This hike is divided into two sections, enabling hikers to walk the county in two days. The first section takes hikers through Quantico National Cemetery and Prince William Forest Park, then follows suburban sidewalks to the Julie J. Metz Wetlands Bank, just east of Route 1. The second section moves north on trail and sidewalk to the Town of Occoquan.
First section. The walk through Prince William County begins in Quantico National Cemetery, following the access road. North of Joplin Road, the route enters Prince William Forest Park and traces stream valleys and wildlands through the length of the park. Beyond the park, this route follows suburban sidewalks en route to parks and wildlife areas along the Potomac River. The juxtaposition of the three experiences reveals a lot about conservation and community—the Cemetery’s solemn air, the park’s rugged woodlands and historical sites, and the sidewalks through the everyday. If, like most people, you don’t plan to walk the entire County (at least not all at once!), consider walking this section north to south leaving time to linger in Quantico National Cemetery.
Second section. Many of the connections between parks and open space east of Route 1 are still in planning and development. This guide takes you as close as practical to such points of interest as Leesylvania State Park and Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but in the interest of offering a continuous walking route does not go through them. Still, there is plenty of contact with water and trail. If walking the entire PHT route is not on your agenda, explore the points of interest along the way, moving by bicycle, boat or car in between.
Start: Quantico National Cemetery. The hike begins from the parking area off Russell Road south the cemetery and just west of I-95. Traveling by car south on I-95, take Exit 148 and turn right on Russell Road. Take an immediate right onto a gravel road and park just outside the fence of Quantico Marine Corps Base
Midpoint: Julia J. Metz Neabsco Creek Wetlands Preserve (daytime trailhead parking available)
End: Town of Occoquan
Points of Interest: Quantico National Cemetery, Prince William Forest Park, Leesylvania State Park, Julie J. Metz Neabsco Creek Wetlands Preserve, Veterans Park, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, town of Occoquan
Parking: See “Points of Interest;” also, VRE stations on weekends street parking along the way
Water, Restrooms: Locust Shade Park, Prince William Forest Park visitor center, Veterans Park, Occoquan, Leesylvania State Park
Provisions: Locust Shade Park Golf Course Cafe, Occoquan, businesses along Route 1
Camping: Prince William Forest Park, Leesylvania State Park (group camping only)
||The road that climbs the hill east (right) of the trailhead leads into the cemetery. Climb the hill on the road, keeping right of the Marine base fence. Stay on the road! In about a quarter mile, you will pass two small office buildings, then further you will pass the cemetery support complex.
||Enter cemetery grounds.
||Pass through traffic circle and continue north on Quantico Drive (to the left as you approach the circle).
||Turn right at traffic circle on Yorktown Blvd.
||Exit Quantico National Cemetery; turn right on Route 619 (Joplin Rd.)
||Turn left into Prince William Forest Park. Continue past entrance station.
||Turn left into Pine Grove picnic area (for visitor center, continue on park road another 150 yards). From parking area, follow Laurel Trail west (left) loop.
||Cross South Branch Quantico Creek, turn left on white-blazed South Valley Trail. Follow the trail as it meanders along the creek, then crosses Scenic Drive twice.
||Turn right on Taylor Farm Rd. Over the next 1.5 miles, pass junctions with Meadows Trail, Old Black Top Road, and Scenic Drive (north of which the trail is called Burma Road).
||Turn left on Pleasant Rd. and follow to Travel Trailer Village.
||Exit Prince William Forest Park, turn right along roadway and cross Dumfries Road (Route 234) onto dirt road at John F Pattie Elementary School. Follow the school road into Anne Moncur Wall Park, then walk around ball fields. Turn right on Waterway Drive and follow sidewalk.
||Turn right on Northgate Drive, which becomes Beacon Drive.
||Beacon Drive ends at Cardinal Drive (there is pedestrian access to Cardinal, but not vehicle access). Turn right and follow sidewalk.
||Cross I-95; continue on Cardinal Drive.
||Cross Route 1 (Jefferson Davis Highway); end of first section.
Future plans for the Potomac Heritage Trail include a trail along Powell's Creek connecting to at PHT segment in Leesylvania State Park, a boardwalk across Neabsco Creek connecting the Metz Wetlands Preserve and Rippon Landing Park. The Metz Wetlands is a logical midpoint for dividing this hike into two sections. To continue on the PHT, turn left on Route 1 and follow the sidewalk.
||Turn right on Blackburn Road.
||Follow path along right of treeline. You are following a sewer right of way - sounds odd but it's a nice walk away from the road, and the view of Nabsco Creek and the Metz Wetlands are very nice.
||Just as Neabsco Creek widens, veer right and watch for trail to turn left into Rippon Landing Community Park. Follow nature trail north.
||There are picnic tables and a pavilion. From the pavilion, return to sidewalk along Blackburn Road and turn right. Then turn right on Rippon Boulevard. For the next 1.6 miles, follow sidewalks and, for a short section, the shoulder of the street through the community.
||Farm Creek Drive and Virginia Rail Express Rippon Station. In the future, the trail will follow a woods path east of the rail line, on land owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For now, turn left on Farm Creek Drive - but don't look for farms! The next mile of this interim route passes through an industrial park. There is ample space for pedestrians along the roadside. To the right, you can see the treeline of the future PHT route.
||Turn right on Featherstone Road.
||Cross railroad track and bear left, following sidewalk, still on Featherstone Road.
||Featherstone becomes Veterans Drive. Shortly after, enter Veterans Park. Follow the park road past tidal pond on left.
||Turn right on nature path, which parallels park road north.
||Rejoin park road, turn right. The park office and parking lot are left a hundred yards. The park road ends in a cul de sac and the trail continues on a dirt path, with the wildlife refuge on the right.
||Pass through gate and continue on path toward industrial buildings.
||Enter industrial park and turn right on Highams Court.
||Turn left on Dawson Beach Road and follow through industrial area (Woodbridge VRE station is to the north of the road).
||Cross Route 1 (Jefferson Davis Highway) and follow sidewalk along Route 253 (Occoquan Road).
||Cross under I-95 and continue on sidewalk.
||Cross Old Bridge Road.
Quantico National Cemetery
The U.S. Marine Corps presence on the Potomac River at Quantico is as real a part of the river’s heritage as Colonial tobacco plantations. It seems only fitting that a pathway recognizing the heritage of “the Nation’s River” should traverse a cemetery dedicated to the Marine Corps. It is a peaceful, beautiful landscape, lending itself to contemplation and offering opportunity to express quiet gratitude to those whose service affords us the privilege—so rare in this world—to think of lofty ideas like conservation and heritage.
Prince William Forest Park
The park preserves one of the best examples of Piedmont forest. So close to Washington, D.C., there is no other place offering such abundant hiking, fishing, camping, cabins and wildlife watching. The park also tells the story of conservation in the U.S. Like most wildlands in the Eastern U.S., this place once was settled by farmers, miners and merchants. Beginning with the 17th century tobacco trade and ending with the Great Depression’s subsistence farmers, the recorded human history has largely been supplanted by hardwood forest. Even the forest is an act of human intervention—during the 1930s, crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps reforested the land as a recreation respite for the growing city. The city has now grown to its boundaries, but, except for the Marine Corps training maneuvers overhead, all remains quite in the woods.
Julie J. Mets Neabsco Creek Wetlands Preserve
We’ve all heard how important wetlands are to the health of waterways. Ever wondered how they really work? This is the first wetlands bank in Northern Virginia, designed and constructed to mitigate the loss of wetlands elsewhere. There are two miles of trails, interpretive signs and brochures describing the natural systems of wetlands. Plus, the views of the creek and wildlife will make you forget you’re only a half mile from U.S. 1. The wetlands bank also provides a vital link to the PHT—a boardwalk is planned to cross Neabsco Creek, linking to Blackburn Road and Rippon Landing Community Park. The site is named for Julie J. Metz, a scientist who led efforts to create federal wetlands banks.
Leesylvania State Park
This 508-acre park typifies the heritage experience along the PHT: it is part nature, part cultural history, part conservation story. Situated on a peninsula called Freestone Point, it the birthplace of Light Horse Harry Lee, a Revolutionary War hero and the father of General Robert E. Lee, commander of the army of the Confederated States of America. It contains several miles of trails, stunning contact with the Potomac River and Neabsco and Powells creeks, history exhibits and remnants of centuries old structures. The park offers group camping by reservation.
Featured as the final destination along this hike, Occoquan is in itself reason enough for a 17-mile walk. To the Dogue Indians, it was the “end of the water.” This is likely a reference to the village’s proximity to the Potomac River—or, the end of the Occoquan. Standing on the village’s pedestrian bridge over the Occoquan, it’s easy see why the Dogue called the river home. The river is navigable for small craft and large enough to provide a stable food source. It has the added advantage of being downright picturesque. In the mid 18th century, it boomed with milling operations utilizing the substantial fall of the river into tidewater. That combination of water power for milling and port access to the Potomac turned Occoquan into a vibrant economic center. All manner of goods and agricultural products left from Occoquan bound for ports along the eastern seaboard. Today, the town’s history and charm are its principle assets. There are museums, galleries, eateries, and streets to stroll.