When a Boy Scout mom wrote to the Park Authority for some ideas on where her son could take the long hikes needed to earn a Merit Badge, the agency’s Trails and Infrastructure Coordinator, Beth Iannetta, came up with plenty of suggestions.
If you’re looking for a hike of 15 to 20 miles or more, consider taking some of her advice.
• The Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail, also known as the Fairfax CCT, is an amazing achievement for a well-populated area like Fairfax County. Over 40 miles long, it crosses the entire county, from the Potomac River in the north to the Occoquan River in the south, passing through many of Fairfax County’s best parks along the way. We particularly like the northernmost segment from Leigh Mill Road to the Potomac River.
• The Bull Run – Occoquan Trail follows the Bull Run Stream Valley and Occoquan Reservoir along the western edge of Fairfax County. The trail is 18 miles long, beginning at Bull Run Regional Park in the north and ending at Fountainhead Regional Park in the south. The trail, which is a gem in the NOVA Parks collection, offers a chance to enjoy nature and history as it meanders through woodlands, fields, and along the water’s edge. For an easy hike next to Bull Run, join the trail in charming Clifton. The hike from Fountainhead Regional Park to Bull Run Marina is a nice hilly, wooded segment of the trail.
• The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHT) is a network of trails extending over 800 miles through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC. Fairfax County contributes much of its Potomac riverfront to the PHT including Seneca Tract to Great Falls in the north, and Alexandria to Mount Vernon in the east. Favorite hikes on the PHT include:
o Seneca Tract from the eastern edge of Loudoun County to Riverbend Park is a nice stretch accessed from woodland trails in the park.
o The mostly flat trail north from the Riverbend Park Visitor Center is especially gorgeous when bluebells and other spring wildflowers are in bloom. Head south from the center for a rockier, but easy hike to Great Falls Park.
o The PHT follows the River Trail through Great Falls Park on a sometimes steep segment with incredible views of the falls and Mather Gorge.
o Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is popular for a short hike to a nice waterfall, but it also offers a pretty, moderately challenging section of the PHT.
o Turkey Run and Potomac Overlook Parks both include trails that connect to the PHT and beautiful river views close to DC.
• On the Virginia side of the Potomac, the popular Mount Vernon Trail offer 18 miles of paved trail from Theodore Roosevelt Island south to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Most of the trail is independent, but there is a street segment through downtown Alexandria. The trail is narrow and extremely popular with bikers, so pedestrians and runners need to be careful. Most of the trail is level, with great views of the river and DC, but the southernmost mile is a steady climb. There’s a beautiful boardwalk section heading south along Dyke Marsh, so Belle Haven is a good starting point for walkers.