Rock Creek Park Nature Center & Planetarium

The drive along Rock Creek Parkway to the Rock Creek Park Nature Center & Planetarium made our journey to the nature center a fun trip.

The two story nature center is larger than any other one I have been too and even includes a planetarium. There is so much to do here that it warrants an excursion.

Rock Creek Park Nature Center

Before making it inside, my child was drawn to the big sign that read Water Wise Garden.

The pesticide free garden is safe for children and has display panels about various plants like:

  • The Purple Coneflower
  • Goldenrod
  • New England Aster
  • Black rat snake (who calls the garden his home!)
rock creek park nature center and planetarium
Source: National Park Service

While we didn’t see the snake, we read that the snake is harmless and not interested in people.

The balcony next to the garden is filled with bird boxes. We enjoyed seeing the flurry of wrens and doves.

You can use the National Park Service Smartphone app to learn more about the Water Wise Garden.

There is a touch table with a chart helping youngsters to identify:

  • A deer antler
  • Snake skin
  • Beaver pelt
  • Chestnut oak leaf
  • And more

Petrified cypress wood estimated to be more than 100 million years old and Native American arrowheads are also on display.

The Main Room

The main room houses examples of flora and fauna like persimmon and jewelweed.

Display cases of stuffed animals that make Rock Creek Park their home include meadow butterflies, the Northern Oriole, beaver, fox and more.

An interesting tidbit we learned is that coyotes live in every state except Hawaii.

rock creek park nature center
Source: National Park Service

Living animals include three turtles, tanks with fish and two snakes. I thought it was cute that they gave all the animals names. The beehive was not in operation during our visit. The park ranger informed us that the bees outgrew the space and were set free. They will return in May.

The Discovery Room

The Discovery Room was a huge hit for my Kindergartner. My child’s favorite activity was assembling felt leaves on various trees. She enjoyed dressing the ranger using felt pieces of clothing, name tag, hat, etc.

I liked that it listed the items a ranger would have like a radio and binoculars and the “ask a ranger about his or her job at the park.”

The felt is a simple yet genius concept to get young kids interested with all things nature.

Other hands-on activities include putting on a show in the meadow theatre using over a dozen animal puppets and matching animal tracks in the sand to tracks on the wall.

There are books on vegetable gardens and the five senses, puzzles, crayons and stencils.

Bilingual Discovery Center

Older elementary aged children will want to head downstairs to the bilingual discovery center. The exhibits, written in both English and Spanish, teach older children about habitats, the changing seasons and ways to protect natural resources.

Some experiences they’ll be able to have include: getting under the microscope to view the details of a bird’s feather or the skin of a snake, and examining an American chestnut shell, blue bird nest or piece of quartz.

The Gift Shop

The gift shop features books on saving the environment, First Lady Michelle Obama’s story of the White House kitchen garden, butterfly art and craft and science kits, and stickers.

I was drawn to the simply written book, Why Are There No Bears in Rock Creek Park?

Planetarium

Did you know Rock Creek Park is home to the only planetarium in the National Park Service?

It shows presentations about astronomy and the night sky of different kinds depending on the audience age to make sure that the right atmosphere is provided in each show.

Rock Creek Park Planetarium
Source: National Park Service

To check for programs of the planetarium you can visit directly their website.

READ NEXT: 19 Nature Centers in the DC Area

Classes & Events

There are different programs that Rock Creek Nature Center is offering depends on the age of your kid.

The kids really love the Junior Ranger program for ages 5 – 12 where kids are given some activities to complete while at the center in order to earn a Junior Range bade.

This helps them be more involved, learn more and spark more interest in their parks.

Source: National Park Service

They also host various types of nature classes for kids of different ages, all lead by a Ranger.

Hours & When to Go

The Nature Center and Planetarium are open Wednesday – Sunday 9:00am to 5:00pm and are closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Good to Know

  • Park programs and admissions are free.
  • Bottled water and Gatorade are also for sale.
  • A water fountain, restrooms with changing stations and hand sanitizer are also in the building.

Getting There

Rock Creek Nature Center & Planetarium is located at 5200 Glover Rd NW, Washington, DC 20015.

Things to Do Nearby

  1. Visit the National Zoo
  2. See the wax figures at Madame Tussauds (it’s not just for tourists!)
  3. Take a guided tour of the mansion at Tudor Place
  4. Head to the Friendship Archway in Chinatown and have a delicious meal
  5. Visit Theodore Roosevelt Island

Afterwards, we walked around the trail, passed the picnic area and over to the horse stables.

The park ranger recommended we check out nearby Pierce Mill and the Old Stone House in Georgetown. The mill was closed when we went, but we enjoyed seeing the small waterfall.

Photo of author

Meghan Costello

Meghan is native to Northern Virginia area and enjoys finding new fun activities to share with her husband and 3 kids.

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