- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It’s been a long time since President Teddy Roosevelt tramped the trails of Rock Creek Park, hiking up the hills and exploring the valleys. In those days the trails were so secluded that, if he had to ford a creek, “he would remove his clothes and swim it in the buff” as gentlemen of that era might do, according to Dwight Madison, the National Park Service’s supervisory ranger of Rock Creek Park.

While skinny-dipping is no longer permitted in Rock Creek, visitors and residents still say that when it comes to secluded hiking and running trails, the nation’s capital is a runner’s heaven.

With more than 50 miles of officially managed hiking trails in woodlands that border neighborhoods, shopping districts and federal government offices, Washington gives runners and hikers a chance to stride up hill and down dale for miles before they meet a paved road.

“You can get away from the city on these trails,” says Rob Wilkerson, 41, of Alexandria, a Pentagon employee and member of the D.C. Road Runners Club.

“But,” adds American University professor Fred Carson, 66, of the Northern Virginia Roadrunners Club, “you have to know what kind of a trail you want. If you didn’t know that these running and hiking trails exist, you might never find them.”

Natural seclusion

That’s the wonder of it — that you can step off a sidewalk on bustling Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, or leave Massachusetts Avenue near Observatory Circle, and find yourself on a dirt trail by a brook and a patch of daffodils with warblers, wrens and woodpeckers watching.

“The trails give you different elevations and views. It’s unusual to live in a city and be able to see so much nature,” says Alexandria resident Nina Trocky, 49, a nursing teacher and member of the Northern Virginia Roadrunners Club who knows the route through Glover Archbold Park in the District, a section of the Crosstown Trail.

Along with the Wesley Heights Trail and the Palisades Loop, the Crosstown is one of three trails that begin and end at Battery Kemble Park off Chain Bridge Road and wind their way through the neighborhoods of Northwest.

Then there’s the Georgetown Loop, which does exactly what it’s named for, and the Melvin Hazen/Zoo Trail, which meanders through the National Zoo, then heads north to Melvin Hazen Park and a challenging dirt path that skirts fallen trees and boulders to follow a tributary of Rock Creek uphill from the Rock Creek Trail to Connecticut Avenue.

Those are only a few of the hidden paths that, as Mr. Carson suggests, you can’t find unless you know they’re there.

Marking the routes

One runner who knows exactly where they are is Nadim Ahmed, 45, a Department of Agriculture IT manager who has put together a set of maps and detailed descriptions of his favorite running and orienteering trails in the District and posted them at www.rundc.com.

“The Melvin Hazen Trail is a good one for orienteering training, because it climbs 150 feet in just over half a mile — a tough climb, unless you are in shape,” he says, offering his view of one District trail with the precision he brings to his Web site.

Compiled in 1999, Mr. Ahmed’s “Running Around Town: Washington, D.C.” is a painstakingly detailed and still remarkably accurate resource.

The Bethesda resident — who first got interested in mapping trails when his running coach at Alexandria’s Fort Hunt High School suggested he log his favorite trails and record his speeds for training purposes — says he has personally run or walked all the trails in his running guide.

To measure them accurately, he says, he used a Jones Counter (a hand-held measuring wheel) on dirt trails, and a bicycle calibrated to the Jones wheel for paved trails and sidewalks.

A fortunate history

At the heart of these trails, and holding many of them together, is Rock Creek Park, that natural oasis established by Congress in 1890 as an area for public hiking and horseback riding, says Park Ranger Madison.

Later donations of land to the National Park Service (NPS) in the early 1900s in Northwest by philanthropists such as Anne Archbold and Charles Carroll “C.C.” Glover permitted the Park Service to graft these areas onto Rock Creek Park via connections such as the C&O Canal towpath and the strip of green known today as Whitehaven Parkway.

Today, the NPS oversees Rock Creek Park and the paved and dirt sections of hiker/biker trails that run along Rock Creek from the District’s northwest boundary in Chevy Chase south to the Potomac River, as well as many of the shorter connecting trails in parks in Northwest.

To maintain the trails, it partners with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), whose members volunteer their time to keep the trails in repair.

Five Northwest circuits

What follows is a guide to five circuit runs or walks using the NPS trails and connecting routes in Northwest. They are based on Mr. Ahmed’s recommended running routes, but other routes and circuits can be put together by using the NPS’ map of trails in Rock Creek Park, the PATC’s topographic maps of Rock Creek trails and tributaries, or by visiting various running clubs’ Web sites.

The Crosstown Route

This six-mile circuit joins Battery Kemble Park, a bowl-shaped park with a tributary to the Potomac River, to Dumbarton Oaks Park in Georgetown. Reach it from Chain Bridge Road in Northwest. Battery Kemble is dotted with trees that attract flocks of migratory birds in the spring and summer. Dog owners like to run their pets here, in the open park area, and down the Battery Kemble Trail.

The Battery Kemble Trail is picked up in the more northerly of the two parking lots at Battery Kemble Park. It drops south (a right turn from the parking lot as you face east) for about one-quarter mile. Go east (left turn) on the Wesley Heights Trail, south (right) through Glover Archbold Park, east (left) on the Whitehaven Trail and Parkway.

At the end of Whitehaven Parkway, continue east (downhill and to the right) on Dumbarton Oaks Trail. Follow the Dumbarton Oaks Trail downhill. At that point the trail turns to the right (east) until you reach an unmarked paved road known as Lover’s Lane. Go south (right turn uphill) on Lover’s Lane (which lies between the border of Montrose Park and the eastern fence of the Dumbarton Oaks estate).

Then return to the start by going west (right) on R Street through Georgetown, south (left turn) one block on 38th Street, west (right) on Reservoir Road, north (right turn) on the Glover Archbold Trail, west (left turn) on the Wesley Heights Trail, and then north (right turn) on Battery Kemble Trail back to the Battery Kemble parking lot.

The Wesley Heights Loop

The four-mile Wesley Heights Loop cuts through open fields and forested parkland, passing American University, some of the highest points in the District (where WRC Television, Fox Television and the U.S. Naval Security Station keep their antenna towers), impressive homes and parks. Woodland birds, such as pileated woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers and Carolina wrens, can be seen in the woods it crosses through.

Start at Battery Kemble Park parking lot. Take Battery Kemble Trail north (uphill) until you reach its end at Loughboro Road/Foxhall Road/Nebraska Avenue. Go northeast (slightly to your right) on Nebraska Avenue, passing American University and Ward Circle at Massachusetts Avenue.

Continue straight on Nebraska Avenue five or six blocks to Van Ness Street. Go east (take a right) on Van Ness Street.

Go south (right turn) onto Glover Archbold Park Trail, until you reach the Wesley Heights Trail. On the way you will cross over Massachusetts, Cathedral and New Mexico avenues. Go west (right turn) on the Wesley Heights Trail until you reach the Battery Kemble Trail. Go north (right turn) onto the Battery Kemble Trail, then back to the parking lot.

The Palisades Loop

This 3.85-mile loop starts again in Battery Kemble Park, in the open area near the parking lot where people run their dogs, but then turns south and west to go through the Northwest neighborhood of Palisades, with a view of the Potomac River and the opposite Virginia shoreline. The trail also passes through a forest of tall tulip poplars to follow a tributary of the Potomac, cuts through some thick bamboo and past the Palisades Recreation area, and provides a stairway link to the Capital Crescent Trail, which runs between Potomac Avenue, high on a bluff, and Canal Road, far below.

Start at the more northerly parking lot at Battery Kemble Park. Facing east (away from Chain Bridge Road), turn right and go south down the Battery Kemble Trail. The well-worn trail travels downhill through a forest of ivy-covered deciduous trees, and gradually drops down a hill to MacArthur Boulevard. Looking carefully for cars, cross MacArthur and pick up the trail again, to the left of the Conduit Road Schoolhouse.

The trail follows a narrow dirt path for a while, then abruptly turns right at a bluff looking down on the C&O Canal and Fletcher’s Boathouse (a white building with many turned-over rowboats). Follow the trail to the right. It will eventually lead straight into a bamboo thicket of several blocks, which spits out into Palisades Recreation Area, undergoing some bulldozing work.

Continue straight, with the ball field to the left and the back yards of several houses to the right. The trail leads to a pedestrian bridge covered with wire fencing that passes over Arizona Avenue.

Cross the pedestrian bridge, walk one block, then turn left from this trail onto Galena Place, then right on Potomac Avenue. Here you will see the bluff overlooking the Potomac River and the opposite Virginia shore. Travel on Potomac Avenue about five blocks on the grassy area to the left, all the way to the end of the road.

Just past Manning Road traveling on Potomac Avenue, look to the left and you should see a set of wooden stairs that on another day could be your connecting point to the Capital Crescent Trail. But to stay on track today, bypass these stairs and take a right turn onto Norton Street, where Potomac Avenue ends.

Two blocks later, cross MacArthur Boulevard to Loughboro Road and start climbing the hill up Loughboro Road on the sidewalk to the right, up to the junction of Foxhall Road, Loughboro, and Nebraska Avenue. A small park with the northern end of the Battery Kemble Trail will be on your right after you cross Chain Bridge Road, near this intersection.

Take a right turn from Loughboro onto this trail, and travel downhill (south) on it, until you return to the Battery Kemble parking lot.

The Georgetown Loop

This 5 3/4-mile loop makes a circuit around the Federal-style townhouses and parks of Georgetown. It uses the heavily traveled Rock Creek hiker/biker trail, an additional dirt trail that runs on the opposite side of Rock Creek from the paved bike trail, Lover’s Lane next to Montrose Park, the south half of Glover Archbold Park and the C&O Canal towpath.

Start at Thompson’s Boat House at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway on the Potomac River. Go north (from the boathouse, take a left turn after the pedestrian bridge over Rock Creek at the parking lot) on Rock Creek Park Trail. Go under the bridges of Pennsylvania Avenue, M, P, and Q streets. Pass Oak Hill Cemetery (where you cross a wooden bridge to the east side of Rock Creek), and take a left off the paved hiker/biker trail north, until you find another wooden pedestrian bridge.

After this pedestrian bridge, take an immediate left and travel south along a dirt trail. Then turn west (a right turn before the cemetery) onto Dumbarton Oaks Trail, then left (south, uphill) on Lover’s Lane and west (right) on R Street.

From R Street, go left (south) one block on 38th Street, west (right) on Reservoir Road, then south (left) on the Glover Archbold Trail (which runs down the middle of Glover Archbold Park) until it ends at Canal Road.

Cut through the tunnel beneath Canal Road. (The tunnel beneath Canal Road is 50 feet east of the Glover Archbold trail on the Canal Road sidewalk; take the curving sidewalk downhill to the left. The tunnel runs underneath Canal Road to the Capital Crescent Trail).

Once through the tunnel and standing on the paved Capital Crescent Trail, look for the stairway to the left, up to the Canal towpath. Take a right (go east) on the towpath through Georgetown, until the towpath ends at the Rock Creek Trail. Where the towpath ends, go right (south) on the Rock Creek Trail to return to Thompson’s Boat House.

The Melvin Hazen/Zoo Route

This very hilly 31/4-mile loop is considered a challenge by runners because of its difficult uphill climb through Melvin Hazen Park, and is therefore used for marathon training purposes, as well as for orienteering training. But it also affords a lovely walk or run through the National Zoo and a nice section of the Rock Creek hiker/biker Trail. As a bonus, it starts and ends at the Cleveland Park Metro on Connecticut Avenue, where plenty of restaurants will allow you to stock up on food and drink.

Leave the Metro at the Cleveland Park station and head south on Connecticut Avenue (you might have to dodge around construction on the Klingle Bridge). Take a left into the entrance of the National Zoo. Follow the trails downhill (the lions will be on your left at the bottom), straight out to Beach Drive.

Take the paved Rock Creek hiker/biker trail to the left, near the Beach Drive entrance to the zoo. Travel north on the paved trail, which runs along Rock Creek, past Porter Street, along Beach Drive.

Take a left on the Melvin Hazen Trail. It eventually leads up a steep hill to Connecticut Avenue between Rodman and Sedgwick streets. Take a left on Connecticut Avenue (south) back to the Cleveland Park Metro.

Guides, clubs know the way

Ready to explore Washington’s hidden trails? First check these resources:

Guides

• Running Around Town: Washington, D.C.: Runner Nadim Ahmed’s trail guide provides maps, trail descriptions, directions and locations of local eateries and public restrooms near trails. See www.rundc.com

• U.S. National Park Service: The NPS’ Rock Creek Park Web site provides a downloadable map with marked trails, information about park facilities, hours of operation and park regulations. See nps.gov/rocr. Printed park maps are available at Rock Creek Park Nature Center, 5200 Glover Road NW. 202/895-6070 for general information.

Clubs

• Potomac Appalachian Trail Club: 118 Park St. NE, Vienna. PATC helps maintain National Park Service trails in the District, sells detailed topographical maps of the trails, and arranges occasional hikes through the trail system in the city. 703/242-0693 or patc.net.

• Roadrunners: The D.C. Road Runners Club (dcroadrunners.org) and the Northern Virginia Roadrunners Club (novarun.com) routinely schedule runs for their members that start or end on District trails. Check the Roadrunners’ general Web site at rrca.org/clubs/ for further information about the local clubs that use Rock Creek Park and District trails in Northwest.

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