Rock Creek Park
Explore Natural Communities at this Location
5200 Glover Rd NW, Washington, D.C. 20015
A favorite destination for birders, geologists, and all kinds of naturalists, Rock Creek Park is an outdoor classroom for studying nature, history, and the effects an urban setting can have on a park. This forested oasis in Washington, D.C. boasts a wealth of subjects for exploration—from flora and fauna to abandoned quarries, old mill sites, and Civil War forts—each a story unto itself. The landscape includes captivating natural features—a winding, rocky creek in the bottom of a steep valley with a stretch of rapids; patches of flat, fertile floodplains with infrequent seasonal pools and groundwater seeps; valley walls that rise dramatically with jagged rock outcrops to high ridges and bluffs; moist, fern-laden ravines, hillsides cloaked with American beech, and cobblestone-sprinkled dry hilltops dense with oak trees and mountain laurel.
Reading the Landscape
No story about any one feature at Rock Creek Park—whether plant or animal, bedrock, shape of the land, or stream—is complete without understanding something about how each impacts all the others.
Let this website help weave together some of these stories and develop your ability to "read the landscape" at Rock Creek Park the way a skilled naturalist can read animal tracks. Explore the website and learn how plants and animals interact with each other and the physical setting to form recognizable natural communities.
Learn how humans have influenced those natural communities in the past, and continue to do so today—check out Water & Land Use in the Stewardship and Ecological Threats section.
How the Park Came To Be
Rock Creek Park is the oldest and largest urban national park in the United States. Recognized in the early days of Washington, D.C., as a remarkable, peaceful retreat for residents and visitors to the nation’s capital, the area was established as a national park by Congress in 1890 for the preservation “of all timber, animals or curiosities … and their retention in the natural condition, as nearly as possible.”1 Its core 1,754 acres consisted of a roughly six-mile stretch of Rock Creek with its accompanying valleys and ridges as it flows from the Maryland state line south to the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park (the National Zoo), along with two of its major tributaries and their valleys—Broad Branch and Piney Branch.2 3
Because of its size, Rock Creek Park offers ample space for recreational pursuits (among them picnicking, hiking, biking, jogging, horseback riding, tennis, and golf), while also functioning as a nature oasis for residents and visitors to Washington, D.C.—human AND animal.
Use the maroon menu of topics on the left sidebar to explore Rock Creek Park.
- 1. , “Historic resource study”, 1990. [Online]. Available: https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/rocr1/hrs.pdf.
- 2. , “Final Total Maximum Daily Loads for Metals in Rock Creek”, 2004. [Online]. Available: http://ddoe.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddoe/publication/attachments/yfinalrc_metals_tmdl_rpt.pdf.
- 3. , “Historic resource study”, 1990. [Online]. Available: https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/rocr1/hrs.pdf.
Photo credits Banner image: Boulder Bridge on Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park (cropped) – Erin Lunsford Jones
Square images: Oak - Beech / Heath Forest on a rocky hillside above Rock Creek (cropped) – Gary Fleming; Skunk-cabbage (cropped) – Gary Fleming; Fish ladder on Peirce Mill Dam (cropped) – CUE