Those who’ve traveled through Rock Creek Park just north of Military Road may have seen a small wood structure set between the creek and Beach Drive. It’s known as Miller Cabin, and it provides a unique glimpse into DC’s past. But why is it even here? Let’s take a closer look.
What Is The Miller Cabin?
The Miller Cabin was home to eccentric 19th-century poet Joaquin Miller. Miller is best known for his poems about the American west (most notably Song Of The Sierras.) But he also spent time living in Washington, DC between 1883 and 1885. Miller built the cabin at the corner of 16th and Belmont Streets NW, across the street from the present-day location of Meridian Hill Park.
At the time, the area was relatively undeveloped, sitting outside the city limits of Boundary Road/Florida Avenue. These days, the site is home to the non-profit Meridian International Center.
Why Is The Cabin In Rock Creek Park?
Miller only lasted two years in DC – much like many modern arrivals to the city. But the cabin persisted for decades until it was nearly demolished as part of development in the neighborhood. Fans of Miller successfully lobbied the National Park Service to save the cabin and succeeded. Park employees took it apart piece by piece, and moved about two miles north, to its current location in Rock Creek Park. The move almost didn’t happen. The park’s board of control initially rejected the request, and only reversed its decision after California Senator John Works intervened.
In the years after, the cabin became a tourist attraction and pilgrimage site for Miller’s fans and admirers.
Since the move, the cabin has served as a shelter, a food and drink stand (operated by Miller’s niece), and later, home to a poetry series named in Miller’s honor that was hosted outside the cabin from 1976 until 2011. The Joaquin Miller Poetry Series continues at its new home at the Rock Creek Nature Center. Readings are held on Sundays during June and July, starting at 3 pm. But these days, the cabin remains mostly unused, save for occasional National Park Service events.
How To Get To Miller Cabin
The Joaquin Miller Cabin is located just off Beach Drive NW, approximately a quarter-mile north of Military Road. To access Miller Cabin by car, you’ll need to approach from the south, via the interchange with Military Road and Joyce Road NW. As of May 2021, Beach Drive remains closed south of Joyce Road and north of Picnic Grove #10, making this the only vehicular access to Miller Cabin. Parking is available just to the south of the cabin at Parking Lot 6.
Walking And Biking To Miller Cabin
Access to Miller Cabin by bike or on foot is possible in several ways. For bikers, Beach Drive remains open throughout, allowing access to the area from Sherrill Drive NW or Wise Road NW to the north. After Joyce Road, your next opportunities to access the area from the south comes at Morrow Drive NW, followed by Blagden Avenue NW.
On foot, there are a number of different ways to reach Miller Cabin. For the lowest impact option, walk along Beach Drive from one of the many parking areas. Several trails also pass through the area, including the Valley Trail, which runs south along the east side of the park. There are also views of the cabin from across Rock Creek available from the Black Horse Trail. This trail also runs north-south through much of Rock Creek Park, mainly staying along the creek’s western bank. The cabin is also a short hike from the Rock Creek Nature Center via the White Horse and Valley Trails.
This video includes an alternate route, which enters the park on the Whittier Trail off 16th Street NW, followed by the Valley Trail.
I shot this video on a GoPro Hero8 Black on May 17th, 2021. Please note you should not wade in Rock Creek or allow your kids to do so (like you see in the video) due to potentially dangerous bacteria from sewer overflows and runoff.
What’s Next For The Cabin?
You may have thought one move was enough for a 130-odd-year-old log cabin – but you’d be wrong. The National Park Service plans to relocate Miller Cabin yet again in the coming years. The goal is to move the cabin away from the Rock Creek floodplain to prevent future damage, while preserving access to one of the park’s most unusual points of interest. The proposed new home would be Picnic Grove 14, located just off Military Road near the Rock Creek Nature Center. There’s no timeline for when this might happen.
This is what the potential future home for the Miller Cabin looks like from Glover Road NW.