without having to stop for cars (the roadway is closed entirely to cars on weekends). Bikers can begin a ride at the Lincoln Memorial or Kennedy Center, pass the Washington Zoo, and eventually come to the Washington, D.C., line, where the trail separates, with one part continuing to Bethesda and another to Silver Spring. The most popular run in Rock Creek Park is along a trail that follows the creek from Georgetown to the National Zoo, about 4 miles round-trip. In summer there's considerable shade, and there are water fountains and an exercise station along the way. Rangers at the Nature Center and Planetarium introduce visitors to the park and keep track of daily events; guided nature walks leave from the center on weekends at 2. Do not venture onto trails after dark. 5200 Glover Rd. NW, Nature Center and Planetarium, Washington, DC, 20015. 202/895–6070. www.nps.gov/rocr. Planetarium shows: Wed. at 2, weekends at 1 and 4.
Meridian Hill Park. Landscape architect Horace Peaslee created oft-overlooked Meridian Hill Park, a noncontiguous section of Rock Creek Park, after a 1917 study of the parks of Europe. As a result, the garden contains elements of gardens in France (a long, straight mall bordered with plants), Italy (terraces and wall fountains), and Switzerland (a lower-level reflecting pool based on one in Zurich). John Quincy Adams lived in a mansion here after his presidency in 1829, and the park later served as an encampment for Union soldiers during the Civil War. All 50 states are represented by a state tree or flower. Meridian Hill is also unofficially known as Malcolm X Park in honor of the civil rights leader. On weekends you will find a mix of pickup soccer games, joggers running the stairs, and the occasional drum circle. A statue of Joan of Arc poised for battle on horseback stands above the terrace, and a statue of Dante is on a pedestal below. A ranger-led tour and cell-phone tours illuminate the history of the landmarks inside the park. Meridian Hill has enjoyed a renaissance of late, but it's recommended to avoid the park after dark. 16th and Euclid Sts., Columbia Heights, 20009. www.nps.gov/mehl. U St./Cardozo or Columbia Heights.
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