Ranger Dan Winings

Rock Creek Park, the largest urban park in the National Park system, is truly a gem in our nation's capital with more than 1,700 acres of hardwood forest, meadows, and streams. 

Whether it's exploring the nation's history, walking along a quiet trail, bicycling along Rock Creek, attending a Ranger led program or viewing wildlife, Rock Creek Park offers visitors a bounty of things to do.

To help you plan the perfect escape to Rock Creek Park, Trail Talk posed questions from our Facebook community (and a few from NPF) to Ranger Dan Winnings at Rock Creek Park:


  • Name: Dan Winings
  • Position: Park Ranger, Interpretive
  • Park: Rock Creek Park
  • Age: 54
  • Hometown: Woodbridge, VA
  • Number of years at park: 17
  • Number of parks visited: 50
  • First park visit: Yellowstone
  • Best park memory: Driving along the "Going to the Sun Highway" in Glacier National Park with my family when I was eight.

Does Rock Creek Park have an area to camp with a tent or RV? And if you're camping, are dogs allowed? – Bonnie Thomas Cooper and Alison Weber

Unfortunately, Rock Creek Park does not have campsites within the park. The nearest National Park Service site with camping is Greenbelt Park, which is located just outside Washington, DC in Greenbelt, Maryland. Greenbelt Park is within walking distance to a Metrorail station, and allows pets as long as they are leashed.

I live right down the road from Rock Creek Park and I remember reading signs about herring. Do herring still run there and if so, when is the best time to see them? – Claire Tamplain O'Quin

Herring still run in Rock Creek. The National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Highway Administration and the D.C. Department of Transportation recently completed a project in the park to remove barriers to fish navigation, including installing a Denil Fishway at Peirce Mill Dam. Once the project was done, herring were able to swim into the upper reaches of the park. The fishway project should improve the annual migration as more fish become accustomed to it. The best time to see the fish run is late April or early May. However, the run is highly dependent on the water temperature and can vary a great deal.

What's your favorite spot in the park? – NPF

I would say my favorite spot in the park is the Valley Trail near Boundary Bridge, especially in the spring. It is a large floodplain of Rock Creek and because of this, the area has the greatest abundance of our native wildflowers and amphibians.

Can you tell me more about horseback riding in the park? – Naina Akula

Horseback riding has a long tradition in Rock Creek Park, dating back to the park's creation in 1890. There are many ways you can ride a horse here. You can bring your own horse. There is ample parking at the Nature Center for horse trailers. Or, you can visit the Rock Creek Public Horse Center. They have trail rides twice daily on Saturdays and Sundays from April through October. In July and August, they also offer once-daily trail rides on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The hour-long ride costs $40.00. The Center also offers 15-minute pony rides for children older than two-and-a-half. Reservations are required, but you can make them by calling (202) 362-0117.

I guide the Sunday 11:00 AM trail ride, which takes place from May through October. So come join me on Sundays to see Rock Creek Park on horseback.

Does the park have a Junior Ranger Program? – Chris Shine

Rock Creek Park has a great Junior Ranger Program. You can come to the Nature Center, Old Stone House or Peirce Barn -- when it reopens in October -- and pick up a Junior Ranger Book. If you'd like, you can download the book online by clicking here.

Once you complete the activities in the book, return it to us and we will give you a Rock Creek Park Junior Ranger badge or patch -- your choice. We also conduct two-day Junior Ranger Camps in July and August for children ages 7-12. We will start registration for our 2012 camps on May 1, 2012. In April of 2012, you can look for an announcement of our 2012 camp on our website.

What are three "can't miss" activities at Rock Creek Park? - NPF

We have the only planetarium in the National Park System, located at the Nature Center at 5200 Glover Road, NW. We hold programs in the planetarium for the public on Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 4 PM. Once Peirce Mill reopens in October, you will not want to miss the flour-grinding demonstrations in an authentic "Oliver Evans" mill. Personally, I always enjoy hiking in the park. My favorite time to hike in the park is winter. There are less people on the trails, and you can see farther into the forest.

I read that you can kayak in the park. Can you tell me more? – Susan Collen

You can kayak in Rock Creek Park. But there are a few things you need to keep in mind. The water level in the creek must be at least two feet deep. The only time there is enough water in the creek for kayaking is following a storm, which doesn't make for a very safe ride! Canoes and kayaks less than 20 feet in length are allowed and only hand launching is permitted. For safety reasons, no boats are allowed over the waterfall at Peirce Mill Dam at any time. Also, Rock Creek's waters have high levels of bacteria, which may make the creek unsafe for human contact.

What's the weirdest thing you've seen in the park? - NPF

A yellow Volkswagon beetle stuck in a tree 10 feet off the ground. It was right at a sharp switch back on our main road and the driver apparently took the turn too fast, and the driver ended up going over the guardrail and ended up in the tree.

Why did you become a park ranger? – NPF

My major in college was Biology, so I enjoy working outdoors. I also enjoy the wide variety of opportunities in the National Park Service. I have been able to do many different things, including working on a reproduction nineteenth-century canal boat, in a historic nineteenth-century mill, in an eighteenth-century colonial house, and at our Nature Center and Planetarium. I have had the opportunity to hike, ride horses and fight forest fires while working for the National Park Service.

What can people do to support Rock Creek Park? – NPF

Volunteer! We have many opportunities for volunteering in the park. They include helping to keep the park and streams clean, removing invasive exotic species, and assisting the park rangers at Rock Creek Park's Nature Center, the Old Stone House and Peirce Mill. If you would like to learn more, contact Ranger Scott Einberger at 202-895-6227.

Also, don't forget to sign up with the National Park Foundation and get the latest national park news, information on how you can support our parks, and the tools for you to get the most out of your next national park visit.