Park Views: Piney Branch Parkway

Piney Branch Parkway, Looking West From The 16th Street Bridge – April 2021

If you drive through Northwest Washington, DC, chances are you may have found yourself on Piney Branch Parkway, an offshoot of the more well-known Beach Drive. It’s a nice drive, but how does it measure up on foot? We’re taking a closer look in today’s Park Views.

Where Is Piney Branch Parkway?

The Piney Branch Parkway is located in Northwest Washington, DC, inside Rock Creek Park. Its southern and western end is the intersection with Beach Drive NW, with its northern and eastern end located on Arkansas Avenue NW between 14th and 16th Street NW. It runs alongside the Piney Branch, a tributary of Rock Creek.

History of Piney Branch

Evidence of human activity has been found in the Piney Branch area dating back more than four thousand years. Stone axes and other tools from as early as 2500 BCE tell the story of the Native Americans who were the earliest inhabitants of the area. The Piney Branch name comes from the Virginia pines that were once common along the stream’s watershed. This area originally stretched to headwaters in the Takoma neighborhood of DC before development eliminated much of the waterway. The Piney Branch valley was also home to one of the first roads to wind through Rock Creek Park. Piney Branch Road connected the neighborhoods of Mount Pleasant and Crestwood via a route along the valley. The federal government first authorized the current parkway in 1907, but not built for more than twenty-five years, until New Deal programs made money and manpower available.

How Long Is Piney Branch Parkway?

From the intersection with Beach Drive, the parkway runs approximately 0.85 miles north and east to its terminus at Arkansas Avenue. This is about 16 minutes on foot or 5 minutes biking. Round trip, this would be 1.7 miles, or approximately 33 minutes walking or 10 minutes by bike. A shorter segment is available for those who enter or exit the road at 17th Street NW. This junction is about a half-mile from the Beach Drive end of the parkway and approximately 0.3 miles from the Arkansas Avenue end.

Walking and Biking Piney Branch Parkway

Despite the beautiful surroundings, this is a busy road. Outside of early morning or late at night, you’re likely to have a significant number of cars passing next to you, often going quite fast. The path is paved at times and mostly shaded (even at midday.) But it can be narrow – especially when you pass someone while the path curves or if overgrown vegetation is encroaching on the path.

Heading north from Beach Drive, you’ll soon pass underneath the bridge carrying Park Road, which intersects with Beach Drive slightly further north across from Peirce Mill.

Bridge Carrying Park Road NW Over Piney Branch Parkway, Washington, DC

From here, you’ll continue along the water for another half-mile or so until the path (which is now dirt) passes under the 16th Street Bridge. When it was completed in 1908, it was the first parabolic arch bridge in the country. You might recognize it as the “Lion Bridge,” for the massive metal sculptures of lions camped on each end. The bridge rises 45 feet above the road and is pretty impressive to look at from underneath.

There’s also a picnic shelter available just before you reach the bridge heading north. There’s a convenient pull-off for parking along the road.

Picnic Shelter Along Piney Branch Parkway, Washington, DC

There are points where the Piney Branch looks quite nice! But, like Rock Creek, it receives overflow sewage from DC’s drainage system. It is HIGHLY recommended to stay clear of the water. You may catch an unpleasant whiff or two if it’s recently rained or particularly hot and sunny.

At least some of the graffiti is cool. Borf is growing.

Piney Branch Parkway Walk Video (15:40)

This slow TV video walks along the Piney Branch Parkway from the intersection with Beach Drive to Arkansas Avenue.

Hope you like lots of overexposed sky! I did not have the settings correct here, and it was just after noon, so generally not a great time to be shooting. I was also trying out the new head mount I bought as part of a 50-piece set of GoPro accessories (a great deal!) Naturally, the angle was too high. Lesson learned: I need to use the GoPro Quik app more diligently. It’s really the only way to make sure the shots look good when I’m mounting the camera on my body.

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