There is no better way to experience nature than by heading outdoors and taking a walk. And lucky for you, Northern Virginia has hikes of all types of difficulty levels. So if you are looking for a strenuous hike in a forest, a moderately challenging hike to a waterfall, or just a leisurely walk you can enjoy with the whole family, Northern Virginia has got you covered.
Table of contents
- 1. Old Rag Mountain Loop – Shenandoah National Park
- 2. River, Ridge, CCT, & Swamp Trail – Great Falls Park
- 3. First Battle Of Manassas Trail Loop
- 4. Burke Lake Trail – Burke Lake Park
- 5. Scotts Run Nature Preserve Outer Loop
- 6. Neabsco Creek Boardwalk
- 7. Difficult Run Trail – Great Falls Par
- 8. Union Mill And Bull Run Occoquan Trail Loop
- 9. Mount Vernon Trail
- 10. Whitehouse Overlook Via Piedmont Overlook Trail Loop
- More You’ll Love:
Each of these trails has something that makes it unique and is suited to a different level of expertise and fitness. Delving a little deeper into each of these 10 hikes will help you to choose which one is best suited to your needs and hiking ability:
1. Old Rag Mountain Loop – Shenandoah National Park
You can find this beautiful mountain loop trail near Etlan, Virginia. The path is approximately 9.4 miles long and should take the average person around 5 hours and 25 minutes to complete.
Many consider this trail on the more challenging side; therefore, it would be better for you not to tackle this route unless you have at least some hiking experience and are relatively fit. Even though many deem the trail somewhat challenging, it is a popular choice for night hiking or early morning starts so that you can reach the top with enough time to catch the sunrise.
The hike can be dangerous, especially the narrower sections, and there is a bit of a rock scramble close to the top. You can expect beautiful river and forest scenery and wildflowers.
2. River, Ridge, CCT, & Swamp Trail – Great Falls Park
These four trails make up a beautiful loop in Great Falls Park. The trail is approximately 4.5 miles long and should take you, on average, around 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete.
This moderately challenging trail is an excellent hike for the whole family and is a popular route, so you can expect to come across other people while you are hiking. One thing to be aware of is that this trail is not only a great spot for hikers but also for horseback riders, mountain bikers, and runners. You are welcome to bring your dogs on this trail if you keep them on their leashes.
There are spectacular sights along this route, including a waterfall, river, plenty of wildlife, and wildflowers. The path includes a few rocky sections, so it’s best to traverse those carefully, and there are plenty of other side trails that are perfect for exploring.
3. First Battle Of Manassas Trail Loop
You can find this trail loop in the Manassas National Battlefield Park. It is an easy loop and perfect for the whole family, especially if you wish to view some of Northern Virginia’s incredible history. The hike is approximately 5.2 miles and should take the average person around 1 hour and 50 minutes to complete, but if you decide to stop and read the signs, you are probably looking at around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Not only is this loop child-friendly, but it is also dog friendly as long as you keep your furry companion on their leash. The hike is relatively flat and lovely, meandering through meadows and forests, along with the battlefield lands.
You can expect to see beautiful wildflowers; if lucky, you might spot some of the local wildlife. The trail is relatively popular, so you will probably encounter other people while you are out and about.
4. Burke Lake Trail – Burke Lake Park
You can find Burke Lake Trail in Fairfax County’s lovely Burke Lake Park. This loop is approximately 4.8 miles long and should take the average person around 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete. This easy trail is a perfect option for the whole family and is wheelchair and stroller friendly as the pathway is partially paved.
You are also welcome to bring your dog if you ensure to keep them on their leashes and out of the lake. Mountain bikers and runners frequent the trail, so keep your eye out. The best times to hike this trail are from March through to October.
The main attraction of this hike is the spectacular views of the lake. Still, you can also expect to see some stunning bird life and maybe even spot a few of the local inhabitors and, depending on the season, some beautiful wildflower blooms.
5. Scotts Run Nature Preserve Outer Loop
You can find this loop in the Scotts Run Stream Valley Park near McLean. The trail is approximately 3.1 miles long and should take the average person around 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete. This moderately challenging route welcomes dogs as long as you keep them on their leashes.
The trail is child-friendly, but remember that there are two creek crossings with stepping stones that you will probably need to use due to the water levels. The path is often muddy, although it is wide enough for you to try and meander your way through it.
The trail takes you through a beautiful forest with a bit of scrambling here and there. Some of the route’s highlights include the waterfall and river and the natural beauty of the surroundings.
6. Neabsco Creek Boardwalk
You can find this out and back trail in the Julie J. Metz Neabsco Creek Wetlands Preserve. The route is approximately 2.9 miles long and should take, on average, around 50 minutes to complete. Generally considered an easy path, it is a perfect hike for the whole family and is wheelchair and stroller friendly.
Most of the trail consists of sections of either boardwalk or dirt and takes you through various emergent wetland, scrub, and forested areas. The dirt sections of the walk might be a little harder for wheelchairs and strollers to traverse. There are a few fantastic side trails that you can take, including one that will take you up to the hilltop to view the historic house.
There are lovely sights along the way, including various plants and flowers, the lake and river, and the forest scenery. You can also expect to see an abundance of wildlife, including grassland birds (more so in the winter), songbirds (more so in the summer), waterfowl, fish, turtles, beavers, muskrats, and maybe even some herons.
7. Difficult Run Trail – Great Falls Par
You can find this hike in the Great Falls Park near McLean. The loop is moderately challenging and approximately 9.8 miles long and should take the average hiker around 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete. You are welcome to bring along your dogs as long as they remain on their leashes.
The route is wonderfully varied, with a short steep climb and winding pathways. You can enjoy the views as the path takes you to the Potomac River, where you can opt to cool off in the summer months or take in the sights of the unusual ice formations in the winter.
The rest of the route takes you on a climb towards the Great Falls, past Matildaville and the Potowmack Canal. From there, you walk through the Great Falls Park, overlooking the falls, and then on towards the Swamp Trail to enjoy the sights of the wildlife and wildflowers.
8. Union Mill And Bull Run Occoquan Trail Loop
You can find this trail loop situated in the Hemlock Overlook Regional Park. This generally easy route is approximately 3.6 miles long and should take the average hiker around 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete. Perfect for the whole family and dog-friendly as long as they remain on their leashes.
The trail takes you on a loop around the park with a few rock scrambles, some inclines, and a peaceful stroll along the river. Parts of the path cross over water, and you have to traverse the cement steps provided to stay dry. The great thing about this trail is that there are a few offshoots, so you can make the route longer or shorter depending on your mood.
You can expect to see some birds and resident wildlife while you hike. Depending on the season, you might get lucky and see the wildflowers blooming.
9. Mount Vernon Trail
You will find this out and back trail near Mount Vernon. This easy route is approximately 37.2 miles long and should take the average hiker 11 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The hike is child and dog friendly as long as the latter remain on their leashes. You can also take wheelchairs and strollers along this path.
You can access this trail from different areas to make it as long or short as you feel. The path is mainly paved and runs through beautiful Mount Vernon to Washington D.C.’s stunning monuments. The trail can often be quite congested, but overall it is a relaxing journey.
Apart from the city sights and the monuments, you can expect to traverse through forests and past a river, offering you lovely views.
10. Whitehouse Overlook Via Piedmont Overlook Trail Loop
You can find this trail loop near Paris, Virginia. It is a moderately challenging route that is approximately 5.6 miles long and should take the average hiker around 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete. The hike is relatively popular, so you can expect to see some other people while hiking.
This path connects to the Appalachian Trail, and there are several other paths in the vicinity that you can access from this loop. The hike traverses the Gap Run Trail to the North Ridge Trail and then goes down the South Ridge Trail. The route is relatively steep but mainly covered, but some sections are not and offer lovely scenic overlooks.
You can expect to enjoy lovely forest scenery, some rocky scrambles, and magnificent meadow views. You might even be lucky enough to spot some of the abundant wildlife in the area. Try this hike at night to experience some lovely stars and moon gazing.
More You’ll Love:
Northern Virginia encompasses some exceptional hiking trails that offer up views of waterfalls, rivers, forests, meadows, lakes, flowers, and wildlife. With so many lovely hikes to choose from, the best thing is to take the time and check out which ones will best suit your hiking skill level and what kind of sights you wish to see.