The Ultimate Guide to Scott’s Run Nature Preserve (Scott’s Run Stream Valley Park)

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve (also known as Scott’s Run Stream Valley Park) is one of my favorite places to hike in Northern Virginia! The park is pretty big, at about 384 acres in size, plus it features a good mix of trails in the forest, along the Potomac River, over rock scrambles, and along streams. 

But the highlight of Scott’s Run is that it actually features one of the only waterfalls in Northern Virginia! So as you can see, the park has something for just about everyone! 

I’ve hiked Scott’s Run several times, and I’m here to tell you everything you need to know about the park! 

Learn about even more of my favorite hikes in Northern Virginia, including Great Falls, Burke Lake Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, and much more! 



Where is Scott’s Run Nature Preserve?

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is located in the northernmost section of Fairfax County, right along the Potomac River. 

It’s right off of Georgetown Pike, which is a major road in McLean, Virginia. It’s also close to I-495. This makes it pretty convenient to drive to. 

Parking

The following Google Map will help you locate the two parking lots at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.

Parking is probably the biggest challenge when visiting Scott’s Run. There are two parking lots: the main parking lot is located on Georgetown Pike near Swinks Mill Road. This lot has about 42 to 50 spots. 

Note that there are a lot of areas marked as no parking. Make sure to obey those signs or else you may get towed. 

The second lot is called the East Parking Lot. It is much smaller than the main parking lot. It is located on Georgetown Pike between Saigon Road and Linganore Drive. 

Parking can be difficult at Scott’s Run, however, I have gone multiple times and I have always been able to find a spot. And this has even been on weekends in the summer when the weather is nice. 

In the worst-case scenario, you may just have to wait a little for someone to leave and for a spot to open up.

Amenities

There are very limited amenities at Scott’s Run. There are two porta-potties at the main parking lot. There are several metal benches located throughout the park, particularly at the end of the Yellow Trail and Red Trail. There are no picnic tables or grills. 

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve Trails

Trail Map for Scott's Run Nature Preserve

Scott’s Run has a maze of trails zigzagging through the nature preserve. I like to call it a “choose your own adventure” park, because many of the trails criss-cross, leading to entirely different directions. 

The main trails are all color-coded, and they are generally well-marked in the park. There are trail maps throughout the park, and each trail is marked with hash marks on the trees indicating the color path that you’re on. 

It can take four hours or more to explore all of the trails in the park. Below is a summary of some of the major trails. 

Light Blue Trail

This is probably the most popular trail because it’s the one that leads from the main parking lot to Scott’s Run Waterfall. 

Scott's Run Stream with trees and rocks

From the main parking lot, walk to the far end of the parking lot. There you’ll see a big gate. Walk past that and along Scott’s Run Stream. Most of the trail skirts along the stream, which helps make it very pretty and tranquil.

Most of the trail is flat as it runs along the creek. There are two places where you’ll cross the stream by walking over large cement stepping stones. 

As you get closer to the Potomac River and the waterfalls, the path will go uphill, and then it will go on a pretty steep downhill. 

At the bottom of this hill, the trail will lead to an opening. At this point, you’ll reach the sandy and rocky shore of the Potomac River. You’ll also see the lovely Scott’s Run waterfalls cascading over a wall of large boulders. 

The waterfalls aren’t huge, but they’re very pretty. It’s also just cool to see a waterfall oasis near an otherwise quite busy and congested area in northern Virginia. 

Scott's Run Waterfalls

One negative is that this area is very popular. You’ll likely see a lot of people hanging around on the rocks above and around the waterfalls, plus swimming and wading in the water nearby. 

An important note on this: it’s actually illegal to swim or wade in the water. There are very strong currents that can be deceptively dangerous. So please be careful and follow the rules when you visit! 

After you’ve spent some time enjoying the waterfalls and the views of the Potomac River, you’ll head back the way you came. Unfortunately, this means walking up a pretty steep hill to get back onto the light blue trail! 

Purple Trail

This trail also leads from the main parking lot. Instead of going through the gate at the end of the parking lot, you’ll walk up a tall flight of wooden stairs near the middle of the parking lot. 

Much of the path is a flat, wide, dirt trail. Along the trail, you’ll be treated to a lovely walk through the woods in Scott’s Run. As you go along, there are some small uphill and downhill sections, along with flat sections. 

Be careful with your footing because there are a lot of exposed tree roots along the trail. Generally, this path is very easy. One downside is that it is quite noisy because the trail is close to Georgetown Pike. 

The trail leads to the second parking lot (the East Parking Lot.) 

Yellow Trail

The Yellow Trail is probably the second most popular trail in the preserve. It begins in the smaller East Parking Lot and ends at the Potomac River, at a point called Stubblefield Falls Overlook. 

The path is a wide, dirt trail that takes you through the woods. There is a small incline at the beginning. Then, the path is flat, going further into the park and away from the Georgetown Pike. This means the trail gets quieter and quieter, as you move away from the sounds of traffic and hear more of the sound of birds in the forest, 

As you go further along, the trail alternates between small uphills, to flats, to gentle downhills. Be careful as you walk, because there are a lot of rocks and stones in the path to watch out for. 

There is also a metal bench along the way where you can stop and rest in the middle of the woods. 

Eventually, you will hear rushing water as you get closer to the Potomac River. When you reach the end of the trail, you can stop at a rock ledge high above the Potomac. 

Trees and rocks about the Potomac River at Scott's Run Nature Preserve

This is technically Stubblefield Falls Overlook, however, you probably won’t be able to see much unless you go in the winter months when the trees are bare. The foliage from the trees is just too dense to see much of the water and gentle rapids below. 

After you’ve spent some time at the overlook, you can continue onward to a steep downhill section that will take you near the edge of the water. 

If you choose to continue downhill, you will take a dirt trail on the right to get to the edge of the Potomac. The path is rocky, steep, and narrow, but generally not too challenging. I was able to make it down, and I’m not really the best hiker! 

When you do reach the bottom of the path, it’s well worth it! There is a lovely beach at the edge of the Potomac River. You can hear some gentle cascades nearby which are very pleasant! 

Potomac River with rocks

There are some huge rocks to sit on and chill for a bit. You may also see some ducks swimming by, or people kayaking by. 

Light Blue Trail

After you’ve spent some time at the edge of the Potomac near the Stubblefield Falls Overlook, I recommend taking a light blue trail that is an offshoot of the Yellow trail that you just took to get to the overlook. 

To find the light blue trail, backtrack a little ways on the yellow trail. The light blue trail is marked with blazes on the trees to show you where it’s located. 

This trail stays near the water. It travels downhill along a narrow dirt path. At one point it does have a short, steep downhill section, but this is the hardest part. 

Along the way, there are some small rock scrambles. Otherwise, it is a narrow dirt path through woods. There is also a noteworthy section where you’ll cross a stream with water softly cascading down the rocks. 

Rocks and a small stream at Scott's Run Nature Preserve

At one point you will reach a T where the trail goes left and right. I recommend taking the left trail for a short walk to the water’s edge. There is another secluded beach here and some peaceful water views. One time, I saw a family of ducks swimming by. 

After spending some time on the beach, head back to continue following the light blue trail. The path will lead uphill, away from the water. Then it will become flatter and wider. As you head back into the woods. 

Red Trail

This is another lovely path that will take you though the woods in Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. The dirt path is mostly flat, with some uphill and downhill sections that are not very steep. 

Path through the woods at Scott's Run Nature Preserve

The path ends near a bench closer to the Potomac River. At the end of the trail, you can venture further downhill along a steep, dirt, rocky path to reach the water’s edge, however note that this stretch is pretty difficult.  

Green Trail

This path is connected to the Yellow Trail, and it cuts through the middle of the park. The wide dirt path includes a gentle downhill, followed by an uphill section, and then another downhill section. 

One of the noteworthy features of this trail is that it features the Burling Cabin Site, which dates back to the mid-20th century. The remnants of the cabin include a tall brick chimney. 

Remnants of a brick chimney at the Burling Cabin Site

Brown Trail

This trail leads through the woods and goes through a stream with stones. Parts of the path near the stream may get flooded when it rains more. One thing to note is that parts of the trail have no clear markers, but it’s still generally pretty easy to follow. 


FAQs About Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

To help you plan the perfect trip to Scott’s Run, here are some answers to popular questions about the park. 

How long does it take to hike Scott’s Run?

It can take about 3 to 4 hours (or even longer) to hike all of the trails in Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. 

Is Scott’s Run safe to swim in?

No, it is not safe to swim in Scott’s Run. In fact, it is illegal to swim or wade in Scott’s Run or the Potomac River. Currents can be unexpectedly strong and there is pollution in the water. Both of these conditions make it unsafe to swim. There are signs posted throughout the park prohibiting swimming or wading. 

How hard is the Scott’s Run trail?

The main Scott’s Run trail that runs along the stream and leads to the waterfall is easy. It is a wide dirt path and mostly flat, until several hills toward the end, and a steep downhill leading directly to Scott’s Run Falls. 

How do you get to Scott’s Run Waterfalls?

From the main parking lot at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, head to the large brown gate at the back of the parking lot. Follow the light blue trail along Scott’s Run. It will lead to the Potomac River and the nearby waterfalls.


Conclusion

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is a lovely oasis amidst the congested northern Virginia area. It’s also a rare spot to find a waterfall in the region!  

The preserve is a great spot for hiking through the woods, walking your dog, enjoying a picnic by the water, or enjoying the water views by the Potomac River. 


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