Seneca Creek State Park: The Complete Guide

Seneca Creek State Park

Tripsavvy / Rachel Cooper 

Map card placeholder graphic

Seneca Creek State Park

Address
11950 Clopper Rd, Gaithersburg, MD 20878, USA
Phone +1 301-924-2127

Seneca Creek State Park is a 6,300-acre recreational use area in Montgomery County, Maryland, that follows the scenic Seneca Creek as it flows into the Potomac River. Inside the park sits 90-acre Clopper Lake and acres of forest and meadows filled with trails for hiking and mountain biking, a picnicking area, a tire playground, a disc golf course, and a restored 19th-century cabin. The 16.5-mile Seneca Creek Greenway Trail follows the entire length of the creek and is the backbone for an existing trail network that extends into the backcountry. Seneca Creek is known for its Schaeffer Farm Trail system, a series of mountain biking loops that make for short and easy pedals or all-day excursions. Clopper Lake provides a waterway for boaters to float, paddle, and fish on.

Things to Do

You can keep your family busy all day long at Seneca Creek State Park. Miles of trails and the boatable Clopper Lake offer outdoor recreation all year round. Go on a hike or mountain bike ride or rent a canoe, kayak, or pedal boat from the park's boat center. And then, retire to the picnic area for a lunch or afternoon barbecue, complete with tables, grills, and comfort stations. Picnic shelters are available to rent from April through October, and the picnic area is open until sunset.

Seneca Creek State Park is a nice place to host a large family outing or special event, as it also offers a unique playground made of recycled tires for the kids. The large playground has swings, a spider hammock and a tire dragon for climbing, a zip line, and a tire obstacle course. In addition to the playground and picnic area, Seneca Creek has a 32-acre, 27-hole disc golf course. Bring your own disc or frisbee for an afternoon game with friends and family.

The park is one of the region's best-kept secrets during the winter months, when you can enjoy miles of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Then, over the holidays, the Winter Lights Christmas Display held here benefits local charities and gets the whole community involved in the spirit of the season.

Best Hikes & Trails

Seneca Creek State Park boasts over 50 miles of trails open to hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. Some trails wind through the forest, while others encompass the lake, follow the creek, and crest small ridges.

  • Lake Shore Trail: This moderate 3.7-mile, well-groomed trail loops around Clopper Lake, offering wonderful views across the water. Stroll through the woodlands and fields and over several small bridges and creek crossings. This is a suitable hike for all ages and can be tackled as an out-and-back for those not up to completing the loop.
  • Great Seneca Trail: Great Seneca Trail starts at the parking lot and follows Great Seneca Creek for 1.2 miles until it reaches the lake and Long Draught Creek. This hike takes you through a wooded forest and open fields, as your hug the shore of a babbling brook.
  • Schaeffer Farm Trail: The Schaeffer Farm trail is a multi-use, 8.6-mile, heavily-trafficked loop. Expect to encounter mountain bikers, horses, and dogs. Even still, this lovely trail takes you past fields of wildflowers and offers an opportunity for a good workout with several ups and downs.
  • Seneca Creek Bluffs Trail: This 12.7-mile lightly-used trail is meant for adventurers. Hike the entire trail as an out-and-back, or start at the trailhead off of Route-28 and hike to the Rocklands Farm Winery for lunch and back. Expect to encounter a few mountain bikers and maybe a few deer, but that's it.

Mountain Biking

The Schaeffer Farm Trail System is Maryland's mountain bike mecca, built in cooperation between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Mid Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE). The trail network starts in Seneca Creek State Park and extends into the upcountry, linking the Seneca, Muddy Branch, and Potomac watersheds. It's possible to ride 60 miles of trails without ever getting off of your bike. Trails are suitable for beginner, intermediate, and advanced riders. Most trails are fast and smooth, with a variety of roots and rocks that make for technical maneuvering by advanced bikers.

Boating & Fishing

Clopper Lake Boat Center (located within the park) rents boats for fishing, paddling, and floating during the summer months. Private watercraft are permitted throughout the summer season and you can launch at the center's boat dock free of charge. The Boat Center is open from May until mid-June, during then weekends only, and then mid-June through early September, it's open Wednesday through Sunday.

Clopper Lake is chock full of sport fish, including largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, tiger muskie, and crappie. Seneca Creek is stocked with trout that are available to fish on a catch-and-release basis. Obtain a fishing license before your visit.

Where to Camp

There are no camping opportunities inside Seneca Creek State Park, but the surrounding area offers a few options to camp both north and south of the park and the lake. Campsites in Rockville and Clarksburg offer primitive walk-in tent sites, RV hookups, cabins, and yurt stays.

  • Robert C. McDonell Campground: This bare-bones campground, located 11 miles away in Rockville, offers seven walk-in primitive tent sites. Campsites include two tent pads, two picnic tables, a grill, and a fire pit, and portable toilets are provided on-site. Permits are required for this year-round campground, so make reservations ahead of time.
  • Little Bennett Campground: Little Bennett Campground gives you more bang for your buck with tent sites, full RV hookup sites, four- and six-person cabins, and yurts that can sleep six. Located 10 miles away in Clarksburg, this campground boasts an activity center, a camp store, a bouncy house, pedal carts, and an amphitheater. Restrooms and a bathhouse are provided on-site, and the campground is surrounded by hiking trails.

Where to Stay Nearby

Take your pick of the area's lodging options in neighboring towns like Olney, Laytonsville, and Rockville. Quaint farms, bed and breakfast accommodations, and national chain hotels offer something to suit every type of traveler.

  • Olney Inn Bed & Breakfast: Olney Inn is located in Olney on a property that was historically Headwater's Farm, home of Harold L. Ickes, U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 1933 to 1946. Choose from five rooms located within the inn, or rent the carriage house, a separate building with multiple bedrooms, a living room, a full kitchen, and a laundry unit. The inn has a seasonal pool, a year-round hot tub, and gorgeous gardens.
  • Inn at Tusculum Farm: Book a full farm experience at Tusculum Farm, a family-owned operation located in Laytonsville. You can choose from one of five suites in the main house or a two-bedroom or five-bedroom carriage house. An on-site entertainment barn is stocked with games, a theater, and a hang-out space, or you can chill by the outdoor pool. Engage in farm activities by going on a farm tour or bring your own horses for boarding at their stables and riding on the grounds.
  • Hilton Garden Inn Rockville-Gaithersburg: If you're looking for a typical hotel experience and want to stay in between Seneca Creek State Park and Washington D.C., the Hilton Garden Inn in Rockville offers basic king and queen rooms, as well as suites. This property also has an on-site pool, fitness center, restaurant, and bar.

How to Get There

Seneca Creek State Park is about a 40-minute drive from downtown Washington D.C. To get there, take I-270 north towards Frederick, Maryland. Get off at Exit 10, Clopper Road (Route 117), and turn right at the light at the bottom of the ramp. The park is approximately 2 miles from the exit on the left. Use the same directions to access the park from Virginia locations and all points south.

If you're coming from the north, take I-270 south towards Washington, D.C. Get off at Exit 11 (Route 124 West) and turn right at the light at the bottom of the ramp. At the second light, turn right onto Clopper Road (Route 117). The park is located 1.5 miles down this road on the left.

Accessibility

Seneca Creek State Park welcomes visitors of all ability levels with its six accessible pavilions and plenty of accessible family picnic shelters specifically designed for wheelchair access. The park has seven accessible restrooms, complete with paved walkways, and a paved lakefront walkway at the boat center for fishing access. Seneca Creek State Park does not have accessible hiking trails, however, as most trails include roots, steep slopes, and steps.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The park is open March through October from 8 a.m. to sunset, and November through February, 10 a.m. to sunset.
  • Dogs are allowed in the park, but must be kept on a leash and cleaned up after.
  • If you're hosting a family gathering at the park during a weekend or holiday, pavilion and picnic shelter reservations are highly recommended.
  • Gas-powered motors are not permitted on the lake, only watercrafts powered by hand or by an electric motor are acceptable.
  • No boats are permitted on the water for at least 20 minutes after thunder is heard.
  • Children under the age of 13 must wear a PFD at all times on docks and in boats.
  • Many of the trails in the park are multi-use, meaning good etiquette is expected. Hikers should yield to bikers and horses, bikers should yield to horses, and downhill bikers should yield to uphill bikers.
  • Hunting is permitted in the park during hunting season at legal shooting times and in designated areas.
Was this page helpful?
Back to Article

Seneca Creek State Park: The Complete Guide