Fall colors at Great Falls

8 Great Fall Hikes in Northern Virginia

Here are 8 great fall hikes in Northern Virginia, perfect when the weather turns cooler and dryer, and the foliage puts on a show. Several of these hikes can be combined with a stop at one of our beautiful Virginia wineries. While these trails are especially pretty with Autumn colors, they are all enjoyable year-round. We’ve linked to more round-ups of great hikes in Northern Virginia below.

Here are 8 great Fall hikes in Northern Virginia (some with a Virginia winery visit), perfect for enjoying cooler, dryer weather and changing foliage.

Update: We’ve added Big Schloss to our list—a 4-mile hike to wonderful views from a rocky summit. This replaces the Bull Run Mountains hike since that summit is currently closed due to erosion.

1. Potomac Hike: Riverbend to Great Falls Park

This mostly level, dirt trail along the Potomac provides continuous river views. Stop at the Riverbend and Great Falls Visitor Centers to learn about the history and geology of your hike—you’ll pass a stretch of George Washington’s Potowmac Canal. Overlooks at Great Falls and Mather Gorge add dramatic views to the river’s beauty. This is a good hike for families; just turn back if the kids start to get tired. Avoid after a heavy rain or when the river level is high. Potomac hike details.

Mather Gorge, Great Falls Park

Mather Gorge, Great Falls Park

2. Mason Neck State Park

The only State Park in Fairfax County, Mason Neck offers several nice trails with bay, woods, and marsh views. It’s a wonderful location for fall hikes in Northern Virginia. The easy, quarter mile Marsh View Trail is ideal for young children or folks with limited mobility. The moderate 2-mile hike to Kane’s Creek provides a little more challenge, ending in a bird blind overlooking the marsh, where we watched bald eagles and herons (bring your binoculars). The popular Bay View Trail combines views of Belmont Bay with marsh and wooded sections in a 1-mile loop. If time allows, you can also walk the paved, 3/4-mile Great Marsh Trail, accessible from Gunston Road. Mason Neck hike details.

Bay View Trail boardwalk Mason Neck SP

Bay View Trail at Mason Neck State Park

3. Manassas National Battlefield and The Winery at Bull Run

Crisp fall days are perfect for hiking the open fields of Manassas National Battlefield, where you can immerse yourself in the details of two important Civil War battles. We hiked the 5-mile First Manassas loop, but shorter hikes are available from the Visitor Center and the old Stone Bridge. It’s not the most colorful of our fall hikes in Northern Virginia, but the open fields are lovely in Autumn. After your hike, continue your history lesson with a stop at The Winery at Bull Run. Picnickers gathered here to watch the Battle of First Manassas unfold, and some even became caught up in the action. Manassas Battlefield hike details.

Cannons at Manassas National Battelfield

Cannons and open fields on the First Manassas Loop Trail

4. Around Burke Lake

Burke Lake, the largest lake in the Fairfax County Park system, is an excellent destination for boating, fishing, disc golf, and cross-country running. For a fall hiking visit, try the 5-mile trail that circles the lake. Most of the trail is a wide, level, dirt path, with frequent places to stop and enjoy views of the lake. This is a family-friendly hike with plenty of opportunities to watch turtles, frogs, birds, and other critters. Burke Lake hike details.

Fall foliage around Burke Lake 2014

Burke Lake foliage in 2014

5. Bull Run – Occoquan Trail and Paradise Springs Winery

The Bull Run – Occoquan Trail is 17 miles long, beginning at Bull Run Regional Park in the north, and ending at Fountainhead Regional Park in the south. We like to hike the segment accessible from Yates Farm Road in Clifton, following Bull Run (a run is a stream) in either direction. This trail segment has the distinct advantage of ending right next to lovely Paradise Springs Winery, where you can celebrate your walk with a nice glass of wine. If it’s near meal-time, you can choose from several restaurants in the quaint and historic town of Clifton. Bull Run – Occoquan Trail hike details.

Bul Run Clifton Va

Bull Run – Occoquan Trail

6. Sky Meadows State Park and Bluemont Vineyards

Another favorite option for fall hikes in Northern Virginia are the open fields, wooded hills, and beautiful views at Sky Meadows State Park. We enjoyed a 4-mile loop hike that culminates in a gorgeous view of the valley from the Piedmont Overlook Trail. The park includes 17 miles of trails, a segment of the Appalachian Trail and a 1-mile interpretive trail, so you can choose your level of difficulty. After your hike, you can continue the views with a short drive north to Bluemont Vineyards. On our last visit, we could see the buildings of Tysons Corner from the porch at Bluemont. Sky Meadows hike details.

Piedmont Overlook fall view Sky Meadows State Park

Piedmont Overlook fall view Sky Meadows State Park

7. Seneca Tract and Potomac Heritage Trail

If you’re looking for a walk along the Potomac River, Seneca Tract in Great Falls provides access to a nice segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT). Seneca Tract also includes pretty wooded trails, perfect for enjoying late fall foliage. Like the hike at Riverbend, the riverside trail is muddy or impassible after a heavy storm, so visit on a dry day. Another nice segment of the PHT is accessible from Turkey Run Park, off of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Seneca Tract hike details.

Seneca Tract Trailhead

Seneca Tract Trailhead in Great Falls

8. Big Schloss

The trailhead is in West Virginia, but the hike straddles the border, and the peak is at least partly in Virginia, so this hike makes the cut. A 4-mile out and back hike, the payoff is a rocky white sandstone summit with gorgeous views into West Virginia and Virginia. The hike begins at the Mill Mountain trailhead, in the Wolf Gap Campground. The first .7 miles climbs steadily on a somewhat rocky trail; but beyond that you’ll follow a fairly level ridge until you cross a wooden bridge to reach the summit and those amazing views. Big Schloss hike details.

Big Schloss Summit northeast

Big Schloss Summit view

Bonus. Bull Run Mountains and The Winery at La Grange

You can explore several different trails at Bull Run Mountains, but the White Rocks Overlook is closed due to erosion (since early 2015). There are some interesting historic sites along the lower trails, including an old cemetery and quarry trench, so you can still hike in the area. However, you can’t currently reach the rocky outcropping at the end of the Bull Run Ridge Trail so you’ll miss the beautiful views west to the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you do visit, relax with a stop at the nearby Winery at La Grange after your hike. Bull Run Mountains hike details.

Rock outcropping Bull Run Mtn

The View from White Rocks Overlook, Bull Run Mountains, is currently closed

Those are 8 of our favorite Fall hikes in Northern Virginia, perfect for a crisp autumn day. Since it’s such a great season to hike, we rounded up a second batch of great Fall hikes in Virginia:

8 More Great Fall Hikes in Virginia

Check out these round-ups for more of our favorite Northern Virginia trails:

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10 Responses to “8 Great Fall Hikes in Northern Virginia”

  1. The Wellness Wife October 28, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    Thanks, as always, for the great suggestions. Shenadoah might be after peak, but these places should be really pretty right now.

  2. McCool Travel September 24, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    These are all fantastic hikes. Northern Virginia is such a gorgeous area and you cover it well.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  3. trish57 December 10, 2015 at 9:03 am #

    Leesylvannia State Park–on a peninsula with great views of the surrounding water in the winter when the leaves are down. http://www.everytrail.com/guide/civil-war-era-home-ruins-loop-leesylvania-state-park

    • Fun in Fairfax VA December 16, 2015 at 6:09 am #

      Thanks for the suggestion and the link, Trish57! Leesylvania is on our list to visit, so we appreciate the detailed hike suggestion.


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