No matter what type of outdoors adventure you’re looking for, Northern Virginia has something for everyone! This week we’re looking at the best spots for picnics and play, hiking trails, and taking in the views of this beautiful region…
Outdoors in Fairfax County
There are so many beautiful county and national parks in Fairfax County you will never run out of family-friendly outdoor activities! Frying Pan Farm Park is an active farm, designated on the National Register of Historic Places, which recreates life in rural America from the 1920s-1940s. It’s a great place to enjoy a community event, meet some farm animals, or break out the picnic basket! Burke Lake is a beautiful spot, you can even rent a canoe there to have a picnic on the water. Or, stop by the park’s ice cream parlor to get dessert afterwards! Take your kids to enjoy some fresh air at Clemyjontri Park in McLean—a place where children of all abilities can play. The park is specially designed to accommodate the needs of children who use wheelchairs, walkers or braces, or who have developmental or sensory disabilities.
Bull Run Regional Park has miles of woodland trails, and in the springtime you can walk along their meandering stream to see the wildflowers in bloom. The park also offers miniature and disc golf, an outdoor pool, public shooting center, and archery for the sportsmen of Fairfax County. Huntley Meadows Park is another fantastic spot for nature lovers, especially bird watchers—over 200 species of bird have been identified in the park! It is the largest park in Fairfax County, with 1,554 acres of diverse habitat. Huntley Meadows Park is mostly devoted to wetland protection and education, featuring an ADA accessible “wetland boardwalk”. In addition to the ½-mile long boardwalk there’s a hike-bike trail, wildlife observation platforms, and a 2-mile interpretive trail system.
Great Falls Park is a wonderful spot to hike as well, with 15 miles of trails! What really takes the cake though are the amazing views of the Potomac Falls at three different overlooks in the 800-acre park. If you love gardening then you would love to tour Green Spring Gardens and Horticultural Center; featuring a kitchen garden, fruit garden, wildflower garden, and rock garden. The restored manor house, gazebo, woods, and valley with a stream and ponds make this spot a truly picturesque one. And if you enjoy Green Spring Gardens you’ll definitely want to make your way over to visit the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. Large ornamental gardens, three lakes surrounded by cherry trees, an authentic Korean Bell Garden (the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere!), and a beautiful gazebo dazzle in this scenic, 100+ acre park. Lastly, Scott’s Run Nature Preserve features gorgeous wildflowers in the spring, rare plants, a stream with small waterfalls, and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. The park’s trails make this a great scenic spot to hike as well, with some meandering gently through the woods, and more challenging ones taking you alongside cliffs and up and down steep hills.
Outdoors in Prince William County
A scenic spot for picnics on the shore of the Potomac River is Leesylvania State Park, listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. Picnic near the river, or even grab some food from the snack bar before going on a hike or renting a boat for the day. Signal Hill Park in Manassas has picnic tables, as well as charcoal grills so that you can spend the day grilling up some grub in the fresh air. The Silver Lake Regional Park also has picnic tables and charcoal grills near a lake as well, with rolling meadows and a 23-acre lake.
The Prince William Forest Park is a national park with 37 miles of hiking trails. Strap on your hiking boots or some comfortable sneakers and use one of these trail maps to guide you through their 15,000 acres! The Manassas National Battlefield Park is also a national park, home to several battles fought during the Civil War. They have a driving trail, a short hiking trail (Henry Hill Loop Trail, 1.1 mile) as well as several trails over 5 miles long, and ranger-led walking tours. Take a look at some of these other activities you can enjoy at the park! The Conway Robinson State Forest is a forest in the midst of one of the most developed areas of Virginia. Take a break from urban life with a hike or horse ride around its’ 5.1 miles of trails. The Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Lorton was originally founded as a protected habitat for bald eagles. Today it’s home to a variety of wildlife, 2,000 acres of forest, the largest freshwater marsh in NoVA, and almost six miles of shoreline. Sometimes guided tours are offered, but year-round you can use this map to explore their four miles of trails and ecosystem conservation.
At the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge you can enjoy scenic walks through grasslands and marsh. Take a look at this map of the 4 miles of nature trails you can enjoy, parts of the preserve are okay to drive through as well. Similarly, Featherstone National Wildlife Reserve is a refuge featuring woodland and marsh, and is great for studying wildlife as well. You’ll have to take a non-motorised boat to get there, but it’ll be worth it to have a day of exploring nature in seclusion! If you’re a fan of boating look no further than Lake Anna State Park, home to one of the state’s most popular lakes. Rent a boat, walk the beach, explore 15 miles of trails, go camping or picnicking, or enjoy fishing on the beautiful water.
Outdoors in Loudoun County
For picnic shelters along the Potomac River, as well as hiking and paved trails (great for biking!) visit Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling. The Volcano Island Waterpark is right nearby and a great place to bring the family afterwards during the hot summer months! Franklin Park in Purcellville features a playground, ball fields, a public pool, performing arts center, multiple picnic spots, and fantastic views of the Blue Ridge. Temple Hall Farm Regional Park is a 286-acre working farm, on weekends join an interpreter for a farm tour or take a hayride. Stop by the country store for some picnic snacks before taking a walk by the babbling brook trail through the woods. In Leesburg take your picnic to the gardens and grounds of Morven Park; or to the enormous Ida Lee Park which features a huge recreation facility, indoor pools, basketball and racquetball courts, and over 370-acres of outdoor space.
Claude Moore Park has two fishing ponds as well as woodlands, wildflower meadows, wetlands, and fields. Visit to see the scenery and hike their trails, over 11 miles long in total! The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail links the tidal Potomac and upper Youghiogheny river basins with 710 miles of trails that can be traversed by foot, boat, bike or horse. You can also find miles of hiking trails along the 295 miles of Potomac River at White’s Ford Regional Park, follow the path guided by interpretive signs. Head to Bluemont for a short and easy hike through the woods to Hollow Brook Trail and you’ll be rewarded with a lovely little waterfall about a mile in.
Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve is 725-acres of wildlife, rolling hills, forest, streams, ponds, and goats that take care of eating the weeds and invasive species. Stop by the visitor’s center for a map of the preserve and their 20 miles of scenic trails to explore. Launch a boat at Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park to explore the Potomac River, Goose Creek, and the historic Elizabeth Mills canal lock system—river-tour style! Red Rock Wilderness Overlook Regional Park is 67 acres of hiking trails and panoramic views out over the Potomac. Head west to Bluemont to hike up Bears Den or Ravens Rocks to see some gorgeous scenic views over the valley. Both trails are through the “rollercoaster” section of the Appalachian Trail, with Ravens Rocks being the more challenging trail at 5.5 miles and through some steep paths (Bears Den is 1 mile long).
Take your family to experience some of these natural wonders of Northern Virginia! And then afterwards check out this other list we made of over 50 family-fun activities in the area!