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Featured national recreation trail

Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail, Washington, DC

The trail links hilly open space, fortified against possible Confederate attack during the Civil War.

Photos by Stuart Macdonald

District Map

map of forts encircling DC
The Fort Circle Trail is in the upper right area: click on photo to enlarge

The trail runs along the hilltops across the Anacostia River, in the southeast part of District of Columbia. It follows part of the chain of forts which guarded bridges, Capitol Hill, and naval installations from likely enemy approaches through southern Maryland.

The green areas, now under the care of National Capitol Parks - East, include Fort Mahan, Fort Chaplin, Fort DuPont, Fort Davis, Battery Ricketts next to Fort Stanton, Fort Carroll, and Fort Greble.

Woodlands along the trail include oak, beech, and hickory

The 7.9-mile Fort Circle Trail conncects Forts Mahan, Chaplin, and DuPont (see the upper right corner of the map).

The historic features are collectively known as the Civil War Defenses of Washington, or the "Fort Circle Parks." Additional fort sites encircling the District are administered by Rock Creek Park, as well as Fort Marcy along George Washington Memorial Parkway. For more historic information about the forts and the National Park Service project planning for the management of the forts, see the Civil War Defenses of Washington website of Rock Creek Park.

The Fort Circle Trail connects a surprising expanse of natural open space in this highly urban area. It runs along the traces of old roadways, through forests of oaks, beech, maples, and pine. Squirrels and rabbits find homes along with the night foragers— raccoons and opossums. The pink lady-slipper orchid blooms in quiet shade.

The trail surface is natural earth with some improved sections. Parts of the trail are paved with asphalt. In the Fort Chaplin section, the trail was restored with Federal Highway Adminstration funds in cooperation with the National Park Service and the District of Columbia Department of Recreation and Parks.

fort DuPont sign
Interpretive sign at Ft. DuPont

The Fort Circle Trail was one of the first National Recreation Trails to be designated. The National Park Service reported on the event:

"On June 2, 1971, Secretary of the Interior Rogers C. B. Morton designated 27 new National Recreation Trails in 19 States and the District of Columbia. Of these, 20 will be administered by state or local authorities and the remainder by Federal agencies. One of these National Recreation Trails is situated within the National Park System— the Fort Circle National Recreation Trail, 7.9 miles long, within National Capital Parks."

The Fort DuPont Activity Center at Minnesota Avenue and Randle Circle, SE, offers exhibits and park rangers lead workshops and walks. Neighboring schools bring young students for nature study and to learn about special people, cultural traditions, and holiday events. The center's showcases display uniforms and equipment of black soldiers who served the Union in the Civil War. Summer days are alive with children participating in a Junior Ranger program. Weekend jazz concerts, free to all, draw people to the lawns around the outdoor summer stage. Call (202) 426-7723 for current events.

The Fort Circle National Recreation Trail

The trail is also part of the American Discovery Trail as it winds its way from Chesapeake Bay to Georgetown. For details of the ADT route see

The areas in and around many of these forts are also significant in African American history, as many freed slaves moved there before and during the Civil War. Fort Stevens was site of Vinegar Hill, the first Black settlement in Washington, and the adjacent Military Road School, originally established in Union Army barracks to educate freed slaves.

The Fort Circle Trail is a unit of National Capital Parks - East and administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Fort Circle Park trail
The trail is managed by the National Park Service

For more information, contact:

National Capital Parks East
1900 Anacostia Drive, SE
Washington, DC 20020
Phone (202) 426-7745
TDD (202) 472-2676


The National Recreation Trails Program
American Trails, P.O. Box 491797, Redding, CA 96049-1797 (530) 547-2060 Fax: (530) 547-2035

Photo of boardwalk in swamp
Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest (photo: Mark Musselman)

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