Explore the PHT
See Virginia Hike 1.
Occoquan Regional Park
This 400-acre park tries to offer a little bit to everyone, serving up everything from batting cages to boat ramps. But its main attraction for hikers are views of the Occoquan from the wooded path above the river, the remains of a brick kiln and a curious graveyard about which little is known. Thought by some to be the resting place of a Selectman family (that was their name, not their position), it is not known whether the remains were moved to a new site, as outlined in the deed of sale to the Holt family, or whether they are buried there still. Or it may be the gravesite of a Hogue Indian chief, as described in a fascinating Web site called Cemeteries of Fairfax County. The PHT hike through the park described in this guide uses a portion of a self-guided, well-marked loop. For a relaxing sojourn, couple a hike here with a visit to the town of Occoquan. Closed November 29 through March 12.
Gunston Hall Plantation
The 500-acre heritage area is the epicenter of George Mason, a Virginia patriot and a formative leader in American politics. One of the most influential thinkers in U.S. political history, Mason, because he shunned public life, less known than his Commonwealth compatriots outside Virginia. Most of the preserved land on Mason Neck were part of the Mason estate. Gunston Hall’s gardens and nature trail leading to the Potomac River are open to the public.
Pohick Bay Regional Park
Pohick Bay just might be the perfect place for hikers to trade in their boots for paddles. If you don’t own a kayak, rent one here and take a lesson. If you’re hiking the entire PHT in Fairfax County, plan to camp here.
Mason Neck State Park
Surrounded by water and Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge, Mason Neck Park offers what few Potomac-area waterfront parks do: both intimate contact with the water and a total emphasis on nature and solitude. The park also tells an inspiring conservation story. After bald eagles were sighted in the area in the mid 1960s, the Mason Neck Conservation Committee began advocating protection for the peninsula. The Nature Conservancy and the Commonwealth of Virginia teamed up for the purchase of the parcel, with assistance from federal grants. But efforts to protect the peninsula didn’t end so quickly. Proposals for an airport, a highway, gas pipeline, landfill and sewer line were all raised and resisted by Mason Neck Conservation Committee and the friends it corralled. Mason Neck State Park opened to the public in April 1985.
Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has become an important conservation partner along the shores of the Potomac. The agency has cooperated on major land purchases on both sides of the river. Meadowood, on Mason Neck, was purchased in 2001. It contains about 800 acres and has several miles of footpaths and multi-purpose trails. Accotink Wildlife Refuge. Located within the boundaries of Fort Belvoir, the refuge is managed by the U.S. Army. While this translates into the uncommon experience of entering the area accompanied by assorted vehicles that support a military installation, the refuge is all about wildlife and hiking. The trails are open to foot travel only—an increasing rarity in the Washington, D.C. region—and the only sounds coming from Accotink Bay are the winds and fowl. About the only way to improve upon the experience would be to establish a route for the Potomac Heritage Trail through the refuge so that it could be accessed by through-hikers and others without the need to rely on a car. Open year round, dawn to dusk. The environmental education center is open April through October, Wednesday-Sunday, 10 am until 6 pm.