Northern Virginia: Quantico National Cemetery to White's Ferry
Journalist Charles Kuralt wrote that if you want to see America, stay off the interstate highways. Though it may seem difficult to get away from highways in Northern Virginia, with this guide you can experience the area through an altogether different lens.
In Prince William and Fairfax counties, you will see large tracts of public land, much of it along the Potomac River and its principal tributaries. There are towns and river communities built in a way that showcases the landscape. Fairfax has preserved many of its stream valleys, enabling the creation of nature parks. In Loudoun County, the Potomac Heritage Trail is being cobbled together foot by foot—a remarkable feat given the county’s status as one of the fastest growing in the U.S.
Imagine how the Potomac’s character changes from Mason Neck to National Airport, from Roosevelt Island to Turkey Run, then Great Falls to Riverbend Park and northwest to White’s Ferry. Then imagine seeing those changes unfold in slow motion. In baseball, great hitters claim to see the rotating seams of a ball traveling at 90 miles per hour, and know by its motion where the ball will be as it arrives at the plate. The Potomac reveals itself frame by frame too. Only by foot, pedal or paddle will you be able to watch the river grow and appreciate what it carries to the Chesapeake Bay and the sea.
Nature is a star attraction of the hiking experience along the river in Northern Virginia, but history shares high popularity. With names such as Washington, Mason, and Lee enshrined along the river, this is no surprise. But there also are the names of marines buried at Quantico National Battlefield, and farmers who scratched out a living in what is now Prince William Forest Park, and the millers and shippers who created the once bustling port at Occoquan. Their stories are revealed along the route.
When you walk along the river, you also become aware that every place we now enjoy—each park, preserve and footpath, and often the sidewalk—is the result of a lot of hard work by people, usually unpaid, who cared enough to get involved and stay engaged. There are also the people who have donated land and easements (or sold them at bargains) so that we can see the river the way they have. The Potomac Heritage Trail is their story too.
The seven hikes described here suggest a continuous route for those so inclined, although there are clear gaps, especially in southern Fairfax County and between Scott's Run and Great Falls.
U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir
Arlington County Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Resources
Fairfax County Park Authority
Fort Marcy Park
Friends of Prince William Forest Park
George Washington Memorial Parkway
Gunston Hall Plantation
Leesylvania State Park
Loudoun County Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services
Mason Neck State Park
Last updated: July 28, 2017