The River Trail hike at Great Falls Park in Northern Virginia offers some of the best waterfall and nature views ...
Here are 8 great summer hikes in Northern Virginia, with shady trails many with cooling water and relaxing stops nearby. Summer in the Washington DC region can mean steamy weather and tick-laden fields. But you can still enjoy nice summer hikes if you know where to go.
Our picks for summer hikes in Northern Virginia feature mostly shady trails and pretty views. We don’t have many swimmable streams or lakes in the area, but some of these hikes are near waterparks.
These summer hikes vary in distance and challenge level. Many of them are easy, short walks that are ideal for a family outing.
8 Great Summer Hikes in Northern Virginia
1. Great Falls Loop Hike, Great Falls
This challenging 3-mile loop takes hikers through a less-visited section of Great Falls Park. The hike begins at the Difficult Run parking area and follows a shady section along Difficult Run. From there, a steep climb leads to the Ridge Trail in Great Falls Park. Next, a steep section of the River Trail offers stunning views of the Potomac River and Mather Gorge. Cool your feet in Difficult Run on your return trip, but be careful of the fast-moving current. The stream access is difficult and not great for young children.
2. Bull Run – Occoquan Trail, Clifton
The 17-mile Bull Run – Occoquan Trail follows the stream from Bull Run Regional Park in the north to Fountainhead Regional Park in the south. Our favorite segment begins at the end of Yates Ford Road in the lovely town of Clifton. Follow the access trail until you reach the river, then head north or south on the mostly level but sometimes rocky trail. The trail is shady and you can stop to cool your feet in the river. At the end of your hike, enjoy a relaxing glass of wine at Paradise Springs Winery, just across the street from your starting point.
3. Seneca Park Potomac Heritage Trail, Great Falls
There are many wonderful segments of the Potomac Heritage Trail for a summer hike close to Washington DC. We especially enjoy the woodland and riverside trails in the Seneca Regional Park area of Great Falls. From the parking lot at the end of Seneca Road, you can follow several different trails through the woods, toward the Potomac River. Once you reach the river, follow the Potomac Heritage Trail west or east. At the western end of the park you’ll find benches for relaxing and a stone wall of the Patowmack Canal. The canal was created by George Washington to help connect a new nation through trade and commerce. Nearby is a hidden trail and a rope swing over a quiet section of the river.
4. Balls Bluff Battlefield and Red Rock Wilderness Overlook, Leesburg
Visit these two parks in Leesburg, to enjoy nature while exploring local history. Balls Bluff was the site of the first Civil War engagement to take place in Loudoun County. The park has an excellent interpretive trail that explains how the battle unfolded. Other trails include sometimes steep, wooded hikes to the Potomac River and a segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail.
Nearby, Red Rock Wilderness Overlook also offers wooded hiking along a bluff over the Potomac River. At the parking area you’ll find the ruins of the Paxton Farm, with interpretive signs explaining the history of each building.
5. Lake Fairfax Park, Reston
You’ll find a variety of hikes at Lake Fairfax. Take a short summer hike, on the level dirt trail over the dam and along the lake. Or follow steep trails through the woods that are popular for off-road biking. After your hike, reward yourself with a cooling visit to the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole. The popular water park features slides, floats, sprays, and a lazy river. There is also a carousel, playground, picnic area, and other fun for families to enjoy.
6. Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Centreville
Fairfax County’s Ellanor C Lawrence Park is another nice option for a family summer hikes with a little learning fun. Take one of several shady trails through the woods. Stop by Walney Pond to look for fish, turtles, and birds. And explore the remains of several interesting, historic buildings. The visitor center offers a closer look at snakes, turtles and other park denizens.
7. Mason Neck State Park and Pohick Bay, Lorton
You’ll find a wonderful variety of mostly level trails at Mason Neck State Park perfect for summer hikes. Each trail offers a chance to spy bald eagles and other birds in Belmont Bay and the surrounding marshes. From the quarter-mile Marsh View Trail, to the 4 mile out-and-back hike to Kane’s Creek, you’ll find shady, well-marked trails. The Visitor Center rents canoes and kayaks so you can also get out on the water.
After your hike, head to nearby Pohick Bay park and take the kids for a swim at Pirate’s Cove, one of the largest, outdoor freeform pools on the east coast. Pohick Bay Regional Park also offers boat rentals, mini-golf, and hiking trails.
8. Burke Lake Park, Burke
The 4.5 mile trail around Burke Lake makes our great hikes list in every season. In summer, the wide dirt and stone-dust trail is mostly shady, except for an open stretch along the dam. Sturdy strollers and bikes can navigate the trail. There are lots of birds and other nature to enjoy, so take your time. In summer, the park operates a miniature train that is a lot of fun if you’re traveling with young children. The park marina rents boats, the fishing is great, and a carousel, mini-golf, disc-golf, and other activities are available too.
What’s your favorite spot for summer hikes in northern Virginia? Share your tips in the comments below and happy hiking!