One of the perks of living in NOVA, and even DC for that matter, is access to a variety of pristine natural and historical environments. Fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year in Virginia, and traveling throughout the northern part of the Commonwealth during this season offers an abundance of dramatic colors, perfect for all these Instagram and Facebook selfies. Virginia’s woodlands, famously blue mountains, and scenic byways are a must-see when fall foliage is at its fiery peak.
The fall hikes in Northern Virginia that Larson Fine Properties are recommending, are perfect when the weather turns cooler and dryer. To add some extra fun, some of these hikes can be combined with a visit to great Virginia wineries and quaint towns. For many Virginians and visitors, hiking is a great way to celebrate the fall, and we’re really lucky to have lots of beautiful hiking trails in the area.
It is also good to remember that while these trails are especially pretty with the abundance of dramatic colors in the fall, they are enjoyable all year-round.
1. Potomac Hike: Riverbend to Great Falls Park
The Potomac Heritage Trail in Riverbend Park and adjacent Great Falls Park brings you up close to a scenic section of the Potomac River. Riverbend Park is a popular place for fishing, kayaking, and hiking with over 10 miles of trails. There are trails for all levels, and some are available for horseback riding and mountain biking.
Once back at Riverbend, enjoy a bite to eat in the picnic area and explore the River by kayak. Be careful, though, not to drift too far downstream and into the falls that serve as the namesake for the area. Kayak rentals are available outside of the Visitor Center.
2. Mason Neck State Park
Mason Neck State Park, just south of Fort Belvoir in the Lorton VA area, is a treasure of 10 hiking trails passing through diverse scenery and flora, with bay, woods, and marsh views. Mostly flat, this park is the perfect location for a weekend picnic and hike, and suitable for all skill levels. Mason Neck State Park covers 1,825 acres, and is one of several wildlife and recreation areas in Mason Neck, with a total area dedicated to wildlife management and recreation of over 6.400 acres.
This is a good spot to view bald eagles and herons so bring your binoculars. If time allows, you can also walk the paved, 3/4-mile Great Marsh Trail, accessible from Gunston Road.
3. Manassas National Battlefield
Manassas National Battlefield Park encompasses nearly 5,100 acres of land and includes more than 40 miles of hiking trails. The park has developed a series of loop trails that traverse key areas of the First and Second Manassas Battlefields. Many of these recommended routes include trailside interpretive markers describing the battle action that occurred and highlighting the experiences of soldiers and civilians alike.
Opportunities exist for both short and extended hikes, so options are available to fit your interest and ability. Before setting out on your hike, stop by the park visitor center to obtain a trail map.
4. Burke Lake
Burke Lake Trail is a 4.8 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Springfield, Virginia that features a lake and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
According to the American Hiking Society, Burke Lake Park boasts one of the 10 best fitness trails in the nation, in or near a major metropolitan area (close enough to use before or after work or on lunch hours) with portions that can be completed in 60-90 minutes. This is a mixed-use trail for walkers, hikers, runners, and bicyclists. The trail runs from concrete to gravel to dirt and is well maintained.
5. Bull Run – Occoquan Trail
Located adjacent to Atlantis Waterpark, the Bull Run Occoquan Trail is the longest natural surface trail at 19.7 miles, also known as the blue trail, connects Bull Run, Hemlock Overlook, Bull Run Marina and Fountainhead Regional Parks.
Perfect for hikers or those on horseback, this incredible path takes visitors through more than 5,000 acres of scenic woodlands. Including one of the region’s richest untapped historic resources. The entrance at Bull Run is particularly notable, as it features over a mile of boardwalk path, which keeps users out of the mud and standing water that can form during the winter and spring. The trail keeps users along the water during this stage and eventually crossing over a wooden platform bridge.
Visitors to this segment of the trail can also see various types of plants and local wildlife, including Great Blue Heron, which frequently hunts along the Occoquan in this area. Hikers should be advised to bring proper footwear and gear, plenty of water and light snacks.
6. The Pinnacle and Mary’s Rock, Shenandoah National Park
Mary’s Rock is just south of the Thornton Gap Entrance in Shenandoah National Park’s Central District. This write-up details the hike from the Meadow Spring Parking area, which is but the shortest route to the summit. Other routes start from the Panorama parking area (3.7 miles round trip), Jewell Hollow Overlook (6 miles round trip) and Buck Hollow parking area (9 miles round trip). The Meadow Spring option is, which is a great choice when hiking to see the sunset.
Across the street from the parking area, the trail begins 50 yards south along Skyline Drive. The Meadow Spring Trail is marked with blue blazes and is easy to follow. Most of your elevation gain will be on this first stretch of the hike, which is 0.6 miles in length. After reaching the junction with the Appalachian Trail, turn right and follow the white blazes. Turn left at the next intersection and follow the trail for a short walk to the summit, where you will find a 180-degree view that includes the Shenandoah Valley, surrounding mountains, and the Thornton Gap Entrance. The rock outcropping is a great place for a picnic. It is also one of the best places in the park to watch the sunset. To return, retrace your steps back to the parking area (be mindful of the trail junctions; you can easily miss a turn and end up at the wrong parking area!)
7. Little Stony Man and Stony Man, Shenandoah National Park
At 4,011 feet, the Stony Man summit is the second-tallest peak and one of the most-visited places in Shenandoah National Park. If you hike from the Little Stony Man Trailhead you will pass over Little Stony Man Cliffs, which are just as beautiful as the summit. The route is a 3-mile out-and-back hike, with an elevation gain of around 785 feet. Parking for this trail is located directly off of Skyline Drive at milepost 39.1.
Little Stony Man Cliffs offers spectacular views over the town of Luray, the Massanutten Range, and Skyline Drive. This is also a popular place for rock climbing aficionados, you will see fixed ropes and anchors hanging from the cliffs. Like the rest of Shenandoah, there is plenty of wildlife sightings, such as woodpeckers, chipmunks, or white-tailed deer. Peregrine falcons can also be spotted on the cliffs of both Stony Man and Little Stony Man.
On summer and fall weekends, it can get crowded. An early start is a great way to minimize the crowds and perhaps find some solitude. The park can be accessed with a National Parks Annual Pass or by obtaining a seven-day single-vehicle entry pass.
8. Prince William National Forest, Dumfries
Choose your preferred distance and whether to focus on the park’s nature or history and stop at the Visitor Center for advice on the best trail options.
Many hikers combine portions of the Laurel and South Valley Trails, with the Pyrite Mine and North Orenida Roads, to create a 4-5 mile loop hike that is especially stunning in the colorful fall foliage.
If you are interested in knowing more about the Real Estate market in Northern Virginia, please register and you’ll have the opportunity to see up-to-date listings, explore homes, and receive e-alerts and expert assistance in the process of buying or selling a home.