Capital pathways: Roads in Rock Creek Park

Historic image of bicyclists and drivers at Peirce Mill
Peirce Mill, near the intersection of Tilden Street NW and Beach Drive NW, circa 1918-1920.


Located close to the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC, Rock Creek Park visitors enjoy its tranquil setting to experience nature and many recreational activities.

Established on September 27, 1890, Rock Creek Park is one of the oldest and largest urban parks in the national park system. Congress directed that it should be “perpetually dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States," and that its “timber, animals, and curiosities,” be preserved “in their natural condition, as nearly as possible.” Congress also authorized the construction of roads and trails for visitors to travel to the park.

Since the 1890s, the park's roads have become links in the national capital region's transportation network. One of the most important of those links is Beach Drive. Originally completed in 1900 and improved many times since then, the NPS most recently improved access and safety for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists with a multi-year total rehabilitation that ended in 2019.


Learn more about the history of Beach Drive in the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record of the Rock Creek Park Road System.

  • 1897-1900: Construction of Beach Drive.
  • 1956: Construction of bridge to replace a river ford and carry Beach Drive over Rock Creek near Blagden Avenue.
  • 1966: Zoo tunnel opens allowing direct travel from Beach Drive to Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway for the first time.
  • 1966-1970: NPS experiments with motorized access limits to allow bicyclists and pedestrians use of Beach Drive between Joyce Road and Broad Branch Road on Sundays.
  • 1972: NPS permanently adopts Sunday motorized access limits to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to use Beach Drive between Joyce Road and Broad Branch Road.
  • 1981: NPS extends motorized access limits to include Saturdays and holidays.
  • 1982: Weekend and holiday motorized access limits extended to Beach Drive between Sherrill Drive and the District of Columbia - Maryland Border (with Wise Road and West Beach Drive remaining open to drivers).
  • 1996-1998: NPS invites public comment on alternatives for vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian access along Beach Drive while drafting the park's General Management Plan.
  • 2020: NPS institutes long-term motorized access limits on upper portions of Beach Drive to allow for outdoor recreation opportunities during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • 2021: NPS invites public comment as it considers future management options for the upper portion of Beach Drive.
  • 2022: NPS publishes environmental assessment and preferred alternative for management options for upper portions of Beach Drive and invites public comment.

Rock Creek Park

Last updated: July 21, 2022