Off the Beaten Path: Lake Needwood

With all due respect to Rock Creek Park, I’m getting a little tired of Rock Creek Park, or at least the parklands in DC. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply appreciate the city closing parts of Beach Drive to allow socially distant recreation during the COVID-19 crisis, but when you’re an injured runner it’s kind of hard to go where seemingly all the healthy runners are going.

So I’ve been trying to branch out, using a few criteria to stave off cabin fever: easy parking; quiet trails; plenty of shade; friendly dogs, preferably leashed.

 

One weekend, a running friend mentioned that he used to run at Lake Needwood, and I immediately remembered seeing it on a map near Rockville when checking how far north Rock Creek goes (answer: about eight miles north of Needwood to Laytonsville).

The 40-minute drive from downtown D.C. was a small investment to check all the boxes. That Thursday afternoon was made for lake exploring; I almost forgot about the midday humid heat — and if you can believe it, the pandemic — as I followed the tree-lined trails. As tempting as it looks, keep your feet and pets out of the water.  County tests for water quality in recent years have detected toxic blue-green algae.

The fact that parking at Lake Needwood is free is a big deal for me, though the small parking lots seem likely to fill up on busy summer weekends.  The park is open from sunrise to sunset.

Montgomery Parks’ website on the Needwood Trails says that there is no way to walk around the lake, but Needwood Drive has a safe path on the side of the road for pedestrians and bikers to cross the water on the north end of the lake, which is what I used to connect the Westside and Mudcat trails.

It’s difficult to talk about 75-acre Lake Needwood without mentioning nearby 55-acre Lake Frank and the natural surface trails surrounding both. I would not recommend centering a long run at Needwood itself, which is only about 2-3 miles around, but the asphalt Rock Creek Hiker/Biker Trail connects both waterways to the District of Columbia border less than 15 miles away. Given the narrow, winding route, you’re unlikely to encounter aggressive cyclists.

Boat rentals and fishing could distract non-running members of your household on certain days of the week if they’re into that. Check online for their revised schedule during COVID-19 times.

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