I don’t take advantage of all that Rock Creek Park has to offer nearly as often as I should. Encompassing over 1,700 acres and sprawling gloriously through Northwest DC, it’s one of the largest natural urban parks in the nation. It contains miles of great hiking trails, paved paths for cycling, a nature center, historic sights like Peirce Mill, tennis courts that host an annual major tournament, the Carter Barron amphitheater, the Horse Center, and of course, the National Zoo.
We visit the Zoo plenty, but besides a few short hikes, it had been a year or so since we’d been there for much else. That is, until this past Saturday when we planned an outing to the Rock Creek Horse Center to visit the equine residents, see the stables, and surprise the kids with pony rides. We knew from previous experience that the rides were more than just the usual few laps around a ring; these take children on a 15-minute jaunt through the Rock Creek woods.
When we arrived and parked, it became evident just how long it had been since we’d been out there. I had completely forgotten that the Rock Creek Nature Center was just a stone’s throw from the Horse Center. Since we weren’t in a rush, we popped in, which turned out to be great timing because a park ranger let us know that a planetarium show was just about to start. Once Owen heard about it, there was no way he was going to miss out, so we joined the group in the small domed-ceiling theater.
The park ranger conducting the show was very engaging as he talked about the night sky over Rock Creek, took us to the moon, and pointed out constellations and explained the legends behind them. It lasted about 30 minutes, a perfect length for many of the young viewers (Sasha not among them, as she got a little antsy in the dark room, so Levi took her to see animals).
After the show, we walked through the room full of wildlife exhibits, many of them taxidermied animals, but a few live turtles, too. And across the hall is the Discovery Room, which is full of hands-on activities, books, and nature-related toys for kids.
Finally we headed over to the Horse Center. The kids, especially Sasha, literally began squealing as soon as they made their way down a short path and the stables came into view. Outside, several horses were being prepped for riding, and two ponies stood in a small pen.
We were lucky to get them riding times just 15 minutes from when we arrived, and we used that wait to visit the horses in the stables. Guests are welcome to walk through, see the horses boarded there, and check out the rings and rooms full of riding equipment.
After finding helmets that fit, the kids were ready to go. Horse Center staff guide the ponies and are also very careful about safety and make sure kids get acquainted with their ponies, mount them correctly, and don’t startle them in any way. Once Owen and Sasha were good to go, we headed for the trail in the woods, Levi and I walking alongside our happy riders.
The guides explained how to lean forward when they went uphill, and back going downhill. The ride was pleasant, lasting about 15 minutes and looping through the woods, where it was pretty and shaded.
When the ride was over the kids dismounted and thanked their ponies, Chia and Munchie. And I made a mental note to not let a year pass again before our next visit.
The Rock Creek Horse Center is located at 5100 Glover Road. Hours are 10am – 6pm Monday – Friday, and 9am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday. pony rides are offered on weekends April – October and also on weekdays June – August. It’s $20 for a 15-minute ride, and they are offered every 30 minutes 1-3:30pm on weekends (3 & 3:30pm weekdays), and you can call ahead to reserve a time. Children must be at least 2.5 years old and 30″ tall. They also offer trail rides for kids ages 12 and up. For $40/rider, you can take a guided one-our trail ride at walking pace through Rock Creek Park.
The Rock Creek Nature Center and Planetarium is located at 5200 Glover Road. Hours are 9am – 5pm Wednesday – Sunday. Free planetarium shows are presented on Wednesday at 4pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 1pm and 4pm. Other ranger-led programs for children are also offered – see the schedule for details.