Park Views: Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail and Pulpit Rock

pulpit rock theodore roosevelt side trail
Pulpit Rock, Rock Creek Park – June 2021

Teddy Roosevelt loved to hike, and Rock Creek Park was his favorite place to do it while president. We’re taking a look at one of his favorite spots and the trail that leads there and bears his name in another installment of Park Views. Let’s head on down the Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail and see what we find.

What Are Pulpit Rock and Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail?

Pulpit Rock is a rock formation in Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, best known as one of President Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite spots to hike to while president. Roosevelt was a famous outdoorsman and conservationist, and during his time in Washington from 1901 to 1909, he particularly enjoyed the nearly 2,000 acres of Rock Creek Park. Even more than a hundred years later, his reputation as a hiker persists. The National Park Service referred to Roosevelt’s pace as “grueling” – all part of his commitment to what he called a “strenuous life.” While we can now take a moderate to strenuous trail to the top of Pulpit Rock, Roosevelt and his contemporaries took a more challenging route.

This photo shows Roosevelt and his party climbing straight up the face of the rock. While that’s not possible today, you’ll certainly be able to appreciate the feat if you look over the edge.

Where Are They Located?

The Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail trailhead is located on the northeast side at the intersection of Blagden Avenue NW and Beach Drive NW. It runs northeast on a hillside along Rock Creek before taking a 90-degree turn southeast as it ascends to Pulpit Rock.

How To Get To Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail and Pulpit Rock

There’s only one way to experience this trail, and that’s on your own two feet. From the trailhead at Blagden Avenue and Beach Drive, look for a clearly marked sign, noting the roughly 0.2-mile distance to Pulpit Rock.

For those driving, the closest parking is located approximately 0.2 miles south of the intersection along Beach Drive, at Parking Lot 2 South. You may also be able to find street parking further up Blagden Avenue, but be aware of parking rules and time restrictions, as this is a residential neighborhood.

The area is not easily accessible via public transit. Your best bet would be to take an S bus that runs along 16th Street NW and walk, or an L Bus on Connecticut Avenue NW and do the same.

Hiking The Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail To Pulpit Rock – Trail Video

While the Roosevelt Side Trail may be short, it’s also quite steep at times and narrow throughout. You’ll need to watch for extensive root systems along the trail as well as rocky and uneven portions. These may be difficult for inexperienced hikers or those with limited mobility. There are also portions that use stairs to provide a quicker elevation gain. Despite the slow going at points, most hikers can expect to reach Pulpit Rock in 15-20 minutes.

From here, you can either turn around and head back the way you came or continue onward on the Valley Trail. After about a half-mile, the trail allows you to turn off back onto Beach Drive near Boulder Bridge. Continue south on Beach Drive another half-mile to the intersection of Broad Branch Road NW/Blagden Avenue NW and Beach Drive NW, back where you started. This loop runs approximately 1.2 miles.

This video was shot on June 4, 2021, using a GoPro Hero8 Black.

Is It Worth Visiting Pulpit Rock And The Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail?

The Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail is another of the fun, short-distance connector and side trails sprinkled throughout Rock Creek Park. While the hike to Pulpit Rock and back is a great experience on its own, we’d suggest experiencing the Roosevelt Side Trail and Pulpit Rock as part of a longer hike through Rock Creek. The close proximity to the Valley Trail and other park attractions like Boulder Bridge or Peirce Mill also make a visit to the area worthwhile. See you on the trail!

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