Viewpoint: Point Reno – The District’s high point

The marker on top of Point Reno, D.C.’s highpoint, at 409 feet above sea level. (Photo courtesy of Pat Spillman)

Getting “high” is easy here in D.C.’s Northwest.

All it takes is a casual stroll to the District’s official highpoint – its highest point of natural elevation – located in Fort Reno Park, a few blocks from the Tenleytown shops and Metro station.

D.C.’s highpoint –a lofty 409 feet above sea level – is located at the crest of a hill adjacent to Deal Middle School on the south side of Fort Reno Park near Nebraska Avenue and Chesapeake Street. You will not see a sign or obelisk marking the location. It is marked, rather inconspicuously, with a small brass survey marker set in concrete at ground level a few yards off a pathway near a large oak tree. You could easily step over the marker while looking for it.

The marker was placed in 2007 after years of effort by the Highpointers Club to achieve official highpoint recognition. The club is a national group of summiting enthusiasts that promotes climbing to the highest point in each of the 50 states. It has 2,500 members, including 11 D.C. residents. 

Former club board member and D.C. resident Robert Hyman (who has reached 48 state highpoints) spearheaded the effort, which included obtaining a formal survey of the location by the District of Columbia Association of Land Surveyors, and gaining approval from the National Park Service (NPS), which manages Fort Reno Park.

“We worked with professional surveyors and Park Service officials to get approval for a marker that is permanent, unobtrusive and accessible to the public,” Hyman said.

The NPS formally dedicated the highpoint marker in April 2008. The highpoint is designated “Point Reno” with coordinates 38.95198° North, 77.075922° West.

Interestingly, Point Reno is not the highest elevation in Fort Reno Park. The D.C. Water storage reservoir on the park’s built-up plateau sits at about 429 feet above sea level. However, the reservoir is a man-made “artificial” elevation. The reservoir and accompanying water towers and buildings are government property and fenced off from public access. So, despite its lower elevation, the Point Reno marker is the official highest point in the District.

At 409 feet, our local highpoint is hardly worth crowing about. Point Reno is the second lowest highpoint in the United States, coming in just below Delaware’s Ebright Azimuth (448 feet), but towering above Florida’s lowly Britton Hill (345 feet), located in that state’s western panhandle.

Although reaching Point Reno requires no ropes, crampons or gasping for breath in thin air, it has its rightful place in the pantheon of U.S. highpoints along with Maine’s iconic Mt. Katahdin (5,267 feet), Hawaii’s Mauna Kea (13,796 feet) and the grandaddy of them all, Alaska’s Denali (20,320 feet).

“The Highpointers Club recognizes the USA as 50 states and one federal district,” Club board member John Mitchler said. “D.C.’s highpoint is on the map and no true highpointer’s life list can be complete without summiting our local peak.”

Several other highpointing opportunities are within a few hours drive of D.C. Weekend summiting enthusiasts can pick up the “Allegheny trifecta” of high points – Pennsylvania’s Mt. Davis (3,213 feet), Maryland’s Backbone Mountain (3,360 feet) and West Virginia’s Spruce Knob (4,861 feet) in a day. The Backbone Mountain hike is about a mile in length. The others are less than a quarter mile walk from nearby parking areas. The Delaware high point is also a two-hour drive north on I-95, located along a two-lane road in a residential area north of downtown Wilmington and just a few yards from the Pennsylvania line. 

So, if you get the highpointing bug, don your hiking boots (or your flip flops), grab a coffee in Tenleytown and start your quest with a high alpine ascent to Point Reno. Enjoy the climb!

Pat Spillman is a D.C. resident.