Posted by: anomadlife | April 15, 2013

WO&D Trail: Leesburg to Purcellville

Views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

General Information: WO&D Trail  is one of the DC area’s most popular trails. During the weekends it’s popular with leisure bikers, joggers, families and rollerbladers. During the week, the eastern portion of the trail from Reston to Shirlington is popular with commuters as well. The trail is 45 miles long and 100 feet wide and is managed by the Northern Virginia Park Authority. The entire trail is paved and relatively flat. There is a 32 mile-long gravel trails that runs parallel to the paved trail west of the Reston area. You can see an interactive map of the trail by clicking here.. The WO&D starts in Shirlington about five or six miles outside D.C and ends in the small town of Purcellville in western Loudoun County. The trail is urban and not particularly scenic through Shirlington and South Arlington, but becomes more picturesque when you hit the Glencarlyn area.  You’ll pass through three great parks, Bluemont Park, Glencarlyn Park and Bon Air Park, before hitting the Custis Trail (keep straight to stay on the WO&D). I haven’t done miles 8 through 16, but I’ve heard this section of the trail goes through mostly wooded areas and suburban developments. If I remember correctly, miles 17 to 33.5 aren’t particularly memorable (mostly woods) but you do run through Reston Town Center, which makes a good spot to have lunch or do a little shopping.  I’ve done miles 0 through 8 and miles 16 through 45, but I will be focusing on the Leesburg to Purcellville portion (miles 33.5 to 45) of the trail today.

Old Barn off the WO&D Trail.

Old Barn off the WO&D Trail.

Trail:  As mentioned above, the entirety of the trail is paved and relatively flat. That said, I did feel that the first six miles going from Leesburg to Purcellville were a little bit tough – there is a mild but perceptible incline; you’ll feel it if you’re on bike. The nice thing about this section of the trail is that there are less joggers and walkers than on the eastern portion, so there’s less maneuvering required. If you are a slow biker (like me) or are walking or jogging, make sure to stick to the right because you will be passed by bikers on fancy looking road bikes.

This is actually a great trail for kids. Although there are some slight uphills, there are no major steep inclines that kids over 10 wouldn’t be able to do. Just keep in mind that many people come here with race bikes and go at pretty high speeds, so make sure your kids are familiar with trail etiquette. Also, kids will need to share a pretty narrow trail with joggers, rollerbladers and walkers.

The trail is appropriate for mountain, hybrid and road bikes.

Lunch: You have several lunch options: Historic Leesburg, the town of Purcellville or bringing a picnic lunch and eating on the trail. Leesburg has more dining options than Purcellville. My dad and I were starving by the time we got to Purcellville though, so we decided to eat at Jose’s Grill and Pub, which despite looking like a simple, all-American diner on the inside, is actually a Mexican- inspired place whose owners appear to be Nicaraguan (we saw the Nicaraguan flag) and serves everything from Greek salads to Burgers. You wouldn’t think a place like this plays Paco de Lucia, but it does. I ordered the Greek salad (not impressed) and my dad ordered the avocado salad (not bad). In Jose’s Pub and Grill’s defense, however, this probably isn’t the type of place you order salad at, but having already biked 12 mile I didn’t want to ruin my workout with a greasy burger and fries. Keep in mind you’ll have more dining options in Leesburg, as Purcellville is a pretty small town. A list of Leesburg restaurants can be found  here and a list of Purcellville restaurants can be found here.

Loudoun County Horse Country.

Loudoun County Horse Country.

Parking and Access Points: There are multiple access points and parking lots along the WO&D Trail. For a full list of access points, click here.

Scenery: The first few miles before you leave the town of Leesburg are mostly suburban. You’ll pass historic Leesburg shortly after leaving the Douglass Community Center, where you may want to stop to check out the sites or have lunch (or do so on your way back). When you leave historic Leesburg, the trail becomes more rural and scenic. You’ll pass woods, horse farms, impressive country houses, cow pastures and the town of Paeonian Springs, an adorable if tiny town (population 582) with an old-timey Americana feel. The trail is dotted with upscale suburban developments throughout and there are intermittent views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It doesn’t offer the most spectacular of views, but it’s not bad considering it’s so close to D.C and you don’t have to share the road with cars.

Aristocratic Virginia; views from the WO&D Trail.

Aristocratic Virginia; views from the WO&D Trail.

Time required: I’ve never done the full trail in one day, but I imagine it takes about three hours if you are a fast, consistent biker. However, keep in mind you may want to stop and take some pictures, enjoy the sights and have lunch. The Leesburg to Purcellville portion of the trail, including riding back, took my dad and me about 3.5 hours, but this included plenty of stops for pictures and a 45 minute break for lunch. I’m a pretty slow biker though, and I’d assume most people can finish this portion of the trail in two hours or so.

 

Posted by: anomadlife | April 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Parks: Bon Air and Glencarlyn

I recently wrote lovingly about Bluemont Park, but Arlington County manages a number of other perfectly lovely, well-designed parks. Today I’ll focus on Bon Air Park and Glencarlyn Park, both adjacent to Bluemont. Both are located off the WO&D Trail and Four Mile Run Trail, Bon Air to the west and Glencarlyn to the east of Bluemont.

Bon Air Park (850 North Lexington Street, Arlington, VA 22205) has a similar feel to Bluemont but is a bit smaller at 23.5 acres. I like Bluemont and Bon Air because they are multi-use parks; people come here to take part in a number of activities making them excellent meeting places for a diverse variety of community members. There is a lovely rose garden as well as several ornamental gardens that are a great educational tool for kids, soccer teams made up of mostly Central American immigrants, families grilling out on weeknights, plenty of bikers, walkers, joggers and rollerbladers and, best of all, dozens of picnickers of all ages and backgrounds enjoying the nice weather. Bon Air is situated in a nice residential neighborhood and although it feels more secluded than Bluemont there are plenty of neighborhood access trails. Park facilities include: Picnic shelter, playground, tennis courts, basketball court, volleyball, ornamental/rose garden and a soccer field.

Glencarlyn Park (301 S. Harrison Street, Arlington, VA 22204) is a different kind of park. While Bluemont and Bon Air are community parks in the true sense of the word (easily accessible to the community, a meeting place for sports teams, social sports, picnic tables, grills, walking/biking trails) Glencarlyn feels more like a nature park. Even though it is nearly as accessible to the surrounding community, the park feels like an oasis of green within a residential neighborhood and is heavily wooded and home to a picturesque and peaceful portion of Four Mile Run. The park is quiet with a very zen vibe; there are wooded, dirt trails, a large picnic shelter, a playground and one of the nicest dog parks I’ve seen, where community members can take their dogs for a splash in the creek. Keep in mind this dog park isn’t fenced in so if your dog has a tendency to wander off, you may want to try another dog park. Park facilities include: Picnic shelter, playground, a lovely dog park and amphitheater.

 

Four Mile Run at Glencarlyn Park.

Four Mile Run at Glencarlyn Park.

Four Mile Run at Glencarlyn.

Four Mile Run at Glencarlyn.

Rose garden at Bon Air Park.

Rose garden at Bon Air Park.

 

 

Posted by: anomadlife | April 10, 2013

Bluemont Park: An Ideal Urban Park

Final two guys at bluemont

A few weeks ago I decided to go on an exploratory lunchtime walk and stumbled upon Bluemont Park, a 70-acre multi-use park in the Bluemont neighborhood of Arlington County. I’ve visited a lot of parks in the last few months: Rural parks, suburban parks, urban parks…you get the picture. Urban parks are unique because nature isn’t as easily accessible; a natural environment has to be created within a very densely populated, unnatural setting, and I think this is something that’s very difficult to achieve.

So many urban parks I’ve been to seem so soulless and so characterless; they have the standard requirements: A playground, perhaps a walkways and some basketball courts, a few benches, but something’s missing; the park feels disconnected and out of touch; it’s in the community, but not part of the community. So many places are non-places; places that could be anywhere because they have no unique characteristics and no one is engaged with them in any significant way. But Bluemont Park is definitely a place. After the first time I visited I couldn’t get this park out of my mind. It just seemed like such a warm, pleasant, right place to be — a perfect park — and I wanted to figure out what made it so perfect to me. So a few days ago I went back to the park, sat down at a picnic table and started taking notes. I came up with the following:

1.) The parks is just the right size. It’s big enough that you feel like you’re actually in a park, but it’s not so big that you feel isolated from the surrounding community. It’s long and narrow and you can still see houses and buildings. In other words, the community is all around you rather than far away from you.

2.) Related to point one, Bluemont is connected to the community in a big way. There are neighborhood access trails every few hundred yards so its easy for community members to walk or bike to the park. There’s no need drive. And this is a neighborhood park, after all, not the kind of place you’d drive 30 or 40 miles to visit. Accessibility is the missing link with so many parks. Unlike other urban parks I’ve visited which so often seem like one square acre of bland, unmemorable green among a tangle of city streets, Bluemont is connected to Four Mile Run and the WO&D Trail, two very popular commuter and leisure trails designated for bikes, joggers, walkers and rollerbladers only. And Glencarlyn Park and Bon Air Park are only one mile away in opposite directions so its connected to a greater network.

3.) There are always a lot of people here doing a lot of different things. The first time I stumbled upon this park I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m in America.” Good America, that is: Baseball teams, Hispanic immigrants playing soccer, parents watching their kids on the playground, joggers in bright neon shorts, Frisbee golf teams, moms cheering on their tee-ball players, fathers and sons fishing at the creek and families barbecuing. Pair this with a warm, early spring day when most of the trees are flowering and you have perfection. People are engaged with the park and with each other.

4.) It’s beautiful. But not too beautiful. The park entrance by the frisbee golf course is more secluded and wooded before the park opens up to sports fields surrounded by houses and buildings. There’s a pretty creek that runs the length of the park, and there are plenty of trees, picnic areas and even a paved biking/jogging trail that runs the length of the park. It’s beautiful enough to remind you you’re in a park, but not so overwhelmingly green and scenic that you forget you’re in an urban community.

Park facilities include: A picnic shelter, picnic table, horseshoe pit, ranger station, paved trail, volleyball courts, tennis courts, baseball fields, soccer fields, basketball courts, softball diamond, playground and stream with trout fishing.

Final baseball game at Bluemont

final kidsFINAL Creek at Bluemont

Posted by: anomadlife | April 10, 2013

Burke Lake Park

Morning view of Burke Lake.

Morning view of Burke Lake.

General Information: Burke Lake Park is an 888-acre park in Fairfax Station, VA about 30 minutes outside D.C. For those of you who have no idea what 888 acres looks like, this is slightly bigger than Central Park in New York. The 218-acre lake is popular for canoeing and fishing and is pretty large by Northern Virginia standards. I don’t know if I have an unrealistically rosy view of Burke because of all the fond childhood memories I have here or if it’s actually a great park, but this is one of my favorite local parks and I try to visit at least once a year. On weekends it fills up with families, joggers, bikers and rowers, and the ice cream salon, miniature train, mini-golf course, disc golf course and small marina (where you can buy feed for geese) give the park a carnivalesque vibe, but carvinalesque in a happy, sunny, carefree summer days kind of way.  Think shorts, ice cream cones and children’s laughter. Burke Lake is one of three lakefront parks in Fairfax County, the others being  Lake Accotink and Lake Fairfax

Would I come here again? Yes.

How far would I be willing to travel? 30 miles

Address: 7315 Ox Road
                 Fairfax Station, Virginia
                 703-323-6600

Trails: Burke Lake is a lovely place for a walk, jog or bike ride. The 4.7 mile dirt/gravel trail runs parallel to the lake and is very popular on nice weekends. Keep in mind you are sharing the trail with bikers, joggers, hikers, families out for a leisurely stroll and lots of dog-walkers, so you may need to do some creative maneuvering if you decide to visit Burke Lake on a weekend between April and October. The trail is appropriate for mountain and hybrid bikes, but because it gets rooty in areas, those with road bikes probably want to stick to the paved road that goes along the entire parks – keep in mind you’ll be sharing the road with cars though. There is a 1.3 mile trail that connects Burke Lake to South Run near the dam. I visited Burke Lake yesterday morning around 7:45 and although there were plenty of cars in the parking lot, I only ran into a few dog-walkers and joggers and it made for a very peaceful morning walk to the sound of chirping birds. That said, I did run into a lot of fearless, kamikaze squirrels that seemed to jump out on the path out of nowhere. You can see a map of the park here. 

Camping: Burke Lake is one of only two parks managed by the Fairfax County park authority that offers camping opportunities. The other is Lake Fairfax in Reston. There are 100 sites with water spigots but no electric hookups. There is a 25-foot limit on RVs. Camp sites cost $28 per night for county and non-county residents, $18/night charge for seniors who are county residents and $25 per night for non-county seniors.  There are bathrooms, showers and a camp store. For more information on Burke Lake Camping click here.

Early morning lake walk.

Early morning lake walk.

Other Features: There’s a lot to do at Burke Lake. Please note all facilities are open weather permitting. Besides camping and hiking, visitors can enjoy a number of other facilities including:

  • Marina: Although it’s small, the marina is a great place to start your visit to Burke Lake, especially if you’re visiting the park with kids. Here you can rent a rowboat for a very reasonable price of $10.50 for a half day and $16 for a full day. Each rowboat fits three people. All rowers must wear a lifejacket, which costs $1 at the marina. In addition, visitors with their own boats will have to pay a launch fee of $5. The marina is open on weekends only before Memorial Day. All fisherfolks older than 16 must have a Virginia license to fish at Burke Lake. The lake is stocked with sunfish, bluegill, yellow and white perch, black crappie, catfish and walleye, among others. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the marina is open weekends 6am to 7:30pm and 8am to 6:30pm on weekdays.  Bait is available for sale at the marina, as is geese feed.
  • Ice Cream Parlor: One of my favorite childhood memories from Burke Lake is buying a big cone of ice cream after riding the miniature train. The ice cream parlor is open 11am to 6pm on weekends after Labor Day and Before Memorial Day. It is open 11am to 4pm during the week and 11am to 6pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
  • Mini-golf: The mini-golf course is open weekends only before Memorial Day and every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day. For a complete schedule of opening and closing times, click here. Fees are $7 for adults and $6 for kids.
  • Carousel and miniature train: The carousel and miniature train opened for business April 6 this year. Both are operating weekends only until Memorial Day and will be operating everyday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The carousel costs $1.75 per ride and a 10-minute, nearly two mile train ride will cost $2.50. I especially recommend the train ride for young kids – lots of great memories riding through Burke Lake Park as a kid! More information about these facilities can be found here.
  • Golf Course: There is an 18-hole, par 3 Golf Course at Burke Lake Park. For more information on opening and closing times, as well as rates and passes, click here. I’m not into golfing so can’t attest to the quality of this golf course.
  • Other facilities: Other facilities at Burke Lake include picnic areas and shelters, an amphitheater, three playgrounds, shoe pits, a disc golf course, open fields and volleyball courts.

Source: Fairfax County Park Authority.

Posted by: anomadlife | April 8, 2013

Huntley Meadows Park

Turtles at H.M

Turtles at Huntley Meadows.

General Information:  Huntley Meadows is unlike any other park I’ve visited in Fairfax County. Thanks to the wetland ecosystem, it’s one of the few places where you will definitely see wildlife other than squirrels and white-tailed deer (I actually didn’t see any squirrels or deer now that I think of it). During my hike at Huntley Meadows I saw a frog, at least half a dozen turtles, an egret, a snake, mallard ducks, Canadian geese and many other bird species. Apparently, there are also foxes, beavers and otters. The half-mile boardwalk is unique among Fairfax Parks and offers a great opportunity for kids to learn about wetland biodiversity. Because wetlands tend to be more diverse than other ecosystems, hundreds of visitors come to Huntley Meadows every weekend to scout for wildlife – there are more than 30 varieties of mammals here – and the boardwalk is dotted with birdwatchers looking out for the more than 200 species of bird that have been recorded at the park. Would I go back? Yes. How many miles would I be willing to travel to get here? 30.

Address: 3701 Lockheed Blvd, Alexandria, VA

                     Phone: 703-768-2525

Camping: There is no camping at Huntley Meadows Park

Boardwalk Walk at Huntley Meadows.

Boardwalk Walk at Huntley Meadows.

Trails: Huntley Meadows offers about 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. The park’s main trails include the Deer Trail, Cedar Trail, Heron Trail and the Boardwalk Trail. In addition, there are several informal trails throughout the park. These trails are not maintained by the Fairfax County Park authority and have a “backcountry” feel: Think lots of mud and swamp crossings– you will get wet, so bring good hiking boots if you plan to get on one of the informal trails. And yes, I did almost step on a rather large snake, so if you have a snake phobia you may want to stick to the official trails. I went on a hike with the mid-Atlantic hiking group where we did a combination of the Cedar Trail, the Boardwalk Trail and a backwoods informal trail. You can see an approximate map of this hike here. If you download everytrail.com on your smart phone, you’ll be able to download other hikers’ mapped hikes – this is especially helpful if you plan to get off the formal trails. Being a low-lying wetland, Huntley Meadows trails are flat and relatively easy. If you have young children, I recommend sticking to the formal trails; otherwise you’ll be dealing with some very messy kids. The Boardwalk Trail is a half-mile trail over the wetland and is the park’s biggest draw, as it is popular with birdwatchers, wildlife watchers and families with kids. Keep in mind that no dogs or bikes are allowed on the Boardwalk Trail. Bikes are allowed on the Cedar Trail as well as well as the trails originating at the South King’s Highway Entrance. There are several informal bike trails here but the main ones are the 1.2 mile Bike/Hike Trail and the half-mile long Pond Trail.

Other Features: 

  • Nature Center: The Nature Center at Huntley Meadows includes exhibits, an auditorium, wildlife, birding and park information, as well as an on-site naturalist. The nature center is free. Hours are 9am-4pm between November and March and 9am-5pm April through October during the week and 12pm-5pm November to mid-April, 9am-5pm mid-April to July, 9am to 1pm July and August and 9am to 5pm September and October. This is a little complicated, so I recommend calling ahead if you’re not sure if the center is open. See phone number under address.
  • Observation Towers: There is an observation tower on the boardwalk with excellent views of the wetlands.
  • Educational Programs: A complete list of Huntley Meadows educational programs can be found here.
  • Facility Rentals: The visitor’s center, a picnic shelter and a historic property are available for rental. Information can be found here.
Swampy area, Huntley Meadows informal trail.

Swampy area, Huntley Meadows informal trail.

 

Posted by: anomadlife | April 6, 2013

Potomac Overlook Regional Park

Potomac Overlook Trail Map. Courtesy of NVPA.

Potomac Overlook Trail Map. Courtesy of NVPA.

General Information: Whenever I go to a park I tend to mentally rate it in two ways: 1.) Would I want to go back (yes) and 2.) How many miles would I be willing to travel to visit this park? (20). Although it’s relatively small at only 70 acres, Potomac Overlook Regional Park packs a lot of punch for its size. There are a couple of miles of hiking trails, a nature center, several demonstration gardens, restrooms that actually appear to be unlocked most of the time and it just has a good vibe to it. Located in the tranquil and picturesque Cherrydale neighborhood, Potomac Overlook Park feels somewhat secluded, a quiet wooded enclave in a mostly urban county. Yes, the name is deceiving — the overlook was closed in the 1990s after the view of the river was obstructed by maturing trees, but there is still a good view of the river at the very end of the park just before you reach the Potomac Heritage Trail. I visited the park early on a Saturday morning and there were already plenty of hikers, birdwatchers, dog-walkers and families there. Even though the park is popular with joggers, hikers and dog-walkers, it doesn’t feel overrun with visitors. I love when I find a park like this: There’s an “away from it all” vibe but if you’re on your own like I am much of the time, you run into enough people that thoughts of getting murdered in the woods don’t put a damper on your hiking experience. The park closes at dusk. As far as I can tell, there is no entrance fee. The parking lot tends to fill up quickly on nice weekends and there is no metro access.

Address: 2845 North Marcey Street, Arlington, VA

Camping: There is no camping at Potomac Overlook Park

Trails: Despite the fact that Potomac Overlook Park only offers about two miles of hiking trails within the park limits, you can get a pretty good workout. The park is hilly and rocky and there are some pretty sleep descents, so you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing good hiking shoes as it’s also pretty muddy in areas. The two main trails in the park are the Potomac Overlook Trail (which takes you to a closed overlook) and the Donaldson Run Trail which takes you along a rocky stream. Both are scenic and peaceful and connect to form a larger loop. If you want to get better views of the Potomac, you can connect to the Potomac Heritage Trail, a trail network spanning over 830 miles on or near the Potomac River. The park trails are challenging in certain sections but are doable for older kids with good shoes. However, younger kids may have trouble with some of the more rockier, steeper parts of the trail, especially when it comes to creek crossings. I started out at Farmer’s Road near the restrooms, got onto Potomac Overlook Trail, continued onto the Potomac Heritage Trail and then looped back on Donaldson Run Trail. You can see my hike here. If you’re hiking on your own, I really recommend you download everytrail.com or alltrails.com to your phone because there are some places where figuring out where the trail goes can be a little tricky, especially if you have a poor sense of direction like me. These apps help you make sure you’re staying on the trail and are going in the direction you want to be going in.

Creek at Potomac Overlook Park.

Creek at Potomac Overlook Park.

Other Features: This is a great park for kids and adults alike. While adults will enjoy the trail system, kids are sure to enjoy the park’s many features which include:

  • The Nature Center, which houses live amphibians, fish, and reptiles and plenty of educational activities for kids. Next to the nature center is a “birds of prey” rehabilitation center. Nature center hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday and 1pm-5pm on Sunday. The center is closed on Monday. 
  • Demonstration Gardens, including an organic vegetarian garden.
  • An Energerium exhibit which focuses on solar energy and the importance of preserving energy
  • A summer concert series.  Concerts are held every other Saturday from 7pm to 9pm. This year’s concert series starts May 25 and runs through September 7.  A full listing of summer performers can be viewed here.
  • The Meet me on a Sunday program, a free kid-friendly program held between 1:30pm and 3:30pm every Sunday and offering free refreshments, games, and educational programs.
Posted by: anomadlife | April 2, 2013

Lake Accotink Park

Great Blue Heron hanging out.

Great Blue Heron hanging out.

The Fairfax County Park authority manages three lakefront parks: Lake Accotink, Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. I’ve been to Burke Lake at least a dozen times and visited Lake Fairfax a few months ago, but yesterday was my first time at Lake Accotink. Lake Accotink was created by damming Accotink Creek, 25-mile long tributary of the Potomac River. My initial thoughts about this park is that it’s a nice enough neighborhood park. It’s worth visiting if you live in the area and are looking for a decent place to walk, bike, picnic or feel like renting a canoe or rowboat for a few hours, but it’s not really worth the trip if you’re driving more than 15 or 20 miles to get here, as there are nicer parks elsewhere. One thing I noticed is that the lake is quite littered in some areas and it doesn’t have that “away from it all” regal feel that Lake Fairfax has or that amusement park, family fun quality Burke Lake has. Overall, I feel the park could use a little TLC.

That said, there were some things I enjoyed about Lake Accotink. I took my lunch hour yesterday to visit the park and despite my worries about walking alone in Springfield during the day (there’s been a serial groper issue for the past few months) I was surprised to see a large number of families, joggers and bikers enjoying the trails and the sandy marina. For the most part, houses are visible from the trail that loops the lake, which adds a feeling of safety if, like me, you’re a woman walking alone. No, you won’t feel like you’re in a secluded nature haven, but it will do just fine for lunch time walks.

Lake Accotink Marina.

Lake Accotink Marina.

General Information: This 493-acre park includes a 55-acre lake and a nearly four mile dirt/gravel trail that loops the lake. The park is open 7am to dusk in an older Springfield, VA neighborhood.

Address: 7500 Accotink Park Road, Springfield, VA.

Note: Swimming is not allowed at Accotink Lake.

Camping: There is no camping at Lake Accotink.

Trails: The main trail around the lake is about 4 miles long and is relatively flat. There are, however, enough small hills to make you feel like you’re getting a little bit of a workout, but it should be easy enough even for young children. It’s a dirt/gravel trail and should be fine for most hybrid bikes. I went on a Monday around 1pm and shared the trail with dozens of joggers, walkers, bikers and families taking a leisurely stroll, so I’m sure it fills up on weekends. There are connecting trails to Wakefield Rec Center, Lake Braddock and the Cross Country Trail. The Friends of Accotink Creek has a decent listing of trails along Accotink Creek here.. You can catch the 40-mile cross- country trail here and can extend your loop of the lake by taking the Long Branch Trail or Carrleigh Parkway before connecting back to the lake loop.

Lake view.

Lake view.

Other Features: Large picnic shelters are available by reservation. More information on shelter and picnic reservations can be found here. Canoe, rowboat, pedal boat and bike rentals are available at Lake Accotink. Sailboats and motorized boats under 15 feet are allowed with a $2 launch fee. According to the park’s website, boat and bike rental fees are as follows:

1-hour pedal boat rental: $11.00 per boat on weekends & holidays/$10.00 per boat on weekdays
1/2 hour pedal boat rental: $7.00 on weekends & holidays/$6.00 on weekdays
1-hour row-boat rental or canoe rental: $6.00
1-hour bike rental: $10 with helmet

There are also educational tourboat rides available for $2 for adults and $1.50 for children, and activity young children are sure to enjoy.

In addition, there is an old-fashioned carousel for $1.75 per ride near the marina.

Lastly, there is a nine-hole mini golf course, the Lucky Duck Miniature Golf Course. Fees are as follows:
Adults: $4.00
Juniors/Seniors: $3.00
Second 9-Holes: $3.00
Private Rental: $65.00 + greens fees

Posted by: anomadlife | April 2, 2013

Great Falls National Park

Virginia side of Great Falls.

Virginia side of Great Falls.

Great Falls National Park is one of my favorite parks in the D.C area. It’s tiny by National Park standards – just 800 acres – but it offers some great dramatic views and 15 miles of picturesque hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. Because of its proximity to Washington D.C and the surrounding suburbs, it’s extremely popular, so it’s not exactly the kind of place you go when you want to “get away from it all.” Even if you avoid the overlooks and stick to the hiking trails, chances are, you are going to run into (many) people. The park is pretty much always packed. Wait times just to get into the park can be as long as an hour, even in off-season – and the parking lot tends to fill up quickly during high season. As I mentioned in my Riverbend Park post, another option is to park at Riverbend Park and walk along the Potomac Heritage Trail for 20 minutes to Great Falls Park. Like an amusement park, you just kind of have to accept that crowds are part of the package. Personally, I feel the best time to visit the park is between late November and March; it may not be as beautiful because the trees are bare, but you don’t have to fight your way through thousands of fellow visitors.

Great Falls National Park is located in Great Falls, VA, a very wealthy area of northern Virginia and the drive itself is quite scenic. The falls can also be viewed from the Maryland side, although you’ll actually be in C&O Canal National Historic Park if you choose to view the falls from the Maryland side. Though I consider myself I loyal Virginian, I have to admit I find the views on the Maryland side to be slightly more impressive. 

General Park Info: Great Falls is open 7am to dusk and the visitor center is open between 10am and 4pm every day. There is an onsite snack bar that sells items such as soft drinks, soft pretzels, pizza, chicken tenders and other fast food items. Snack bar hours vary by season. The entrance fee of $5 per car is good for three days. Walk-ins (and those on bikes or horseback) pay $3 and an annual pass costs $20. The park receives over half a million visitors a year.

Address:  Great Falls Park
9200 Old Dominion Dr.
McLean, VA 22102

The park is convenient to route 7 and 495.

Trails: There are 15 miles of hiking trails, five miles of biking trails and 10 miles of horseback trails on the Virginia side of the falls. The map below shows a description and map of Great Falls Trails.  Bikes are allowed on the Old Carriage Trail and Ridge Trails.

Trail Map of Great Falls hiking trails.

Trail Map of Great Falls hiking trails.

The Maryland side of the falls offers a larger variety of hiking options as well as the 184.5 mile C&O Trail. The Billy Goat Trail is probably the most well-known Great Falls trail and is actually divided into three sections of differing difficulty. Section A is considered strenuous and includes 1.7 miles of difficult rock scrambles; Section B is moderate with some smaller rock scrambling sections; Section C is mostly wooded and easy. The entire trail is less than five miles but can take up to five hours to complete. Keep in mind that this trail gets extremely busy between spring and fall and “traffic” jams often occur, especially around the rock scrambling sections, so I recommend doing this trail between late November and early to mid-March before the crowds come out. Dogs are not allowed on the Billy Goat Trail and it’s probably not the best trail for small children, unless your kids happen to be extremely agile. 

Other trails on the Maryland side include the Berma Road Trail,  an easy 1.5 mile trail, the Ford Mine Trail: A moderate 2.1 mile trail, the Gold Mine Loop, an easy 1.6 mile trail, and the River Trail, an easy 1 mile trail. A full listing of Maryland trails can be viewed here.

Camping: There is no camping at Great Falls National Park. 

There are dozens of campgrounds available at C&O Canal. Keep in mind that the C&O Canal extends 184.5 miles, so if you want to be near the falls, you’ll want to stick to campgrounds at the lower end of the mile spectrum.

There are 30 hiker-biker campgrounds available free of charge and these are located every six to eight miles on the canal route. Camping is limited to one night per campsite and water purification tablets are recommended.

Drive-in campgrounds cost $10 (a 50% discount available to seniors) but there are no hookups available. There is a 20 foot limit on campers. Only Mardson Tract Camping requires reservations, but according to the C&O website, this campground is mostly for civic organizations. All other campgrounds are on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Group camping is available at McCoy’s Ferry, Fifteen Mile Creek, Paw-Paw Tunnel and Spy Gap. Group camping costs $20 per site with a maximum of 35 people per site. Reservations are not necessary at group campsites.

More in-depth camping information can be found here.

Maryland side of the falls.

Maryland side of the falls.

Other Features: Great Falls is a popular spot for experienced kayakers. You’ll find class II to VI rapids here, so you probably don’t want to go on your first kayaking adventure here. Other outdoor activities include rock climbing and fishing. Don’t forget you’ll need a fishing license if you’re over 16. There is a visitor center at Great Falls Park and at the C&O Canal, both with moderately interesting displays and information.

 
Posted by: anomadlife | March 31, 2013

Riverbend Park

Views of the Potomac from the Potomac Heritage Trail in Riverbend Park.

Views of the Potomac from the Potomac Heritage Trail in Riverbend Park.

This past Saturday I went to Riverbend Park in McLean for about a five mile hike with my sister, cousin and a couple of friends. Because we had three dogs with us (one who thought he was doing the 100-meter sprint the entire way, another one who peed every 30 seconds and another one that was actually normal) it was more of leisurely nature walk than a hike — I think we hit a maximum of 1.5 miles an hour. But it was a beautiful, crystal clear 60 degree spring day on the Potomac, so it was well worth it. Riverbed Park is the only riverfront park managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority and it is located just a couple miles away from Great Falls National Park.

Quick hint: If you want to save the $5 entrance fee to Great Falls and live in Fairfax County, you can park in Riverbend and walk over to Great Falls. We parked at the visitor’s center and took the Potomac Heritage Trail which runs across a calm, peaceful section of the Potomac to the Bootlegger Trail, a slightly hilly, forested trail, before we came back to the Potomac Heritage Trail and walked over to Great Falls. You do see houses and regular roads in some areas, so I can’t say it’s totally secluded, but it was a nice enough trail for a hike close to home. All trails are labeled, but it was sometimes a little bit difficult to figure out what we needed to do to stay on the Bootlegger Trail. However, if you download a hiking app like Everytrail.com, you can view other hiker’s maps/hikes, which makes things a little bit easier.

Great Falls -- a 20-30 minute walk from the Riverbend Visitor's Center.

Great Falls — a 20-30 minute walk from the Riverbend Visitor’s Center.

General Information: Riverbend is a 400-acre park managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority and is open 7am to dusk. It is free to Fairfax County residents and costs $10 for non-county residents. However, there was no one tending the entrance booth when we went, so I don’t know how seriously this fee is enforced.

Address: 8700 Potomac Hills St  Great Falls, VA 22066. The park located adjacent to Great Falls National Park in McClean (technically Great Falls).

My cousin, my sister and I and the dogs at one end of the PHT at Riverbend Park.

My cousin, my sister and I and the dogs at one end of the PHT at Riverbend Park.

Trails: According to the park’s website, there are 10 miles of hiking trails at Riverbend. According to the park’s brochure, there are about 12 miles. I’m not sure where the truth lies. Trails at Riverbend include:

The Potomac Heritage Trail: 2.5 miles of the PHT runs through Riverbend Park adjacent to the Potomac. I can imagine this is a lovely walk to do at sunset or sunrise and it’s pretty easy, so it’s a good choice for families with young kids. You can grab the trail from the visitor center and walk to Great Falls if you go right or toward the Bootlegger Trail if you go left.

Bootlegger Trail: The Bootlegger Trail combines the PHT as well as about 1.5 miles of wooded trails. It’s a relatively easy hike, but it does have a couple steep uphills and downhills, so it may not be the best choice for families with very small children. It offers an nice combination of riverfront views and forest views.

Follow the Hollows Trail: We didn’t explore this trail, but it’s a 2-mile loop.

Madison’s Escape Trail: A historic, 1 mile trail dating back to the War of 1812.

Camping:  There is no camping at Riverbend Park.

Forested portion of the Bootlegger Trail.

Forested portion of the Bootlegger Trail.

Other Features: Kayak, rowboat and canoe rentals are available from May to October on weekends (and Fridays during high season). There is a $5 launch fee if you have your own boat. Half day rentals range from $15 to $25 and full day rentals range from $25 to $36. Fishing is allowed, but all individuals over 16 will need a Maryland or Virginia freshwater fishing license to fish at the park. According to the park’s site, there are 191 species of birds at Riverbend Park, including osprey and bald eagles. There is an attractive picnic area close to the visitor center complete with grills. The nature center is available for event rental. Overall, Riverbend is a nice, attractive park that is less crowded than nearby Great Falls. It’s not quite as impressive, but if you want to avoid the crowds and just want a nice walk in nature, it’s a good choice.

Posted by: anomadlife | March 29, 2013

Prince William National Forest

Quantico Creek.

As some of you may know, I belong to a hiking group. Because I tend to do the easy or moderate hikes, my group consists mostly of older people between 40 and 80 (really, I’m not exaggerating). These people — the 80 year-olds – are my inspiration. I want to be able to hike 9 miles when I’m 78. It’s not looking good though, as I often find myself gasping for breath at 28 and I don’t know that my fitness level will increase much in the next 50 years. I have to admit that when I first joined the group I thought it would be a good place to meet a guy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that unless I’m looking for a fit 66 year old, I’m probably going to have to try out some tougher hikes that include steep ascents and rock scrambling and all kinds of other dangerous-sounding terminology, as this seems to be what all the young people prefer. And I don’t think I’m ready for that, so for now, I’m content with the old folks.  I try to hike with this group once or week or so, mostly because I like being outside and walking in nature but have no sense of direction and have no idea where north, south, east or west is. Also, I like being around people. So being part of the hiking group solves both my problems: I just have to follow someone and rather than reflect on nature’s beauty a la Henry Thoreau on Walden Pond, I can enjoy the scenery in the company of other nature-loving senior citizens.

So this past weekend I joined my hiking group at Prince William National Forest, a large park located about 45 minutes from D.C. Despite the fact that this park is located relatively close to my house, I had never gone. I signed up for a six mile hike but unbeknownst to the hike leader, the Marine Corps Marathon was taking place, so we had to reroute our hike. I was prepared for a six mile hike and didn’t bring much in the way of food or water, but those six miles stretched into seven, then eight, then nine…and by the end, I was in a really bad mood. Lesson learned: Always bring food and water on a hike. Oh well, next time I’ll be more prepared. Despite my crankiness, I did observe that signs of spring are present! Before I started hiking, I didn’t really notice all that much about nature. I mean, I noticed if the trees were bare, changing or green, but I never observed the small details. But last Saturday I was so happy to see that most trees are either starting to blossom or showing signs that they will soon blossom, ferns are starting to show their green through the dry, brown autumn leaves on the ground, creeks and streams are getting mossy and some trees are even starting to sprout tiny green leaves. To me, spring is the happiest time of the year because everything is coming back to life — the only good thing about winter is that it reminds me how much I love the rest of the year.

But back to Prince William National Forest – it’s actually quite a lovely park. Aside from the miles of hiking and biking trails, there’s Quantico Creek, an old Pyrite Mine (whatever that is), and plenty of open, meadow areas, picnic tables and campgrounds. Parking was relatively easy despite the fact the marathon was going on and it’s one of those parks that’s big enough that you actually feel like you’re away from it all…once you’re in, there are no signs of highways, buildings, suburban sprawl or civilization.

General Park Information: Thanks to Wikipedia, I know that Prince William National Forest consists of over 19,000 acres of dense piedmont forest in Southeastern Prince William County. The park was originally established as the Chopawamsic Recreation Demonstration Area in 1936 and is home to 24 species of amphibians, 27 species of reptiles, 100+ species of birds and 23 species of fish. Most campgrounds are open year round. The visitor center is open 9am to 5pm every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s. Coming from DC, you’ll want to take 95 and get off at exit 150B (VA Route 619/Joplin Road). You’ll take the second right to enter the park. Keep in mind that entrance costs $5 per car for a 7 day pass, $3 for walk-ins, $20 for an annual membership and $80 for an annual pass that gets you into all federally-protected lands.

Quantico Creek.

Trails: According to the park’s website, there are 37 miles of paved and unpaved trails. A complete listing of trails can be found here. Many trails connect and it’s possible to do everything from a 1 mile to 18 mile loop. Last weekend, I did a nine mile loop combining the Turkey Run Ridge Trail, the Laurel Loop Trail and the South Valley Trail. There were some pretty steep uphills and downhills, so you’ll want to make sure you’re in relatively good shape and have good hiking shoes, especially if it’s wet and muddy. Below are some of the main trails:

Birch Bluff Trail: An easy to moderate 1.8 mile trail

Chopawamsic Trail: A moderate to difficult 2 mile trail

Farms to Forest Extension Trail: A 2.7 mile trail

High Meadows Trail: A 2.1 Mile Trail

North Valley Trail: A 2.6 mile trail

Oak Ridge Trail: An easy 1.6 mile trail

South Valley Trail: A 9.7 mile trail

Turkey Run Ridge Trail: A moderate to difficult 1.4 mile trail.

In addition to hiking, this is probably one of the better parks in the area for biking. I haven’t actually been biking here, but I’m hoping to go this coming weekend. Trails can be combined for a larger loop, but keep in mind some trails are for hikers only and some are pretty gravely, so if you decide to do off-road biking you’ll probably want to have a mountain bike. Biking trails include:

Scenic Drive: An 11.3 mile paved road trail — can also be done as a 7.3 mile loop — that is rated as moderate to difficult. Bikes share the road with cars here and the parks’ website warns that this is more for experienced bikers due to blind curves and steep uphills and downhills.

Burma Road: A difficult, crushed rock 2.8 mile trail.

Liming Lane: A moderate 2.6 mile crushed rock trail.

North Orenda Road: An easy to moderate 2.8 mile crushed rock trail.

Pyrite Mine Road: A moderate to difficult 2.6 mile crushed rock trail.

Taylor Farm Road: A 3.0 moderate to difficult trail.

Camping: There are several camping options at PWNF, ranging from primitive backcountry camping to full hookup RV camping to cabin camping.

Oak Ridge Campground: This 100 site campground requires reservations for most loops between April 20 and October 20. There are no hookups for RVs. Sites cost $20 per night. Reservations could be made at http://www.recreation.gov/camping/Oak_Ridge_Campground/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72421&topTabIndex=Search.

Turkey Run Ridge Campground: A six-site tent-only campground that holds 25 to 40 people. No alcohol is allowed at this site, which costs $40 per night. Reservations can also be made at http://www.recreation.gov/camping/Oak_Ridge_Campground/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72421&topTabIndex=Search and PWNF recommends making reservations at least two months in advance.

Prince William Forest RV Campground: Although located within the park, this is a privately-operated RV-only campground. Full hookup sites are available for $35 per night. As far as I can tell, this is the only PWNF campground with hot showers and laundry. There is also a pool and playground on site. More information can be found at  http://www.traveltrailervillage.com/.

Chopawamsic Backcountry Campground: This 8-site campground allows two tents per site and is located in the 1,500 acre Chopawamsic Backcountry area of the park. No pets are allowed. Camping is free, but a permit application must be filled out at the visitor’s center.

Cabin Camping: Rustic cabins are available for $30 for a 4-person cabin, $40 for a 6-person cabin and $50 for a 10-person cabin. Keep in mind that rustic means rustic…no electricity. To reserve a cabin, visit http://www.nps.gov/prwi/planyourvisit/cabin-camping.htm and fill out a cabin camping applications. Cabins in Cabin Camp 3 can only be reserved from May to october. Large groups can also rent an entire cabin camp, which holds between 70 and 200 people.

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