Friday, February 28, 2014

The elevations of Four Corners

It's a well known fact that Four Corners is a hilly place, but how hilly is it?

Local real estate agent Cari Jordan recently asked me for a topographical map of Four Corners to see how large the hills are and to see the elevations of the area.  I use Google Earth often, so I am familiar with the elevations around Four Corners, but many people may not be.  So I figured I would write a post about the hills of Four Corners.  Have you ever wondered what the highest point in Four Corners is?  Or what the lowest point is? Well here are some answers...

Topographical map of four Corners from the USGS.  I wish the map didn't cut off part of Woodmoor ,but that's just where the line between each frame happens to be.  

Woodmoor and North Four Corners are home to some of the bigger hills in Four Corners, as they border the impressive Northwest Branch Valley.  Indian Spring and South Four Corners have hills too, but they are more gentle and less steep than the ones across University Boulevard.

The reason Woodmoor is particularly hilly is because it is on the Atlantic Seaboard fall line between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions.  This fall line runs along the east coast from Canada to Alabama, and part of it happens to run through Woodmoor.  The fall line is the reason for the impressive rapids and rock outcroppings along Northwest Branch just south of Burnt Mills and U.S 29, which were visited by Teddy Roosevelt.  

The Atlantic Seaboard fall line.  Photo from the National Atlas of the United States.

If you follow the fall line south and west (the direction it runs) it will lead through Northwest DC to Georgetown, which is the highest navigable point on the Potomac River.  The fall line is also the reason that Northwest DC is home to the highest elevations in the District (highest point is 409 feet at Fort Reno in the Tenleytown neighborhood).

Back to Four Corners.  Here are the highest points in each neighborhood (all elevations are feet Above Sea Level unless otherwise noted):

Woodmoor: 355 feet on Saint Lawrence Drive a few houses in off University Boulevard (if you know who Jema Adami is, the highest point is actually her house).

Indian Spring: 346 feet at the YMCA, the former Indian Spring County Club's clubhouse.  I'm not surprised the clubhouse was built on the highest piece of land in the neighborhood.

North Four Corners: 366 feet.  This one is a little tricky, as it depends on what you view as North Four Corners.  The 366 number is at The Oaks retirement home, but if you go further west on University, the elevation steadily rises (until you get to Wheaton, which is at ~450-475 feet and is one of the highest points close to DC, which is why it has so many radio towers).

South Four Corners: 385 feet, Dallas Avenue at it's northern end by University Blvd (The road stops short of University and does not connect).  This is the highest point in the immediate Four Corners area.  Again, the further west you travel towards Wheaton, the higher the elevations get.

University Boulevard roughly follows the ridge between the Northwest Branch Watershed and the Sligo Creek Watershed.   If a raindrop falls on the east side of University, it will likely flow into Northwest Branch, if it falls on the west side, it will likely flow into Sligo Creek.  I doubt this is ridgeline route is an accident.  University Boulevard dates to colonial times as a road between Rockville and Bladensburg (current incarnation of the route that road followed: Viers Mill Rd/University Blvd/Riggs Rd/Ager Rd), and back then, roads often adhered to the geography of the land in ways they do not anymore due to better construction techniques.

Topographical map depicting the impressive Northwest Branch valley.  Also notice the topography of Hillandale, and the stream that runs through that 1930's era neighborhood.  

The lowest point in Four Corners is 122 feet in Northwest Branch under the Beltway bridge.  The Beltway bridge's elevation is 250 feet, meaning it is at least 125 feet above the creekbed, making it much higher than the Woodrow Wilson Bridge or the American Legion Bridge (which are commonly mistaken for being the highest bridges on the Beltway).  After passing under the bridge, the creek gradually descends until reaching sea level at Bladensburg, another colonial era town that exists because of it's location.  Like Geogetown is to the Potomac, Bladensburg is the highest navigable point on the Anacostia River.

Sligo Creek has higher elevations than Northwest Branch, as it's headwaters are in Kemp Mill, which is around 400 feet.  Sligo Creek is approximately 265 feet above sea level at Forest Glen Road.  It also gradually descends until it meets Northwest Branch in Chillum.

In a future post, I will reveal the steepest hill in Four Corners (feel free to guess), and I will profile some unique houses on hilly lots that are only found in Four Corners.  I conclude with some other elevations from places around the area:  

Downtown Silver Spring (Colesville and Georgia): 338 feet

Water Tower in Montgomery Hills: 390 feet

Wheaton (back parking lot of the Pollo Compero): 475 feet (highest point for miles around)

Takoma/Lanlgey Crossroads (University and New Hampshire): 186 feet

White Oak Shopping Center: 380 feet

Highest point in Montgomery County:  880 feet (very northernmost part of the county at the headwaters of the Patuxent, 1/2 mile south of Mount Airy)

Lowest point in Montgomery County: 10 feet (Potomac River at Little Falls, southernmost point in the county at the border with DC, Arlington, and Fairfax counties).


  1. Fascinating, thanks! Downtown Silver Spring sits so high above neighboring DC and Rock Creek that I'm surprised it's not higher in real terms.

  2. Sugarloaf is not the highest point in the county? That's a surprise.