Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Car-free DC: Northwest Branch

This is the third article in a series on hikes in DC that can be reached by public transportation.

Most people know the Anacostia as the major river that flows through southeast DC. But, like all rivers, has more humble beginnings in several streams. In this post, we'll follow the one known as the Northwest Branch through Montgomery and Prince George's County.

North of the beltway, ten miles of the Northwest Branch is followed by an unpaved, and sometimes rugged, trail. A paved trail continues south of the beltway through Prince George's County, following the river downstream through Hyattsville and connecting with the Anacostia. In general, the trail is wilder and more wooded in the Montgomery County section, but there are several nice stretches downstream as well.

There are several points along these trails that are easily accessed by Metro or bus. One of the great options this gives you is to do a long one-way hike without having to worry about arranging a shuttle: use Metro as your shuttle.

Montgomery County (map)

Brookside Gardens: The Northwest Branch Trail begins just inside Brookside Gardens. From Glenmont Metro, take the C8 bus or Ride On Bus 10 to the intersection of Randolph Rd. and Trivoli Lake Blvd. Walk down to Kemp Mill Rd., turn right, and pick up the trail where it leaves Brookside Gardens. (We'll talk more about Brookside in a separate post.)

Colesville Road: Folks who live in the area will know the location of Trader Joe's on Colesville Rd.; the Northwest Branch crosses Colesville just south of that shopping center. The trails on both sides of Colesville are really nice.
Upstream, on the Rachel Carson Trail, you'll climb hills covered in mountain laurel. Downstream, you'll walk through a boulder-filled area with some small waterfalls. Take one of the Z buses from Silver Spring.

Prince George's County (map)

Piney Branch Road and New Hampshire Avenue: This is the first easy access point for the paved section of the trail. Both of these roads are well-served by public transportation. Try the K6 from Fort Totten, Ride On 16 from Takoma, or Ride On 20 from Silver Spring.

University Blvd: On both sides of University Blvd. are large recreation areas with playing fields; the trail in this area is more grass than woods for a while. From the College Park Metro, take bus 17 to the intersection of University and 25th.

East-West Highway: The river crosses East-West Highway a little more than half a mile west of Prince George's Plaza Metro. If you want to save your walking for the trail, you can take the 18 bus. You can also take the R3 bus from Fort Totten Metro or the F4 bus between Silver Spring and New Carrolton.

West Hyattsville Metro: This is not the most scenic stretch of the river, but the access can't be beat. From the parking lot of West Hyattsville Metro, there is a path leading to the river trail.

Bladensburg Waterfront Park: You can rent boats at the marina here -- another way to explore the river. The T18 bus from Rhode Island Metro will drop you at 46th St. and Annapolis Rd., near the entrance.

Other info:

Dogs: Dogs are welcome, but are supposed to be on-leash. And, of course, scoop your poop!

Allowed on the paved trail south of the beltway. Bikes can be stashed on the front of any Metrobus; you can take your bike on Metro anytime on the weekend, and anytime except 7-10am and 4-7pm during the week.

Do you have other tips on accessing the Northwest Branch? Have you visited recently? Leave a comment and let us know!