The best DC hiking trails for exercising during quarantine

Deirdre de Leeuw den Bouter

Picture this: the sun breaks through the canopy of the Beech trees, glinting off of the red leaves as the creek gurgles below. You’re walking on a trail, leaves crunching under your feet, and breathing in crisp fall air. You take another step and hear your dog barking at a faraway tree. 

Since lockdown began, I have picked up one main hobby: hiking. Living next to Rock Creek Park my whole life has made me love walking in the woods, whether it be for 10 minutes with my dogs or for three hours with my friends. Especially now, I have been embracing trying out every trail the Park has to offer. I’ve split my favorite hikes into two main groups: above Military Road and below Military Road. 

I live right next to the community gardens at Oregon and Northampton, a spot where around five trails converge to one field, giving me ample opportunity throughout my life to explore the trails above Military. My favorite hike of those is up past the park police center, and down to Bingham and Beach. Since it starts at the top of a hill, you can see very far down through the forest. In the first section of the hike, the foliage is quite thick and I’ve often seen deer running around there. It’s never busy, since the trailhead is hidden at the top of the hill and behind a couple trees. 

Another fun trail is hiking from the community gardens down to the “Milkhouse Ford” and Beach Drive. It is a little busier, but still worth the trek. For a longer and more challenging hike, try taking the Western Ridge trail up to the Maryland border and the Valley Trail down to the Military road. This one follows the creek for a bit, and in certain spots you can cross the river on fallen trees. Since it takes around three hours to complete the full trail, it’s fun to walk with friends or get some good exercise.

Below Military, there are so many hikes you can choose from. My absolute favorite begins at Military and St. Johns. From there, you follow the Western Ridge trail all the way to Pierce Mill. Just past Pierce Mill, there’s a section of Western Ridge where you can choose to either do a moderate (hilly but not difficult) or strenuous trail. If you choose strenuous, you can do a little rock climbing right along the creek and I love taking that part. It’s also beautiful, as at the top of the strenuous part you climb a lot so at the top you have an amazing view of the creek. Another added benefit of its difficulty is that most people are not experienced enough to take it and so it is relatively empty. From there, I cross at Bluff Bridge and take the Valley Trail up back to Military. All together, it’s around six miles and generally takes me two hours.

We are so lucky to have Rock Creek Park right in the middle of our city. As the leaves are turning and it’s finally not 90 degrees everyday, try hiking with your friends as a COVID-friendly and fun exercise. Make sure to always be safe and to bring water!