Trail Discovery for Kids: Northwest Branch Trail

Hike Information

  • The trail head for this hike is on Kemp Mill Road across from the trail into Wheaton Regional Park and Glenallan Road, the entrance for Brookside Nature Center and Brookside Gardens.
  • The Northwest Branch trail and the Rachel Carson trail connect at Kemp Mill Rd. and Rt. 29 to create a 6.8 mile circuit hike. Therefore, families can hike out and back on the Northwest Branch trail until they desire to stop.
  • This trail is wide and flat, making it a jogging stroller friendly trail.
  • About a third of a mile from the trail head, the Rachel Carson trail (not labeled but blue blazed) intersects on the left with the Northwest Branch Trail. This trail is NOT jogging stroller friendly. Stay straight and follow the sign for the Northwest Branch trail.
  • Link to the trail map.

Age Appropriateness

  • The out and back hike on the Northwest Branch trail is great for children 2+ years old. Completing the Northwest Branch and Rachel Carson circuit hike would be a great challenge for a child 10+ years old.

What is fun for kids?

  • Walking along the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River and easily accessing it at various locations along the trail. There are two locations within a half mile of the trail head that have wide stream banks with lots of rocks and sand. Great places to have a picnic (no tables), to throw or skip rocks in the Branch, and bring a shovel and a pail for imaginative play in the sand.
  • Interpretive signs about vernal pools, animals in the stream valley, caves, and the historical mining of mica in the park.
  • Walk through a forested wetland with amazing vegetation, like skunk cabbage, and many vernal pools that are great habitats for salamanders and frogs.
  • In April, the wildflowers are fantastic on this flood plain. They usually peak around the third week of April.
  • Make a left on the Rachel Carson trail and walk a short distance to the bridge over the Branch. Play I Spy as they look down into the water from the bridge. Then walk back to the Northwest Branch trail.


  • Poison ivy and muddy patches on the trail. Wear long pants to access the vernal pools.
  • There are no bathroom facilities.
  • Trash free park – pack your garbage out.

Hiking Along engages children in exploration of the natural world through hiking on scenic trails around the metro DC region. Groups of children, preschool to high school, participate in hands-on science activities to learn about the natural surroundings while hiking on trails. Visit for more information.

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