The first time I ever visited Lake Frank I went there to hike, not to run. I had looked at the lake on Google Maps and concluded that the green space around the lake wasn’t that large; surely too small to get in a decent run. However, half way through my hike, I cursed the fact I had left my running shoes at home.
Located in Derwood just east of Rockville in Montgomery County, Lake Bernard Frank, as it is officially known, is a hidden gem complete with rolling trails, friendly goats, and caged birds of prey. There are two access points to the trails surrounding the 54-acre reservoir – one off of Avery Road and the other at the Meadowside Nature Center. In addition, a connector trail was recently completed, which joins Lake Frank to the Rock Creek Trail just north of the Route 27/Norbeck Road overpass.
I typically park at the Avery Road entrance and run counter-clockwise around the lake. The Lakeside Trail, the loop that circles the lake, is between 3 and 4 miles, but there are numerous side trails and connectors that crisscross it, which are definitely worth exploring. I’ve run upwards of 9 miles here with very little repetition.
You begin by descending a very steep hill and follow the asphalt bike path across the top of a large earthen dam. The path then meanders through the first of two old parking lots, which are slowly being reclaimed by nature. Years ago, some person of authority erected a chain across Trailway Drive so cars are no longer allowed access, but visitors can still enter the trails here on bikes and on foot from a nearby neighborhood. The bike path/road you’ve been running on for the past 1.25 miles turns to dirt at the far end of the second parking lot. From here on out you’ll be on real trails for the remainder of the run. The going is fairly easy, but the occasional rock or root has been known to take down a runner from time to time (myself included).
On your right you’ll pass a few of the side trails mentioned in the beginning of this article. Some are better than others, but all are worth exploring. They are all loops or out-and-backs that will eventually connect you back to the Lakeside Trail so there is no worry about getting lost. By now, the lake on your left has morphed into a creek. Depending on how much rain we’ve had, it’s possible at two locations to frog hop your way across it on rocks and pick up the trail on the other side. But, the trail here is nice, so I like to follow the creek until I reach Muncaster Mill Road then use the road to cross the creek and continue back on the other side – this will also add a half mile or so to your total.
To your right you’ll see numerous trails, which switchback up to the Meadowside Nature Center. I like hills, so I head this way and take a moment to look at he various birds of prey housed in an outdoor aviary behind the nature center – owls, vultures, hawks and even a bald eagle. From here, you can either run back towards the lake, and your parked car, but since you’ve made it this far, I’d recommend running down towards the study pond, at the bottom of the hill below the nature center, and explore the packed down paths that roll up and over these meadows.
Although some of these trails are out-and-backs, they make for great running and the hills always get my heart pumping. The gnarliest hill starts at the covered-bridge and runs past a couple of caged goats, which always seem overly eager to see me run past – (I think they think that I have food). Note that you still have about a mile and half or so back to your parked car, so when you’ve run enough hills and are ready to call it a day, head back towards the lake and hook a right, continuing to keep the lake on your left. The Lakeside Trail from here on out is rarely flat, but by now your legs are warmed up and the roller coaster-like hills are surprisingly fun to traverse.
Once you’ve arrived back at the earthen dam, you need to take a hard right and climb the Everest-like hill back to your car, which you ran down at the start of your run.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of RunWashington.