Educator's Guide to Prince William Forest Park

children stand in front of cabin
Children of today learn in the same historic setting as children of the 1940s.

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About Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest Park has been providing recreation and respite for people, and habitat for plants and animals since its founding in the 1930s. Originally named Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area, Prince William Forest Park was an escape from the city for children and families of the Washington, DC area during the great depression. Over two hundred rustic buildings, arranged into cabin camps, housed these children and their families during summer ‘nature’ camps. Over 150 of those cabins still stand today within the 15,000 acres of forest-covered park, now the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

The park protects the largest example of eastern piedmont forest in the National Park System. Here you will find northern species such as Hemlock along with southern species such as Poplar and Virginia Pine. The park also protects a large portion of the Quantico Creek and its watershed. Scientists have used the Quantico Creek as a benchmark in water quality for the area.

For those interested in history, Prince William Forest Park also protects and interprets a history that stretches from Native Americans and Early Colonial Life to the Great Depression and World War II. Franklin Roosevelt’s “Tree Army”, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), constructed buildings, roads and lakes here during the 1930’s, including the 5 historic cabin camps. From 1942 to 1945, the United States Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA, used this land exclusively for the training of spies and radio operators. Since World War II, generations of Americans have spent their first night camping under the stars here at Prince William Forest Park.

Today, groups visiting Prince William Forest Park can use its 37 miles of hiking trails and 21 miles of bicycle-accessible roads and trails to experience this unique natural area and learn about the native Virginia plants and animals. Overnight trips can further student connections to this national treasure through group tent and cabin camping. If you're looking for lessons in history or the natural world, educational opportunities abound in Prince William Forest Park. Check out our list of programs to see what we offer for your group.

Special Request Programs

Any group can request a special ranger guided hike or program. This includes school and homeschool groups, civic organizations, senior groups, day care and more! For school and youth groups, Rangers will rely upon class instructors and chaparones to provide discipline and control as needed. There must be one adult chaparone for every 10 children. If you are unable to meet this guideline, please contact the Education Coordinator before your visit.

Only bonafide educational or scientific institutations qualify for a fee waiver for the program (see our note about Education Fee Waivers below). All other groups will have to pay the park entrance fee and follow all fee rules and guidelines. For more information about fees, visit our Fees & Passes page.
The National Park Service Rangers at Prince William Forest Park offer guided hikes, guest speakers for classroom, curriculum-based field trips to the park, and self-guided materials for use in the park. Find out more by visiting our list of Special Ranger Programs.

The park also has classrooms and facilities (such as picnic areas and overnight camping and cabins) that your group can use even if no ranger program is requested. See our section below on Park Facilities.
Within two weeks of receiving your special program request, you will receive notification as to whether your request has been accomodated. If the National Park Service can provide a program for you and y our students, you will recieve an Education Program Confirmation Form in the mail or by e-mail.

Upon reciept of your Education Program Confirmation, if you have any questions or conflicts please feel free to contact the Park Ranger listed on your form.

Facilities in the Park

Day-Use Facilities

The Prince William Forest Park Visitor Center is a great place to start your visit to the park. Its exhibits house museum artifacts from the park’s history and include hands-on activities for kids of all ages. The visitor center also houses a 30 person classroom with row seating, a large screen television with VCR and the availability of slide presentations. The park orientation video can be viewed here at any time, free of charge and is a great introduction to the park for your students. Contact: 703-221- 7181.
Pine Grove Picnic Area is available on a first-come, first serve basis. Located adjacent to the visitor center and less than 1 mile from the park entrance, this picnic area is the perfect place for a quick picnic lunch on your way into DC. This picnic area has a pavilion, picnic tables, a playground, bathrooms and grills.

The Telegraph Road Picnic Pavilion is a thirty foot by twenty foot roof-covered porous brick pad with twelve picnic tables (six of them wheelchair accessible), six cooking grills and electric outlets. It is adjacent to a comfort station with food-service sinks and flush toilets, and there is easy wheelchair access to the pavilion from the picnic area's 73 parking spaces. There are approximately twenty additional picnic tables scattered throughout the adjoining woods of Telegraph Road Picnic Area, most with its own grill. A short path leads to spacious William's Ballfield (available first come, first served), which is suitable for softball, volleyball, frisbee and other activities.

Telegraph Road Picnic Pavilion and comfort stations are closed for the season from November through Mid-April. The pavilion may be reserved for $80 per day on Recreation.gov. When not reserved, it is available without charge on a first come, first served basis from 9:00 a.m. to dusk. The park entrance fee is also required, unless you have an educational fee waiver. Please note: the educational fee waiver does NOT waive the cost of the pavilion, just the entrance fee.

Built with funds provided by park fees, the Telegraph Road Picnic Pavilion is a good example of how the National Park Service uses fee monies.

For more information, please e-mail the park visitor center, or call at 703-221-7181.

Overnight Facilities

Prince William Forest Park houses 5 different historic cabin camps built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 1940s. In the early days of public recreation, the park’s cabin camps were a model for national, state and local park facilities around the country. The cabin camps come equipped with electricity, running water and toilets, amphitheaters with fire pits, modern kitchens and mess halls.

For more information on rates and facilities, please visit our Cabin Camping page or call 703-221-5843. (Day use of the cabins is available at the cost of $125.00 per day). Contact: 703-221-5843.
Turkey Run Ridge Group Campground has 6 six group camp sites. Three of these sites can hold up to 25 campers. Three more sites can hold up to 40 campers. Each site has a fire pit and picnic tables and the campground has centralized restrooms.

An amphitheater is also available, free of charge to groups using the Turkey Run Ridge Group Campground. The amphitheatre includes benches and a large bonfire pit.

The Turkey Run Ridge Group Campground is located adjacent to the Turkey Run Education Center Classroom. Visit our Camping page or contact 703-221-7181.

Getting Your Group To The Park

Visit the park's Directions & Transportation page for detailed directions. You can also check out our Maps page for various maps including the overall park map. If you are visitng a cabin camp, please note that you may enter the park in a different entrance from the main park entrance. Visit the Cabin Camps page for cabin-specific directions.

A Note About Traffic
Please note that the main entrance to Prince William Forest Park is accessible only off of Route 619 - Joplin Road. This leaves the park subject to both morning and evening rush hour traffic problems. Please allow for rush hour traffic when planning your visit as rangers may not be able to extend your program to accomodate a late arrival.

The Park Entrance Fee & Educational Fee Waivers

Prince William Forest Park has an entrance fee for each vehicle entering the park. For more information and current fee prices, visit our Fees & Passes page.

This entrance fee can be waived if your group is accredited by an educational or scientific institution. Recreational visits (i.e. orienteering, hiking) are not covered by the waiver.

Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations and the National Park Service Recreation Fee Guidelines (NPS-22) state that an educational group requesting a waiver of entrance fees must meet the following requirements:

  • The group must provide documentation of official recognition as an educational institution by a federal, state or local government entity responsible for education or accreditation. School letterhead is generally considered sufficient documentation.
  • The group must state the purpose of their visit to Prince William Forest Park. The visit must relate directly to the resources of the park; the group must state specifically what they will study in the park and show how studying these park resources is part of their school curriculum. Lesson plans and course descriptions are useful in addressing these items.
  • At least two weeks in advance of your visit, draft a letter requesting a waiver of the park entrance fee that:
    • provides documentation of official recognition of your group as an educational institution by a federal, state or local government entity responsible for education or accreditation. Using official letterhead or attaching a copy of an accreditation letter is generally considered sufficient documentation.
    • states directly and specifically the purpose of your group’s visit to Prince William Forest Park. The visit must relate directly to the resources of the park. The group must state specifically what they will study in the park and show how studying these park resources is part of their school curriculum. Lesson plans and course descriptions are useful in addressing these items.
  • Send this letter along with any additional information to
    Education Program Coordinator
    Prince William Forest Park
    18100 Park Headquarters Road
    Triangle, VA 22172
  • Entrance fee waiver requests may also be faxed to the Education Program Coordinator’s attention at 703-221-3258. If you have further questions about entrance fees and fee waivers, please call the Education Program Coordinator at 703-221-7181.

 

Important Safety Information

For Ranger-led activities, please note the following:

• Ranger activities at Prince William Forest Park take place rain or shine. Please ensure that
your group is dressed for changes in weather.

• Unless separated into small groups by the Park Ranger, students must stay together as a group.

• Rangers will rely upon class instructors and chaperones to provide discipline and control as needed. There must be one adult chaperone for every 10 children. If you are unable to meet this guideline, please contact the Education Coordinator before your visit.

• Students will not be allowed to join a Ranger-led hike without closed-toe shoes.

• It is essential that students bring their own drinking water on any Ranger-led hikes over 1 hour in length. Drink machines are available at the visitor center in an emergency. There are no food machines within the park.
For self-guided activities, please note the following:

• Please bring a well-stocked First-Aid kit with you.

• Cellular phones do not work in all areas of the park. Please bring your cellular phone with you on your visit. However, in case your cellular phone does not work please take the following precautions:
• Always check-in to the park’s visitor center upon your arrival. Let them know how many are in your group, where you are going in the park and when you should return.
• Inform someone from your educational institution of your visit to Prince William
Forest Park and instruct them as to what time your expect to return. Give them the
park’s Emergency Dispatch telephone number to call in case you do not return within a
reasonable time -1-866-677-6677.

• Any emergencies while conducting a self-guided program should be reported immediately to the National Park Service Emergency Dispatch at 1-866-677-6677 or to 911.

• If you are truly lost, keep all members of your group together. Sit down, relax and wait for someone to contact you.

• Students should be prepared for their time in Prince William Forest Park. Measures include:
• Dressing for weather changes
• Bringing their own drinking water and snacks
• Bringing insect repellant with them.
• Bringing with them any medical necessities (medications etc..)
Ticks are common in Prince William Forest Park. They are usually found in grassy and bushy areas in the Spring, Summer and Autumn. Stay on trail and ensure that students have their parents conduct a “tick check” on their clothes, hairline, ankle and foot area when they go home. Individuals attending the park should use insect or tick repellant as recommended by a medical professional.

Poison Ivy is ever-present in Prince William Forest Park. It has shiny leaves in groups of three and grows either as a shrub or on a fuzzy vine. “Leaves of three, let it be” is good advice for students. Wash with soap and water after contact.

Snakes are an essential part of the Prince William Forest Park ecosystem. Do not purposely approach any snakes within the park. If you encounter a snake on a trail, either go around it at a wide circumference or back-track. Snakes often rest on rocks to enjoy the sun, or hide in cool, damp places to stay cool. Please tell your groups not to reach under logs and rocks unless inspecting the area first.
 

Protecting The Park During Your Visit

As a unit of the National Park Service, Prince William Forest Park protects natural and historic resources that belong to all generations of Americans. Your groups are an important part of keeping Prince William Forest Park pristine for future generations.

  • Please take measures to prevent any littering during your groups visit

  • Any vandalism, graffitti or defacement of the resources within Prince William Forest Park will be prosecuted.

  • Consider adding volunteering or litter pick-up to your group's visit as a service opportunity!

 

Bridging The Watershed

Ranger and Educator guided
2 to 3 hours

Prince William Forest Park is one of 13 units of the National Park Service that provides school students with real life scientific field studies. Teacher training provided. Visit the
Bridging the Watershed website for more information. Ask about Mine Over Matter, our park specific curriculum that explores the history of the pyrite mine and scientific efforts to reclaim the damaged site. Programs usually run 2 to 3 hours and must be coordinated through the Alison Ferguson Foundation. This program is limited to organized educational institutions.


View our
List of Programs page to view all the programs your group can request.

Last updated: November 15, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

18100 Park Headquarters Road
Triangle, VA 22172

Phone:

(703) 221-7181

Contact Us