14 Best Hikes in Northern Virginia

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If you’re looking for the best hikes in Northern Virginia, you’re in luck! There are a surprising number of fantastic and diverse hikes throughout the area. 

Many of these hikes are located in Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax County. Some of them are just minutes away from DC and include some of the best hikes in Virginia near DC!

One of my favorite weekend activities is going on one of the many hiking trails in Virginia. These hikes range in difficulty from easy to hard, depending on your interest and comfort level. 

Many of the best hikes in the area will take you through peaceful forests, through open fields of wildflowers, along the shores of the Potomac River, and even right next to beautiful waterfalls! 

Map of the 14 Best Hikes in Northern Virginia

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14 Best Hikes in Northern Virginia

Below are some of my top recommendations for the best hikes in Northern Virginia.

1. Gerry Connolly Cross-County Trail (Fairfax County, VA)

The Gerry Connolly Cross-County Trail is one of the top hiking trails in Northern Virginia. It is 40 miles long and travels through the entirety of Fairfax County. 

Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail - one of the best hikes in Northern Virginia

The trail end points are located at Great Falls National Park (near Difficult Run) and the Occoquan River at Occoquan Regional Park. 

Along the way, the trail covers a wide variety of terrain. Parts of it take you through peaceful forests and streams, while other parts stop at lakes like Lake Mercer. 

The trail is popular among walkers, hikers, runners, bicyclists, and mountain bikers. Many parts of the trail are paved, but some parts are dirt. 

I have personally walked on parts of the trail many times. Some of my favorite sections are near Pohick Creek in Springfield. The trail itself runs along the creek, which means you’ll be treated to gorgeous water views and water sounds along the way. It’s so peaceful!

You’re also likely to spot a lot of wildlife along the trail, particularly in the wooded areas. I often see many deer, including bucks and fawns, foxes (including baby foxes!), butterflies, woodpeckers, and falcons. 

Less frequently, you might also see owls, snakes, frogs, and turtles. On a few occasions, I also saw raccoons. 

The trail varies in difficulty but is generally easy. 

One of the negatives of the trail is that, because it is so long, there are sections that cross major roads. There is generally always a safe intersection to cross, but use caution when crossing traffic. 

2. Burke Lake Park (Fairfax Station, VA)

Burke Lake Park is one of the most popular parks in Fairfax County. The lake itself is actually 218 acres in size, making it the largest lake in the county. 

The park is popular among families. It includes a train that you can ride through the park, plus a merry-go-round, and many picnic areas. Rowboats are also popular to take out on the lake. There is also a frisbee golf course in the park. 

Within the park itself, there is a main trail that runs along the perimeter of the lake. It is about 4.7 miles in length. The trail is dirt and generally flat and easy to walk. 

Along the way, you’ll be traveling through thick wooded areas, as well as more open areas right along the water’s edge. There are some lovely places along the way where you can stop and take in the water views and wildlife. 

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1. Mountain Top 40L Hiking Backpack. This is my go-to favorite backpack! I’ve brought it all over the world. It has a rain cover, lots of room, plus it’s super durable and comfy.
2. Running Belt Waist Pack. For smaller hikes, this pack is a great way to bring your cell phone along for the journey. It’s thin and sleek.
3. Trekking Sticks. For more strenuous hikes, these walking sticks fold up for compact and easy travel.
4. Liquid I.V. This miracle powder will keep you hydrated in even the hottest conditions. Just mix with water.
5. Off Deep Woods Insect Repellant. The perfect weapon to keep pesky mosquitos away.

3. Lake Accotink Park (Springfield, VA)

Lake Accotink Park is similar to Burke Lake Park, but smaller in size. The park includes picnic areas, peddle boat rentals, kayak rentals, and even a miniature golf course. 

Lake Accotink Park Trail - one of the best hikes in Northern Virginia

There is also a four-mile loop trail that runs around the lake. The trail leads through woods, over bridges, and along the edge of the lake. 

Some parts of the trail lead into nearby neighborhoods, which can get a little confusing to navigate. 

If you continue around the lake and head north, away from the lake, the trail will actually continue along Accotink Creek. 

At one point, the trail travels under Braddock Road. If you continue even further up north, you will soon reach Audrey Moore Rec Center, which is one of the major Rec Centers in Fairfax County. It includes an Olympic-sized indoor pool, basketball court, gym, racquetball courts, and even a skate park. 

Audrey Moore Rec Center is also a popular place for cyclists to meet and go cycling on the trail. 

The trails are all generally paved, flat, and easy. 

4. Lake Mercer Park (Fairfax Station, VA)

Lake Mercer Park features one of the best short hikes in Northern Virginia. The lake is smaller than some of the other lakes in the county, but it is another great one to hike around. The lake is not far from Burke Lake Park. 

Lake Mercer Park - lake and fall trees

There is a paved path that runs around the lake and then through the woods around the lake. 

If you continue about a mile northeast, you will eventually reach South Run Rec Center, which is another major rec center in Fairfax County. And if you continue northeast from South Run, you can actually reach Burke Lake Park.

5. Huntley Meadows Park (Alexandria, VA)

Huntley Meadows Park is a nice park to explore in Alexandria. It is located near Franconia Rec Center. 

There are several parking lots to enter the park, including one at 3701 Lockheed Blvd. There is another parking lot at South Kings Highway and Telegraph Rd. 

The park has about 2 miles of dirt trails in the woods. The centerpiece of the park is the large man-made pond in the middle. Many of the trails lead to this pond and feature observation decks where you can see the many species of birds and waterfowl that are common in the wetlands. 

When visiting, particularly in the hotter summer months, definitely remember to bring bug spray! I went once and got eaten alive by mosquitoes! It made what would have otherwise been a lovely hike a scratchy unbearable mess!

The trails are generally easy and flat.   

6. Manassas National Battlefield Park (Manassass, VA)

Manassas National Battlefield Park is one of the best hiking destinations in Northern Virginia. It includes more than 40 miles of hiking trails. There are also horseback riding trails in the park. 

Stone Bridge at Manassas National Battlefield Park

When you arrive at the park, drive up to the parking lot at the Henry Hill Visitor Center. Inside the center, you will find maps of the various trails around the park. 

The two major trails are the First Manassas Battlefield Trail, which is a 5.4-mile loop trail, and the Second Manassas Battlefield Trail, which is a 6.6-mile loop trail. As you can guess, each trail leads you around each of the main battlefields. 

The trails travel through open fields and rolling hills, with beautiful wildflowers along the way. There are also markers with information about the historical events that took place within the park. 

The First Manassas Battlefield Trail will also take you to Stone House, which is one of the major historic buildings in the park. The trail also travels into wooded areas and high above Bull Run. Further along, the trail leads to the Stone Bridge, which is another major landmark in the park. 

If you want a shorter hike, you can take one of many smaller loop trails that lead off of the two main battlefield trails. 

The hikes are generally easy. The trails include some moderate hills, as well as dirt, gravel, loose rocks, and roots. 

7. Bull Run-Occoquan Trail (Centreville, VA to Fairfax Station, VA)

The Bull Run-Occoquan Trail is one of the longest in Northern Virginia. It is 18 miles long. The trail begins at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville, VA, and ends at Fountainhead Regional Park in Fairfax Station, VA. 

Bull Run-Occoquan Trail - stream and trees - one of the best hikes in Northern Virginia

It can be a little tricky to find the trailhead in Bull Run Regional Park. When you enter the park, continue driving past several fields and picnic pavilions. Continue past Atlantis Water Park, and park in the next parking lot. You will see the Camping Registration Office and Store here. 

From the parking lot, cross into the wooded area on the other side of the main road. Here you will see a sign marking the beginning of the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail. 

The trail is mostly dirt and rock, with some elevated wooden bridges along the way. The path travels through woods and by both Bull Run and Cub Run. Along the way, you’ll get to see the water up close. 

Much of the path near Bull Run is flat. There are more hills once you get closer to the entrance at Route 28 in Centreville.

You can enter the trail at multiple points along the way, including Clifton, and at the trailhead in Fountainhead Park. 

The path is generally easy to moderate in difficulty. 

Within Bull Run Regional Park, there are several other smaller loop trails that you can take, including the White Trail and the Bluebell Trail

Bull Run is actually a central place to see Bluebells in mid-spring (generally around April). The park includes one of the largest displays of the beautiful blue flower. Each year, thousands of visitors come in spring to see the bluebells. 

8. Great Falls National Park (Great Falls, VA)

Great Falls National Park is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the state – and for good reason! 

Great Falls National Park

The centerpiece of the park is the series of cascading falls and rapids along the Potomac River that give the park its name. 

There are three major overlooks that give you a gorgeous up-close view to the falls. 

The falls themselves are like a cross between very intense rapids and many mini-waterfalls. The unique sight is beautiful and awe-inspiring to take in. 

Beyond the falls, the park also includes picnic areas and a number of excellent hiking trails. 

Some of the best trails include River Trail, which runs parallel to the Potomac River and gives you gorgeous views of the river and cliff sides from high up. 

Other trails include Ridge Trail, which is more inland and treats you to lovely, peaceful forest views. Along the way, keep an eye out for deer!

Please note that the park can get busy, particularly on weekends in nice weather. If the parking lot is full, you won’t be able to enter until spaces clear up. 

During warm summer months, though, the park is open late until dusk, so you can come later in the day when the park has cleared out a bit. 

9. Difficult Run to Great Falls Park (McLean, VA)

Difficult Run to Great Falls is a gorgeous scenic hike and a great alternative way to reach Great Falls Park. 

Potomac River from Difficult Run Trail - one of the best hiking trails in Northern Virginia

The trail has a parking lot off Georgetown Pike. It can fill up quickly, but I went on a gorgeous mid-afternoon Saturday in June and only had to wait about 5 minutes for a spot to open. 

To get to Great Falls, head out on the trail to the left (as you’re facing the water, and with Georgetown Pike behind you.)

The trail will take you to a wide dirt path that skirts the lovely Difficult Run stream. You’ll ascend above the stream and be treated to lovely water views amidst the forest. 

At one point, you’ll see a sign pointing to the Ridge Trail to the left. Before taking that, I recommend going straight (following the sign to the Potomac River). 

This short walk downhill will lead you to a quiet, beautiful spot to view the Potomac River and the rock walls surrounding it. 

Then, head back to the Ridge Trail and take that to Great Falls. The path is dirt and uphill for a while. Then, turn right onto the River Trail. This part of the trail has some trickier rock scrambles along the way. There are some moderate hills too as the path meanders high above the Potomac River. 

You can step off the trail at numerous points to get beautiful views of the river. 

As you continue, you’ll eventually reach the three main overlooks at Great Falls Park, which will treat you to even more spectacular up-close views of the falls. 

You can then either backtrack to get back to the parking lot at Difficult Run, or continue on a loop through the woods along Old Carriage Road, to Ridge Trail, to get back to the parking lot. 

This trail and hike are incredible. In fact, this might rank as one of the best hikes in Virginia. It has a great combination of peaceful forest walks, elevation gain, water views of Difficult Run and the Potomac River, and it culminates with spectacular views of Great Falls. 

The one negative is that the parking lot is right off of very busy Georgetown Pike. If you are making the loop, you will have to cross the road at the end. Be very careful doing this because of traffic. 

If you’re in the mood for more hiking at Difficult Run, I also recommend going to the right from the parking lot and taking the trail that leads from there. This will take you in the opposite direction from Great Falls Park.

This part of the trail is delightful and very peaceful. The trail skirts Difficult Run and has some beautiful water views, particularly on a sunny day. This trail is very flat and easy. It is not a loop trail, and so once you reach Leigh Mill Road you can either turn back around or continue further. 

10. Turkey Run Park (McLean, VA)

Turkey Run Park is right off the George Washington Parkway, right along the Potomac River. This is one of the best hikes near Arlington, VA.

Turkey Run Park - stream, rocks and trees

The park has a series of trails that offer a little bit of everything you could look for in a hike! 

There are nice uphill and downhill parts, peaceful forest walks, open fields with lush vegetation, streams, mini waterfalls, water slides, rock scrambles, gorgeous views along the beaches of the Potomac River, and even a mini obstacle course-like section that requires you to cross a crevice (not deep) by walking along a 3-inch board and holding a rope for support. 

The trail itself is a little hard to follow. From the parking lot, enter the main trail by going down a series of stairs, including a long wooden staircase. 

You’ll walk along the Potomac River for a little bit, and you can step off the trail to take in the views from the beach. You’re likely to spot geese and cranes, and I even saw a frog blending into the rocks!

Eventually, you’ll reach a wooden sign. Go to the left to take the Turkey Run Loop trail. The best way to navigate the trail is to just keep following the yellow trail markers. There are a lot of other trails that cross the path along the way, but just keep following the yellow marks. 

Most of the trail is in the woods and pretty flat and easy. Some sections cross Turkey Run and other little streams.

Eventually, you’ll reach a rock scramble section around Dead Run. This section is a little tricky to navigate, but again, keep looking for the yellow trail markers and just follow those. 

Dead Run features some lovely rock formations and mini waterfalls that are beautiful and serene. 

Toward the bottom of the stream (after some of the mini falls) you’ll cross Dead Run again to pick up the trail again. This part is a little hard to find. You should now be back on the original side of Dead Run (you will cross it twice in total.) 

From there, follow the seafoam-colored markers through the woods. Eventually, the markers will turn blue. Keep following these until you reach the Turkey Run Loop sign that you passed near the beginning of the hike.

From here, you retrace your steps to go back along the water, and then up the stairs again to the parking lot. 

The trail is easy to moderate. The hardest part about the trail is finding the yellow markers along the way. The rock scramble in particular is a little tricky to navigate. Otherwise, this is a delightful and peaceful hike with gorgeous water and forest views throughout. 

11. Scott’s Run Nature Reserve (McLean, VA)

Scott’s Run Nature Reserve is a great companion destination to Turkey Run. The two parks are just a five-minute drive from each other in McLean along the Potomac River. 

Scott's Run Waterfall

The highlight of the park is Scott’s Run Waterfall, which is a small but lovely waterfall right near the Potomac River. 

The park itself is mostly wooded, with a network of dirt trails winding through the trees. It helps to take a photo of the map of the trails, plus use your phone’s GPS to get your bearings throughout the park. 

The trails are generally well-marked. Walking along them is sort of a “choose your own adventure.” You can go up and down various paths. You’ll definitely want to go along the Potomac Heritage Trail, which skirts Scott’s Run and leads to the waterfalls. 

The trail continues along the Potomac River for a while, before leading into the woods to other trails. There is another overlook along the trail to see Stubblefield Falls, however, the view is partially obscured, particularly in summer. 

You can also cross through the middle of the park to stop at Burling Cabin Site, which includes a brick wall and fireplace remnant from a cabin owned by Edward R. Burling, who previously owned much of the land on which Scott’s Run now stands. 

The paths give you a nice workout up and down hills in the park. Most of the trails are dirt, wide, and easy.

The park is very popular, and the parking lots fill up quickly. Also, note that there are several parking lots along Georgetown Pike. 

One other negative of the park is that it is popular, especially around the falls, and so you are likely to see crowds around the falls and in the water, which makes picture-taking difficult. 

Also, the eastern side of the park is close to I-495, so it can get quite loud with traffic drowning out the lovely sounds of the bird calls in the park. 

12. Custis Trail (Arlington, VA)

Custis Trail is one of the best trails in Arlington. The full trail is 4.5 miles long. The trail connects with the W&OD Railroad Regional Park Trail and leads into Rosslyn in Arlington. 

Custis Trail in Arlington, VA - pond and fall foliage

The trail is very popular among walkers, runners, and cyclists. Stay on the right and stay alert for other people on the trail. 

The Custis Trail is paved and mostly flat, though it includes some small hills. 

The trail skirts I-66, which can make it loud and less peaceful, however, it is also located near lovely residential communities in Arlington. You’re likely to see many birds and some rabbits along the way. 

Another huge positive of the trail is that, even though it’s located close to many major streets in Arlington, the trail itself does not cross streets, so the only traffic you have to navigate is other people on the trail. 

The trail travels near many neighborhoods in Arlington, including Ballston, Virginia Square, and Rosslyn, before leading to Theodore Roosevelt Island. I recommend stopping on the island and exploring there. No bikes are allowed on the island, but walking and running are permitted. 

You can find out more about Theodore Roosevelt Island below. 

13. Mount Vernon Trail (Arlington, VA to Alexandria, VA)

Mount Vernon Trail has trailheads near Theodore Roosevelt Island in Arlington and near Mount Vernon. The trail is 18 miles long and is very popular with cyclists, runners, and walkers. 

Potomac River, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument view from Mount Vernon Trail in Arlington, VA

Much of the trail runs between the Potomac River and George Washington Parkway. The trail will treat you to great views of the Washington, D.C. skyline, including Georgetown, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Kennedy Center, and the beautiful Memorial Bridge. 

The trail also travels by Arlington National Cemetery and Regan National Airport. Then, it continues into Old Town Alexandria. 

Further south into Alexandria, there are some lovely wooded areas and wetlands by the trail. 

The path is paved, easy, and mostly flat. 

14. Theodore Roosevelt Island (Washington, D.C.)

Theodore Roosevelt Island is another great hiking destination that is about as close to Washington, D.C. as you can get. It is located in the middle of the Potomac River between Arlington, VA, and Washington, D.C. 

Theodore Roosevelt Island path in the woods - one of the best hikes near DC

There is a convenient parking lot off of the George Washington Parkway that is right next to the island. From the parking lot, you will walk across a footbridge to the island itself. 

Please note that bikes are not allowed on the island, but walking and running are very popular. 

Once on TR Island, I recommend going to the left and taking the main route around the island. The path is dirt and mostly flat, with some rocks and roots to watch out for. 

Some parts of the trail get very narrow and will require you to walk over fallen trees and logs, or to move between trees. Along most of the trail, you’ll be close to the water, and you’ll have views of both the Arlington and D.C. skylines. 

As you continue on this path, you’ll eventually reach one of my favorite parts of the island: there is a long wooden footbridge that goes over the protected wetlands. The island is much more open here, and you’ll see lots of birds. There are benches along the way too to stop and take in the scenery. 

When you get back to the main entrance again, you can turn to the right and see an open area with a huge statue of Theodore Roosevelt. There are fountains, benches, and other stone structures around the main statue as well. 

The island is a lovely oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the D.C. metro area. There are also numerous major trails leading from the island on either side. 

From the parking lot, you can head south down the Mount Vernon Trail (which is 18 miles long and is very popular among cyclists, runners, and walkers). 

You can also head north further into Arlington along the Potomac Heritage Trail. This trail travels along the Potomac River and ends at Live Oak Drive. 

You can also head west into Arlington along the Custis Trail, which runs parallel to I-66. 

Conclusion: 14 Best Hikes in Northern Virginia

As you can see, Northern Virginia has a number of excellent hikes to choose from, no matter what your difficulty level or interests.

You can also find a great mix of waterfalls, rapids, streams, rivers, forests, and even historic landmarks along your next hike! I hope you enjoy!

Learn about even more great hiking trails throughout Virginia!

Discover the best hiking trails in and around Richmond, VA

hiking trail in the woods

Find the best hiking trails in and around Charlottesville, VA

Hiking Trail in the woods