THING TO DO

Boulder Bridge Hike

Map of section of park with route shown in pink
Detail map of Boulder Bridge Loop shown in pink

NPS

Overview:

This 3.5-mile loop hike travels through the forest and along the creek. President Theodore Roosevelt frequented this area of the park 100 years ago. 

Directions from Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium

Begin by Parking at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium, located at 5200 Glover Road Northwest Washington, DC. If the parking there is full you can park at either Picnic Grove #13 (located at the split for Ridge and Glover roads near Military Rd) or in the parking area for the Maintenance Yard located at 5000 Glover Road NW.
  1. Exit the Nature Center and turn left or walk south/back through the parking lot toward the Rock Creek Park Horse Center.
  2. Take a sharp left into the Horse Center complex and keep left.
  3. Walk past the small parking lot. Look for the dirt trail to the left of the corral fence. This is the trail head for the White Horse Trail.
  4. Walk down the hill towards the creek (roughly half a mile). Take a right just before the automobile bridge that crosses Rock Creek. 
  5. Heading downstream, listen to the fast-flowing water—i.e., rapids. This is the fall zone, a geologic transition zone where the Piedmont Plateau (harder rock) meets the Atlantic Coastal Plain (softer, sedimentary rock).
  6. After hiking along the creek for a half mile, enjoy the view from the center of Rapids Bridge
  7. Cross Rapids Bridge.
  8. Carefully cross Beach Drive and turn right onto the Valley Trail.
  9. Follow the blue blazes until you get to Boulder Bridge.
  10. Take the trail to your right and step on to Beach Drive.
  11. Cross Boulder Bridge. There will be traffic on weekdays.
  12. One hundred feet after Boulder Bridge, take the small, unmarked trail on the right and head uphill.
  13. After ¼ mile, stay straight at the four-way trail intersection.
  14. Soon you cross Ridge Road and arrive at the Equitation Field.
  15. Walk around this horse field and then head north. Follow the green blazes of the Western Ridge Trail northward, following the “foot traffic only” signs when it veers off the wider horse trail.
  16. After ¾ of a mile, the trail seems to end at Picnic Grove 13 and a grassy field. Cross the field and the two roads. Hike up the hill to the Nature Center.
Details
The Boulder Bridge Loop is 3.5 miles with a descent from the Nature Center to the creek. The path along the creek is fairly level with a slight ascent over a hill to get from Rapids Bridge to Boulder Bridge via the Valley Trail. This ascent and descent can be avoided by travelling along Beach Drive which is closed to vehicular traffic on weekends and holidays.

The ascent from Boulder Bridge back to the Western Ridge trail can be challenging for hikers.  
The Boulder Bridge Loop hike is a 3.5-mile trail that takes visitors down one of the park's bridle trails and accesses the iconic Boulder Bridge via either the Valley Trail (rugged and meant for foot traffic only) or by following the Beach Drive roadway which is closed to visitors on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

*Beach Drive is currently closed seven days a week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pets are allowed on the Boulder Bridge Loop hike but they must adhere to B.A.R.K Ranger and NPS Pet policies while in the park.
Rock Creek Park is a fee free area.
The White Horsetrailhead is located to the left of the outdoor riding ring at the Rock Creek Park Horse Center. Follow the signs to the trailhead and the pink duct tape markers on posts to find the trail.
Rock Creek Park is open from sunrise to sunset. 
Accessibility Information
Trail starts at the Rock Creek Horse Center where it is roughly six feet across and relatively smooth, though there are occasional roots and rocks. The decent is sustained over half a mile. The bridle trail along the creek rises and falls with the natural terrain along the bank of the creek. The trail crosses Rapids Bridge which is a narrow concrete and metal bridge roughly four feet in width and forty feet across. To continue the loop, hikers must cross Beach Drive, step up and over a curb and scramble up a slight rise covered in roots to access the narrow Valley Trail. The Valley Trail is a foot only trail, is barely two feet across and is covered in rocks and roots. The trail ascends a slight rise and then progresses down a steep descent to the edge of the creek. Visitors then climb back up the embankment to the edge of the road and walk in the roadway to cross the bridge. The road is open to vehicular traffic with the exceptions of Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. The trail continues up a steep two foot wide foot trail. The ascent is steady and covers several hundred feet in elevation over half a mile. Visitors must once again cross a road stepping up and over curbs. The trail continues along the bridle trails though there are foot traffic only options. The foot traffic only option will be much more rugged and narrow while the bridle trails are wider and slightly smoother. A steep ascent up to another roadway and crossing curbs will bring visitors back to Picnic Grove #13 where additional roads and curbs will need to be crossed to return to the Nature Center.

Last updated: June 11, 2021