The long President’s Day weekend adds a boost of extra fun to a chilly month, and is a great opportunity to ...
Spring hikes are an excellent antidote to the dark days of winter, when the air was too cold and the trails were too icy to tempt us. When warmer Spring weather arrives, we look for trails that won’t get too water-logged by rains and snowmelt, ideally with a nice view and an interesting stop along the way.
Our 8 great Spring hikes in Northern Virginia cover 3 to 5 mile walks, over easy to moderate terrain.
Update April 13: The Virginia bluebells and other wildflowers are blooming all along this hike.
One of our favorite ways to welcome spring is on the Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT) at Riverbend Park. In April, the trail is bordered with a profusion of bluebells whose blossoms cover the ground. Above the trail, white Sycamore trunks stand out against blue skies, while birds swoop over the Potomac River as it rushes past. The trail stays close to the river except for a 600 yard cutback that takes a steep detour over a bluff. Come back in mid-May, when the boat house opens, to view the trail from another perspective.
Okay, this one is technically in DC, but the parking and access are from Virginia so we’re counting it as a Northern VA hike. It can get muddy after heavy rains and when the Potomac level is high, but otherwise the island offers an easy Spring hike close to the city. Popular with birders, joggers, families, and workers out for a break, visitors enjoy dirt paths, a long boardwalk with peaks at some DC landmarks, and interesting history at the plaza that tops the island.
Arlington National Cemetery is a special place, solemn and heart-breaking, but beautiful and inspiring too. Many tours and classes arrive by bus, transfer to another bus, and make a quick visit to the Tomb of the Unknown and a few famous gravesites. To really appreciate the magnitude of our nation’s heroes and loss, we recommend a long walk on the streets throughout the cemetery. In Spring, you’ll find beautiful blooming cherry trees and haze-free views of DC, and the paved streets are usable even after heavy rains. Jogging and biking are not allowed in the cemetery, and visitors should use decorum in this solemn place.
The Meadowlark Botanical Gardens Connector Trail, which opened in 2014, is a paved 1.25 pathway linking the W&OD bike trail to beautiful Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. This trail is perfect in Spring when your efforts are rewarded with blooming cherry trees along the trail and in the park. The connector is very steep as it approaches the park, so if your outing includes strollers or children, you’re better off driving to Meadowlark and hiking the more forgiving trails inside the garden or along the front perimeter. The small entry fee to Meadowlark is well worth your access to more flowering trees and plants along the pond and throughout the gardens.
5. Burke Lake
The 4.5 mile trail around Burke Lake makes our great hike list in every season. In Spring, the wide dirt and stone-dust trail stays relatively dry even after a storm. Birds are especially active as they battle for a mate, and the trees and flowers are vibrant in their new green colors. On April 4th, the train and carousel began weekend operations, so there is extra fun if you’re traveling with kids.
The Glade SVT, in Reston, is a paved path along a section of stream that has been improved to reduce flooding and erosion. Our favorite hike begins at Twin Branches Road and follows the trail as far as Soapstone (signs along the way will point toward Hunters Woods). Just before you reach Soapstone, turn right and cross a bridge onto the dirt trails of the Walker Nature House. Follow the trails uphill and cross Glade Road to visit the Walker House, which offers information about local nature, along with bathrooms and a water fountain. At this point you can either return on the sidewalk path along Glade Road or go back the way you came. If time allows, explore some of the other Walker Center trails first. Another SVT that is generally usable in Spring is the Long Branch Trail in Wakefield.
Many of the trails at Manassas cross open fields that were the scene of the Civil War battles at First and Second Manassas. That makes them a good choice in Spring before the heat, humidity, and ticks of summer arrive. You may encounter some muddy sections, so begin at the Visitor Center to get input from the Rangers on any areas to avoid. Manassas is beautiful now, but a walk across the battlefields gives visitors a deeper appreciation of the difficult conditions and battles fought there by patriots from the north and the south.
The unique hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park is a hidden gem of Fairfax County, and it’s well worth a Spring hike visit when the plants, animals, and birds emerge from their winter naps. On a 2-mile loop trail from the Visitor Center, you’ll walk through the woodlands and over the marsh boardwalk. We like to walk the trail clockwise, heading up the Cedar and Deer Trails, then returning on the boardwalk. Make time for a stop at the Observation Tower and the Visitor Center to learn more about the unique nature that calls Huntley Meadows home.
Looking for cherry blossoms without the hike and without the crowds of the DC Tidal Basin? Check out our insiders guide to Cherry Blossoms In DC, Maryland an dVirginia.
Find more spring events and outings suggested by local experts: Fabulous Ways to Celebrate Spring in Northern Virginia.