I may be raising a young Virginian, but I am actually a born and raised New Yorker. I grew up three miles from the Long Island Sound, and I spent hundreds of childhood evenings going for after-dinner walks at the waterfront beach and nature sanctuary near my home. It wasn’t until I went to college in landlocked southcentral Pennsylvania that I realized how accustomed I was to living near the water. It turns out that those waterside walks were a calming practice for me – almost meditative, in fact. I’ll walk or hike anywhere, but my favorite excursions or destinations always involve water. Fortunately, my daughter and husband are always up for a waterside stroll.
While I miss the windy, brackish air of the Sound, I consider myself lucky to live in a place where rivers, creeks, lakes, and wetlands are within easy driving (and in some case, walking) distance. There are too many to list in one post, so I thought I’d focus on the places we’ve visited in the last week or so.
We ended up at Occoquan Regional Park by accident, after our most recent trip to Fantasy Playground in Woodbridge proved it to be way too crowded for social distancing. We decided to forgo the playground plan in favor of a spot on the way home where we could go for a walk and do some exploring. Occoquan Regional Park is right off of Route 123 in Lorton, on the Fairfax County side of the Occoquan River (the area south of the river is in Prince William County). It is home to several fully paved and easily accessible trails that run along woodlands, open fields, and the river. One of the trails is even a clearly marked 5K loop, making it a great spot for jogging. Other attractions include a boat launch with seasonal kayak rentals, beach volleyball courts, a café, a special event venue, and a historic brick kiln.
We thoroughly enjoyed strolling along the water and walking out onto the fishing docks to view the historic town of Occoquan across the river. The park was not crowded when we visited on a beautiful Black Friday afternoon, and social distancing was incredibly easy. This would definitely make a nice place to boat in warm weather, and a good location to let the kids run around before or after a trip to the village of Occoquan (we like Madigan’s Waterfront restaurant if you ever visit Occoquan at lunch or dinner time – great outdoor riverfront dining).
I am embarrassed to admit that in spite of living in Northern Virginia for the past 13.5 years, this weekend was the first time we visited Huntley Meadows Park. I’ve always wanted to go, but it is on the opposite end of the county from us, and it requires taking the Dulles Toll Road and nearly the entire Virginia side of the beltway before driving through several miles of Alexandria neighborhoods – not exactly an easy ride for anyone familiar with NoVA traffic patterns. Still, I was motivated to get us there while we had some nice weather. This place was definitely worth the wait. Home to a large expanse of beaver-constructed wetlands, the park is known for its boardwalk trails that criscross over the marshy water. Wildlife abounds here, from birds soaring overhead to tadpoles chasing each other in the murky water below. The boardwalk makes you feel like you are walking on water, and a two-story observation deck gives expansive views of the whole park.
Between the gentle breeze and the picturesque setting, I was truly in my element. I really wish this park was closer to home, because I could totally see us going here all the time. Huntley Meadows Park is by far one of the prettiest spots in all of Fairfax County.
So many of our outdoor adventures take place along the Potomac River, and Scott’s Run is no exception. Located in McLean, VA, just up the road from Clemyjontri Park, this Nature Preserve is composed of a network of trails that lead to the river via a patch of hilly woodlands. Its namesake is Scott’s Run, the creek that winds through the preserve until it reaches the Potomac, where it tumbles over the rocky banks in a charming waterfall. The Nature Preserve can be accessed via two small parking lots on Georgetown Pike, and we prefer the larger of the two, which is located at the intersection of Swinks Mill Road and Georgetown Pike. After parking there, follow the flat trail to the right of the creek. At two different points, the creek will cut through the trail, requiring you to hop across it on a series of manmade stepping stools. After you make your way across the water the second time, hike up the hill in front of you. When you get to the top, walk down the hill via the wide stony trail on the left. At the base of the hill, you will find the waterfall, some fun rock scrambling spots, and lovely views of the Potomac.
The photos above were taken a few months ago, because when we went yesterday we were surprised to find the extent to which a recent rainfall had affected the water level in Scott’s Run.
In fact, the stepping stones were nearly submerged, making it impossible to cross the water without risking being knocked over by the strong current.
We settled for walking along the rapidly passing water and listening to the swishing sound it made as it sped by us. Then we headed up the staircase in the parking lot to wander along one of the trails on higher ground.
We could have taken the trails from this part of the park down to the river and approached the waterfall that way, but that would have required more of a hike than we had time for. We come here all the time, though, so it won’t be long before we visit our favorite local waterfall once again!
These are just a small handful of the many waterside locales at our disposal in Northern Virginia. I will try and highlight some of our other favorites in future posts. Do you have a favorite water destination in this (or any other) area? Let me know in the comments!